A 5-Step Toy Detox

Young woman kneeling at container with toys and assembles strewn toys. She looks like thought about something. Front view.

Ahh… the start of a new year!  The promise of a clean slate!  Another chance to get it right. You know the drill.  Thankfully, there is an abundance of magazine articles, pinterest pins and blog posts all dedicated to helping us put the right foot forward as the new year starts.  Today, I offer yet another way to start fresh as you begin the new year.  No doubt about it… refining your diet, sleep, and workout habits are noble goals.  However, I urge you to consider purging another area of your life:  the toy wasteland that may have become your home during the holiday gift binge.  If you are finding it difficult to recall what your floor looks like or if your child’s bedroom looks more like an obstacle course than a place to sleep then this detox is for you! Read on! 



I came up with the idea of assisting my children in the purging of their toys a few years ago after reading the book Simplicity Parenting by Kim Payne. Payne offers a persuasive argument about the need for children to have one or two cherished playthings.  He maintains that children are over-stimulated in today’s world and this over-stimulation has led to rampant behavior problems. Adults purchase toy upon toy with the intent to engage, delight and educate children.  However, in Payne’s opinion, the mountain of whizzing, whirring, flashing and moving toys only serves to create children who do not know how to entertain themselves and who are completely overwhelmed by the constant choices they are presented with.  No doll is special if a child has 15 dolls.  Reading Payne’s book led me to transform the toy landscape of my house.  While this change earned me the title of “Toy Nazi” from my husband, it has dramatically changed the way my children play and, thankfully,… the way my house looks!


STEP 1:  Build Toy Mountain

To begin, we put every toy in the entire house in our living room.  There were toys everywhere:  under beds, behind couches, buried in the dirt outside. Together, with the kids, we collected every last toy.  This took a great deal of time and effort. Persevere; it is worth it.  At last Toy Mountain stood prominently in our living room.  It was truly an awe inspiring sight!


STEP 2:  Engaging Toys Vs. Passive Toys

The next step is to rid your house of toys that are truly counterproductive to your child’s growth.  Toys should ask something of your child.  The child should need to engage with the toy; not be passive recipients.  Blocks are excellent toys, doll babies that talk and wet probably aren’t.  The toy should stretch a child’s imagination and require them to do something new.  You are going to want to do this step when the kids aren’t around.  I did it when the kids had gone to bed, but if one of your new year’s resolutions is to get more sleep you better come up with another plan.  I was up until the wee hours of the morning.  Maybe have your spouse take them out for the day or have them spend some quality time with Grandma and Grandpa.  Whatever it takes. If your kids are present they will begin pleading with you as to why EVERY toy holds special significance.  That toy that was buried in the dirt for a year was not at all significant yesterday, but somehow now that it is in their hot little hands there will be tears about parting with it.  Once the kids are gone, split the toys into two piles:  Engaging Toys and Passive Toys.  Get the passive toys out of the house as soon as possible.  Taking them to a donation center is one option. This should cut your mountain at least in half.


STEP 3:  Host a “Giving Night”

You will need to do a lot of purging, but your children can (and should) help with this next step.  I planned a “Giving Night.”  I read a book about generosity and the power of giving.  The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is an excellent choice although I am sure there are many others.  If you have suggestions be sure to put them in the comment section so others can benefit.  Then, we looked at our mountain and I gave each child 3 grocery bags.  They had to fill each up with toys they were willing to donate.  This is a very powerful lesson for children and helps them to be a part of the detox experience.  Next, get in the car and take them to a favorite donation center.  Have the kids physically donate the toys.  There were some tears in the car, but everyone felt great afterwards. It did help that we celebrated by stopping by the local ice cream shop on the way home!  At this point, your mountain should be a manageable hill!  Progress!  Giving Day Celebration Blog Photo


STEP 4:  Creation of Toy Library

Toy LibraryAfter putting the kids to bed on “Giving Night”  I stayed up and moved the rest of the toys and all of the children’s books in the house into a closet that I had cleaned out specifically for the purpose of creating a toy library. Finding such a spot is not easy. It might require some rearranging of your things, but this step is essential.  This needs to be a closet or space that is definitely off limits aside from a special check out time that you agree on with your children.


















STEP 5:  The Nuts and Bolts

Toy & Book Storage Boxes in Play AreaThe next morning I supplied my children with two boxes.  We made labels for the boxes that identified the boxes as that particular child’s.  Each child has a box for toys and a box for books.  We then sat down and together crafted the toy library rules.  I have included a copy of the rules my family agreed on at the end of this post. When organizing the toy library I created several different bins.  There was a bin for each of the following:  dolls, stuffed animals, random toys, dress up, games, instruments, and activities/crafts.  My children and I decided theyBlog Photo Shopping would be able to check out one doll, one stuffed animal and three random toys each week.  They keep these items in their personal box.  They are also allowed to check out 7 books.  They keep these in their book box.  The other items, dress up, blocks, etc.  stay in the toy library permanently. They are allowed to check out these items any time they desire as long as everything else is put away in their boxes (this task is much more manageable for them now). Some items are permanently out of the toy library.  All the doll accessories (bottles, blankets, diapers, etc.) have a special box out of the toy library so they can access these items no matter which doll they have chosen for the week.  Legos also have a special box in their play area.  My kids also have a giant dollhouse that would be very impractical to move in and out of the toy library so it always stays in their play area and all of its furniture stays inside.  They also have a play kitchen and the food and dishes stay in bins inside this toy as well.  You will have to experiment with things until you find a system that works best for you and your family.  Every Friday after school my kids look forward to “shopping”  in the toy library by bringing their boxes from the play area and exchanging the toys and books for new ones.  


Since implementing this system I have noticed a number of positive changes in my children’s behavior as well as mine when it comes to toys.  The kids respect and care for their toys in a way that they did not before.  They play and engage for longer periods of time with single toys and have developed a greater attachment to a specific toy or doll. Picking up is not the fight it once was.  The task is now manageable for them (not saying this is perfect, but definitely much improved).  It has also dramatically changed my frustration level as I am not constantly picking up and tripping over random, abandoned toys.  



Every year, two days before Christmas, we clean the toy library.  If a toy hasn’t been checked out for a very long time we put it in a special donation box ready for the donation center.  We also spend all of Christmas Eve completely toy-free as the kids check all of their toys into the toy library. This makes space for the new toys that are arriving the next day and gives the kids a mental break before they are bombarded with new play things.  On Christmas Eve afternoon they receive a new board game, a special new book, and a movie.  We spend the day as a family enjoying these new items together with no other distractions. 

Although I haven’t done this in the past, I think I might begin mimicking our Christmas routine before birthdays as well.  Having a day before their birthday toy-free provides a break for them and creates a special place for their new toys.  Additionally, it will reinforce the act of giving to others before they receive gifts themselves.  

We have a lot of holiday related toys and books.  I pack these up in a special location outside of the toy library.  Before Christmas, I pull out all of the special Christmas related toys as well as the stack of Christmas related books.  I do the same for each holiday.  In this way I don’t have to search through the toy library before each holiday for the items I think my children might enjoy and it builds a sense of excitement around these toys.  Usually, the week before the holiday the kids don’t check anything out from the library and just enjoy these special toys and books.  

Hope this 5-Step Program helps you through the toy detox process!  We would love to hear how this goes for you!  

Toy libary rules and regulations

1 comment

  1. This is such a cool idea! Nice way to keep kids from getting overwhelmed and increase their focus and enjoyment!

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