Minimalist Mom: How to Declutter With Kids

IMG_6530A few years ago, I discovered “minimalism”.  Not that I became a minimalist, but I started to learn more about minimalism and embrace it in small ways.  Maybe it was a reaction to having kids and all the “stuff” that comes with them, or maybe it was just defining something that already resonated with my core beliefs.  Either way, I find it really inspirational.  Minimalism at its core is about decluttering your life of the unimportant things/activities so you can focus on what is important and lead a more intentional life.

It was through The Minimalists that I first was able to put the name “minimalism” on the philosophy of “living a more meaningful life with less”.  Recently The Minimalists launched a podcast, which I have been listening to on my morning dog walks, and been inspired to more fully embrace minimalism in our own lives.  One of the things they do in their podcasts is answer listener questions.  Many of the questions they get are about decluttering with kids and minimalism for families.  Since neither of The Minimalists have kids, they often refer these questions to other minimalists like Leo Babauta and Joshua Becker; who both write about being minimalists with kids.

Having recently taken our minimalism up a notch, I thought I would share some of my own learnings for how to declutter with kids.

1. If your kids are old enough (age 5 worked for me) involve them in the process.  In the past, I have tried to involve Big D in decluttering toys, but if you ask him, they are all important and add value to his life.  In reality, he plays with about half of his toys.  It was only recently, when I tried to declutter toys with him, he was finally able to identify (some) toys that he and Tater Tot no longer played with or had outgrown.

2. But also get rid of stuff when they are not aroundIf your kids are too young to be able to let stuff go (or even if they are old enough), go through their toys when they are not around and don’t feel bad giving away toys they no longer use (or just the ones that drive you crazy).  If I am decluttering when they are not around, I generally put toys to donate in a box in the garage for a couple of months before I actually give anything away.  If it makes it 2 months in the garage and they haven’t missed the toy, I don’t feel bad about donating it, some other little kids will be very appreciative to receive our donated toys.

3. Declutter by category.  To do a full-on decluttering, first collect all the toys of one category together (ie. toys, books, puzzles, loveys, etc.).  For the decluttering in the photo, Big D and I collected all the toys from everywhere in the house.  Toys from the living room, toys from D’s bedroom, toys from our bedroom, toys from Tater Tot’s bedroom, everything we could find, we brought into one room and then organized by category.  We put all the trucks together, animals together, instruments together, etc.  By doing this, we were really able to see how much we had, and where there was the most duplication.  For example, I had NO idea how many cars/trucks we really had until we put them all together.  Once they were together, it was easy to pick out the ones we wanted to keep and the ones we wanted to donate.

4. Stop the inflow.  First you need to determine how are you acquiring so much stuff and then you can figure out how to address it. If the “stuff” comes from:

  • Gifts:  Everyone loves to give kids gifts, toys are fun to buy and kids love presents.  We aren’t scrooges, we want our kids to get gifts, but we don’t want them to be overwhelmed by the gifts.  To help with this:
    • For major events (ie. Birthday and Christmas) we ask relatives/friends to give no more than one gift per person; this includes us too.  Better yet, you could pick names out of a hat to see who gives whom a gift.
    • Create a wish list of gifts for your kids of items that bring you the most value.  Grandparents have responded really well to this.  In the past, we have put things like memberships to local museums, classes, and sports equipment on our kids wish lists.  This is a win win, our kids receive items we find value in and the gift giver loves giving gifts they know are wanted.  Win Win.
    • Have “no gift” parties.  For our kids birthday parties with friends, we request no gifts.  Our kids receive enough gifts from family that gifts from their friends can be overwhelming.  A lot of their friends will bring homemade cards instead, it is awesome, our kids still feel loved, but it is not a lot of stuff entering our house.
    • Spread out the gifts.  At Christmas and birthdays, we sometimes save some of the gifts to open days or weeks later.  By spreading out the gifts our kids don’t burn out on present opening and can actually appreciate each gift better as it is opened.
    • Return some of the gifts.  If we still receive a lot of gifts, despite the above, I will return some of the gifts that came with gift receipts.  Ultimately people want you/your kids to be happy, if they gave you a gift receipt, they are probably OK if you return/exchange their gift for something else or for a later date.
  • Hand Me Downs:  Hand me downs are great for certain things you might need or want for your kids (hand me down clothes? yes please), but they can also be a lot of junk you don’t want.  If you can’t reject the hand me downs, don’t feel guilty going through them, keeping what is useful for your kids, and donating the rest.  Your kids will not miss it, if they didn’t know it existed in the first place.
  • Giveaways/Favors:  This is where a lot of junk comes into our house.  Whether it is a birthday party favor bag, or a freebee from an event you went to, we acquire a lot of this “stuff” and most of it does not add a lot of value to our lives.  Most of it our kids forget about within hours of receiving.  Don’t feel bad about just throwing this stuff out when your kids aren’t looking.  At the same time, when we have birthday parties, our kids want to give out favors, so we try and make sure the favors we give are useful.  The most useful favors we have found have been: snacks, coloring books/crayons, and stickers.
  • Stuff WE Buy at the Store:  Do your kids beg and plead for toys from the store anytime you pass a toy store, grocery store, gift shop at a museum?  We have largely avoided this by setting clear expectations up front.  We almost never buy toys when we are out and about, so our kids don’t ask.  When they do ask, I tell them we can take a picture of it and put it on their Christmas/birthday wish list and if they still want it then, we can talk about it.

5. Get Rid of the Big Toy Bins:  When we first had kids, we acquired the cutest toy bins with animals on the side.  They were adorable and seemed like a useful way to keep toys organized.  In reality, they are a bottomless pit of stuff.  The unused toys fall to the bottom never to be seen until someone decides to dump the entire bin on the floor (annoying in its own way).  Instead….

6. Keep Toys Organized by Category:  Once you have done your big decluttering, keep toys organized by category.  We have little baskets on shelves by category, with labels of what is inside.  When one of our baskets starts overflowing again, we know we need to do some editing.

7. Its a Process and That’s OK:  You will declutter and feel great, for a while, and then the toys will build up again.  Like everything with kids it is a learning process and every time we do it with our kids, they will learn something, at least I hope they do.  Maybe eventually they will turn into little minimalists of their own.

What are your best decluttering tips for kids?  How else do you help teach your kids to lead a meaningful life with less stuff?



  1. Lauren | also known as mama | 22nd Jun 16

    These are some great tips. I’m constantly reorganizing my son’s toys so I’m always open to new ideas on how to do so. I love the idea of waiting a few months to see if a toy is missed before giving it away. I’ve definitely made the mistake of premature donation before. Nothing is worse than telling your kiddo you got rid of their favorite toy!


  2. Fran | 23rd Jun 16

    Nice to find your blog, tow of my favourite things, minimalism and travel. Great tips, I have also stepped it up a notch here, it always surprises me just how far we can continue to shift the notch.

  3. curbza | 7th Sep 16

    Graet post! There’s a stat floating around somewhere that says kids own 238 toys, and only use about 12 on a daily basis. That’s a lot of room being wasted. Thanks for these tips :)! Do you sell toys that you decide are no longer useful?

    • hopepostkids | 7th Sep 16

      Thanks Elizabeth. I don’t sell the toys that we are getting rid of, at the age our kids are (2YO and 5YO) most of them are pretty cheap toys that we wouldn’t get much for. We donate most of the toys. Finding places that accept used toys can be difficult. We donate our books and clothes to the San Francisco Homeless prenatal Program and we donate most of the toys through our pre-school to the Bright Spaces Foundation.

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