How to Declutter: Toys

I swear junk sneaks into the house and hides in the kid’s rooms! Papers seem to procreate like rabbits and poke out from under the bed and in the dresser drawers. I think dollar store type toys do the same thing!
I remember reading a story of a boy who had a bad attitude and the mother, at her wit’s end decided to box up the son’s room. She left out a coloring book and a matchbox car.

She told him that he would need to earn his stuff back. But she found it interesting that when her son did something to get his reward, instead of getting a toy out of the box, he asked to do activities with his mom: play checkers, do a puzzle, toss a ball…
As soon as the kids are old enough to count to 20, we enlist the 20 toy rule.
This is their personal amount of belongings- it doesn’t count clothes, blankets, family games or the lego/duplo/wooden blocks sets.
Kids need to be involved in this project, it works best if they make the decision on what to keep.
With their help, clear the entire room, piling all the toys, misc junk, papers, etc. into the middle of the room. Give each kid a box and tell them to pick out 20 things to keep in their box. We had a cart like this for years when my teenagers were little: the one we had had 3 different colored drawers, which worked perfectly!

I suggest you leave the room now and only go back when the kids are done, or if you absolutely have to help settle a disagreement.
You’ll find that kids keep the most bizarre things: It normally comes down to a spiderman action figure (and no, it never got played with, before or after “picking” it… not sure why they thought it was so great…) or the craft he made in Sunday School (that will end up in the trash before the week is over). But who cares? It’s his 20 things. 
I include stuffed animals in the 20. Sometimes that has been a tough call for them. But they make the final decision and it’s only the special ones that have survived through the years.
After picking their 20, set their special boxes aside and sort the rest of the pile. Toss all the garbage and broken toys, get those found socks into the laundry and put the give-away into a large box or garbage bag.
Carry the trash out to your dumpster and the giveaway to the car immediately. Don’t let it sit in the garage! Drop it off at a charity store the next time you are out running errands.
Repeat every 6 months.
It gets to the point where the kids start asking to do this project. They enjoy a clean room and a limited amount of toys.
It also helps their creativity- there is now room to have legos out and build together.
A clean organized space makes kids feel at peace. Sure it’s hard being a parent that sets limits- but even if they do it kicking and screaming, in the end, they are pleased with the results.
Ready to tackle the kid’s rooms?

For more decluttering inspiration, click here.

About Rachel Jones

Hi there! I’m Rachel Jones, and I founded Nourishing Minimalism in 2012 at the beginning of my minimalist journey. If you're looking for encouragement in your journey, I created a FREE Facebook Group - feel free to join me there: Nourishing Minimalism Facebook Group and I share videos each week on YouTube


  1. Tommy and Mommy on 12/18/2012 at 6:39 pm

    Very simple. Even a child can do it. Oh wait, that’s the point! Great post.

  2. molly on 01/02/2013 at 11:39 pm

    We tackled the playroom today. There was so much in there that the boys never wanted to clean it bc it was TOO MUCH! I can’t imagine them only having 20 items each…..maybe someday I will get there. But for now, we counted matchbox cars (over 100) and reduced by half. Same for action figures, stuff animals, etc. So basically we reduced it all by HALF. It’s a big step even if we’re nowhere near 20 items. I’m proud of my 8 and 6 year old boys for being able to part with items (usually they can’t). And we knocked off like 200 squares on our sheet today! yippeeee!

  3. Dori on 07/27/2014 at 6:08 am

    Would love to do this with my 3yo and 1.5 yo any Idea how to modify activity so it works for them too? Am wondering if it’s best I wait till they out of the house and do it myself or involve them . They know I sometimes take toys away to “share” with other kids but I want to do a more drastic (volume wise) reduction

    • Rachel on 07/27/2014 at 10:47 am

      I think it’s important to start young, so they understand what is going on and how important it is. I did it when my youngest was 3. Perhaps if the 1.5 year old can be occupied somewhere else and you could work with the 3 year old. I just laid out their “keeps” and helped them count them so they knew when the limit was reached.
      My boys did really well with this, but my daughter didn’t want to give anything away, so it was more of a struggle. If you keep the focus on “what you enjoy/what you like to play with” and the “giveaway” is downplayed it works a little better.
      Please let me know what you end up doing and how your children respond!

  4. Sarah on 08/19/2014 at 7:03 pm

    How do you approach toys that are a set? My son has a kitchen set and tool set that he loves but they have many pieces so it gets cluttered quickly. We have bins but the baby always seems to carry things off to all corners of the house.

  5. Sarah on 08/26/2014 at 4:50 am

    Just curious where you consider books to fit (the Lego/blocks category or general toy category)? Sure, I would love to get rid of our books, but with a growing family I’m wary of getting rid of books only to need them later on.
    I know I over indulged my first child, but I also don’t want to have to re-buy things when subsequent children come along.
    Any suggestions????

  6. Kathryn on 09/06/2014 at 12:36 am

    This is a great idea thanks so much!!!

  7. Cassandra on 05/07/2015 at 12:35 pm

    I love this idea!!! We have a wonderful wooden block set that never gets played with (since it is hidden in a piece of furniture) and my daughter rarely played with the DUPLOs for the same reason (in an opaque storage bin). Now, we keep the DUPLOs on her little table and she plays with them every single day. Building sets can seem overwhelming to keep tidy, but I could see us using them more often if we didn’t have so many other toys.

  8. Rachel on 10/22/2015 at 3:56 pm

    What about books? Do you count those?

  9. heather on 01/02/2016 at 4:59 pm

    Advice to how to downsize books. Our family loves books and read throughout the day (Homeschooled Children), how can I keep the classic for upcoming ages but be minimal in our books?

    • Rachel on 01/12/2016 at 8:19 pm

      I think it’s a difficult balance for homeschooling… but we try to use the library as much as possible and only keep ones we absolutely love.

  10. Jen on 08/31/2016 at 8:04 pm

    Hi. I love this article. Thank you for the ideas. The link for “cart like this” isn’t working for me. Just so you know 🙂

    • Rachel on 09/01/2016 at 10:20 pm

      Thanks Jen- I fixed it, though I couldn’t find the one we had, the one I linked to is similar. 🙂

  11. Susan on 03/08/2019 at 9:33 pm

    I don’t like the idea of counting and hard limits. Since my kids have been raised from very young to only keep the ones they use, when they clean their rooms they automatically bring me items that they aren’t interested in any more.
    My 6yo definitely has more than 20 when you count her schliech animal collection, calico critters, and playmobil, but they all fit on her shelf and she can manage them herself.

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