The Great Cubby Clean-Up Week Two: The Big Toy Edit

published Jan 18, 2023
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It’s Week Two of the Great Cubby Clean-Up, and this is the week that you’ll tackle the bulk of your toy decluttering (fasten your seatbelts!). It is an important step because so often what overwhelms parents (and children) is the sheer volume of toys that are available for kids to play—and make a mess—with. Paring back on the quantity of toys in your home will make clean-up easier, and it will positively impact you kids, says one of our experts, Shauna. “With a pared-down toy collection kids can focus on playing with the things they really love,” she says. 

You want to avoid an overabundance of toys that there is not enough space for, says Tanisha Porter, the founder of Natural Born Organizers “It is hard enough for adults to figure out how to stay organized, how do you think children can do it,” she adds. Here’s how to pare back:

New to the Cubby Clean Up? Head back to Week One to Identify the Problems

These are the tips and tricks our experts shared for how to get through the big toy edit—take the advice you need and get sorting!

Decide where toys get to live.

They don’t need to be confined to your child’s room or playroom (it’s fine if the play kitchen lives in the living room or if arts and crafts materials have a spot in the dining room). But when you define where toys go —  in toy storage bins, in baskets or bags, on open shelves —  you’ll immediately know how much space you have to store them. Your goal is for all of your children’s toys to fit easily into these spaces, without Tertris-like maneuvers to get them in, ahem.

Fuel up.

Whether you are working alone or with children, make sure everyone is well-fed before you start: Hangry is not a good look for decluttering

Consider a hybrid approach to involving kids.

If you’ve been on the fence about whether to declutter with a child (we recommend this if your kids are 7 or older) or by yourself, try this tip from Jennifer Hawkins, founder of Rejoice in Order.

For a client whose child was extremely attached to his toys, she and the mom broke the decluttering into two parts: First Jennifer and the mom did a round of editing while her child went out with the father. When her child returned in the afternoon, he was invited to do a second round of editing, “In the end I think he chose to get rid of one or two toy cars,” says Jennifer. “By doing the decluttering in rounds, Mom was satisfied because toys had been purged, and her son was happy because his thoughts about his toys were valued, he was involved in a respectful way.”

Find the favorites.

Regardless of whether your children are in the room while you edit, begin by asking children what their favorite toys are, even if you already know the answer, suggests organizer Lindsay Downes, founder of A Considered Home. “This is a way to show that you are respecting their favorite things.” Put those to the side as keepers before you continue to edit.

If you’re solo (and have time), take it all out.

Organizer Shauna Yule Brasseur of Lovely Life Home suggests you pull out every single toy out and sort them into categories, as you separate keepers from ones you’ll donate or toss. “This process is important because you’ll see exactly what you have—and exactly what you have too much of,” she says. “It can definitely feel overwhelming when all of those toys are on the ground, being sorted into categories, but this is part of the process.” Be sure to have trash and donation bags handy.  

TIP: If you’re nervous about giving a plaything away, tuck it away for a week or two. If the toy is not asked for, let it go, and if it is, bring it right back in. 

If you’re working with a kid or short on time, choose just one chunk.

“Decluttering can be a time and energy consuming task,” cautions Alejandra Costello, a pro organizer, who helps people get organized through her courses and membership community, TeamOrganize. So start with one area where toys are stored, like say a toy box or a storage shelf and take everything out of that one location. “Follow your child’s energy. If your child wants to keep sorting more toys to donate, follow their lead! Just be sure not to overdo it.”

Identify the baby toys.

A prompt that may help some big kids say goodbye is to ask them to find any toys they feel are too babyish. (Kids love to feel like a “big kid.”) If you’ve got a younger sibling who has yet to grow into a toy your older child no longer plays with, save it but store it separately from the main toy collection (and limit the number of things you save).

Play “keep” or “goodbye.”

MaryJo Monroe, the founder of reSPACEd, shared this story about working with a boy who was overwhelmed by his messy room. “He could barely look me in the eye. I knew I had to find a way to eliminate his overwhelm, so I told him, ‘We are going to make this super fast and super easy. All you have to do is sit on the bed. I will hold up each object and you just say one word: keep or goodbye. His face lit up as he got comfy on his bed, and sure enough, we sped through all those toys unbelievably fast as he made lightning-fast decisions about one toy after another.” If your kid is still struggling, you can designate a third category of “vacation” and box those toys up to come back out at a later date.

Clarify what is a keeper.

If you are the one having trouble letting go of toys, here are the questions organizers ask themselves and their clients to decide if a toy stays. Shauna suggests asking yourself, “Do I/my kid(s) love it or is it truly useful?” If your kids love a toy and play with it, keep it! Jennifer offers these three questions for parents: Do I still see my child playing with this often? Does it still have all the pieces/ is it still in one piece? Is it still age appropriate for my child?

Consider selling some toys.

Some kids can be enticed to let go of their old toys if you let them sell their old toys and keep the money, says MaryJo. Whether this is through a garage sale, a local consignment store, or a site like eBay or Facebook Marketplace, giving them the opportunity to sell their toys in order to make money to buy a new toy could be just the incentive they need. 

Focus on the gains.

Help your child focus on what she’ll gain, advises Alejandra. “The people that struggle most with letting go tend to focus on the loss rather than the massive gain that is immediately in front of them,” she says. When a child lets go of toys they no longer play with, they gain more room to play, an easier time finding their favorite toys, less clean-up time, and if you donate or hand down toys, the joy of giving. (Pssst… these are also gains for you, Mom and Dad.)

Put it back as best you can.

Don’t worry about the perfect organizing system just yet, but do group like items with like items as you put away the keepers. Take note of any toys that need a new storage solution, and pay attention to what happens during play and clean-up time in the week ahead.

Credit: Cubby

This week you’ve done a big part of the work with your toy edit, but follow-through is also important. Try these tasks to keep up the momentum.

Text your clutter buddy.

In Week One you hopefully identified a friend to take this journey with you, but even if you didn’t, send a pal a photo of all the stuff you’re saying goodbye to. And ask your friend to show you what they’re donating too.

Get it out of the house!

For the things you’ve identified to donate or pass on, don’t let them linger. In Week One, you should have identified your plan for where to donate, but if you haven’t yet, our experts all love Buy Nothing Group (Facebook Marketplace, a neighborhood group, or Craigslist are other options). Trust us when we tell you that if you post toys as “free,” you will find takers.

Compliment your kid.

If your child was part of the edit, give her praise for her work. It’s hard for little ones to say goodbye to their toys and letting them know you are proud of them is important. But don’t dwell on it too much because you want it to feel like it’s just part of your family’s routine.

Find all four weeks of The Cubby Clean Up here:

  • Week One: Identify the Problems
  • Week Two: The Great Toy Edit
  • Week Three: Refine Your Storage System (coming next week 1/21!)
  • Week Four: Your Family’s New Habits (coming 1/28)

Our experts

Alejandra Costello is a Virginia-based organizing expert (@AlejandraDotTV), who helps people get organized through her courses and membership community, TeamOrganize. Deemed “The Decluttering Queen” by Good Morning America, Alejandra’s organizing videos have been viewed 100M+ times. 

Alison Mazurek (@600sqftandababy) is doing her best to live small, thoughtfully, and sustainably in Vancouver, Canada with her husband and two kids while sharing about it through her blog and her small space consulting service.

Cole Boge is a professional organizer located in the Appleton, Wisconsin area. He brings his experience as a school teacher, sports coach, and father to his organizing business The Detailed Dad. 

Jennifer Hawkins is a former teacher-turned-professional organizer in the Atlanta area (@rejoiceinorder). Jennifer uses her parent-educator training to help parents think about how to develop the skills and behaviors their children need to become organized, too

Lindsay Downes is professional organizer and founder of A Considered Home (@a.considered.home) in Alexandria, Virginia. With a master’s degree in child development and two boys of her own, Lindsay’s approach to organizing families is grounded both in her experience in the classroom and the realities of life with young kids.

MaryJo Monroe is the owner of reSPACEd (@respacedpdx) in Portland, Oregon. MaryJo started reSPACEd in 2008 with the goal of helping families clear the clutter so they could relax in their own homes. The company has since grown to provide a variety of organizing services to homes and small businesses, but helping families get organized remains her specialty.

Shauna Yule Brasseur is the owner of Lovely Life Home (@lovely_life_home), an organizing and design business based in Hingham, Massachusetts. Shauna believes that we are happier and calmer in organized spaces.

Tanisha Porter is a professional organizer and the owner of Natural Born Organizers, LLC (@naturalbornorganizers) based in Los Angeles, California. Tanisha spent the first eight weeks of the pandemic building a community of women across the country who not only wanted to create order in their lives but needed to due to the initial shutdown.

This post has been updated from its original publication date in January 2021.

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