Toys- how to avoid the clutter

Via Dad’s Round Table

I’m not saying he’s spoilt but our son probably doesn’t need 2 car parks, 4 pull along toys, 3 kitchens, 20 cars and approximately 3260 soft animals… I know we should get rid of some of them. I just can’t bring myself to do it though. I feel mean getting rid of our son’s toys, especially if they were presents given by someone other than us. In reality, he is young and a bit stupid and would probably never even realise, as long as he didn’t actually see it happening.  Neither would the present giver, probably.


Letting friends and family know around Christmas and birthday times what your child has already could help to prevent your child from getting lots of the same thing. You could suggest non-material items such as a ticket to the opera or a Metallica gig. Or maybe something they might actually want, like a meal at Pizza Express, a year’s membership for the Horniman museum aquarium or a day trip to Legoland.

Borrowing and lending

Lend toys your child has grown out of to someone else, thus temporarily cluttering their place instead of yours. We have lent most of our son’s baby toys to his newborn baby cousin, which obviously clears some space here and saves them some money too. When they have finished with them, we will get them back just in time for when our new baby needs them.

Anything that you have and feel you don’t really need but can’t bear to be permanently parted from, you could consider leaving at someone else’s home that your child visits often- for example a grandparents’ house.

Swap toys with parents who have children of the same age, and then swap back again. Only do this with people you know will give them back though. Just because they’re a fully signed up middle class Ocado loving NCT member, doesn’t mean they’re not a thieving bastard. I have learned this through bitter experience.

Use toy libraries. We borrow books from libraries, why not toys? We used to take our son to the toy library regularly. It was at one of the local children’s centre and doubled as a sort of playgroup. He would have a good play with the toys, we would see what he enjoyed playing with (or what we liked the look of) and borrow that. We were also able order specific things in advance. Toy libraries are great for large items that might not get used for long before your kid has grown out of the-, or for trying something out to see if they like them.

Play dates 

Invite people to your place or, better still, make a mess at their’s.  Go to playgroups or soft play and give your children the opportunity to play with different things in a different environment, with different people. Take advantage of what the outside world has to offer.

 Think about what stuff you already have, does any of it have play potential?

Some people believe that children don’t need toys at all, or very few at least. This website advocates the use of “untoys” or “loose parts”. The idea is to provide your child with items that aren’t actually toys but are everyday objects that provide sensory interest. They are likely to be made from a variety of materials (unlike children’s toys which are often plastic). Typical items include:

kitchen utensils like whisks and spatulas,

natural objects like pine cones or sticks,

items from the recycling bin like jar lids or egg boxes,

anything crafty  like scraps of material, sponges, shiny bits of card, ribbons…

The list could go on and on. Because there are so many potential play things, they can be swapped around regularly, thereby avoiding boredom.

For babies, these objects are often provided for in the form of “treasure baskets”. Basically a basket filled with assorted items for them to explore. For more information and lots of ideas click here.

A fancy pants way of describing what used to be simply called mucking around with random shit is heuristic play.

Children’s toys are obviously designed to be safe and whatever you find around the house might not be, so you will have to make a judgement on this. You may need to supervise your child more closely and discard things if they become worn or broken. Collecting a load of stuff from the recycling could just as easily cause your home to become cluttered as a load of toys, but I guess you might feel like you could chuck it back in the recycling again at some point. Things like jar lids don’t take up much space anyway. Other items like kitchen utensils are things you would have already, so are not taking up more space.

Current “untoy” activities  our son enjoys are

1) hiding in curtains and laughing,

2) hiding objects under cushions and then telling us where they are before we’ve even started looking for them,

3) tipping the bag of pegs all over the floor (a simple game and not really my favourite) ,

4) “playing the piano” (pressing the demo button on my keyboard),

5) dancing to music on the radio,

6) “helping” us cook

The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

[Something to get people to read this and feel like it will make them happy – Your child might benefit from being in a smaller home]

The fact that you don’t have enough room to store tons of toys might actually be a good thing. Your child is more likely to treasure the things they have and they are more likely to concentrate on them more fully and play with them for longer.

If you have a limited amount of space you are more likely to carefully consider the play value each item might have before bringing it into your home.

Think about simple toys like building bricks, stacking cups, cars or dolls- they have potential to be played with in lots of different ways. Take stacking cups for example.  Of course they can be stacked and knocked down again and put inside each other, they can be used for counting and learning colours, they can be used in water play, things can be hidden underneath them, things can be put inside them, they can be used as pots and pans, cups and jugs as part of a tea party, the possibilities are endless.

Providing your child with open ended toys like these can encourage your child to use their imagination and open up new worlds without limiting their creativity.

An example of the infinite play value that could be had from an open ended “toy”, as opposed to a toy with a more specific purpose, is fabric.  A batman costume would probably only ever represent a batman costume.  On the other hand, some bits of fabric could represent batman’s cape, a wizard’s cloak, mummy’s dress, daddy’s turban, a snowman’s scarf, a ghost’s spooky outline, a butterfly’s wings…

A few interesting articles about the negative effects that having too many toys can have and how to choose toys that have a lot of play value can be found here and here and here.


We try to rotate our son’s toys so he just plays with a few at a time. We try to keep most of those ones downstairs, in the sideboard, and in a few boxes in the lounge.  We keep the rest of his stuff upstairs in his room. He has other ideas, though, and every journey up or down the stairs is an excuse to relocate his toys. Basically, they’re everywhere. I don’t mind that- it’s his flat too. I’m pretty sure we could do a better job of storing them, if we could be arsed.  Look, this is a blog about living somewhere small, not about turning our flat into an Ikea showroom, OK.  We’ll sort it out later.

Any thoughts? Any tips? Comment below or take part in our Facebook group forum here.

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What a mess Auntie Phyllis

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