How to Purge, Declutter, and Organize Kids’ Toys

We had a lovely Christmas together and our kids received some amazing gifts from friends and family. However, once the tree was taken down and the new items were stowed away, we realized our house was packed to the brim with toys. Every single cabinet and closet seemed to be bursting with stuff!

We do our best to pare down, when possible, around here. Neither Finn nor I handle clutter well, so we’re pretty good about tidying and purging when we can. But the kids’ toys were a whole new level of chaos. Because the kids were home during the holiday break, it was tough to tackle a good purge of toys with them awake and around all the time. One of my best tips for this post? Don’t try to do this with your kids around. Ha!

So we put a “date” on the calendar for New Year’s Eve.

Our Romantic New Year’s Eve

Our basement closet before purging the kids' toys

We mixed up our favorite drinks (Old-fashioned for Finn, Champagne for me), put on our favorite old TV show (How I Met Your Mother), and got to work on a big decluttering session of the kids’ toys. I’ve been tackling my January organizing challenge solo, but this job was way too big to do alone. Plus, Finn can be pretty ruthless when it comes to purging, so I needed him there to give me the push to make some big cuts in the toy department.

Get It ALL Out

How we purged our kids' toys

First, we found every single toy in our home and brought them all to our living room. We raided the kids’ rooms, brought plastic tubs up from the basement, and even retrieved random toys from our car for this process. It took about 20 minutes to get everything in one spot and we were shocked to see the ginormous pile in our living room.

When toys are dispersed all over your home, you don’t realize how many you truly have. This was eye-opening and kicked our butts into gear. We vowed to get rid of at least 40% of the toys in this room.

Light Walk Through Purge

Make donation piles when you're purging kids' toys

With everything in one place, we did a “light” walk-through of the living space, plucking out any items or small toys that we knew we wouldn’t be keeping.

For us, that meant toys with missing pieces, broken toys, and stuff geared toward really young children. Our family is complete with Rory and Ellis, so we don’t want to hang onto any baby toys anymore. Those were easy to remove and add to the donation pile.

Group Similar Items

Bring all of the trucks into one spot so you can purge more easily

After our walk-through, we grouped similar items, making broad categories of toys. All of the trucks went into one area, puzzles to another corner of the room, craft supplies on the table, and more. This helped us see the sheer quantity of items in a single category. Our kids love doing puzzles, but do they need 50 of them? I don’t think so. And Ellis sure does love his trucks, but does he need three separate recycling trucks? Nope.

Grouping by type of toy is a great idea if you’re feeling stuck when you get to the purging step of the process. It’s a lot easier to part with things when you see they have five more waiting in the wings.

Open-Ended Toys vs. Close-Ended Toys

Closed versus open-ended toys

We have a mix of open-ended and closed-ended toys in our house. Here’s the difference between those two…

Open-ended toys = toys that promote creative, physical, or imaginative play. For us, that’s balls, blocks, LEGOS, Magna tiles, and craft supplies.

Close-ended toys = toys that have one function that can be completed or mastered. For us, this includes puzzles, baby toys the kids have completed and mastered, musical toys, and board games.

When purging, we were more likely to hold onto the open-ended toys because they typically have a longer shelf life. Our kids make all sorts of things with their favorite Magna tiles, so those will always survive a toy purge. A puzzle they’ve mastered a dozen times is more likely to be donated.

Make Donation Piles

Making piles to donate

We ended up making a few piles to give away. First, we made a donation pile for the local thrift store. Next up, we rounded up toys for Grama’s house. My mom always likes having a few new things when the kids come over, so I set aside some stuff for her. Finally, I made a huge pile for our kids’ school. The teachers love getting new toys and they don’t have the funds to buy stuff all of the time. They are always so grateful when we drop off new puzzles and toys in good condition for the center.

This was also a great place to donate toys my kids have aged out of or outgrown. The younger classes can now have these quality toys and it makes me happy knowing that they’ll get played with a lot more at school than in our closet!

Our Night Of “Fun”

Going through all of the stuff in our home to purge toys

It took us three hours to go through every single toy in our home and we were able to get rid of at least 40% of them! It ended up being a great way to spend New Year’s Eve. We were able to start the first day of January with a lighter home and the kids had easy access to their toys for a fun day of play.

Yes, the decluttering process was overwhelming at times, but we did our best to keep it fun and that certainly helped!

Organizing Our Living Room Console

How to purge declutter and organize toys

So where did it all go? Once the donation bags were out of the house, we got to work organizing the living room TV console. Even though we have a playroom in the basement, the kids spend most of their time playing in our small living room. We like to keep toys in this cabinet so they can easily reach them.

My best tips to organize kids' toys

In the past, I’ve shoved a lot of toys into this console. Over time, I’ve found that limiting the number of toys in the family room is the way to go. The kids can easily grab what they need and clean up is way easier!

Use clear bins for tiny toys

For tiny toys, we like to use clear bins that the kids can easily grab. I then choose a handful of items from each category – a truck or two, a few puzzles, a handful of books, and more. By limiting the quantity available, the kids are able to have a much deeper play with the toys that are out.

Our Basement Closet Holds The Rest

Our basement closet after we did some toy organization

The basement closet then holds the rest of our toys. We use this dedicated play area during the weekends, but during the week Finn is down here working. This closet holds our board games, the kids’ board games, lego storage, toy cars, and more. We added this open storage piece directly into the closet so the kids can easily access what they need. It’s been a great addition to the closet space.

Use A Toy Rotation System

My best tips to organize toys

Because we keep extra toys in our basement, we do a toy rotation with the stuff that is kept in the living room. Every other week or so, I’ll swap out the puzzles in the TV console for two new ones from the basement. Or, I’ll swap the trucks or board games. This keeps things fresh and allows my kids to play with everything they own.

What Did The Kids Say?

Keeping things in an easy to reach area

Ellis is only two, so he didn’t even notice that there weren’t quite as many toys. We told Rory our plan for the toys and she was okay with it. We even had her go through her room and choose any items that she wanted to put in the donation piles. She grabbed a few stuffed animals and tossed them into our piles. We explained to her that these toys would make other kids happy and she was on board with that. Of course, we kept all of their favorite toys, so they were pretty unfazed by our decluttering process.

It’s also been fun because a lot of their old toys are now in their classrooms at school. I saw Rory showing a fellow preschooler how to use a memory match game that we donated to her classroom. It was pretty cool to see our toys living outside of our own four walls.

One Of The Biggest Challenges Of Parenthood

One of the biggest challenges of parenthood is keeping the clutter and toys at bay

The toy clutter is tough and we do our best to keep it at bay, but even we struggle! For Ellis’ second birthday, we specifically put “No presents, please” on the invitation, but every single person still arrived with a gift for the birthday boy. Same for Christmas. We gave the grandparents a couple of small items from the kids’ wishlists and they went overboard with the holiday gifts.

When possible, we encourage our family to gift experiences for the kids (maybe paying for a membership to the Children’s Museum) or donate to their 529 college fund. My mom gifted Rory an outing to see The Grinch musical with Grama and her cousins and it was the best gift ever! From here on out, I’m going to promote those types of gifts for birthdays and holidays whenever possible!

My Favorite Organizing Supplies For Toys

Using bags to organize puzzle pieces

One of our favorite storage solutions for toys with lots of pieces is zipper bags or laundry bags. We put puzzle pieces into these zippered bags and it’s the best way to store them! These larger laundry bags work well for really big puzzles. You can even cut the picture on the box and slide it inside too. This works well for art supplies too. We have separate bags for crayons, colored pencils, markers, and more.

Here are additional storage bins and containers that we use to store toys and keep an organized playroom.

My favorite storage solutions for organizing toys

Rope Basket // Large Clear Container // Zipper Bag // Laundry Bags // Clear Bins // Cube Bookcase

Feeling Good!

How to organize toys in your home

It felt pretty amazing to pare down the sheer volume of toys in our house. And I must say, playing is a lot easier when there are fewer toys to choose from. Our house is less of a mess and the kids are playing more deeply with the toys that are available to them. Will this be a new NYE tradition for Finn and me? We shall see…

my best tips to organize toys


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.

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