My Simple Living Series shares tips for simplifying, categories of *stuff* with ideas for decluttering, and/or advice about living more intentionally. In this post, I’m sharing my personal list of essential kid stuff.
I have decluttered many times since we had children, especially as we have moved three times (once to a new country)… but the process is never-ending. Gifts, party favours, free stuff handed out at events, hand-me-downs, the stuff just keeps coming!
So how much stuff is really necessary to give kids enough to play with and explore their interests, without overwhelming them with heaps of belongings to take care of or stuffing their rooms with dozens of storage containers?
After evaluating the types of kid stuff I value the most (and my kids seem to enjoy the most), I have broken it all down into four categories and I try to have a few options for the kids in each area:
Stuff to learn – books, educational tools, science kits etc
Stuff to create – Lego, blocks, beads, art supplies etc
Stuff to imagine – small toys like vehicles, figurines, dolls, animals, dress up clothes etc
Stuff to encourage “people skills” – board games, cards, puzzles etc
Kids don’t need everything, and of course they will learn these skills with nothing whatsoever. My husband always likes to remind me if the kids don’t have toys, they will play with the sticks and rocks outside. Because of the culture we live in however I think it is nice to be able to encourage learning, creativity, playing with others, and imagination by providing a few materials in each of these key areas. Many items will overlap between categories as well.
In the picture above you can see the bulk of the stuff in my 6 year old’s room. He also has a small set of drawers for clothes, a bed where he keeps his stuffed animals, and a desk which has a some art supplies and activity books on it, too… but this is the rest. This unit contains, from bottom shelves to top:
- Basket of school uniforms
- Games and puzzles
- Action figures, animals, matchbox cars etc
- Rock collection
- Tinker Toys
- Marble run
- Letter writing kit
- Educational materials
- A few craft kits (flower presser, hama beads)
- Box of Lego instructions for the kits we have, if he ever wants to use them
- Boo Boo Basket
- Quiet Time Basket
All this stuff is actually not necessary, I will readily admit. My four year old has the same style of shelf but half the size (only two rows), and it contains the same amount of books plus other sets of toys. The kids pretty much share all the toys and books between them except a few special belongings. When you look at it all together, it actually is a lot of stuff.
But this amount of kid stuff has been a good balance for our family at this stage in our journey. None of it is broken, not age appropriate, or totally unused. When I asked on Facebook if this looked like a reasonable amount of stuff for an early school-aged child though I was surprised that many mothers expressed that their kids has way more stuff, like even twice or three times the amount. Stuffed in closets, under the bed, in the lounge, or in the garage. Several said how they hated all the stuff and wished they could get rid of it.
Why do we buy so much stuff and keep so much stuff if we hate it? Does it make us or our kids happy?
I know the struggle of decluttering – it takes time and effort, no doubt! But if I did not regularly go through our stuff and ask the kids to give away what they do not play with any more, we would be absolutely overwhelmed with clutter! By having more stuff crammed in the shelves, the kids are not entertained more. In fact, there is more mess to make and more mess to clean up… which just stresses everyone out! So, for me, it is just not worth keeping all the extra stuff…. even though it does take a bit of work to keep the clutter under control.
When we travel next year and the kids have only a small fraction of what they have now to play with, I know they will be just fine. In fact, I am looking forward to it. I love to see the creative games they come up with when they are challenged to use whatever they have on hand!
If you feel like you need to declutter, you may enjoy my post 50 Days to Simplify Your Home which has a printable checklist to work your way through your house.
And if you are worried about giving your “kid stuff” away and the kids not having anything to do, just check out this amazing list of homemade toys from creative mamas around the internet. There are plenty of ways to re-use what we have around us to make things, without buying cheap toys that will break or expensive toys that will gather dust on the shelf. Kids love making stuff anyway, so they get to make and play – what’s better than that? If it still works when the kids are “over it”, just pass it on! Or if it breaks or gets used beyond repair, no big deal. That’s the joy of easy homemade toys.
Here is the list:
Magnetic Paper Doll Travel Set
Fun Food Playdough Mats (you can use this No Cook Playdough with it)
Make your own Character Puppets
Make your own Cereal Box Purse
Make your own Teddy Bears (including pattern)
DIY Wooden Ramps for Cars and Trains
Playing with toys is not the only thing kids can do, either. It might be fun for them to get busy working on an act of kindness!
How much *stuff *do your kids have? What is the key to finding the balance?
You may also enjoy…
Recipe for the Perfect Weekend with Young Kids
Simple Living: Newborn Essentials
Wow, thank you so much for including my Waldorf Spring Kite in your post.
I’m definitely in a state of overwhelm right now – there’s just not enough time for everything, so the clutter gets relegated to the basement… and multiplies.
Christina @There's Just One Mommy
The kid stuff certainly adds up!
We have way too much stuff — and it leaves me feeling overwhelmed. I actually dread the holidays… We don’t buy the kids a whole bunch ourselves, but the grandparents do. I keep asking them to limit the buying. The kids really don’t need more toys.
Chelsea Lee Smith
It’s definitely hard to change gift giving habits! We don’t have birthday party gifts either (we usually do a book drive or something similar instead of gifts) and I agree, once we give a couple presents and all the family members do, they have so much more already.
Where did you get the shelves?? They are perfect!
Chelsea Lee Smith
Hi Karyn! I think we got these at Officeworks, but I’ve seen similar at both Ikea and Super Amart, and there was a smaller version in Kmart one time I was there too!
Thanks for sharing our storybook puzzle. Ironically, for the second time in a week, I just got down cleaning my daughter’s room. We always take out a bag of trash, and remove toys to a giveaway pile!
Dee Platt, Keepy Community Manager
Very inspiring read, thanks for posting Chelsea! The Keepy Community will love these ideas about living simply, I’m excited to share it with them soon 🙂
This is fabulous. I am definitely going to use this. We moved about a year ago and I got rid of a lot of extra furniture etc., but there are still lots to go.
Thanks for the article! I love your categories of for kids to play and learn and also your list of handmade toys! Simple is best and making toys is fun for both mom and kids. My little one is always getting presents from family and friends and this article helps me clean up.
We have a lot of stuff and due to being a kindergarten teacher it’s even worse. However I like to place emphasis on using things we have already, going to the library to keep reading exciting, and lately we’be been asking for experiences instead of gifts. My daughter got to go watch Moana at the movies instead of having a gift. She loved the movies. She has a lot of things which I know she enjoys but tv addiction is real in this family. So the rule is that she has to play for an hour before the tv goes on. This has forced her to play with her current toys. She is highly creative and can entertain herself with just her feet if she needs to. I try to minimise the things we have that we don’t use by gifting them to others or by throwing them out. What is a good feeling is going to a friend’a house where their whole house is scattered with toys. I realise I am not the worst!
This was a nice list/categorization system. A takeaway from this for me is you tend to use the space you have. We have an activity cabinet, and a small toy bin unit downstairs. We have 3 young children and all their stuff and beds (bunk bed with trundle) fit in a small bedroom. The baby crib is in the guest bedroom/office, as I’m expecting number 4 and never got around to disassembling the crib with the others, since everyone is so close together. With each kid, I get rid of more stuff, and it works well. I’m preparing to reduce further this summer, in preparation for number 4.
Where did you get the clear bins that fit so nice inside each cube?
Chelsea Lee Smith
I got them at Officeworks but have also seen them at Kmart and Bunnings (here in Australia) as well as cheap shops like Reject Shop. Good luck!
Many of us don’t buy all the stuff. It accumulates from stupid parties at school or out of town relatives who stop by with gifts. I even suggested a rule last year with my husband’s family for Christmas, I requested one book, one craft item and one toy. They still got more. We only buy our kids gifts for Christmas and birthdays. For easter and Valentine’s I get them something they need. Yet the junk still comes in. I accept it graciously and get rid of what I can. As important as it is for me to have the house somewhat clutter free, it is also important to teach my kids that these gifts are given in kindness and I don’t say anything rude or condescending about them. I teach the value of good quality items and imaginative play so hopefully it gets instilled in them.
My kids use empty egg cartons as giant building blocks. I love that their fort materials condense down to a small stack. They also love playing Angry Birds live using the egg cartons and their stuffed animals. It’s the best on a long rainy week.