How to get a 4-year-old to give up old toys

Convincing Kids to Get Rid of Old Toys

by Dollar Stretcher Contributors

Be rewarded the Web's Premiere Rewards Site

Convincing Kids to Get Rid of Toys

I am the mother of a four-year-old packrat. Whether it is a simple craft he made at school or a toy he outgrew two years ago, he has a reason for keeping just about everything. As a result his room is quite cluttered and takes too much time both on his part and mine to keep clean. I can't get him to agree to get rid of anything without a lot of tears, and I hate to just take his things. With the gift-giving (and receiving) season approaching, I'd really like to get rid of many of his old toys, but I want him to be part of the process, ideally as a willing participant. Does anyone have any tips for teaching young kids the importance of decluttering and getting rid of toys, whether selling them or donating to others? Thanks in advance for your help!

What Do the Toys Want to Do?

When my daughter was four, she too wanted all of her toys. They all had personal meaning to her. We had a discussion about children who didn't have so many toys, and who would love to have some of her toys. I pointed out that maybe she could help those children. She came up with the idea of asking the toy itself (!) whether it would like to go and help another child have fun. We then had this rather amazing scene where she asked each toy and then listened to its (silent) response. The ones that were eager to go, she put in the box for Blue Santa (our local police collection for Christmas), and the others went back in the toy box. We were able to say goodbye to about half of them, while respecting her emotional attachment, and she gained new compassion for others. The scene is one I'll never forget!

Try an Intermediate Stop in Storage

I also think it is important that kids learn to give up what they no longer need, but I don't think the average four-year-old is ready to do this. Instead of arguments and tears, consider other ways to handle the issue.

When we moved across country, my 12-year-old was not ready to give up a lot of toys he rarely touched. My solution was to box them and put them in the attic. He never asked for them, but he felt secure that he could. It helped him adjust to his new home. You could try the same approach.

Another way to handle this is to choose one toy to give away for each new one he gets. He might enjoy the idea of giving his toy a new home and helping another child. You could also buy large net laundry bags in bright colors and store many soft toys, trucks, etc. in them, hanging somewhere in his room where he could enjoy seeing them but would not have to clean them frequently.

Decluttering is a good thing to do, but it may not be worth it if the child becomes upset. Maybe an intermediate stop in storage will help him let go.

Is your family heading for debt trouble? Many families are and don't even know it. This simple checklist can help you determine if you are and what you can do to avoid it.

Learning to Purge

When your child is away, you should box up at least half of the toys and introduce something "new" for toy storage. The "new" could be anything from plastic bins to shelves, or just a re-arranging of the space to make things different. Keep a selection of toys in his room utilizing the "new" storage. Put everything else someplace out of sight and out of mind. Inform your child that he can still play with any of the old toys. He just needs to ask you for them and select something else from his existing rotation that he would like to exchange. (When doing exchanges, it needs to be size comparable.) Expect a tantrum, but keep firm to the new system. Keep track of what toys get played with and which ones are quickly forgotten. Select a time period for purging (6 months or a year) and get rid of what your child hasn't requested to play with. When the holidays roll around, it will be time to make room for new toys. For everything new that comes in his room, something old has to go into the stored toys.

For those crafts and drawings and other stuff your child makes, you should have a special display area for those things. Only as much as will fit in the display can remain. When something new comes into the display, something old goes out. In the early days of learning this display rotation, let your child save stuff by putting it in a box. When the box is full, have your child help sort through the old stuff and discard enough to make room for new treasures. Learning to purge will become a very important skill once he enters school and every day is bringing more papers into the home.
Ms. Wilder

Two Tricks That Work

When my kids were little I did two things that seemed to work.

  1. When they weren't around, I went through their room and took things out that I knew they wouldn't miss. I picked old craft things (the fun was in the doing it), broken toys, etc. I didn't take much at a time, so they wouldn't notice. Then I put them in a black bag or box and hid them in a closet or attic. I waited a month, and if they asked for an item, I would casually get it for them. After a month if nothing had been asked for, I would discard the items or give them away to Goodwill if they were in good condition.
  2. The next thing that worked was setting up a garage sale in our hallway. We would line up all the stuffed animals, cars, or other toys. I didn't pick favorite ones but the ones taking up space. Next, I would give each child four quarters and tell them that all the toys in the hallway are 25 cents. They could buy four of them that they really wanted to keep and the rest were going to be given away. Most of the time, they would buy one toy and ask to keep the other quarters. I said "sure" and they would help me load up all the toys not "bought" into the car. It really helped them to see that if they had to buy the toy, they didn't really want it.

Kids Love to Help Other Kids

Play a game where he gets to donate his toys and he gets to pick ten toys to donate to kids less fortunate. This will make him feel as though he's helping children who won't otherwise have toys. At the same time, it clears out the clutter.

Send him in his room with a bag and tell him to pick ten things he thinks he's too big to play with anymore to donate. When kids are helping other kids, they tend to be more willing to give up their extras.

See Also: 5 Cheap Storage Solutions for Kids' Rooms

Teach the Concept of Secondary Storage

When my children were little, I didn't think they had the skills to decide which toys they had grown out of. I simply went to the toy box a few times a year and cleaned it out. If I hadn't seen them playing with a given toy recently, or if it was clearly for a younger child, I put it into the "donate" box hidden in the basement.

When they got to the age when I thought they should be participating in this process (and would notice if something "disappeared"), I began doing it with the child. My kids are now teenagers, and I must say that they still don't like to part with things. But we insist that a child's belongings should, by and large, fit in their rooms.

I teach the kids the concept of "secondary storage" by giving them a box or two in the basement storage room. If they realize they haven't used something in quite a while, but they're not quite ready to get rid of it, I suggest they put it in their box in the basement. They can always bring it out and play with it again, but their "stuff" still has to fit in their room. When we're preparing to take a load of stuff to the local charity thrift store, we'll look through those boxes in the basement and see whether they're ready to get rid of some of it.

Survey Junkie

Letting Go of the Old for Something New

What has helped my girls get rid of some of their toys is to offer to buy them one "new" toy at a yard sale or thrift store for every three toys they donate. They go around and pick out whichever three toys they feel they can part with. If they come to me with three tiny toys, I only let them buy a small or medium toy, but if they pick three medium to large toys, they can get a larger toy. They are always excited to get something "new" and the clutter is reduced.

Be Firm

I had four kids who wanted to keep everything they had and threw tantrums if I went into their rooms and cleaned anything out. But I had to remember that I was the adult, and they weren't running the house. So instead of doing their work for them, I made a rule they had no choice but to follow. There would be no Christmas toys, no birthday toys, and no special occasion toys unless they got rid of one good toy to a charity of their choice for each new one they got. As they got older and the toys they wanted became more expensive, the ratio was two old ones to one new one. They got to pick. At first, they didn't believe me, but as the first Christmas loomed with no packages under the tree, it was amazing how much they cleaned out.

See Also: Pull Your Kids Away From Their Phones and Tablets

Keep Memories Alive in Pictures

Here's an idea that should work for any age. Buy the person a camera and a photo album and let them take a couple of pictures of the toy or whatever and keep the photos in the album as a memory of the item that they had a hard time letting go. This keeps the memories alive in a neat little album. The person might start a new hobby of photography while they're at it.

Make Room for Christmas

When my kids were little, we had a policy that if they were going to get presents for Christmas, they had to make room. So every year in November, we would go through everything in their room. Anything that was torn or broken had to be gotten rid of with no arguments. Some, if they were that important and were repairable, were allowed to be repaired, but in order to receive any toys for Christmas, at least half their toys had to be gotten rid of. The child got to make the choice as to whether a toy was kept, donated to a daycare or another child, sold online, or packed in the attic for safe keeping, but half the toys had to leave. Any toys that were sold went to help the child buy presents for those on his list. It worked really well. Through the years, we have always been big about donating items or food to people in need. My kids always knew that their toys would go to someone who might not have a Christmas unless we helped. We never had a lot, and my kids knew what it felt like to do without, so they knew it was the right thing to do.

Children Mimic What They See

Children mimic what they see. Gather up some of your things to donate and tell him about children who have nothing. Ask him to give up just one thing to start with. Do this once or twice a month.

Sweet and Sentimental

My son is very sentimental about his belongings. The toys all mean something to him, but they just kept piling up and we really needed to get rid of some. I had him pose with his toys, and I took pictures. That way he has the memories, but some other child has been able to enjoy and love the toys too. He has gotten to the point where he requests we do this, so he can donate toys to kids that don't have any. The pictures give him the "toy" to keep in his memory book. He's very happy with this solution. In fact, I had a bread machine my deceased father had used. Well, it finally broke and I knew I couldn't keep it, even though it was very sentimental. My son got his camera and took pictures of me with it. It was so sweet, and it really did help to keep the pictures.

Reviewed October 2017

Take the Next Step:

Share your thoughts about this article with the editor.

Stay Connected with TDS


It's tough raising kids today!

Dollar Stretcher for Parents is a weekly newsletter designed just for parents that will help save your family both time and money.

Little Luxuries

And get a copy
of our ebook
Little Luxuries:
130 Ways to Live Better...For Less
for FREE!

Your Email:

View the TDS Privacy Policy.

Get Out of Debt