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Monday Mom challenge: Pre-holiday toy cleanout

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Make space make lists

The amount of "stuff" my family accumulates is overwhelming. Even with consciously trying to refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and re-just about anything, the bits trickle in. At no time is this more apparent that during the holiday season. I used to practically have panic attacks in late December and early January from the visual noise all this stuff created.

Make space make listsBut then, a couple of years ago, I had an unexpected day off just before Thanksgiving and, on a whim, decided to do some preemptive holiday cleaning out. I went through the kids toys, mostly, and books, and many things on the surface of shared rooms (there just wasn't enough time to do closets), and cleared out a huge amount of things outgrown or not used for various other reasons.

It felt great. Not only was there less stuff in general (always a good feeling), but I was able to make better gift suggestions to my relatives for more appropriate gifts for the kids, I was able to donate some barely used items to local organizations - and I was calmer, right through January.

A solo job

Cleaning out kids' stuff is best left to a day when the kids aren't around, I think. As much as you try to reason with your kids, there's often a toy they haven't seen in forever, didn't remember they had, but it is suddenly their favorite toy ever! Any progress you make in your clean out is slowed by this. Each time I've done this, the kids like what they see in terms of the organization, but are never able to quite identify what might be missing.

Get more tips here on keeping your kids toys and playroom organized.

Make lists

Cleaning out actually has given me great ideas for holiday gifts for my kids. As I'm cleaning out the arts and crafts area, I notice what is most used, and can replenish crayons and pencils and such for stocking stuffers. As I organize, I think about how much certain toys are used and often come up with toys that will complement those oft-used items well. In this way, cleaning out contributes to holiday budgeting; I'm much more confident in what I choose for the kids and can spend some time finding the best bargain for it.


There are often a good number of items I find in this clean out that have a lot of life left in them - but my kids won't be the ones to give it. Either the toys just didn't go over as well as we thought they would, or, more often, my kids have just plain outgrown them. I have a small box full of really nice wooden infant and toddler toys. While I might save one or two for a future grandchild, most of these items deserve to be used! These items I set aside for distribution to local shelters and other organizations. Likewise with books.

Get more tips here on teaching charity to our kids.

Now that I am in the habit of it, I look forward to this pre-holiday clean out. It's not just about making room for what will be added during the holiday season, but about helping me make better choices about what is added. I always try to be conscious of not just refilling for the sake of refilling in the weeks afterward. It really does clear my head and make room in there, too, for the fun of the season ahead.

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