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Decluttering for Purposeful Play

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

Last month, I launched my play and learning space consultation service. As the photographs have been coming in, I've been struck by the richness and diversity of children's lives and by the love and devotion of parents and carers who are committed to providing the best for them.

I'm also reminded of how our home looked and felt less than a year ago. I was so overwhelmed by children's toys and resources, that the clutter began to have a negative impact on my mental health. I felt like I was drowning!

There is now evidence to suggest that clutter causes anxiety and stress. If we feel overwhelmed by our messy homes, how can we expect our children to play and learn in them?

So, one of the many reasons that I'm now in a position to help others with their play and learning spaces, is because I have been through this process myself.


The first step in my consultation process is the decluttering phase. For those of you who are not in a position to sign up to my service, this is where I'd recommend you start. This blog post is for you...

So, let's get started!

Too many toys make children feel overwhelmed, and when presented with too much choice, children will often choose nothing. Decluttering is the first step towards creating a purposeful play space.

We're going to begin the process of decluttering by sorting all of your toys and resources into three piles: keep, donate/sell, discard.

The first phase is super easy. If a toy is broken beyond repair, or has missing pieces that impact play, then it goes in the bin. I've tried to repair this little Sylvanian Family bicycle twice with super glue, but it keeps on breaking. It's time to let it go.

If your child has outgrown it, or doesn’t play with it anymore, then it goes in the donate/sell box. At this point I also donated party bag toys, toys that come with magazines, small character toys etc. We try to avoid these things coming in to our house any more.

When I’m trying to make a decision about a toy/resource, I’ll ask myself five questions.

Firstly, does it spark joy? If you love it, then it stays. If your child loves it, then it stays. If you don’t love it, but it is useful, is used regularly and serves an important purpose, then it stays. For example, a dustpan and brush. You can slowly upgrade items like these when you have the funds and find replacements that you do love. This concept comes from Marie Kondo's 'Magic Art of Tidying'. If you haven't already read this, I recommend that you do. It's a very easy read and has been life changing for us!

The second consideration is, is the toy flexible or non-flexible (open-ended or closed)?

Building blocks are a flexible, open-ended toy as they can be played with in many different ways.

A jigsaw puzzle is a non-flexible, closed toy, as it only serves one purpose.

You want to aim to have a 80:20 ratio (80% flexible to 20% non-flexible toys).

Thirdly, do I have another toy/resource that serves the same purpose/function? For example, two or three different types of threading beads are not necessary. Choose one, and donate/sell the other two.

I then ask myself, how easy would it be to replace if I were to pass it on?

Some toys and resources are very easy to come across, and to purchase second hand, for example, jigsaw puzzles. During my many years of teaching, I would buy and sell boxes and boxes of jigsaw puzzles. Other toys are more unique, or expensive, and will be more difficult to replace. For example, these Grimms colour tablets were expensive to buy and the wooden tray is a one-of-a-kind, car boot sale find. This invitation to play would be difficult for me to replace.

Lastly, I ask myself, where is it going to live? This is more difficult when you are right at the beginning of the process, and will be easier once you get toy rotation in place. Toy rotation is the next step in my consultation process. Everything needs to have a forever home in order for this process to work.

My TOP TIPS for successful decluttering:

* Start small if you feel very overwhelmed e.g. one category at a time, such as puzzles.

* For those items that you are really struggling to make a decision about, pack them away, and if you haven't sought them out within a month, then pass them on.

* Keep your box of donate/sell items well out of sight of your children!

I hope you find this helpful, and feel inspired to make a start. I have just listed TWO more spots for a personalised play and learning space consultation. You can find out more here.

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