purging with your kids

We’re baaaaaaack… Today, we thought we’d dive right in with this series, and cover the topic of purging with your kids.

Remember when we decided to begin simplifying over the holidays? I wasn’t sure where to begin. It all seems so overwhelming at first… It’s one of those things where you just dive in and start. I was just completely overwhelmed, and then I was a total purgaholic. Before I knew it, I’d filled twenty five bags to the brim and was abstaining from sticking myself in a bag and on the curb because sometimes… that sounds nice. What?

We made the choice to change our lifestyle. And it’s working. Slowly but surely are the key words here. But as you guys know, whenever you make a choice to change something in your family, it also has to happen as a family unit for it to be successful.


Enter : tiny mess-making, stuff-hoarding offspring.

I think we can all relate to the kid conundrum and this angle of cleaning up our act.

Let’s just keep it real. While I would like to say that over the holidays, we held a family meeting that was full of come-to-Jesus-kumbayas, and that each child is a perfect angel donning a halo who now cleans their room unasked on a regular basis… let me just say that would also be a boldfaced lie, and we totally purged behind their backs.

All the obscure toys… the tiny forgotten pieces…the excess… it went to a better place. (See: anywhere not in our home) The things that they weren’t playing with because of all the stuff. I simply wasn’t prepared to make 1 million tiny decisions with my three children weighing in on the matter with whiney objecting voices and clingy grabby hands. For our own sanity, we chose not to involve them. We put them in front of a movie and snuck out of the room with trash bags in hand.

Sometimes progress for the sake of progress is a necessary evil in the land of all things toy purging. I’ve found that if we didn’t start the way we did, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. It would have been agonizing and unnecessary. Why allow my three year old to cry over the rando happy meal toy he forgot about six months ago?


Do you know what happened when we were awful parents and purged behind their backs? They never even noticed. When we pointed out how much more space they had for their favorites, they thanked us. They were excited. They played with the toys they have. And never once missed the mylittleponymutantninjaturtletoy that came with a side of fries.

It was a small miracle in our home.

When it comes to involving your children, there’s a difference between the initial purge, and establishing a lifestyle.

The initial purge : Progress is important in the very beginning to stay motivated. My children are very young. They don’t understand all that much, and honestly what they don’t know won’t hurt them… This may not work for everyone. It was kind of key for us.

Establishing a lifestyle : Because it’s a two sided coin, our children are very young. There’s time to establish this with them. They’re very impressionable and easily influenced.

I’ve found, when it comes down to it, children will surprise you. But they’re all in different places as far as wrapping their brains around the concept.

My seven year old has the bleeding heart. He cries for people he sees on the side of the street holding a cardboard sign. He will come home, empty his piggy bank, and make us turn around to go back and give a homeless man a few dollars of his own (hard earned) money. My three year old, on the other hand, hides toys in every nook and cranny, because he’s not quite there. He still thinks sharing means he will never see said item again. We’re working on it.

A little patience in this process goes a long way. This is the world that we’ve created for them, after all. So here’s a few of the helpful… and the not so much that we’ve found works for us when it comes to purging with our children.

Necessary parental perspective inserted here: we realize this isn’t what’s best for everyone. It’s simply what worked for us, and our children at their ages. Here’s a few thoughts we have on the process.  And we’ll start with the not so much.


(Just a little food for thought, these are just a few things we won’t be doing with our kids. This section could also read: Things Ashley has already messed up royally)

1. Use of the guilt tactic. 

I joke around about guilt. And I struggle with guilt. I can’t let this trickle down to my kids. This is the reality I’ve created for my children. It’s not fair to throw it back in their faces. Ever.

It may gain me immediate results with the traditional, “You know, children in (fill in the blank location) have a lot less, and you have all these toys…” But we all know where guilt will get you. It teaches them to do something for all the wrong reasons with negative consequences. Bad feelings should never be associated with the less fortunate.

And more importantly (which I believe is an important life lesson) gifts should never come with strings attached. I think we communicate this when we use guilt to get them to do what we want them to do.

Basic RGB

2. The fear tactic. 

“I’m throwing all of these away if you don’t clean up, now.”

Y’all. I use this all the time. And while this one isn’t always a bad thing… it probably even works wonderfully with older kids. (I don’t know. I’m not there yet.) But I’m looking at it long term with my littles. I don’t want to give my kids a fear complex when it comes to cleaning up. Like throwing things out is a bad thing.


If we constantly threaten them, and then I do include them in the next purge, with the intent to let them choose what they want to get rid of or give to others, won’t they have negative feelings associated with that? Wouldn’t it actually encourage them to hoard? I think it’s important that we never use something we want them to do on their own, as a punishment in other situations.


With those gross notsomuches out of the way, here’s a few positive things we’re proactively doing, to instill a lifetime of gratefulness in our family.

They’re little tactics woven into the very day for positive reinforcement.

1. Lead by example. 

We’re letting them see the change in us, and our family. Mommy and daddy cleaned out a bunch of bags, and took them to the donation center. We have closets of food and clothes at our church for those who don’t have as much as we do. We are called to help those who are less fortunate than us. We don’t eat out as much anymore. It’s changes that are adding up to make a big difference, and all those little changes are related to each other. They see this. And because of that, they have questions… which leads me to…

2. Regular discussion.

Now that our kids can see the direction we’re headed, they’ve seen changes and they have questions. They ask why. Just like anything that you want to be a regular part of your lives, you work it into daily conversations. It means honesty and encouragement on our end. We’re definitely imperfect, but we’re doing our best. Because of that, they’re learning.


3. Focus on experiences.

While the latest and greatest in toy land is fun, it can take a toll on the parents who are desperately trying to simplify their lives with their children. It calls for preventative measures and active changes. We’ve started to look at alternatives in little ways, like trips instead of the typical toy influx… and experiences more than the actual things all of the time.

This includes time spent together, rather than always adding to the clutter. Even projects as a family (like a child from Compassion) are something we’re working on to give them a healthy, global perspective.

Widening the view and taking off those horse blinders in all things accumulated lego land, is the goal here.

I’ll go back to the original statement I’ve said time and time again… It’s not the things that are bad. It’s the excess. There is a lot to be said about all things in moderation. This offers some answers to that never ending conundrum of living with children.

In the end, I still believe that your children will surprise you. Mine surprise me, daily. From potty training to generosity, let them make some of their own choices. Once you’re at that place, past that initial purge (if you choose to do it like we did) and see what happens. It’s a healthy part of maintaining a simple lifestyle.

I think this is what is so interesting about it all. There is no magical formula. No snapping of the fingers or waving of the magic wand. It’s an organic process that will change with you as your family grows. And it’s a gargantuan learning curve, if ever I’ve been a part of one.

So how do you involve your children in this process? What’s your policy in your family and simplifying your lives? Any tips? We’d love to hear!

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Responses to purging with your kids

  1. Cathy Lane says:

    Behind their backs is essential for broken bits, etc. I’m always amazed at how a kiddlet will be certain that every piece of colored plastic is a treasure. Key is to not actually destroy their true “treasures”. Every kid needs a SMALL box to hold bits and bobs they are currently cherishing be they rocks, feathers, leaves or what not. Mom can set rules about what can be kept. Growing up, a friend visited our ranch and returned to her home with a dead and dessicated bat (unknown to anyone) she had encased in a waxed paper bag. Her Mom found it in the sock drawer. You got to love it.

  2. Danielle says:

    I do find that having a discussion with my 5 and 7 year old girls about moderation works for us. Of course I take away the small trinkets that you know they will never miss (like the birthday favor bags filled with plastic junk… Can all of us moms just agree not to give that stuff out?!) but for the bigger items… I find that they are sometimes relieved at not having to manage so many toys or things. They play better and keep their things neater when there is less to take care of! But I am also guilty of making them feel guilty (about the excess) but am working on it!

  3. Raylynn says:

    We follow flylady and do 27 fling boogies. We reace around and try to collect 27 items to either give away or throw away in 15 minutes. MY 12yoDs, my husband and I. Then we meet back up to se who wins. We have a little friendly arguing along the way, and discuss whether some items count or not. We usually end up laughing and still decluttering.
    Love your perspective!

  4. Stefany says:

    Great post! I find myself in the same situation, there’s so much stuff that nothing gets played with; yet when I pair down my daughter actually plays! In her room! With her toys! The way I deal with getting rid of “stuff” is asking her which toys would she like to give to kids that don’t have toys and let me tell you she is generous! They may not be the ones I would choose to get rid of; which makes it an even easier process for me.

  5. I’ve done all the above. When I get annoyed, I say I’m going to throw toys out because they obviously don’t care about them. I learned from another mom to put them in “jail” instead. If you don’t take care of your things, they disappear for a while. Seems less punitive.

    We purge periodically, especially around gift-giving times of the year, and I remind them that there are children whose parents aren’t able to give them nice things. I don’t see it as guilt, but as an inducement to think of others.

  6. kendra says:

    I love these motivating posts! And your realness. The McToys get tossed all the time around here :)

  7. Ashley says:

    This is really minuscule in the grand scheme of things, but I’ve found it helps: Don’t buy kids meals. They’re overpriced with a junky toy and not enough food. If we do eat out, we let our kids choose something off the regular menu. More food for them, less price for us, and less plastic junk for kids to wag home.

  8. Suzie Popielec says:

    When our oldest (now 17) was little, we made a Rubbermaid box for each day of the week. Into each box went an assortment of toys: roleplay, trucks, “brainy” stuff, artsy stuff, Happy Meal junks, sportsy things, electronic “noisemakers,” etc. Each day a new box came out to amuse him. As he grew, we would cull the boxes to remove the things he no longer cared for, make repairs, regroup lost parts, and so on….ALWAYS while he slept. At one point, we kept a basket with ALL of the Happy Meal junks, and that was good for an afternoon of amusement, if we didn’t get it out too often. We ended up donating it to the barber shop or the dentist’s office…can’t remember which. Some of their toys (Thomas wooden trains, Matchbox, and certain others—-we’re saving for the grandkids—I’ll make room somewhere 😉

  9. Leah says:

    Because of a lice outbreak at school, I removed the piles of stuffed animals and blankets from my daughter’s room for quarantine. When she got home from school, she walked in her room and said, ‘wow, mom! My room looks so great!’ No idea. She’s almost 6. They’re not coming back.

  10. Beth S. says:

    In our house, when something comes in, something leaves to bless another family. Keep it up! Unfortunately it’s something you have to keep up with, but it gets easier.

  11. Pam says:

    I put stuff into bags and into my closet for a month. If it is never missed, good bye stuff. Also, giving my 6 year old a medium sized gift bag for his “treasures” which can include rocks, thread, pictures, you name it has done the trick for him. If the bag gets to full, he has to make the choices. This will never be easy of perfect with kids, but so far so good.
    Your perspective is enjoyable to read, thanks for sharing.

  12. Hey Ashley! Have you read ‘7-an experimental mutiny against excess’ by Jen Hatmaker? It is fabulous. This post made me think of it.

  13. thefolia says:

    I don’t think informing children how lucky they are to have meals anytime of the day and toys to choose from is a guilt tactic. I certainly don’t tell them for the guilt factor, I want them to be aware of others in need as well as know how fortunate they are to have choices in food and toys and to be generous about what they have to those who don’t.

    • No, and that definitely wasn’t what I was saying. It’s all in when and how. I just won’t make my children feel bad about that. It’s all about a global awareness and perspective :) a sense of gratitude is never a bad thing. It’s the guilt I like to avoid.

  14. Megan B says:

    My son’s birthday is a few days before Christmas, so he spends a week completely obsessed with what he’s going to get/what he got/what he still wants. My husband and I keep the gifts to a minimum so he’ll actually play with everything. Unfortunately, my in-laws go absolutely crazy with the gifts–13 birthday presents to open this year!? My son was opening them and setting them aside without even looking at them. It made me sick because he’s usually so appreciative and this made him just look greedy. But he’s little, what can you expect? Both my husband and I told my in-laws that they could absolutely not go crazy next year. We just won’t allow it. We don’t want to be ungrateful, but it just goes against what we’re trying to teach our kids. We have half of the gifts on a shelf in my son’s closet and he hasn’t even asked to see them yet. Ugh. Next year we’ll suggest a zoo membership instead.
    Because of all of the gift craziness, we reminded him to focus on what he has, not what he doesn’t have. I told him that we’ll never be happy if we’re always worried about what we don’t have. Just enjoy what you do have, and maybe you’ll be happy. He also started a gratitude journal (btw, he’s 6) and each night before bed he writes down something he’s grateful for. Sometimes it’s silly like his calculator and sometimes it’s sweet like ‘my dad because we both love to watch Star Wars’. It’s been amazing to see the change in him though. He rarely talks about what he hopes to get next, and he just enjoys what he has.
    And you better believe I’m going to start reminding my in-laws about the gift situation by September!

    • CatQ says:

      I LOVE the graditute journal. I wonder if I can start that with my 4.5 year old once a week, and he can draw a picture of what he is thankful for, and I can write the words. Being thankful in life is so important, and if they can learn early, how much easier thier lives will be if they start learning now.
      On another note, I have always said to my little guy if he grows out of a piece of clothing, or doesn’t want to play with a toy anymore, that there is another little boy that would like to have it. Now my son comes up to me and says, Mom, I think another little boy might light this. Or if he finds a baby toy, he says, can we send this toy to my baby cousin? Now it’s the Momma, ME, who has to follow thru and purge!

  15. I try to involve my children in the toy purging but recently I grabbed a few (seemingly forgotten) things out of the bottom of the toy box and threw them in with other items I was donating. Just a week later they were enthusiastically creating an elaborate My Little Pony world in which the crowning jewel was to be their “Princess Celeste” pony… that they just could NOT find ANYWHERE… You guessed it, I had donated it. Talk about feeling guilty! I vowed to never do that again. Of course, when they were two years old it was fine.

    • Jennifer, I’ve totally been there! I actually had to go BACK to the Goodwill trailer to search for the “special” bear that my daughter insisted I must have given away when I did a minor purge in her room while she was at school. We couldn’t find it in the trailer. I felt terrible…until she found it misplaced somewhere else in our house a week or so later. Agh! It’s not easy including them in every purge, but I really don’t want to go through that again.

  16. Sara says:

    my household suffers from this, and I am still trying to find a good answer. I too do sneaky purges and then donate to big brother/big sisters. One problem here is that my 7-year old will ask about 3 months later where a once forgotten toy went and I really kind of have to lie about it. I mean, if the toy was to being used it’s got to be fair game, but I can’t help feeling uneasy about it. The second place I take other trinkets to is to work, which is good for me and my kids don’t seem to notice the loss of teeny tiny items. My 7 year old was enthusiastic about donating to make more room for birthday presents:) The biggest problem is that we have multiple buyers: dad, grandparents, birthday presents, etc. It gets hard to empty the house because it feels “rude”. My husband is getting better, now I have to work on my mom who can go overboard, mostly b/c she buys things at yard sales in the extreme, like huge boxes of duplos that would be appropriate for a daycare. But this is not really a “problem” just a side-effect of our affluence of our society and something we should be grateful for. It is a privilege to be able to donate and it is much better for our kids to be playing in messy rooms with too many toys than sitting perfectly in a pristine house watching tv.

  17. Susan says:

    Well! I sure did enjoy that, we go to exercise downtown, it makes
    Me sad, parking the car, you plainly see, the Haves & Have Nots.
    There is a shelter & food pantry in the area & it seems so
    Shocking to me, I see people walking into the gym & some seem to
    Be able to block out those who, Have Not.

    I was looking in my closet & found some things I have not worn
    This winter because I have too much. I started at 1 end &
    Pulled out sweaters & dresses & skirts & sweats.

    When I took them into the mission where clothing donations are
    Accepted & given by size to match up the person with the need.

    The volunteer who took my things pointed at the side of the room
    Where there were rows of empty clothing racks. She told me the
    Need was so great & our weather so cold, they were down to
    Bits & pieces of clothes. I had brought a new dress I wore to
    A wedding once & it could easily double as a prom dress or
    Party dress. She told me teenage girls sometimes find suitable
    Party clothes & the girls are so happy when they find it.

    I am so happy that you thought to donate those things, there are
    Almost 400,000 people in our city & the clothing racks were empty.
    At the same time, 1 of our big dept. stores is having their seasonal
    Clearance. I hope more people will take time & thought to let
    Go, there is such need.

    I know, because I see the people downtown who look so beat down.
    I hope some of my excess will brighten someone’s life, as it’s obvious
    All your bags of things will be put in the hands of those who need them.

    Long post xx

  18. Amanda Hes says:

    I love this! I love this series, I love your blog and I love this post!!
    My boys are 3 and 5 and we are just learning to minimize the toys so they can enjoy everything they have. By removing all the tiny pieces and meal toys and broken things from the closet they realized they had about 10 dinosaurs from the PBS show Dinosaur Train that all talk and interact with each other- they played happily together for hours (unheard of in my house!) and return to them to play again.
    Another rule is all toys from meals must remain in the car- yes this keeps crap in the car but…… It keeps things from making it into the house shoved in any container, corner or under the bed, and it forces them to keep a few they like (we have seat covers that have small nets in them- what fits stays, what doesn’t goes directly into the trash). It may seem silly or backwards but it works for us in a semi-manageable-non-crisis sort of way.
    Thanks for always inspiring and always being good for a large laugh at myself since we are not alone in the quest:)