The toys are gone

The toys are gone - our family's path toward a more simple life.  | Clean.

Several weeks ago we rearranged our house. We changed up the location of our bedrooms to carve out a separate space for each of the kids.

And figuring out where to put all of our belongings in this new arrangement, I was a bit winded by how much stuff we own.

For all of our simplicity aspirations, it's hard to keep the chaos at bay.

Our stuff may be far from the American norm in the type and quantity of our things, but we still have too much stuff. Way too much.

Because a shelf or bin or pile of wooden toys is still a shelf or bin or pile of toys. And six mama-made Waldorf dolls still adds up to six dolls – more than one pair of arms can hold.

And it's not just my kids. The same goes for my craft supplies, pyrex stash, and fabric. We're drowning in excess over here. I suspect we're not alone.

So as we pre-cleaned the kids' bedroom before our big rearrange I commented how much stuff they had. Specifically how much stuff they had on the floor.

So many treasures. So much "potential". So. Much. Stuff.

Their new rooms were smaller than their shared room. Much smaller. Tiny even.

And so I asked: how do you feel when you look at the clutter in your bedroom?

Do you want all this stuff in your new room?

The toys are gone - our family's path toward a more simple life.  | Clean.

And as it turned out they didn't like the chaos any more than I did. They were overwhelmed by their belongings. They were ready for a change, too.

Because no matter how clean they made their rooms, with too many things it quickly degrades into chaos again. It's nature. Chaos rules.

My solution? Have less stuff.

They agreed.

They were ready to fill a bye-bye box or two. But I took things up a notch. Without pressure I suggested this solution:

What if we boxed up the things we're ready to donate, but also boxed up the things we're ready to live without for a while to store for a season?

If we miss something special we know where to find it.

If we don't we can donate the lot when we're ready.

The toys are gone - our family's path toward a more simple life.  | Clean.

They agreed with enthusiasm.

Because there was no risk. They decided what to keep, what let go of permanently and what to let go of on a trial basis. It was perfect.

I brought a few bags and boxes upstairs and we set to work – together. I encouraged them along but never pushed, pressured, or scolded.

This was their room, their stuff, their call. We had fun and spent a couple of hours being ruthless with the clutter. There was lots of joking, goofing, and mama-wearing-costumes sort of nonsense. The mood was light.

We had four zones: trash, recycling, thrift-store donations, and "hold". ("Hold" was the most popular for Lupine because it allowed her to let go of things with a safety net that it would still be there if she wanted it again.) We filled bag after bag after bag.


And then their room was empty.

Beds, dressers, and – well, mostly just the beds and dressers remained.


The toys were gone.

Yes, even most of the toys I made them.

Art on the walls they stopped loving years ago was gone.

Yes, even art I thought was sweet.

Extra clothes were gone.

Yes, even a few old favorites that I would have queitly kept if I were in charge.

It turns out it was a letting go excercise for us all.

The toys are gone - our family's path toward a more simple life.  | Clean.

The chaos was gone.

And they couldn't have been more delighted.

They each kept a few favorite things. One mama made doll, one small stuffed animal, and one RC car each. A small shared basket of Legos. Sage kept three additional stuffed animals and one action figure;  Lupine kept some of her dress-up clothes and a handful of plastic animals.

That's it.

The sum-total of their toys, aside from board games and homeschooling and craft supplies (though within a few days those and also our books had been pared down as well).


No clutter, no junk, almost no toys.

We were liberated from our belongings.


And yes, I'm in the midst of the same process with my own things.


But what happened next was the most fascinating of all.

There was less grumping and drama in our house. Less frustration. Less anxiety.

More laughter. More harmony. More ease.

We found peace in the open space we created.


What do they play with? What they always played with.

Nature. Their imaginations. Each other.

They craft and create, they explore and draw, they read and invent, they cook and they bake.

Because toys have never been where it's at. They've been fun, but not the center of who they are or how they spend their days.

The toys are gone - our family's path toward a more simple life.  | Clean.

Six weeks later I asked them what they missed.

Of all those bags we sent out to the barn, what were they wanting back? Did they miss the dolls and doll clothes? The toy guns and swords and bows? The costumes and play silks? The action figures and matchbox cars? The dollhouse and fancy carved figurines?

No, actually. They didn't.

They liked it better this way.

Lupine misses nothing. Sage is contemplating bringing one Nerf gun back into his life. But he hasn't gone out to the barn to get it yet.


Do we still have a long way to go? Of course.

Drop by any random day and you're sure to be met by a remarkable amount of chaos.

But we're making progress.

And we're not just making progress in the physical reality of our home. We're making progress in our mindset.

Last week my mom was visiting and brought along a "learning toys" catalogue. Lupine poured over the glossy pages and called me in from the other room. "Mama, there is something in here that I really, really want…"

She paused.

"Actually, I'm not sure that I want it. It might just be more stuff laying around."

She showed it to me just the same and then finished with, "It is cool, but I don't actually want it after all."


We are transformed.



Inspired? Here are some tips to making your holiday celebration more meaningful without drowning in more things you don't need.

And you might also enjoy this post from a few years back.


11 thoughts on “The toys are gone

  1. liz says:

    Great inspiration! I love seeing this moments that capture your children’s growth. And yours too. When we moved from our house to a small apartment last year, I really upped my simplification schemes. I’ve always been pretty conscious of how many things my kids have access to because I realized, at some point, that on any given day, they might feel the need to dump out every.single.thing they can reach, and they might not have the maturity to pick all (or any…) of it up.

    I’ve gone (almost unintentionally) to a toy rotation plan. For example, the play kitchen/most of the food just went back into storage (after being out for a season or two) and I brought out the basket of Schleich fairies and farm animals (they’re agricultural fairies, apparently). And both of my kids were so excited to see those things. Very blissful playtime yesterday.

  2. Julia says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us. The timing for you was just perfect!
    Our kids from time to time mention that too much stuff is overwhelming. But now, just like you, we are waiting for a move – not rooms, but moving houses. I think that would be the perfect moment for us to do de-cluttering and re-thinking about what we really want to take with us into our new, empty home.

  3. KC says:

    Yes to simplicity! The best thing we ever did was selling everything we owned except 4 suitcases worth of clothing when we moved to France. It freed our little family of 4 in the most liberating of ways. When we returned from France having nothing but clothing has allowed us to really be mindful buyers and not bring too much into the house.

  4. Fräulein Rucksack says:

    We’re on that journey. And even being mindful about the things coming in, still. It needs attention and rethinking on a regular basis.
    We have a tiny apartment and started decluttering a year ago. But it’s a learning progress. I’ll go through my fabric tonight again. I keep many things to upcycle. I really do it, too. Just, it’d take me months do get it all done. And in a few months, I could surely get new material if I needed to. There is so.much.stuff in our world.
    Our child is just 2 and a half and I love making things. How do you now think of the making process? I mean, would you make six dolls again, as example?

  5. Rachel Wolf says:

    If I had it to do over again I would make one doll for my kids when they were toddlers and one doll when they were older. It’s enough. Really. And to learn to truly treasure what you have? What a gift. It really is hard to know when to stop making and giving. It’s the crafty curse!

  6. Pamela R says:

    Space is what it’s all about with my kiddos. The creativity, the action, the happiness! That being said, it’s amazing as they get older how little they really find important. Enjoy the new space!

  7. channon says:

    We just relocated to a new city, and went through all the stuff we had. I was shocked at how much stuff we had accumulated. We went through and cleaned out, gave away and unloaded all the extra. Once we moved and started going through the boxes I realized we hadn’t gotten rid of enough. So, we went through another round. Homeschooling stuff, arts and crafts, tools, clothes, etc. It feels so nice to be free of the ‘stuff’. The kids actually play and create together. It’s been great.

  8. Emilie says:

    What fo you do with the stuff your kiddos make? My oldest gets so attached to every scrap of paper, even the ones that aren’t his! I would say paper is our biggest problem. I have tried to limit their art to the space on the clothes line in our art/school room, doubling up as necessary and letting them tape art to their walls. I also ask them to keep no more then can fit into the box on their dresser, but seems everwhere I look I find paper!

  9. V McKnelly says:

    I wish this were how it is with mine. For whatever reason, my oldest especially loves all her things, as if they were people, as if she can’t bear to part with them. We have hold boxes and just as I think she is done with those items, and ready to part with them for good, she goes down to the basement, opens one, and brings half of its contents back up. My girl doesn’t see a mess, she sees magic, and I have to temper my feelings and look through her eyes, which see so differently from mine. I don’t know why it is, but I know it is. So I try to help her reevaluate her feelings and her belongings all the time, and I just bite my tongue so she doesn’t feel her vision is “a mess”.

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