(This is what works for us. Maybe you have some special needs or situation where your child may really benefit from one of these things. I'll assume you know I'm not talkin' bout those, sound good?)
I've come to believe that most kids actually thrive more with less toys. Not no toys but less than the bins and boxes and several hundred square feet of house space taken up by play things. Their imagination is more developed, their attention span increased, their gratitude expanded. Quite possibly the most important, mother's sanity is defended.
Here are my general guidelines of toys we don't need in our home. Following these I find the amount of stuff we have in our house to not be overwhelming or stress inducing. (Other things? Yes. But not this.) And while cleanup and upkeep are not always joyfully undertaken, they are essentially simple.
I realize it sounds strict or even harsh written out but I assure you that I'm not some crazy anti-toy lady asking for resentful and joyless children. (I've also never put it into such 'structured' form or thought about it much at all until writing this post.) And I'm also not a jerk about it with gifts. We're blessed that our families are really cooperative with this. I *try* to handle this issue with kindness and through it teach my kids the value and place that stuff should have in our lives. My kids for the most part have never even given second thought to how we do things. It's just how we do.
Toys that have only one function
These are the toys that are only made to be played with one way. Things like toy phones or that dog that barks and does the flip thing or the speak and say that tells you what sound the animal makes…those type of things. There's not much else you can do with them and the novelty wears off quickly. While there's nothing inherently wrong with them, of course, they tend to take up space while being limited in use. Those are the things they get to enjoy and be enthralled by in some office waiting room not our home. You get so much more imaginative play and bang for your buck with "open play" toys that are meant to be used in all sorts of ways. Blocks, a doll, Legos, a sandbox…those things.
Toys That They Just Don't Use (or use once a year)
If my kids just don't use a toy or they use it very very rarely, it doesn't earn a place in our home anymore. It's silly and greedy for us to keep something in our house that we don't use and that another child might. When my oldest turned two I got him the sweetest used wooden Amish-built kitchen set. We repainted it and fixed it all up and it was just darling. So cute. Over the next few years we received wooden food and kitchenware as gifts and I bought sweet little kitchen accessories from garage sales. I loved it. The problem, though? It was almost never played with. It just sat there looking cute (or being dumped out by toddlers). They couldn't care less if I got rid of it but I was the one attached to it! I finally gave it to a family who I knew would get a lot of use out of it and it freed up a huge piece of floor space and went to a much better home than ours.
Seventeen Versions of the One Toy
You know the scenario, I bet. Your child is into a dinosaur phase (or stuffed animals or matchbox cars or dolls or whatever) so said child ends up with ALL THE DINOSAURS from relatives, you, or the neighbor down the street (who may be just purging their family's collection onto you). Just because one is good doesn't make seventeen better. In fact, in some cases I think it undermines the specialness of that first beloved toy when a dozen other options come easily and on top of each other.
Toys Mom Just Doesn't Like
Mom, can I tell you a secret? Getting rid of that obnoxious toy is okay. You won't ruin your child and chances are they won't even notice. In some respects you may even be doing them a favor. And it's not pretentious, it's wise. You have the right to get rid of toys that just bug the heck out of you. (Who the heck invented that popping ball push toy?? NOT A MOM.) I have a thing against toys that make noise or are just plain ugly. So we don't have those. And I don't feel one bit guilty. I'd rather they play with a few quality toys than amass a bunch of stuff that is junk or horribly obnoxious.
Toys That Just Don't Feel Right.
On a related note, a parent has the right to say no to things that just seem "off", even if they can't explain why. That Bratz doll, questionable video game, or toilet humor pull string toy doesn't need to stay in your house even if Aunt Jenny or Grandma (or your children) think it's just the best gift ever. God made you the parent and He gives us intuition so that it can be used. I think maybe practicing intuition like this in smaller ways strengthens it to be used and followed when it's much more important.
Cheap Freebie Toys
I very often say no now when my kids are offered a freebie toy (or I stealthily get rid of it later on). Cheap toys that are given at restaurants or the dentist or as favors or prizes. (Dear Trader Joes, I heart you but my kids do not need a roll of ten stickers every time we grocery shop.) It seems, especially if you have multiple children, that left unchecked this kind of stuff will take over your house.
Toys, Even Good Ones, That Are Just. Too. Much.
Even if everything we have is purposefully selected or would be played with there is a point where it is more than one family should have. I think often about other parts of the world and throughout history where children have only a few toys and were happy (happier?). I think about what my children will learn if just because they like or want something they then get to have it. I think about the idea of detachment and the addiction we have in our country to STUFF (even good stuff). There is a point where I can say, "yes, that toy looks fun and is super neat and I bet you guys would love it. But we don't need it." And that's okay.
Toys That Don't Have a Place to Call Home
If I don't have a spot for a toy in my house, I have a general guideline that we need to either get rid of something else to make that space or it doesn't stay/come into our home. Maybe this sounds silly but I figure that God gave us the home we have. If there is not room to reasonably store that item in the space He's given us, then He doesn't mean for us to have it. (Bonus: When everything has a designated space, cleanup becomes far easier even for the littler ones.)
Toys With ALL THE PIECES
Toys That Will Be Easily Broken (or already are)
Clean-up to enjoyment ratio must be considered. If a toy has a lot of pieces and sees very little use besides getting toddler-dumped, then nope.
Toys That Will Be Easily Broken (or already are)
If it can be fixed, put it on the counter (or teach kids to) so you don't keep forgetting. If it can't and is unusable or if important pieces are missing and I know reasonably well that they aren't going to be replaced, it's time to part ways in the best possible way. If it's not something we own yet I try to be realistic about the quality and if it's worth it coming in.
I don't want my kids pining for something and liking it just because they've been told it's the thing to do, especially if it's dumb. (I'm lookin' at you, Silly Bandz.) I think it teaches something unhealthy to kids. I want them to have their own mind about things. If there's a new toy out that they genuinely like for its own merits, fine. But having that one thing simply because everyone else has one doesn't sit well with me
Homemade Crafted Toys
If I kept every single cardboard toy or Perler bead creation of my children, I would no longer have a space to call home. It would be filled with five million pony bead rosaries and stick bows and arrows and the so (SO) many paper airplanes. Some of the neater creations I take pictures of but almost all are dismantled for reuse, recycled, or just thrown out. They really don't mind.
So that's how we manage the toy situation around these parts. As space has gotten tighter we may have to pare down even more as the playroom is going to have to become a bedroom. Stuff is meant to be enjoyed and used and received gratefully but not hoarded or abused or coveted for its own sake. My hope is that living this way will play a part in my kids learning the proper place of stuff in our lives, increase their imaginative play and gratitude, and lead all of us to better living a life of detachment in a culture that constantly pushes the opposite. It may someday even help them with the joyfully cleaning thing. We'll see ;)