Decluttering before Christmas: tips for managing the toy influx

 Photo: Getty Images

In case you hadn't heard… Christmas is coming. CHRISTMAS IS COMING!

Apart from the present shopping we struggle to fit in, the financial pressures that go with those costs, the work stresses as we tie up loose ends, and the calendar filling with social get-togethers, there's one thing that often gets us in a state of disarray.

Our cluttered homes.

The sheer amount of crapola we have in our houses, especially as our families grow, is often a cause for concern. Commonly we have big (often ugly) plastic toys that take up too much space and don't really have a place to "live"; the kids play with them once or twice and then they dominate our lives and lounge room floors for the next 12 months, until Christmas rolls around again and we accumulate yet more toys.

You can breathe out though, because this year will be different.

Why? Because we've got advice from organising expert Carol Martyn, aka Dr DeDeClutter, about how to manage the influx of gifts at Christmas.

Clearing the clutter

Carol suggests we have a stocktake before we even think about Christmas presents. If we consider what toys the children actually use, not the ones we would like them to play with, then we can eliminate toys that our children have grown out of, or are simply disinterested in.

Deciding how many toys you want to keep and enforcing a limit can help manage the sheer volume of playthings.


Culling toys while children are out of sight is always a smart move. Carol suggests that including them in a second round of decluttering can make them feel like they were part of the cleanup process (depending on their ages).

"Possessions take a while to accumulate and equally it can take time to make good decisions around what to keep. Get the kids involved, particularly in their bedrooms – the more they take ownership, often with parental guidance, the more likely the clutter will reduce," Carol says.

Carol also talks about the "nudge" concept. "Every time you open a drawer or cupboard, I'd encourage you to think about what you're actually nudging aside as you reach for an alternative option." So if you're nudging something out of the way – clothes, toys, books, crockery, linen – it's a sign it's time to move it on.

Shifting unwanted items

What do we do with the toys, clothes and books we no longer need?

Carol encourages donating. "Sometimes we don't think about the impact of our donations. That set of sheets that's been sitting in your linen press for over a year, if donated, may instead be wrapped around a sick child."

With that lovely imagery also comes the flip side of considering who you are donating to, and whether that will just be a way of shifting the clutter to someone else. I love a good hand-me-down and love handing things on to other children, but as much as I'd like to see toys and clothes live on, I am wary of clogging someone else's house with our unwanted garb.

Selling or trading on buy/swap/sell sites are also a good option and a way to make some pre-Christmas cash.

Then … more presents

After we've cleared our cupboards and felt lighter and more in control of our homes, we open it up to the Christmas influx of crazy gift-giving. How do we keep a lid on this while still allowing our children the joy and excitement of receiving gifts?

"Often, as parents, we can fall into the trap of thinking the amount of toys we purchase for children is in direct proportion to how much we love them. In reality, gifts can quickly accumulate into excess clutter in your home," Carol says.

She has a one-in-one-out theory. "Encourage children to exchange like for like – for example, a new toy for old toy, new clothes for used clothes – and give the responsibility to the children to decide what goes out, regardless of who gave it to them. By doing this you're teaching your children habits that will take them into adulthood."

Carol also asks people to consider the reality of their everyday lifestyle. Will a toy being used over summer see the light of day for the other 48 weeks of the year? Or will it just be a cumbersome thing to store?

Gift suggestions that avoid clutter

As has been suggested in years gone by, buying your kids "experiences" rather than a sack full of gifts can be both memorable and a great way to manage the clutter.

Carol also stresses to "buy gifts your children will really love versus what you love" – as she adds, "Believe me, there is difference!"

One piece of Carol's advice really resonated with me, the sentimental sucker I am. "My final recommendation is around gifts – give them without condition. If the recipient doesn't like or love it, they are under no obligation to hold onto it as this is one of the major contributions to clutter in my clients' households."

It's true: how often have we held on to an unused item simply because Grandma gifted it to our baby?

Finally, Carol reminds us that "homes are meant to be lived in and it's always function over prettiness. If you think you need to purchase storage containers you have too much stuff".

Carol Martyn is the founder of Dr DeClutter. She offers a complimentary 15-minute telephone conversation to help clients get started if they feel stuck.