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As parents, we want our kids to be happy. We live to see the joy beaming across those little faces when they tear into birthday gifts. A Christmas tree stacked high with gifts is about as American as apple pie. But what if I told you that having fewer toys is actually better for kids?

Because it is.

I know because I am a mom of two young children. But I also have a Ph.D. in child development. I know a few things about what a young child needs to develop, grow and thrive. They need food, a loving family, a warm bed and a few carefully selected toys. What they don't need? A bunch of mindless toy clutter.

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The research shows us that when we cut the excess from the lives of children they focus better and have less stress. But getting rid of toys is complicated: What do you keep? What do you toss?

Here are five steps to get started.

Step 1: Observe

Take a week and observe. Which toys get the most action? Which are neglected? I suggest taking notes on the favorites so that you can be sure to keep those toys. While observing, also start thinking about toys differently. Think about how each of these toys are adding value to your home.

We know that our children learn through play, therefore toys are the defacto tools for learning. We need to equip our kids with the best tools possible. Ask yourself the question, “How are these toys benefitting my children?"

Examine each toy and decide:

  • Does this toy offer opportunity for creativity?
  • Will this toy help my kid to burn off energy?
  • Can this toy be used in many different ways, by kids of different ages and genders?
  • Does my kid LOVE this toy?

Everything that we bring into our lives and home should have added value–toys are included.

Step 2: Reflect

You have to figure out how these toys got into your home. Did you buy them? Were they gifts from extended family members? Brian Gardner of No Sidebar explains, “We don't need to look any further than the mirror—or our own closets—to realize our children's excess is usually a byproduct of our own habits, or the result of spending choices we make."

That means taking a good, long look at the way we buy and what it's teaching our children. Anyone can declutter, but staying decluttered is the hard part.

We have to change the way we buy if we want to stay decluttered.

Step 3: Arrange

When toys are buried in the bottom of bins and toy boxes they are difficult to access. When you store toys at the top of the closet they are difficult to access. If we want kids to play with toys and engage–they need to be out where they can see them.

I suggest placing toys individually on shelves (you can see how I did it in our playroom). Use short bins or trays to keep toys contained–that way kids can easily see what is inside. The last thing we want to do is invite our children to dump bins all over the place–and toy boxes invite dumping.

When we arrange the toys with care we are teaching our children to do the same. They are learning to care for, value and clean up their belongings–rather than to toss them haphazardly into a box.

Step 4: Select

When choosing which toys to keep in your home I recommend keeping mostly open toys. Open toys are toys that can be used in a variety of ways for a variety of different purposes. These can typically be used across varied ages and genders. These are toys that evoke imagination and pretend play, such as a puppet theatre, balance beam, balls and art supplies. Closed toys are different because they are toys that can be completed or mastered. If your child finishes a toy and says “I did it," it's probably a closed toy.

Examples of closed toys are puzzles and shape sorters. Closed toys are great too–but because they can be completed rather quickly, you will need to have a large number of closed toys to keep kids busy. With closed toys, kids will also grow out of them faster and purchases will need to be made more often.

I recommend keeping a ratio of 75% open toys to 25% closed toys in your home. This will help your child to play independently for longer periods of time. Having more open toys will also allow for more creativity and innovation in play.

Step 5: Detox

First you observed, then reflected and selected–now you are ready to downsize. Downsizing the toys should never be a punishment. This is a happy and welcome change for everyone involved–so be sure that your attitude and language reflects that. Generally speaking, kids react very well to this change.

When we get rid of toys, we are giving our children extra space and time to innovate and be resourceful. But it's important to keep in mind that as they “detox" they might experience boredom before they figure out how to get back to the basics of play. Don't fill this temporary void and boredom with more screen time. Once you push through the detox period you will see some pretty amazing things coming from your child's play.

So are you ready to do this? You and your family are going to love playing simply.

Motherhood is a practice in learning, growing and loving more than you ever thought possible. Even as a "veteran" mama of four young sons and one newly adopted teenager, Jalyssa Richardson enthusiastically adapts to whatever any given day has in store—a skill she says she's refined through the years.

Here's what just one day in her life looks like:


Jalyssa says she learned to embrace agility throughout her motherhood journey. Here's more from this incredible mama of five boys.

What is the most challenging part of your day as a mom of five?

Time management! I want to meet each of the boys' individual needs—plus show up for myself—but I often feel like someone gets overlooked.

What's the best part of being a mom of five?

The little moments of love. The hugs, the kisses, the cuddles, the smiles... they all serve as little reminders that I am blessed and I'm doing okay.

Are there misconceptions about raising boys?

There are so many misconceptions about raising boys. I think the biggest one is that boys don't have many emotions and they're just so active all the time. My boys display many emotions and they also love to be sweet and cuddly a lot of the time.

What do you think would surprise people the most about being a mom of five?

How much I enjoy it. I never knew I wanted to be a mom until I was pregnant with my first. My desire only grew and the numbers did! I am surprised with every single baby as my capacity to love and nurture grows. It's incredible.

How do you create balance and make time for yourself?

Balance for me looks like intentional planning and scheduling because I never want my boys to feel like they aren't my first priority, but it is extremely difficult. What I try to do is not fit it all into one day. I have work days because motherhood is my first priority. I fit in segments of self-care after the kids' bedtime so I don't grow weary.

What's the biggest lesson you have learned from motherhood?

I have learned that sacrifice is actually beautiful. I was terrified of the selflessness motherhood would require, but I've grown so much through the sacrifice. There is nothing better than living for something bigger than myself.

When did you first feel like a mom? How has your motherhood evolved?

I first felt like a mom when I was pregnant with my first son and I intentionally chose to change my eating habits so my body could be strong and healthy for him. I didn't have to think twice—I just did what I thought would be best for him. That decision being so effortless made me realize I was made for motherhood.

My perspective has changed with each baby as I've realized motherhood doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all. With my first son, I was a by-the-book mama and it was so stressful. With each baby, I have felt more freedom and it has made motherhood so much more beautiful. I have evolved into the mother that they need, I am perfect for these boys.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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