How decreasing toy clutter can increase attention spans.

This may sound crazy coming from a lady who sells toys and books but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: your kids don’t need a ton of toys.

Kids learn through play but more toys does not necessarily equal more play or more learning. It’s more about quality, not quantity…and quality play is when they’re the ones doing the work. A product that does everything itself (noise, movement, etc.) might be cool but it’s often not going to be something that will allow your child to develop new skills. And it will get boring. Once that toy has done it’s own cool thing, there’s nothing left to do but collect dust. And with enough of those kind of toys, you end up with a playroom that has floor to ceiling toys and games and kids who say they have nothing to do.

Boredom – it’s not a bad thing

First of all, there is nothing wrong with being bored. Bored kids get resourceful and figure out ways to entertain themselves. There are plenty of things to do and we (myself included) don’t need to be constantly entertained. Plus, no matter what your playroom or closets look like, your child will say she is bored at some point in her life.

The Paradox of Choice

Secondly, have you heard of the paradox of choice? Basically, Barry Schwartz theorizes that there are two effects of too many choices:

  1. Too many choices cause paralysis in decision making. If you have too many choices, you simply choose to not make a decision at all.
  2. If you do make a choice, you end up less satisfied by your decision than if you had fewer options to begin with.

paradox of choice-decrease clutter

When I have too much work to do and don’t know where to start, I sometimes (almost always) decide to do nothing at all. Because it’s just too much. Kids have the same response to too many toys. The solution? Reduce the number of options.

(Note: The Paradox of Choice theory isn’t infallible, but is still widely accepted.)

o how do you do that? Well, I can help you decide what to rid and what to keep, but getting it past your dear little angels is up to you. Take stock of the toys you have and ask the following questions. If the answer is “yes” to most/all the questions, then the toy is a keeper. Before we dive in, it’s worth saying that you don’t actually have to get rid of every toy that doesn’t fit what we’re going for here. If you can’t/don’t want to part with it, put it away for a while and only bring it out on occasion. Breaking out a hidden box of toys is an easy way to make old toys feel exciting.

  • Is the toy safe and age appropriate for your kids?  This one is a softball but worth being said. If your kids have grown out of toys, make them garage sale inventory or store them for the grandkids (especially if they’re Discovery Toys…wink, wink). There’s no sense in having a bunch of legitimately boring toys cluttering up the play space. Conversely, your child will get frustrated if a toy is too advanced, so put those away too.
  • Is the toy durable? I’m probably the only one with this problem, but my kids aren’t gentle with ANYTHING.  Choose toys that will survive and toss the rest.
  • Can the toys be played with in more than one way? We’re looking for items that will force our kids to be creative. Toys that do one thing and one thing only can only don’t usually require a lot of thought. Keep the toys that will help your kids learn to be resourceful and creative.
  • Does the toy appeal to several senses? You may have noticed this, but kids have short attention spans.  Like, really short.  Multi-sensory toys will capture a child’s attention. Bonus: it will also help appeal to different learning styles.
  • Can the toy be used in more than one place? Toys on the go are a HUGE asset in any toy inventory.
  • Does the toy involve the use of both hands?  Include moving parts, buttons or gears? Encourage activity and movement? Get those kids off their bums! Using both hands helps improve coordination. And toys that have parts to manipulate with fingers and hands help develop fine motor skills.
  • Does the toy encourage thinking or solving problems? Again, we want our kids be thinkers, right? Keep toys that require problem solving! It’s an important skill…problem solving skills may decrease the number of times your kid calls you in from another room to ask the DUMBEST question (not likely, but it’s worth a shot).
  • Does the toy promote communication and interaction? As much fun as it is to stare at someone staring at a phone or tablet, humans are social creatures. If you want your child to grow up human, they need to be sociable.

This list was adapted from American Occupational Therapy Association. Inc.  Visit their website for a lengthier, printable checklist that will help you while you’re shopping. For some more ideas on what to buy, check out our toy and book shop or contact me!

It might be counter-intuitive, but if you go through your collection of toys and decrease the clutter, you’ll find that your child’s attention span and focus get longer. They become more resourceful and value what they have much more. And, by getting rid of items that have no developmental/educational value, your kids’ play time will become much more valuable. They won’t be in constant sensory overload and will be able to focus and “get into” their play time.

attention spans

Now your toy closets are cleared out. But are you a little unsure you will keep it that way? Here are some ideas to keep the clutter in check:

  • Create a designated area for toys and go to a one-in, one-out system. If a new toy doesn’t fit in that space, then they either can’t have it or must get rid of something to make the new toy fit.
  • For the super organized: rotate your toys. Get some bins and split the toys you have left in thirds, making sure there are toys for imaginative play, coordination/motor skill development, logic and construction in each grouping. Rotate the toys on a monthly basis.  Before you set the next month’s toys out/pack up the previous month’s, go through them to make sure there’s nothing to get rid of. This will keep your toy inventory in check and will keep your kids excited about the toys they have.
  • Set a rule that kids don’t get new things unless it’s a holiday or birthday. They’ll learn to REALLY appreciate the gifts and will (eventually) stop wasting their breath asking for more stuff.
  • When you buy new things, keep it old school. Fads and popular characters come and go but traditional toys from days of yore will always be fun and span generations.

It’s worth noting that I do not believe electronic toys are the devil. But I believe these should be offered in moderation. There are benefits to some electronic games (eye-hand coordination, tech-savviness, quiet children in the doctor’s waiting room) but unplugged play is where the real learning is at.

For more information about the paradox of choice theory, read The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz (affiliate link). If you would like some help going through your toys and/or selecting new toys, books or games for your kids, contact me!


Tell me what you think! Do you think decreasing toy clutter is a realistic thing to do in your house?