Say Goodbye to Old Toys with a Going Away Party

We recently celebrated a birthday in our family, and with that birthday came another influx of toys from loving family and friends. I am so grateful for the generosity of the people who love us, but I would be lying if I said this didn't create frequent conundrums about where to put the new things our children acquire throughout the year.

Our older daughter (age five) is quite the little hoarder at heart. She struggles with change of any kind, and passing along old toys is a big change she'd rather not deal with--ever.

Finding a way to help her work through the psychological distress of parting with items that we no longer enjoy the way we used to has been challenging for us as parents. We've tried a number of different tactics from lining up her toys according to her love for them and drawing a cut off line to letting her and her sister each take a turn picking one item to keep and then agreeing on one item to give away.

She has not enjoyed any of it, and it's hard to tell her that we can't keep everything, even if it is true. Her reluctance to embrace anything even remotely resembling minimalism is a big part of why our girls have a disproportionately large number of toys compared to most kids who live in spaces as small as we do. But she's a member of this family, and what she wants counts, too, so we've learned to embrace the fact that we will never live in a house where the toys are creatively hidden away. We really aren't true minimalists, and I'm okay with that most of the time.

But with the new additions to our toy collection, something had to go, and that something was an old baby toy that both of our girls enjoyed for many years. I don't even remember who gave the big plastic "gumball" machine to us when Sunshine was small, but it sat at various places in our living room for a very long time. While Sweetheart occasionally still played with it, it was mostly in passing as she moved it out of the way to make room for other toys.

This particular item had been on our declutter list for quite a while, but I dreaded the conversation that I knew would come if we tried to get rid of it. We debated quietly removing it from the house while Sunshine wasn't looking, but that seemed unfair, and our girl has a better memory than anyone we know. She would eventually realize it was gone, and since we don't want to cause her to grow up and become a hoarder with psychological scars from her parents throwing away her toys against her will, we decided to try a different approach this time.

I took the toy to her in the bedroom and told her that it was time for her to play with it one more time as she said good bye.

And thus she had a going away party of sorts for this old, half-forgotten toy that had seen much better days. There were many tears involved as she wailed for the loss of this "special" toy. (It's amazing how every toy is suddenly special again when its removal is imminent.) She played with the plastic "gumballs" as she let them loose one after another from the machine. She cried as she put them in again and moaned that she loved this toy.

And then, slowly, the crying lessened. The moaning stopped. And when I once again peeked into the bedroom, the gumball machine and all of its toy balls were lying alone on the floor, abandoned once again for other more exciting and age-appropriate toys from her collection.

The party was over, the mourning complete.

Chris gathered up the pieces and took them away, and that was the end of it.

Sunshine still talks about the gumball machine occasionally, but it isn't with distress or anger at us for getting rid of it. It's very matter of fact. We used to have it, and now we don't. And that's okay.

As hard as it is, sometimes the best thing we can do as parents is to let our children feel what they feel and not interfere with that process. I wish I could say that getting rid of unneeded or unwanted items was easier for my child, but since it's never been easy for me, I am not surprised that she struggles, too. Giving her room to mourn for her discarded toys has been cathartic to both of us, and I can only hope that walking her through this process will help her as she grows to learn to let go in a healthy way, even when it's uncomfortable and we don't want to do it. She may very well always struggle with a tendency to hoard items, but if we can give her the tools to move past that inclination, then I think we'll be giving her the best education on letting things go that we can give her, and that's been my goal all along.