Thanks to Netflix, you may have been exposed to Marie Kondo, and her love of cleaning up a good mess. It’s a movement that’s sweeping the nation (+1 dad point for that pun). As such, you may be finding yourself adding projects to your to do list that include straightening up drawers, cleaning out the garage, or organizing up your closet. The whole family may even be getting into it. God knows there are enough plastic toys in our houses these days, that a bit of a purge would do us good.
Rules of the Purge
In my house, we purge our toys just before Christmas. It’s a way of prepping the space for the new flood of toys, as well as trying to teach the kids about giving in the spirit of the holiday (we let them know the toys will be going to children that don’t have any).
The strategy we’ve built over the years is not unlike Kondo’s litmus test of “does it spark joy?” Essentially, her approach when tidying up is about deciding what you want to keep, rather than what you want to throw away.
Our strategy goes in another direction, I’m afraid. I have the kids touch every single toy in the house and ask themselves a simple question: “Do I still like playing with this toy?” If the answer is “no,” or “I don’t really play with this anymore,” then it goes in the big cardboard box for donation. While I do spend most of my Saturday standing over them barking like a drill sergeant (it requires a lot of reminding about the task at hand), I’m not entirely militant about the approach. If the kids haven’t played with something for a while, but they re-discover it and really like it, they can definitely keep it. You may be surprised how much your kids are willing to give up, though.
You now have a big box of toys that your kids don’t play with. What’s next? The easiest thing to do is just throw them away. But, plastic isn’t exactly biodegradable, and I don’t like the idea of filling more trash heaps with junk. We talk about giving our toys a second life with another family. And so, it seems the right thing to do with these toys (many are in great condition still) is to donate them to a local charity/non-profit.
Sounds altruistic enough. Sounds easy enough. But, the good intentions may be a burden to the charity you choose. Why? To answer that, I chatted with my friend, Rachel Gattuso (wicked sharp owner of communications firm The Gattuso Coalition), who has worked with non-profits for years. She reminded me that even though a charity may serve children and families, they may not have a need for your gently used toys (or clothes, etc). In fact, as counterintuitive as it sounds, the donations could become a burden.
One fitting example of this is the outpouring of support for first responders, firefighters, and families in California a few months ago during the string of devastating fires. People gave water, food, toys, clothing, bicycles, furniture; you name it! While these gifts came from a place of love and support, they effectively became white elephant gifts (an imposed burden). Check out this article about California firefighters showing their gratitude but pleading with the public to stop. What we have to remember is that behind every well-intended donation is a team of people that have to store, process, and do something with these items. Sometimes, it’s beyond their already stretched-thin capacity.
Deciding Where to Donate
So, how does one decide what to do with their gently-used treasure trove of toys? As Rachel sweetly reminded me, “you’re going to have to do a little legwork.” As a busy parent, I don’t have to tell you that convenience wins out. As I alluded to earlier, you could simply throw all these old toys away. But, there are those in need – it’s just a matter of doing the research so you know the right pairing. I’m not going to tell you which charity to donate to – that’s a decision that you can make based on what you believe in. But, I can help give you a resource to see which local charities and non-profits may be in need of your donation. There’s a website you can use to search for local non-profits and charities by type, place, or ways to help: NV Volunteer Connect
What do you do when you find an organization that you want to donate to? Call or email them to ask if they are in need of what you have to donate. It does take a little more effort, but it ensures a second life for your kids’ toys, and that you haven’t burdened a charity that you were hoping to help.