Cleaning Out Before Christmas

Every January I clean and purge and try to make sense of the new things that have come into our house over the holidays and determine what we no longer want or need. But this year, I decided to do my simplifying – or at least round one of it – before Christmas for a couple reasons. 1) I used to rotate toys frequently – like, every six weeks. But, we haven’t gone through the toys and purged things or even rotated things out since we moved six months ago, and it was long overdue. 2) I want my children to focus on the true reason we celebrate Christmas, not accumulation and greed. Presents are fun, and we absolutely celebrate St. Nicholas and his giving spirit in Santa Claus, but cleaning out, and giving to others, is the first step for Thomas (and soon Nell) to start to appreciate all he has and not all he wants. 3) Cleaning out helps me remember what the season is about, too. I mentioned last year that I can start to feel like I’m cycloned into the commercialism and feel like I’m not doing or giving enough. But enough is just what works for your own family, not what works for others. So by taking some time to take stock of our house – and to decide what we truly can do without and others might benefit from – helps me to remember the reason we give at all during this holiday season and also allows me more time to focus on things like lighting our Advent candles and talking about the birth of Jesus than worrying about keeping up with some other ideal.


Last night, I pulled all of the toys out of the playroom and the hidden storage between our living room and back hallway and sorted like crazy. I have always sung the praises of toy rotation – it keeps toys interesting for longer, gives me a good opportunity every few weeks or months to assess what we have and the shape it’s in, and also let’s me observe how something is played with. I’m a firm believer that if kids are surrounded by tons of things, they forget what they have. But, right before we moved we did a major clean out, so upon moving into our new house, I just put all the toys in the playroom and basement. Most things got put in the toy rotation pile – almost every toy we had in the playroom got moved to a bin in the basement, and I brought up the peg puzzles that lost T’s interest about a year and a half ago for Nell to play with. The few toys I’d stored away when we moved in were returned to the playroom, and we kept our go-to favorites: the magnets, cash register and letters out to play with. My rule with toy rotation is that if I reintroduce a toy and it doesn’t get played with, it’s time for it to go away, so I’ll keep a pretty good eye on what gets played with and what doesn’t and likely have more to give away before December 25th.


After sorting what should enter back into rotation, I decided what we could do without. Toys that were missing parts or broken got taken straight to the trash. And toys that just weren’t holding the kids attention anymore – or things that never clicked with them – got put in a pile for Thomas to sort through. He can pick what he gives to other boys and girls who don’t have as many toys and what we’ll keep for a few more months to see if they get played with.


And then I kept going. I got rid of Christmas decorations I never put out – I was mortified that I’d not only kept for this many years but moved twice the cheap ornaments I’d bought to decorate my Christmas tree in my old Boulder rental. Old, frumpy garland went to Goodwill – someone, somewhere, might be able to resuscitate it. I went through our old electronics, cleared the memory and took them to Target to be recycled. And it feels so good! Our house is not minimal right now – there’s garland on the mantle, and lots of Christmas decorations everywhere you look. There are toys strewn about the floor of the playroom regardless of how many times we put things away. But it feels manageable, and I feel at peace.

How do you prepare for the onslaught of things for Christmas? Any thing you’ve put into place for teaching your young kids about the reason we celebrate Christmas? And read more about why how we keep gifts for our kids at Christmas under control here.



  1. So smart to go through the toys before Christmas! I love rotating the toys out, I really think the kids play with them more when they have that novelty. I’m going through our house organizing and purging before baby #2 arrives (hooray for nesting!).

  2. I schedule Purple Heart pick ups at 2 week intervals from Nov. – Jan. I do it again May-July (both kids have birthdays in there). The kids know they have to choose things to be donated to make room for their new toys. I also get rid of things when they aren’t looking. I hide it for a few weeks before getting rid of it just in case they are looking for it. If they can go a few weeks without realizing it is missing then they don’t need it.

  3. that’s gotta be a great feeling. and great that you teach them early to donate and give.

    and i’ve never rotated toys intentionally, usually it just happens that some get buried, but i need to try it more intentionally.

    i definitely have been inspired by you over the years (in so many ways!) about christmas and how it’s handled with the kiddos. you always seem to be able to take the ideas i already agree with and make it practical. i’m absolutely copying you on the want, need, read method for gifting for harper this year. so smart. i feel like so many people (bloggers, mostly) make christmas into this high, lofty thing where you have to outcraft and outgift everyone else, and it definitely buries the real reason we celebrate. thanks for keeping it real here (as always).

    and also! going to read those older posts you linked to, to get into the christmas spirit!

  4. This is great- we do something similar, because we always have family visiting around the holidays which usually involves some furniture shuffling- so it’s a good time to clean out random stuff that accumulates. My husband is a clutter hater, so he’s pretty good about making piles of things to donate through out the year. I love your toy rotation idea too and have started implementing it at our house too- I know it’s going to be even more important as he gets older. Thanks for that tip! :)

  5. I definitely need to clean out all of our holiday d├ęcor! I think it piles up because I only look at it once a year :)

  6. While we don’t have any toys in our house just yet, we have been able to purge and get rid of a lot lately. We have taken 2 car fulls of stuff to the donation center! We have been remodeling our house since August 2012, and finally are at a point where we can unpack our boxes. Crazy I know! But we didn’t need a lot of the stuff we had in there obviously, so we just got rid of most of it. The one thing that’s hard for me to part with is sentimental stuff…not there yet!

  7. You are so wise. This is such a smart idea to do this now. I use a lot of my decor, but I have to admit that I have a hard time getting rid of decor, just in case I need it. I hate that I do that.

    The toy rotation thing is something we don’t do nearly enough.

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