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6 Tips to Donate Your Kids’ Old Toys and Clear Clutter in Your Home


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Toys seem to have a way of multiplying over time, so when you try to clean your toy room, kids’ room, or living room, there’s often not enough room to store them all. I might be the only one who thinks my kids’ toys have an agenda, but I know I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by toy clutter. Whether it’s mismatched pieces from various LEGO sets, the furniture from a dollhouse, or a mountain of stuffed animals, toys can seriously cramp your living quarters.

That’s why several times a year I do a big roundup of all of my kids’ unused toys and donate them to a worthy cause. The charity we donate to receives gently used toys, and I get to reclaim some of my precious living space.

The most important toy cleanup and donation is the one we do right before the holidays. Before the tree goes up, the toys are found, cleaned, and donated, making it easier to think about bringing new toys in the home for Christmas. Plus, our donations help other families afford high-quality, well-maintained toys.

How to Donate Old Toys

There’s a lot more to donating old toys than just stuffing them in a bag and dropping them off at a thrift shop. Take the time to make the process easier on your kids and more organized for the toy beneficiary so that the experience is positive for everyone. By the time you’re done, you’ll have taught your kids about the importance of giving, while making sure the toys go to a worthy cause.

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1. Get Your Kids Involved

One mistake parents often make is gathering up toys for donation when the kids aren’t home as a sneaky way to get rid of the clutter. This is problematic for two reasons: First, your kids might be upset when they find out you’ve done away with some of the their stuff. Second, you miss out on a perfect opportunity to teach your kids about charity and the process of donating goods.

There are several ways to get your kids involved:

  • Ask for Help. Let your kids know that you plan to donate some toys to a charitable cause. I like to explain where the toys go and who receives them. For instance, I let my four-year-old know his stuffed animal could go to a little boy – just like him – who doesn’t have many toys. By appealing to your kids’ better natures, you may be surprised how enthusiastic they become about the process.
  • Choose a Charity Together. DonationTown lets you choose charities based on your location and type of donation, so research possibilities with your kids and choose one your kids are excited about. It’s an excellent opportunity to discuss each charity and its purpose.
  • Create a Quota. My kids are more amenable to the idea of giving away their toys if there’s a specific number they’re required to give. Usually I set the number at 10, but more often than not, they become so enthusiastic that they give more than required.

2. Go Through the Toys

If your kids are anything like mine, the first stuff they want to give away is what they find in the “Happy Meal Toy Bin.” You probably have one – a place where small, cheap plastic toys go to die. While it’s okay to donate smaller toys like these, I usually urge my children to pick more meaningful and higher-quality toys.

Once toys have been selected, I give them a once-over to make sure everything is in order before packing them up and shipping them off:

  • Check for Broken Parts. Unless they’re easily fixed, broken toys or toys with missing parts should just be tossed in the trash. A puzzle with missing pieces is no good, and a game without all its components may not be playable.
  • Watch Out for Heirlooms. Your daughter may not play with that porcelain doll much, but if it’s a priceless heirloom, hang onto it and keep it in the family. Make sure you go through the toys to check for stuff you don’t want given away – one time my daughter tried to put my digital camera in a donation box.

3. Wash Stuffed Animals

Before you hand off a box of stuffed animals to charity, you should wash them. While it may not be necessary – some charities choose to wash new donations anyway – it only takes an hour or two and helps make them look like new.

Washing stuffed animals isn’t like washing clothes, so take extra precaution to ensure the toys survive the process:

  • Check the Tags. Not all stuffed animals are machine washable. If the tag prohibits a machine wash, you have two choices: Give the toy a light sponging with a damp cloth, or discard it if it’s too dirty to donate as-is.
  • Know When You Shouldn’t Wash. Stuffed toys with battery packs that can’t be removed, toys decorated with sequins or glued-on elements, old toys, and toys using small foam balls as stuffing could all be damaged in the washing machine.
  • Use a Mesh Laundry Bag. These bags help keep the stuffed animals properly shaped while also avoiding snags.
  • Wash on the Gentle Cycle. After washing, hang the items to dry. Putting stuffed animals in the dryer could cause them to lose their shape.

4. Make a List

Before you pack up your toys for donation, make a list of the things you’ve decided to give away. Come tax time, these donations can add up to a big charitable tax deduction. Use a site such as TurboTax ItsDeductible to tally up the total deduction for all of your items.

  • Keep Track of Each Item. Note the type of each toy and its donation condition. Brand new or like-new items bring a higher deduction than older, worn items.
  • Make Sure Your Charity Is an Exempt Organization. Use the IRS website to make sure you’re donating to an organization that qualifies for a tax deduction.
  • Ask for a Receipt. Exempt organizations should provide you with a signed slip or formal receipt that you can use as proof of the deduction when filing your taxes. Hang onto your receipt for future reference or track your deductions all year through ItsDeductible.

5. Fill a Box

Some charities have specific guidelines for packing up donations. Always check before you drop off your stuff or arrange for a pickup. In most cases, a plain box works well, trumping the less-sturdy option of a plastic garbage bag. Of course, if the charity prefers plastic bags, follow its procedure.

  • Package Like Toys Together. This makes the sorting process easier for the charity.
  • Pack Puzzles and Games with all Pieces. I put game and puzzle pieces in Ziploc bags before taping them to the base item. For instance, I put puzzle pieces in a bag, then tape the bag to the puzzle board. This also works well for play sets, such as dollhouses.
  • Tape Up the Box. Label the box with a marker so the charity knows what’s inside. It’s also a good idea to write the name of the charity on the box, especially if you’re arranging for front porch pickup. Once it’s taped up, just drop the box off at the donation center.

6. Consider Beneficiaries

Charities aren’t the only places you can donate your gently used toys. While the tax break is nice, if you’re not worried about the deduction, you can donate to a number of other beneficiaries. A few options include:

  • Thrift stores
  • Daycare facilities
  • Church groups
  • Homeless shelters
  • Your local Ronald McDonald House
  • Freecycle or other online bartering sites
  • A family in need

Final Word

I’ll admit I have a selfish motive for donating toys – I just want some of my house back. But it’s also an excellent opportunity to teach my kids about giving to those who are less fortunate. While donating toys is charitable and selfless, giving old, broken, or dirty toys doesn’t do anyone any good. By giving clean toys that are in good condition, you can be sure the items your children outgrow find new life with another child.

Do you donate your old toys? Where do you like to give?


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Jacqueline Curtis writes about edtech, finance, marketing, and small business strategy. With over 14 years of copywriting experience, she's created content and scripting for organizations such as GE, Walgreens, Overstock, and MasterCard. She lives in Utah with her husband, three kids, and an overzealous springer spaniel named Penelope.