This is a guest post from Jennifer Tuohy.

Life with children leads to clutter. No matter how hard you try, the playroom, the living room, the bedrooms, and even the kitchen are always cluttered. My first approach to dealing with clutter was to put everything away — whether in drawers, closets, or piles. But then, when it came to playtime, I would find myself down on my knees putting things away rather than playing “ghost princess” with my daughter. The look in her eyes one day when she told me, in her very stern four-year-old voice, "Stop tidying and play with me, Mommy!" prompted a major re-think.

The Problem

The problem was we had too many toys. With 13 birthdays and eight Christmases between my two kids, plus generous grandparents and godparents, we had accumulated a lot of stuff. Controlling that stuff had become almost a full-time job. Finding that ghost when we sat down to play ghost princess had become quite the challenge, and the tantrums that ensued when we couldn't find the vital piece for the only game my son wanted to play with were getting tiresome.

The Solution

The solution was The 20 Toy Rule (and lots of storage boxes!). While this may sound like some form of cruel and unusual punishment, my children have never been happier with their toys and are playing with each one a lot more than they ever have before. As a major bonus, they are also becoming a lot more creative in their play and are playing together far more harmoniously (although I am guessing that last part will be short-lived).

What Is the 20 Toy Rule?

The 20 Toy Rule, which I learned about from bloggers Erin Spain and Sarah Mae, is quite simple. Let your children choose 20 toys to keep in the playroom, put the rest into storage boxes and then remove them from the house. Either donate them, sell them, or give them away to children of friends and family. If a new toy is introduced, your child has to choose one to take away.

"I had to face the fact that we had allowed in too much stuff," writes Sarah Mae in her post about implementing the rule. "The less we have, the less overwhelmed we feel. And the less overwhelmed we feel, the happier we are." I couldn’t agree more — too much stuff is overwhelming. From toys to food, too much of a good thing can be bad for you, and in my opinion, the best way to deal with that is to choose your favorites and really enjoy them.

My biggest concern was how my children would react, but blogger Erin Spain eased my fears, when she discussed how her boys reacted. “At first, they panicked,” she wrote. “But they quickly realized that there were tons of toys in bins and on the floor that they rarely even played with, and the mess was making it hard for them to find things or even see what they had.” When you can’t easily find something, you’re much less likely to use it. When I thought about it, I actually couldn't remember the last time I'd seen my son in his room playing with his toys without me prompting him by bringing something out for him. Out of sight truly is out of mind for many children.

There are a few caveats for tailoring The 20 Toy Rule to your personal situation. For us, these included:

1. No Limit on Stuffed Animals

Stuffed animals survived the chop (as long as they can still fit on the bed). And just look at all that open floor space… perfect for playtime!

My children love their stuffed animals like family members — in fact, many of them are named after family members — so we compromised by finding them all a permanent place on each child’s bed.

2. No Limit on Educational or Family Toys

These open front storage boxes called “Access Organizers” help keep our family games and toys and puzzles with lots of pieces, safely corralled and easy to access.

This included toys with lots of pieces, such as Legos, Duplos, puzzles, and board games. Instead of packing these away, I picked up front-opening storage boxes that I can store in the closet. The kids can still easily access them and, most importantly, see what is in them.

3. Display the Mementos

Special toys, like gifts from family members or items with sentimental value that were no longer suitable to be played with, went on display shelves or in air-tight storage boxes in the attic to be saved for future generations to enjoy.

4. No Limit on Dolls and Their Accessories

I fought hard on this one, but my daughter has just discovered the world of dolls and is enraptured by them. I’m hoping next time around I might be able to cull the herd. We compromised by designating a special under-the-bed storage box with wheels where all the dolls and their accessories would live while not being played with.

Offer Storage Options

Rather than telling my children they had to say a firm goodbye to their toys, I gave them three storage totes each and told them to divide them into three categories:

  • Keep (20 max)
  • Store (20 max)
  • Give away (unlimited)

When my children were babies and we lived in a much smaller house, I used to rotate their toys. As I became overwhelmed by the clutter, I would grab a big storage box, round up a bunch of toys, and put them away in the garage. Then, when I felt like they were getting bored with those that remained, I would do a swap. I’d take everything out of the box and give it to them to play with, while putting the "old" toys away for a few months. Each time I did this it was like Christmas for them as they re-discovered their old toys and had a blast playing with them.

Sometimes, rediscovering an old toy is even better than a getting a new one. I’m hoping that when I bring their stored boxes back into the house in six months or so, if a toy doesn’t elicit a joyful reaction when it comes out of the box, it can safely go into the “give away” box.

Now of course, I know my how incredibly lucky my children are to have the problem of too many toys. To help them understand and appreciate that, they are coming with me to take a box of carefully selected, good quality toys to our local hospital and a nearby children’s center. I am also planning to use these visits to introduce them to the concept of volunteering their time to help others, so that we can find a worthy cause to donate some of our free time to this summer. Hopefully, having some important fulfilling work to do will make coming home and playing with their 20 toys all the more rewarding.

Jennifer Tuohy is a mother of two who writes about her experiences on home decor, upcycling, storage, smart home products, energy efficiency and more for The Home Depot. If you are looking for storage ideas for your home, including some of the solutions referred to by Jennifer, you can visit Home Depot’s storage bin page.