Home Before Your Move Donation Weekend: Ali’s Toy Store Method

Donation Weekend: Ali’s Toy Store Method

by Ali Wenzke
Donation Weekend_Ali's Toy Store Method_The Art of Happy Moving. www.artofhappymoving.com

When we moved all the time, decluttering was part of life. Now that we’re settled, there’s no need to simplify on a regular basis. Nevertheless, Donation Weekend has become a family tradition. And, the kids actually like it.

What you need for a successful family Donation Weekend:

  • A date on the calendar (Accountability)
  • An understanding of why we should declutter (Motivation)
  • A toy shop feel (Fun)
  • Bribes (Selfexplanatory)

Donation Weekend_Ali's Toy Store Method_The Art of Happy Moving. www.artofhappymoving.com

Set an annual date for Donation Weekend.

My family schedules Donation Weekend on the weekend after Halloween every year. Many people prefer the idea of spring cleaning, but I love that we simplify our home before the holidays. But, this year, I wasn’t feeling it. It’s been a hectic fall and I really wanted to spend the weekend in my PJs. But, no. Donation Weekend was on the calendar, so there could be no excuses. We powered through and, now that it’s done, it feels awesome.

Look at your calendar and set a date for Donation Weekend. If you’re moving, you should schedule it as soon as possible. If you’re not moving, think about when you feel most motivated to declutter. Do certain seasons impact your desire to simplify or would you want a tidy space to come home to after your annual vacation? Tie in your Donation Weekend to an annual event, whether it’s a birthday or a holiday, so that it becomes part of your routine. Set Donation Weekend to repeat annually on your online calendar so that you remain motivated in future years, too.

Donation Weekend_Ali's Toy Store Method_The Art of Happy Moving. www.artofhappymoving.com

Schedule Donation Weekend on your calendar.

Know why you want to declutter before Donation Weekend starts.

Why do you want to declutter? What’s your motivation? You might declutter so you can have a cleaner home or so you can surround yourself with only the items you love. Maybe you want to make money by selling unwanted furniture or you want to help others by donating unused clothing. If you’re decluttering with kids, find out why it’s important to them to have Donation Weekend. Write down all of your reasons on a piece of paper and keep them posted during the weekend to keep the family motivated.


Donation Weekend_Ali's Toy Store Method_The Art of Happy Moving. www.artofhappymoving.com

What’s your motivation to declutter?

Create a toy store where the kids can “buy” their own toys.

To make Donation Weekend fun, I set up a toy store in our basement. I take out every single toy from around our house and bring it to one location. Then, I arrange the toys by category. Each Matchbox car or Strawberry Shortcake doll is on display. Depending on the size of the items, I either give my kids a shopping bag or a pack of sticky notes for them to go “shopping”. The toy store doors open and the kids rush in. They are able to “buy” any item they want by either placing a sticky note on the toy or putting it into their shopping bag. Any toys that remain are then either donated or sold.

Donation Weekend_Ali's Toy Store Method_The Art of Happy Moving. www.artofhappymoving.com

Gather every single toy and display it in one place.

Bribes can help with motivation, too.

We use several forms of bribery on Donation Weekend at the Wenzke house. First, there’s Halloween candy for frequent energy breaks. Second, the kids go shopping at their school Book Fair a few weeks before Donation Weekend where they can pick out three books as a prize for good effort. Finally, there are financial rewards (up to $20) for donating items or they can choose to sell certain toys online (with help from Mom).

Donation Weekend_Ali's Toy Store Method_The Art of Happy Moving. www.artofhappymoving.com

We’re not above bribery in the Wenzke house.

It gets easier every year.

After so many years of celebrating Donation Weekend, my kids get it. They understand that it feels good to simplify and to help others. They know that they rarely (never?) miss a toy they’ve donated and that, as they grow up, their tastes change. My son looked at his Pixar Cars race track and told me, “This is a cool toy and I loved it, but I think someone else would enjoy it more now.” The kids have internalized the lessons after years of decluttering. They want other kids to get the chance to play with their unused toys and they want to make space for the items that they love.

Donation Weekend_Ali's Toy Store Method_The Art of Happy Moving. www.artofhappymoving.com

Kids choose what to keep, not what to give away.


Why Donation Weekend works for us and why I hope it’ll work for you, too. 

Years ago, I would go through each toy and ask my kids, “Keep or donate?” That took FOREVER. Although it may seem like a lot of work to create a toy store, it saves you time and energy. This is why:

  1. You are asking your child, “What do you want to buy?” Your child chooses what to keep.
  2. You are not asking your child, “Should we get rid of this?” Your child does not need to make that difficult choice.

Other tips to help you through the weekend:

  1. If your child wants to “buy” everything, let her. Even if you only donate a few toys, you are teaching your child how to part with objects that she no longer wants or needs.
  2. This is a learning process and it gets easier over time – for both you and your child.
  3. Your toy store is organized by category, which makes it easier to organize the toys after Donation Weekend is over.

I’d love to hear about your Donation Weekend stories. How do you declutter your kid’s toys?


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Haley November 13, 2018 - 10:07 am

The toy store idea is great that way the kids only keep the toys they really want.

Ali Wenzke November 13, 2018 - 1:27 pm

Thank you, Haley! My kids love it.

Hannah November 14, 2018 - 10:55 am

I’m making my kids a toy store so I can get rid of toys they don’t use.

Megan November 26, 2018 - 3:09 pm

This is a great idea. Going to do this to my kids this weekend.

Ali Wenzke November 28, 2018 - 2:53 pm

Good luck, Megan! I’d love to hear how donation weekend goes for you.

Sue January 24, 2021 - 2:43 pm

I tried this toy sale approach after the winter holidays. It went really, really well! My 9 yo was easily able to donate/discard unused items. It was harder for my 5 yo, but the positive approach “What do you want to buy?” plus her older sister’s modeling (and some encouragement from Mom) worked far better than any other approach to going through old belongings that we’ve tried. I just used this method again today on my 5 yo’s disaster of a “treasure box” (her bedside table filled with everything from old greeting cards and buttons to a lobster claw and an ancient avocado pit), and it, again, was great. She didn’t get rid of a ton of things, but she made many discoveries of items she hadn’t seen in ages and did some fantastic organizing. Thanks, Ali!

Kate September 16, 2022 - 3:31 pm

Hi Ali,

I love the idea of a toy store and we did this with our books the first week I got home from college. I did want to ask — how do you handle a toy that has “mixed” information (for example, one child wants to keep and another wants to donate)



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