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Originally published Monday, December 28, 2009 at 12:34 AM

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Making room for new toys and other gifts

Parenthood: Moms, dads and parenting experts share advice on raising children. This week's topic: Helping kids manage their toy collection.

Chicago Tribune

Holidays mean a new round of clutter — er, gifts. How do you integrate the new loot without drowning in toys?

Parent advice:

Whenever they receive a new toy, they must choose an old toy to replace before they play with the new one. Then the old toy can be donated to a worthy cause.

— Steven Boyd

Most families have video games that are sitting idle or that their kids have outgrown. DonateGames.org helps kids who are fighting rare and neglected diseases through the donation and reselling of used video games.

— Jim Carol

We have a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old, and we remind them before we open presents to think about which ones they really want before they take an item out of its original packaging. Then we have them choose one to (donate) to children who are less fortunate. We also tell them we have to make room for their new toys, which means we have to get rid of some old ones. We put those in the garage sale pile and let them keep the money when they sell their toys.

— Caity Anast

Between Thanksgiving and St. Nick's Day (Dec. 6), I always went through the kids' toys and weeded them out — threw out the things with missing or broken parts and donated the toys they were no longer interested in. As they got older, they helped, and it became part of our holiday ritual.

— Marie Grass Amenta

Expert advice:

While pre-emptive downsizing makes sense in theory, holiday commitments have a way of eating up those extra few moments required to declutter. That's why Danielle Claro, Real Simple magazine's home editor, suggests using the "frenzy of holiday anticipation" to your advantage.

"If kids know they're making room for new stuff, they can be a lot more generous with what they'll get rid of," says Claro, speaking from experience. "You have to really play up what's coming."

Claro suggests gathering the brood, providing some snacks and tackling the toy boxes.

"I've always found it to be a fairly festive activity," she says. "It's fun, it's reminiscent, and you can even get younger kids involved: 'Test these markers to see if they're dried out.' "

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Throw away the stuff that's no longer usable and donate the things that are in good condition but no longer close to kids' hearts.

If your children are too young to grasp the concept of voluntarily downsizing, Claro endorses a bit of sneaking around.

"With little kids, I'm a fan of spiriting things away at night," she says. "It's best to break up with your stuff slowly — box things up and move them out of sight to a basement or attic first, because I've been in that position where one of my children asks for something that I really probably shouldn't have gotten rid of."

If an item's absence goes unnoticed into the new year, it's time to donate it, Claro says.

And a word to the wise: Store those unused toys in clear plastic bins, Claro says, so if a child does discover a toy is missing and demands its return, you can easily spy its whereabouts without tearing apart cardboard box after cardboard box.

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