It’s time to get real about toy organization, because this is a topic that comes up often and gives many parents a large amount of angst. Let’s face this organizational issue head-on today, with tips to help you declutter, organize, and SIMPLIFY your toy and playroom situation! But first, a Pop Quiz: visualize the room where your kids play with most of their toys. Do you see:
A: a neatly organized space where each toy has been lovingly placed in it’s correct spot
B: a grand total of 5 perfectly handcrafted toys from Norway made with unicorn tears on a shelf 6 feet off the ground
C: a space that could be mistaken for a VERY LARGE and unorganized daycare capable of swallowing small children
Go ahead and answer, I won’t judge. Each family has their own philosophy on playthings ranging from BUY ALL THE TOYS!!!! to not allowing toys at all. Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle. Our home is FAR from perfect, but I have learned a few things about organizing toys over the years to share with you today! Here’s my 7-step toy decluttering & organization process, with ideas for storing each type of toy listed below.
The 7 Step Toy Taming Plan
1. GATHER ALL THE TOYS IN YOUR HOME, DUMP THEM IN A PILE, AND CREATE A HUGE MESS. No, really. This may sound counter intuitive, but first of all it provides a visual for how much you really have (and how much you should toss). It also gives you a blank slate because the shelves and baskets are empty. Now, if you already have things sorts (ie, a bin for trains, one for cars) then see the tip below. This is for the random toys that don’t have a home or are currently tossed into baskets.
TIP: for the toys that are already in bins, dump those out one by one and have the kids go through them with you. Here, I dumped out the cars and trucks and told the kids they needed to choose the ones they WANTED and put them in the bin, and have at least 10 they DIDN’T WANT to give to kids who didn’t have any toy cars (that usually works… teaching empathy here…)
2. GIVE TOY STORAGE AREAS A DEEP CLEANING. Wipe down shelves, make sure baskets are empty, vacuum. Ahhhh, isn’t it feeling better already?
3. COMMIT TO DOWNSIZING AND FIND FOUR EMPTY BINS: one for unwanted toys to donate or consign, trash for broken toys, a toy rotation bin to place toys that can be taken out of circulation for awhile, and a bin for toys your kids LOVE and USE and want to keep. Your keep bin might overflow, that’s okay, but again– it’s giving you a powerful visual reminder of how much you have. Go through your gigantic toy pile until Toy Mountain has been sorted. Bonus points for starting to place like items together, like this guy putting all the Mr. Potato Head pieces into the storage bin.
4. SORT AND ASSIGN AREAS FOR THE WANTED TOYS. Now that you know exactly which toys your kids will use and love, you can assign where they go and start to place all the like pieces together.
“But Carrie!” you say. “HOW do we do that?!” Don’t worry, I have you covered! You’ll find all those tips below, after #7 in this list. 😉
5. AFTER EVERYTHING IS SORTED, CONTAIN THEM IN TUBS AND BINS. My biggest piece of advice is to NOT purchase bins until AFTER you’ve done step #5! By waiting, you’ll know EXACTLY what type of bins you’ll need, which sizes, and how many. I can’t overstate how much money this has saved me! You may even find you already have enough bins around your home. If not, I love HomeGoods for baskets, The Dollar Tree for plastic tubs/ baskets/ shoebox sized bins, and Target or Walmart for the medium to large ones.
6. LABEL! You’ve decluttered, sorted, assigned, and how you’re ready to label. I use my Dymo label maker for some things but mostly I used the free printable chalkboard labels for our main categories.
Then I got lazy so for unlabeled bins I used these Martha Stewart chalkboard labels and a chalk pen so my kids couldn’t wipe it off.
7. PERIODICALLY EVALUATE, TWEAK, AND UPDATE. No system is perfect, the myth of ‘one-and-done’ organizing is harmful to our homes! We grow and change, and so do our needs. Evaluate your system after a few weeks, tweak as needed, and go through every few months (or one area a week) to declutter and update your system. A few minutes doing this every week will prevent you from having TOY OVERLOAD again!
As promised, here’s how we organize and store our toys in our playroom. I have one large basket in each of the kids’ rooms and living room to hold toys. This makes clean-up a cinch and is a natural way to tame the toy explosion in areas where I don’t want to see a ton of toys everywhere. Here’s how we deal with the rest.
::: ORGANIZING TOYS :::
When it comes to storing toys, my vote is for clear bins so kids (especially pre-readers) can clearly see what goes inside. I figured I’ll invest in pretty baskets once we get through the Large Plastic Toy stage. I also keep most of the lids stored in the basement– they actually hinder accessibility to some of the bins such as the trains and cars.
Speaking of trains, we looooove these IKEA SKUBB bins for storing tracks.
We also use them for LEGO storage, but truth be told the smaller pieces do sneak under the dividers. I’m currently searching for plastic bins to place inside each compartment as a solution since we love the SKUBBs so much.
Don’t they fit beautifully in our train table?
Speaking of the train table, I bought several large green LEGO squares to transform this from Train Town to LEGOville in no time flat. Don’t pay any attention to the fact I had to photoshop in the word ‘trains’ because I forgot to switch the bins over. <——– worst photoshopping ever! don’t call the blog police!
Do your kids collect Hess trucks? Mine do! And we needed a good spot for them, ’cause they were starting to get out of hand:
Now they have their own ‘garage’ on a shelf. Easy to find! Which is good, because the kids love them.
My husband bought the kids this lovely thing for Christmas, it’s on the end table for now until we can find a better spot. YAY.
Large items sit under one of the bookcases. That castle was a consignment sale score for $10! WHAT?!
Here’s the other built-in-bookcase in the room (we have two HUGE ones, courtesy of HGTV!)
::: STORING ELECTRONICS AND HEADPHONES :::
We keep the expensive stuff out of harm’s way by placing them on top of our charging station in the kitchen. The headphones fit nicely on hooks tucked away in a corner of the playroom. I got the idea from the Philadelphia Design Home:
::: BOOKS AND MAGAZINE STORAGE :::
I’m not gonna lie, this one is hard for me! As a former teacher and school librarian, I love books. Getting rid of favorite books is akin to ripping out my soul. As I contemplated my massive kids’ book collection this weekend, one thought hit me in the heart: when I left teaching, I held onto these books in anticipation of future kids. My youngest is only in kindergarten– I don’t NEED to get rid of elementary aged books yet. In 6 short years my kids will both be in middle school and THAT’S the time for a vicious book weeding. As long as I regularly weed out and donate ones we definitely don’t want anymore and stay on top of it, I’m giving myself permission to keep the books they may love in the future. And I’m not gonna stress about it any more. 🙂
Here’s two ideas in one photo: a wall display rack (this one is a thrift store plate rack I painted white) and baskets on the shelf to make finding certain books easier (like board books and easy readers, those fit beautifully in bins).
In our playroom, it’s hard to keep books on the shelf so we went for a basket instead:
As for magazines and activity books, they were taking over! These magazine holders from IKEA are the perfect solution. We place all our instruction manuals for toys in that bin, no more lost manuals! Our LEGO manuals are now in a binder.
::: PUZZLES AND GAMES :::
Most of our board games are tucked away in the bottom of these built-ins in our living room:
But a few are on the shelves because the kids use them often.
As for puzzles, this metal puzzle holder was perfection for all our wooden Melissa and Doug puzzles!
For puzzles stored in wooden boxes, I used my label maker.
::: ARTS AND CRAFT SUPPLIES STORAGE :::
I encourage the kids to exercise their creative muscles whenever they wish, as my mom did with me. It’s not abnormal to come home after school and watch as my kids’ spend hours making houses out of shoeboxes or paper crowns or whatever their ginormous imaginations desire. This does mean our home isn’t as NEAT as I’d like, but ah well. I want to hang a sign that says, “excuse the mess, but we’re making memories!” To keep this under control, I store the kids craft supplies in two areas. One is their IKEA Art Cart in the in the kitchen. That’s where we keep the supplies we use the most.
The other area is in our playroom in large bins. This is our ancillary area, easy to access when they need pom poms or Play-doh but out of the way to avoid glitter explosions. I didn’t take a clear photo of all the art supplies, suffice it to say the shelf ABOVE this one is packed too. 😉
Truth telling time: our playroom doesn’t always look like this. No judgement for those who do, but I’m not a person who only allows my kids to play with one toy at a time. Because if I did, then where would Thomas sleep? Those are Magnatiles, which often are houses for LEGO guys, who catch rides on our Thomas trains. They all get along, no need to keep them apart during playtime, right?
We do one big pick-up of the playroom a few times a week, and other days I’m content to shut the door and let the tracks stay where they may for the night. As for having help, implementing ‘toy jail’ has been a huge incentive for getting the toys picked up. And if that doesn’t work, I’ve been known to pull out the vacuum. That’ll get them hustling to pick up the 7,549 LEGOs on the floor. This guy especially loves to help, he feels proud to have helped on this project during all his snow days!
That’s how we organize our toys. Most of the time.
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