Getting organized: Keeping the toys from taking over the house

Especially now, when the holiday haul collides with our desire to simplify, some toy anti-proliferation hacks are in order.

From Kirsten:

The best thing you can do about kids/toy organizing is have a play room, I think. I know that that isn't always possible, esp. for those in apartments – but many people live in homes with a formal living room and a family room. One of those can be used as a playroom. That's the choice we made and I'm so glad! It really simplifies bed/nap times, and creates a calmer environment in the bedrooms.

For toy storage, (not too original, but I actually don't know too many people who do this), I get clear plastic bins of various sizes that fit on the sets of storage shelves that we have. I label them for my own convenience if something gets dumped out, but since their see-through, even non-readers can usually tell where the toys go. It also helps limit the amount of a certain type of toy. I do sometimes have to 'upgrade' a toy box (get a bigger size), but with some types of toys I'm determined to not outgrow the size of box it's in now.

[I second see-through toy storage. Our playroom is organized with baskets from Ikea, and although it looks great and all the parents who come down ooh and ahh over how tidy it looks, my kids rarely pull out the baskets. It's like they forget what kinds of toys are in there. — Ed.]

Also, for cleaning up toys – I've noticed that my daughter (and me, sometimes!) gets overwhelmed with the visual stimulation of a messy playroom. She honestly can't see through the clutter to where she needs to start. I now just gather a bunch of stuff quickly and put it into a shopping bag for her. She grabs just one thing out at a time and puts it away. It's helped immensely (and she complains less, too!).

[Similar idea: start in one corner of the room and work your way around. — Ed]

From Amy:

How do I keep my kiddo's room clean? Keep fewer toys in it. Of course, my son doesn't always agree that a toy needs to go, so when toy sorting time arrives we do this: We get a big rubbermaid bin, a box, a trash bag and a bucket of soapy water. We dump the toys out of their bins, and wipe the dust and yuck out. Toys we're keeping go back in. Broken toys get pitched. Perfectly good toys that he is done with go in the box to go to the Salvation Army. If there are toys that he doesn't play with, but he's not ready to say goodbye to, they go into the rubbermaid bin. At the next sorting time they will be revisited, and often times he is now ready to let them go. Other times they seem new and get a second lease on life.

On a similar note; my baby daughter received no fewer than six teddy bears this Christmas. We decided to donate the bears to our local ambulance service. They take them on runs and give them to children who could use a pick-me-up at a scary time.

Related: More hacks for getting organized


  1. says

    If you’ve got space for a playroom, don’t allow toys in the bedroom. Bedrooms are for sleeping — if that’s all your kids do there, you’ll have an easier time getting them to sleep!

    If you share your playroom with the rest of your family room (we do), buy some of those brightly-coloured foam mat pieces (the kind that link together like puzzle pieces) and make an appropriately sized mat (ours is 3×3, which is plenty big) and try to keep the toys within that space. It makes clean up a lot easier, and keeps the clutter to a minimum. The pads are also nice and warm to play on (even in the basement) and comfortable for adults if (like me), you like to get down and play with the kids from time to time.

    We don’t have the space for a bunch of small see-through containers, so we use three big Rubbermaid containers. They border the mat and it’s easy to just pick-up-and-toss the toys into the closest box. I can clean up the family room in about 5 minutes when company’s coming or the visual clutter is just too overwhelming.

  2. says

    I fully second the playroom if you can swing it. Then it’s all contained, keeping toys from taking over your other areas including bedrooms. It also keeps me from needing to clean up or holler about it all the time – I figure if it’s in the playroom, it’s allowed to be messy and I can turn a blind eye because it’s in her space. We just clean up about once a week or when someone is coming to play. Sometimes letting go is the best sanity saver there is!

    (We have a couple of big bins for things like blocks and instruments, and smaller, open bins that she can see into on shelves for the other stuff.)

  3. Sandy says

    We have the toy table with the drawers from Pottery Barn–it was more expensive than we imagined but it has been great in keeping toys together. There is a similar train table with drawers as well that other kids have and works just as well. All toys and some books go in there. If they do not fit or new toys come in, they are rotated, donated or exchanged with other kids. We converted the formal dining room into a study/play room. Since it is just off the living room, all the computers and toys stay in this “study/play” and we minimize clutter by the couch and TV. There are 2 clear bins inside these drawers so the kids find it fun sometimes to grab the bins out and dump the toys out altogether.

    Every night before we go to bed, we all get together and clean up the study/play and put things away, so it is a family activity while we peek at the TV and spend some time winding down. The plastic bins make it easier for clean up to get the little toys together. The bedroom has a book shelf with books and stuffed toys lined up and a basket of little toys such as balls and crayons. So the policy is no toys leave the toy table. Great for making sure that no toys leave the house as well–making day care drop off easier with no toys in hand.

    We make sure that we adhere to the same policy as the kid by making sure no laptops & gadgets creep into our bedroom as well.

  4. says

    We have found that the shallow “under bed” drawers make the best toy holders. They keep stuff together but nothing is buried under tons of other toys. We keep one in the living room under the changing table. When its playtime, just pull it out and all the toys are available. Also since we’ve got 1 year olds we don’t have to worry about them getting stuck in the box. Cleanup is pretty fast too since they have wheels we pull them into the middle of the room and all the toys get tossed in.

  5. says

    My sister-in-law is a therapist for children with ADHS and such she says that see-through boxes can be too much for easily stimulated kids. They get overwhelmed by all the stuff they can see and cannot decide on what they want todo.

    I chose blue, semi-transparent boxes for the shelfs, you can still see whats in there but it is not too distracting. I don’t like big boxes, they turn into dumpsters where nobody knows whats in there anymore, a couple of medium sized boxes work much better in our home.

  6. says

    We *could* have a playroom, but we wanted an *adult* room instead (for our library, office, workshop, etc.). I’ve turned regular furniture (that I like for decorative/surface area purposes) into toy storage. Everything is hidden but accessible–I think kids like the “surprise” factor of toys behind closed doors.

    In the living room, my shabby chic buffet contains puzzles and small toys in the silverware drawers and blocks, legos, shape sorters, etc. in the cabinets. Adjacent to the dining area, I have a kitchen island type cabinet for the “big girl” toys my oldest plays with at the table–LeapPad, puzzles, art supplies, etc. The rest of the toys are in the bedrooms, where I use Ikea’s toy bin storage system.

  7. says

    We do the clear bins too and I make sure that the toys from one bin get cleaned up before another one is pulled out. We also do not keep any toys in the bed room, they are all in our living room where we spend most of the day. This helped when we were transitioning from the crib to the toddler bed, there were no toys to distract him from nap time.

  8. says

    thanks to barbex for the comment about overstimulation. i think we will keep the clear bins, but transition from shelves to closed cabinets (with baby locks) so that our boys have to clean up one box before getting out another. (when ikea opens here – this spring, woo hoo!)

  9. says

    Our son isn’t old enough to have too much of a problem with this yet (we’re trying to control the number of toys that come in in the first place). He does have a number of “play stations” around the house; one in his room, one in the kitchen and one in the living room. This is where we corral his toys into baskets, shelves, and/or collapsible cloth bins.

    Every night we put everthing back in its proper station especially in his room which Adrienne touched on in her post about safety lessons learned after a tornado struck our neighborhood, .

    This helps control the clutter for now.

    Friends have implemented a similar strategy of using collapsible cloth bins and a shelving system in their playroom and it has had dramatic effects for their children.

    At the grandparent’s house, all the toys fit inside a large plastic bin that he can easily empty and refill.

  10. says

    Jim has already beaten me to a response on this post.

    I’ll avoid redundancy, and just add that one of my most amazing friends has raised a three year-old darling daughter who keeps all her like toys (Weebles, tea set parts, crayons) in individual gallon sized Ziplock baggies. For her daughter, sorting and cleaning up is part of the fun.

    Since I’ve seen my friend’s amazing success, we’re actively trying to attract BabyGeek to the joys of sorting and putting things away. Wish us luck.

  11. Deirdre says

    I’d guess that amazing 3-year-old daughter friend of Adrienne’s is a naturally neat person. My two daughters are totally opposite in regard to how much they’ll help with picking things up.

    We have a playroom, but my girls prefer to play near to where I am. If it’s a living room, they want to live in it — that’s their reasoning. They are usually either in the living room or the kitchen, because that’s where I am.

    I try to get my girls to clean up before their father gets home and dinner (which come at the same time), and then after dinner we do something together like play a game or read a book or watch a movie in a (relatively) neat living room.

    We have a basket at the bottom of the stairs where my dh and I put stuff of theirs that needs to go upstairs and have them bring it up and clear it out regularly.

  12. says

    We’re one of the families in an apartment (with three sons and two cats, yikes), so the only living room has become, necessarily, the playroom. What we did was purchase the sets of three plastic drawers from Target (when they’re on sale, they’re a great deal), and lined them up along one wall. Then, we decide *with the boys* what should go in each drawer, ie. art supplies, cars, coloring books, etc.

    Once that’s decided, I laminate a label for the item (usually I use the word and a picture, so my non-reading kids can find things easily) and stick it to the front of the drawer.

    While it doesn’t prevent clutter, this system has worked well for us to all clean up fairly quickly. Once the boys got used to the mantra of “if you’re done with it, put it away,” they became fairly good about doing it.