Bookshelf more useful as a toy shelf

Bookshelf as toy display

Meredith of Overthinking Mom shared her one-hack-led-to-another epiphany about the usefulness of bookshelves as toy storage:

I'm a new mom and was a little naive about when babies actually start to enjoy reading. I had neatly arranged my 9 month-old daughters' books on her bookshelf, but all she did was toss them around and chew the edges.

Thanks to your site [and Rob! — Ed.], I now plan on making some rain gutter bookshelves to display the books, which left me with a strapped-to-the-wall empty bookshelf.  I picked some toys and displayed them on the shelf and now she loves to spend time choosing a toy. She is much more engrossed in her play than when I stuffed everything in a toy box. 

For very young children, a bookshelf seems more useful as a toy shelf.

I think this is true for older kids as well. Seeing toys leads to playing with them, hence the oft-repeated hack of storing half your kids' toys and rotating them every couple of months.

More: Toy storage hacks


  1. Serena says

    We used the bottom of Billy bookcases (with doors on them) to store toys when we were in a smaller space where our living room was also the playroom – the toys were stored neatly and we still could have a grown-up room at times. We also used small shoebox bins to hold toys with many pieces or of the same type (eg trains, cars, puzzle pieces). Now, in our new family room, we’re using a bookcase for art supplies and board games!

  2. says

    I’ve been doing this for many years now. My 3 kids took over our living room at birth (the oldest is 7 now, youngest are nearly 5). I have stacked puzzles (first wooden and now cardboard), put covered bins on the lower shelves, put Little People sets out, and many more items. Someday my books will reappear but for now, they are safe in boxes in the garage.

  3. says

    I did this. Ten years later:
    bottom shelf: all Lego in clear bins
    shelf up 1: other bins of toys
    shelf up 2: picture books no one wants to get rid of, some assembled Lego on display, a treasure chest
    shelf up 3: early chapter books for younger brother
    shelf up 4: tons of chapter books, mostly all read
    shelf up 5: unread books, holiday books

    The board books are packed up, but many picture books have difficult reading levels so they’ve stayed around longer. Someday we’ll need the room.

  4. Alex N. says

    Naive? No! My daughter is 3 1/2 and has been enjoying reading since the day she came home from the hospital. You can find lots of tips for reading with babies in the book Reading With Babies, Toddlers and Twos by Susan Straub. (Which I’m not connected with in any way)One thing I always did was read a very short board book when I got her in or out of the carseat. Hmmm. At that ages I would hold up 2 books and read the one that caught her eye. She enjoyed simple pop-ups held out of reach, those “scanimation” books, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and a book with photos of babies taking a bath.

  5. Lisa McGuigan says

    Just make sure that the bookshelf is bolted to the wall so that your child doesn’t pull it down onto himself/herself.

  6. Cheryl says

    When my kids were that age, there were baskets of books (garage sale or thrift store) in every room. They loved to look through them or bring them to me for reading. Our best books and library books were “shelf books” and kept on a high shelf far from younger siblings, pets or playmates. They were taken down, read and returned to the shelf as soon as possible to keep them in good shape. Sometimes they were a reward to help at bedtime.
    At my school job, it always saddens me to see children struggle learning to turn the pages of a book. They were not able to handle them at a young age or the books in their homes were not for their enjoyment.

  7. says

    I love this idea, and have incorporated a hybrid bookcase in our home – one shelf is for toys and one is for books.

    Like Cheryl and Alex, my daughter was offered books from birth, and has always has baskets and shelves of books appropriate for her age available to her.

    We started at birth with about a dozen board books containing very few words, and lots of colorful pictures. My daughter also had a favorite book for gnawing on.

    At 6 months, we added a couple of pop-up and texture books with more words, and at 9 months we introduced some Dr. Seuss books.

    From 12 months on, we have added books at a rate of about one a week, and she devours them. She’s 22 months old now, and she “reads” to us.

  8. says

    I also wanted to mention that we anticipated that our daughter would destroy some of her books through rough play, and we expected to purchase additional copies of some of the books we gave her access to. For example, we are on our third copy of Good Night Gorilla.

    It is our philosophy that it is more important to encourage her to read and explore books than it is to keep the books in good condition.

  9. Brigid Keely says

    We’ve been doing this as well and have some really lovely cloth bins (one with sturdy sides and a lid, suitable for a child or toddler to use as a seat) that we chuck toys into. They keep small bits and blocks and balls contained, but are easier to root through and find things than a large toy box.

  10. says

    Forgot to say that I agree with the commenter who expects to replace books. We’ve gone through multiple copies of some books and now we have a 22 month old who loves books and requests stories. If reading is a priority and you can budget to replace books, let your little kid have full access to them.

  11. Globe trottin' mama says

    one thing i like about this bookshelf hack is that it forces you to limit the number of toys available. we do two ikea baskets within our ikea bookshelf, but you can get quite a few toys in there.

    like other readers, i didn’t give up on the books available at her height. it was obnoxious when she went through a stage where she’d chuck them all over, but she moved past it and now fingers through the books like at a library before deciding what she wants to read or have read to her.