If you have kids then you know how toys can multiply, especially over the holidays. Here’s how we solved the Kid Toy Madness issue our house.
We took the vast majority of our kids toys and moved them into The Toy Closet.
The Toy Closet didn’t start out as a toy closet. It started as the hallway closet that we used for linens. But that was a stupid waste of premium storage space – sheets do not need their own damned room. And this closet is right between our two children’s rooms – perfect for toy storage.
My kids are the only grandchildren on either side of the family. This means they have been gifted many high-quality toys. We are a pro-Lego family from way back, and with a three-year-old son, naturally there’s a train set in the house. (Gender-stereotype busting alert! The wooden train set was actually a grandparental gift to my daughter when she was about three. Hah!)
So these aren’t the kind of toys I really want to set fire too, except in my more manic moments of minimalism. But they do need containment or guess who ends up patiently re-sorting a huge, jumbled pile of 15 different toy building systems that don’t actually work together? Not the three-year-old, I can tell you that.
Clean up is simplified with The Toy Closet. Every type of toy has a bin or a box.
The Toy Closet Rule
The rule is, I’ll get anything down for the kids, but I’ll only get down one bin at a time.
The kids like this system, because it keeps their toys fresh. Bins that haven’t been out for awhile have a sense of novelty, so they tend to play with each toy longer, instead of getting bored after 14 seconds.
I like it, because clean-up is easier, so the three-year-old can do it himself. It’s just dumping one kind of toy back into the one bin it came from. No sorting, no looking around for little cases, no fragile and precious organization to be preserved. I do have to sing that terrible clean-up song, but that comes with the territory of parenthood.
Finally, the bins themselves form a limit to how much the kids can have. So I’ll respond to a plea for more trains by explaining, “The bin is full. Sorry – that’s enough train tracks to build an awesome train. We don’t have room for any more.”
(Legos seem to be the exception. We all have our problem areas.)
Lego tip: we picked up a small hand-broom and dustpan for a few dollars last time we were at Ikea and now we store that in with one of the Lego bins. Make’s scooping up those little pieces easier.
The kids can take a bin into their room or the living room, or they can play in the hallway. But before bed any toys not part of an active building project go back in the bin and up on the shelf for the night. Half-finished Lego creations and similar are, of course, exempt.
We’ve had The Toy Closet organized this way for about two years now, and I’m ecstatic with how it’s helped keep the toys organized and how it’s opened up the kid’s rooms. With only a few toys and age appropriate puzzles and books in his room, my three-year-old is able to tidy his own room with far less help from me. My nine-year-old maintains or doesn’t maintain her room as she wills – she’s old enough now that her room is not my problem, and if it’s too messy I just don’t go in there.
We bought the clear plastic bins at Costco over a couple years. They always have a bunch of them at this time of year along with the treadmills and home gyms, because everyone is swearing this’ll be the year they get organized and lose 25 pounds. These are the bins we use, but that price online is stupid. We certainly didn’t pay that much, so if that size and style works for you, look for them at Costco.
I think having clear bins is very helpful so the kids can see what they want to play with, but you could use labeled, heavy-duty cardboard boxes, too. That would be cheaper and greener.
What’s your best tip for keeping kids toys organized?5
We use plastic bins as well. The only downside is the kids are rather rough on the bins and often break them or the lids. For the most part though, it works. Maybe if they made cheap plexiglass containers?
As for the legos, that’s it’s own special problem. They don’t have to put up half built creations, and we have a shelf where they can be placed as well as finished creations for display. In a short period of time though it starts looking like they’re actually storing the legos on the shelf instead of in the tote though…
We have a 2-bin system in our house. One is labelled “Jack’s Room” and the other is labelled “Thomas’ Room”.
My solution for Lego bricks is to put all of the bricks on an old sheet and then lift the corners of the sheet and lift the entire collection into the bin. The next time the Lego is played with I have to lift the sheet out and help spread it but helps contain the bricks in a reasonable space and makes cleanup a lot easier. Also, I have dark carpet and before instituting the sheet solution we would invariably lose a brick which I would find when barefoot!
We do something similar with our Lego. I have 4-5 king size sheets I have purchased from a discount store (like big lots, etc.) in really non-typical colors. These are our building sheets (for forts) our explosion radius sheets (under the folding table for moon sand, or anything cutting small paper bits) and our lots of tiny parts sheets (legos, model building, tiny dollhouse stuff, beads, etc). I have a decent wing span, so getting things back into their bucket is pretty easy, but if you are not blessed / cursed with that, install a sturdy hanging hook some where in the ceiling, and put 2 large eyelets in the corners of the sheet. Step ladder up to hang one side, then tighten the sheet to pour into the bucket on the other side. You could even set the hook up over a door way. I hope this helps someone else!
I usually re-organize every year before Christmas, but since I started working full-time this last June, I barely have time to keep up with the daily household stuff. Our toy situation is way out of control…I mean some if it just has to go…its time for a purge of the stuff that is either just junk or just not played with anymore. I’ll have to try the 1-box/bin at a time rule. Of course our legos are a whole nother beast entirely. We dont just have the bricks, we have the special sets (little sets, big sets, ginourmous sets)….they are usually built to specifications originally, and then morphed as the kids do their own design work…then they get mad when they can’t find the specific pieces because they’ve all gotten mixed in with the others. Its an ongoing battle trying to keep them out from between my toes.
Jessie : Improved says
There are two rows of 3 walled shelving in my two girls’ 4×4 closet, so the toys are about to go up there. My house has been a disaster for too long.
Tanaya Ropp says
Love this article, the dustpan and broom is a great idea. I wish I’d seen this when my children were younger but I will definately use this for grand children. Ikea has inexpensive clear storage bin.
Miser Mom says
I love the bin idea. I used to love plastic bins, because (as your pictures show so elegantly, they’re see-through). But as Gene noted, some kids can be hard on these. My boys ended up breaking many of their bins. And the more eco-nuttish I get, the less I like the idea of plastic bins.
Now I use cardboard printer paper boxes. I trim down the front edge at an angle, so we can see in more easily. These are cheap (I constantly pick up new ones for free from work); we can recycle them when we break them (often, but less often now that the boys are growing older); I can label them with pictures and words; and they seem to magically fit *exactly* onto our linen shelves.
But I have to admit, I totally love the way your shelves look. All the color pops out and says “there’s fun in here!”.
Wow – I am so relieved – I’m not the only Mom to limit toy ‘distribution’ in this way! We used to have a long, low chest with nine drawers in our living room, under a window; each draw was filled with specific toys (bristle blocks, duplo blocks, and many more); and we only got out one drawer at a time. Some of my kids’ cousins remember me as the ‘mean mom’ who wouldn’t let them play with all the toys at a time!
I found two things to be true:
My children actually enjoyed their toys more this way – they didn’t have to hunt for all the pieces before they could play with something!
The wear and tear on toys is much lower this way. When they have access to a bunch of toys at once, they tend to drag them all out onto the floor and then walk on them. At least that’s what I’ve found…
Great solution! I’m an organization junkie. Nothing I like better than admiring your skill, except maybe organizing my own stuff! Wanted to say how much I love the new haircut! Looks great.
When the kids were little, we moved across country. I packed toys in their own boxes and they stayed that way for a long time. I’d bring in what ever box they wanted from the garage, and when they were done playing with that stuff back it went.
And I told the kids that while they were free to play with stuff, certain toys (like the Legos and Playmobile) were just on loan from me. If I ever have grandkids, I’ll have all the cool toys to play with at my house. And I still pull them out and play with them myself.
Corie / Primal Gardener says
Must try this.
What is the clean-up song? I’m behind on everything, lol!
Sara B says
I’m jealous of your space. The only closet big enough for that kind of storage is in the back of the playroom (an obvious place for toy storage, right), but after giving up my home office this summer to make the play room, I’m not quite ready to give up that space too. There is some kid stuff (craft supplies) in there. I am thinking about a couple of boxes in there that probably don’t need such easy access—maybe there’s some toy storage in there yet.
My kids do play with more than one thing at once. My rule (that I struggle sometimes to enforce) is if they move on from playing with trains-blocks-little people-pattern blocks together, we clean that up before starting puzzles or dress or whatever.
Ien in the Kootenays says
Brilliant. Will pass this one around.
Soooo, not to take away from the point of the article, which I love and am eager to do, if only to avoid slipping on sharp pieces of lego as I go in to wake the kids up in the morning, I have to ask, what did you do with your linens? I ask this because I spent a couple of hours this past weekend reorganizing the linen closet at the end of the hall. And I say REorganize because I’ve done this about 4 times since we moved here last August. I am not a sucker for punishment, but with a king size bed, a queen (in son #1’s room), and 2 twin bunkbeds (son #2’s room), we have a good chunk of linen, not to mention extra pillows and blankets. I would love to make this a storage closet for all the kids stuff but where do I put the sheets. I have a feeling if I stored the kids’ sheets in their rooms they would just be pulled apart and made into forts, which maybe means I could just throw them in a pile on the floor without even having to fold them in the first place…..maybe I’m onto something here….