True confession: I love that my children have toys to play with. Toys can inspire their imagination, spark their creativity, teach them the value of teamwork and playing together, and are just flat-out fun! What I don’t like is when it comes time to pick up all of the toys! Can you relate?
Sometimes it can feel like the house has been completely overtaken with toys and there is no room for anything else – let alone walking without killing your feet on small, sharp pieces! So what do you do about it? How do you even begin to reign in the masses of toys?
At first, I tried to make sure that every toy had its place, that everything was neatly lined up on the shelf and properly put away every evening. I quickly learned that, while this method works with a 4-month old (who can’t really pull any of their toys out on their own), it is nearly impossible and results in much frustration and screaming on the part of the mommy as the children grow and more children are added to the family!
My husband and I have 5 children and I have seen firsthand how the different personalities of my children play into how each one picks up their toys. Some toys, the ones that are of the most value to that child, are very carefully put away every time they come out in exactly the right position. Other toys, the ones that aren’t as high on the value list, just get left all over the floor until they are told that they have to be picked up!
Some children have an inner sense of what it means to pick up and take pleasure in picking up their toys. Some children seem to either thrive on clutter or they seem completely unaffected by it. Some children don’t seem to notice that the toys are all over the floor even when they are standing in the middle of the mess and you are explaining it to them!
So how do you work with all these different personalities, keep it simple, and keep the toys contained and (preferably) off the floor all at the same time? Sounds impossible, doesn’t it?
Well, my Friend, it doesn’t have to be! Let me share with you one of my best and favorite toy-containing secrets: Bins! Or baskets or buckets or whatever shape and style of container matches your home and works for you! (For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to refer to all such containers as bins as we keep talking!)
So what kind of bins do you get? Cloth? Wood? Square? Round? Big? Little? Colorful? Plain? And how do you begin to get the toys from the floor into the bins in the first place?
Let’s start at the beginning!
Choosing the right Bin
Choosing the right bin is going to depend on the space in your house the bin will live. If the bin is going to live in your family room, choose a bin that will match the decor that you already have in your family room. For example, if your living room is decorated in white and gray with pops of red, picking a hot pink basket for your daughter’s toys will not look quite right. On the other hand, if you chose a gray bin it will blend well with your decor while giving her a spot to put her toys. Your first step, then, is to consider the room where the bin will live.
The second step is to consider the size of the area where the bin will live. There’s nothing worse than going shopping and finding the perfect bin only to realize that it will not fit in the space that you have available when you get home! Where will your bin live? Will it be one large bin in the corner of your family room? Will it be multiple smaller bins along the bottom shelf of a bookshelf? Will it be many bins that are designed to fit into a cubed off piece of furniture? Will it be a wooden crate in the corner of the room? Let your imagination run with possibilities on this one!
The third step is to consider what toys will be living in the bin. You want to make sure that the bin is big enough to hold what you want it to, but not so big that the toys are completely lost in the bin. You also want to make sure that the toys will be able to stay in the bin! For example: if you are wanting small LEGOs to be held in a bin, choosing a basket with an open weave won’t work well. In this case, you will want something that is solid on the bottom and sides so that the LEGOs will stay in when you lift the bin. If you are wanting to contain stuffed animals, a small basket will overflow with animals pretty quickly leaving you with essentially the same problem as before. So, you want to choose a bin that is big enough to hold all the stuffed animals.
The Strategy Behind It All
I know that you’ve heard me say this before, but I’m going to say it again: The best organizational system for you to use is one that you help create and one that you can keep going. This also holds true for your children when it come to their toys! Make sure that you are including your children in this process!
The temptation to simply create a system and tell your child how to use it is huge! Don’t fall into this trap! If your child is old enough to pick up their own toys, then you want to include them on every step of this process – from choosing the colors and the style of the bins to getting the toys into the bins! Yes, it is far easier to create and set up the system yourself and then get your child on board. But if you do that, you miss the opportunity to teach them how to create their own system. You miss the teaching moments that come as you work together. You miss allowing them to take ownership of a big piece of this process.
Again, just like the best organizational system for you is one that you help create and one that you can keep going, the best organizational system for your child is one that they help create and one that they can keep going. This gives them so much more ownership and an increased desire to keep up on the system you are creating together.
Now, before we go too much further here, I do want to say something about those big toys. You know the ones, the big dump trucks and tractors, the doll houses, the rocking horses and play kitchens. Obviously these are simply too big to get into a bin! But, you can help your child figure out a way to make them look neat and put away even though they are still very much out in the open. For example, you can have a bin (or two) that holds all of the dishes and play food and cups for the play kitchen. This way the kitchen itself remains out, but the tiny pieces that go with it are contained in a bin. You could create a ‘parking area’ (preferably next to a wall or a piece of furniture, not in the middle of the room!) for the trucks and tractors and large toy vehicles. Again, they are still out, but when they are ‘parked’ they look so much neater and out of the way. (And as a bonus, they look like decorations in your child’s room!)
Getting the Toys in the Bins!
So, now it comes time to tackle the toys! Here’s a big hint: Tackle the toys one room at a time! Here’s how I would do it: Clear out the space where your bins are going to live, whether that is floor space in the corner or the bottom shelf of your bookshelf or entertainment center. Whether that is building a new piece of cubed furniture and placing it where it will live or clearing off a shelf. Start by clearing the space where the bins will live.
As you clear off the space, there might be some toys in the way (or possibly some items of yours that will need to find a new home). Bring the toys to the middle of the room. Right now, we’re just collecting them all in one spot. Don’t worry about sorting them just yet. (If there are some of your items that need to find a new home, I suggest that you put them out of the way for a bit so that you can work with your child and tackle the toys first, then find a new home for your items later.)
Once the space is clear, put the empty bins where they will live. This gives everyone a very clear picture of what it will look like when you’re done. Yes, that is some extra motivation built in right there, my Friend!
Now we come to the sorting part! Sort the toys into categories that make sense to you and your child. Here are some category suggestions:
- Cars and any car race tracks
- Dolls and their clothes and blankets
- Trains, train tracks, extra train set pieces
- Play kitchen food, dishes, hot pads, etc.
- Stuffed animals
- Hard plastic toys (such as dinosaurs or animal figures)
- Soft and squishy toys
- Big Duplo-sized LEGOs
- Regular (tiny) LEGOs
- Building Blocks
- Dress up clothes and accessories
By looking at your pile, you will be able to see your categories emerging and you can start sorting.
You have 2 options on where to put the sorted piles: you can simply make a pile on the floor or you can start putting the toys directly into the bin. If you have multiple bin sizes, I would recommend making piles on the floor first so that you can see how many toys are in each category and what size bin you will need. Keep in mind, that you could have a combination of these two approaches! For example, if you have a large bin that you know will hold the stuffed animals, but you’re not sure about the rest of the toys, you can start by putting all the stuffed animals into their correct bin and sorting the rest of the toys into piles on the floor.
Don’t forget to make a pile for toys that belong in another room! Personally, I like to keep the toys that all of my children play with (like the LEGOs and books) in the family room while the rest of their toys live in their rooms. (Rest assured, even though we have books in the family room, my kids all have books in their rooms, too!) When my children were very young, I would keep a fair amount of baby toys in a basket in the family room so that I wasn’t forever running back and forth to their room just to get toys for them to play with!
Once you have all the toys sorted into piles, simply pick the bin that that pile of toys will live in, put the toys in the bin, and put the bin in it’s spot! Congratulations! You have sorted and contained toys!
A Final Word of Caution
A word of caution for you: Please know that this is coming from someone who likes to have everything in it’s exact right place all the time. I’ve had to learn this one the hard way, so, please, learn from my mistakes on this one! After your child has been playing and it’s time to put the toys away, don’t get so hung up on making sure that every toy is in the exact right bin every single time they pick up the toys. The bigger goal here is that they learn the responsibility of picking up after themselves by putting their toys away and that you helped make it easier for them to pick up by providing the bin system. Now, I know, the toys are going to get all mixed up eventually. They will migrate from one room to another and back again. But keep your eyes on the big goal: are the toys getting picked up? Are your feet feeling better because you’re no longer stepping on everything? Focus on the positives.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: about twice a year my kids and I go through all of the toy bins and do what we call a ‘toy reset.’ Basically, we put all the toys back into the bins where they should be so that we can find everything again and we ‘reset’ the system. The rest of the year, they do their best to put the toys back into the correct bin, I encourage them to put the toys into the correct bins, but I don’t freak out if my son’s dinosaurs end up mixed in with my daughter’s play kitchen food!
Remember, the best organizational system for you (and your child!) is one that you help create and one that you will continue to use. Don’t lose sight of that throughout this process. Even though it may seem daunting at first, you can do this! Just take it one step at a time and pretty soon you will be dancing without even worrying about stepping on those LEGOs – because they are put away in their bin!
You’ve got this, my Friend!
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- Why Organize? Progress not Perfection
- 5 Simple Solutions to be Less Forgetful and More Organized
- 5 Simple Steps to Take You from Scattered to Organized
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.