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Adults aren’t the only ones who thrive in an orderly space. Kids blossom in a tidy home too. Of course, convincing them of that so they’ll actually take the initiative of putting their toys away is a challenge. No matter how many trips you take to the Container Store for storage ideas or how often you binge-watch "clean with me" videos on YouTube for toy organizing inspiration, the influx of kids' toys that migrate from room to room remains an issue. They may step on LEGO bricks and you might threaten to throw all the stray toys away, yet the result is the same. You end up frustrated, the kids are in tears, and the toys remain a big mess. It's clear that a toy organization strategy is needed.
It’s a struggle for even the neatest parents, because running a tidy home relies on routines and systems — and it’s likely many of the cleaning solutions you come up with aren’t made with the kids’ abilities, strengths, and tendencies in mind. Not to mention, children’s toys always seem like they have a billion pieces. It’s definitely a conundrum figuring out where to put it all away. Whether it’s toys seeping into the living room, a bedroom that looks like a tornado hit it, or an underutilized playroom, these toy organizing tips from organization pros can help you solve the problem. Woman's Day spoke to a professional organizer and a decluttering expert to round up the best toy organizer picks, playroom storage ideas, and kid-friendly cleanup strategies to help maintain cleanliness long-term.
Purge the overflow.
One of the most common culprits of a disorganized toy area is the sheer amount of play items children have — if you aren’t consistently getting rid of toys as new ones come in, you’re destined to feel overwhelmed come cleanup time. When children (and sometimes adults) get attached to some toys, it can be hard to get rid of them.
Start small by discarding toys that are broken, missing pieces, and no longer age-appropriate, suggests Shannon Johnson, professional organizer and owner of Situate Your Space.
Decluttering will bring clarity to the space and prepare it for a new system. After a good declutter it's important to do an assessment of the space and all the remaining contents. An assessment not only allows you see the potential of your space, but also helps with defining clear goals and boundaries once a new functional organization system is put in place, Johnson says.
Purging toys at least twice a year is also essential for keeping toys organized and controlled. Make it effortless by keeping a basket labeled for donations nearby to toss outgrown toys. It will be much easier once it’s time to take them out of the house and give away.
Toss the box.
You may think you’re on to something if you’ve been able to keep the original toy boxes pristine for a while, but there’s a good chance they’re part of the problem. It’s only a matter of time until the original box packaging becomes more trouble than it's worth, according to Johnson.
“Toys often come in boxes that contain lots of extra space. They become worn and torn down eyesores and boxes typically don't transition well into organization systems,” she says. Instead, try storing toys and games in individually marked pouches that take up less space.
Ditch the toy chest.
Keeping a large toy chest might seem like a good idea at first, but they tend to be one of the main causes of mess and disorder. When creating systems, it’s important to pay attention to various organizing styles, suggests Cas Aarssen, author, host of HGTV’s Hot Mess House, and creator of Clutterbug.
According to Aarssen, there are four organizing styles, which she calls “clutterbugs”: cricket, ladybug, butterfly, and bee. When following the clutterbug categories, most small children are butterflies. This means they are really visual and need large, simple categories for organization and storage without lids, she says.
“[Toy boxes] are just too big of a category for children to manage. When a child wants a toy from a toy box, they have to dig and dump to find what they are looking for.” Individual, open square bins are much easier for kids to manage so they can find what they need without pulling everything out.
Let your containers dictate how much you keep.
The plus about individually categorized containers? They dictate how much of any one item you can have!
Considering many toys associate with the popular “collect them all” tagline, it can be difficult to get a handle on the amount accumulated before they start taking over the rooms. It can be hard determining how much of any category you should keep.
“The secret is to let the container be the bad guy,” says Aarssen. When the bin for a particular category is full, you know it’s time to let go of whatever doesn’t fit. The same applies to shelves. Your shelving is a container with limits and you can only keep what reasonably fits. Like any other thing in your home, if you can’t find enough space for it, it’s likely time to get rid of it.
Categorize and rotate toys.
Small cars and pretend food have a habit of getting out of hand. The solution? Group the like items together.
Keep one bin for cars and one bin for tracks. The same applies to kitchen toys. Limit it to one bin for kitchen toys and appliances. Or you can separate play food and toy appliances into separate bins if shelf space allows, suggests Aarssen.
"Take into consideration that having too much of anything without a proper organization system can cause your child sensory overload, inattentiveness, and impulsive play behaviors," Johnson says. Implementing a toy rotation system is a great way to manage your space when you have a lot and it ensures your child is intentionally engaging. This may look like only making five puzzles accessible at a time by switching them out on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis.
Once toys are being played with, it may not be easy remembering where every item belongs when it’s time to clean.
Appropriately labeling each category or bin will make cleanup a breeze. Photo labels representing that bin's category makes sorting easier for children who don't know how to read yet.
Create clear zones.
Making space for large toys is challenging, especially when they’re likely being stored in a shared space. Johnson suggests keeping it simple by designating available wall space to neatly line ride-ons and other large toys.
"The magic lies in assigning the area as 'home' for these items while keeping your little ones on board," she says. "If you're looking to go a little further you can place a sign on the wall that identifies the area or even create 'lanes' on the floor using tape. These techniques serve as great tools to help your child identify where these items belong."
Take advantage of vertical space.
When it comes to using height for organization, people tend to stop at tall bookshelves. However, the empty space on the walls is prime real estate and could be the answer to some of your toy organization quandaries.
For example, hooks on the wall can be used to hang dress-up clothes, and floating shelves could be the perfect throne for dolls without a dollhouse. Plus, taking advantage of height could be helpful for keeping small toys out of reach of younger children. Or it can serve double duty as creative interior design concepts and cool organization hack like this wall-mounted big rig seen here.
Terri Huggins Hart is an award-winning journalist, lifestyle writer, parenting writer, and race and culture writer who is convinced she's figured out the trick to living life with no regrets: do what you love, give love, lead with love. She's also the writer of an active monthly newsletter sharing tips for motivation and emotional well-being. When not writing, she can be found working out via Zumba or pole dancing, reciting her favorite affirmations and covering her adorable kids in kisses. You can learn more about Terri on her website, TerrificWords.com, or following her on social media @terrificwords.
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