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Simple Toy Storage Strategies and Solutions

Last week, we talked about how to cut down on toy overload. Once you feel like you’ve pared your toys down to an amount which works for your family, here are some ideas for storing them so you’re not constantly tripping over them:

1. Have a Designated Place for Toys

If you wonder why there are constantly toys all over your home, it just might be because you’ve never created a home for the toys. If you and your children don’t know where the toys are supposed to be put away in the first place, it’s hard to put them away. So not only does it help to pare down the number of toys you have, but it also is very helpful to designate places for the toys you own.

At our house, toys stay in the girls’ room and the basement. If toys are brought into the living room or kitchen, we encourage the girls to promptly return them to their places once they are finished being played with. We have a few shelves in the basement for books and toy tubs and then a section of their closet to put dolls and doll things. We store arts and crafts along with the rotating toy bins (see more on this below) in the school room closet.

Need help getting started designating a place for your toys? Check out Five Steps for a Pared Down Playroom.

If You Have More Than One Child

If you have more than one child, it might be helpful to have assigned areas for each individual child’s toys and then a place for toys that everyone shares. You might consider having a tub or shelf labeled with each child’s name. Perhaps this could also be a way to deal with toy overload as well: when the shelf or tub is full, you can’t get any new toys until you get rid of some that you already have.

See how Kate implemented this in her home.

2. Pick Up What You Get Out

Train your children from an early age to pick up their own toys and messes. It takes work, effort and consistency to teach children to be assets to the home rather than liabilities, but it does pay off.

Training is practicing doing something again and again and again in order to get it right. Don’t expect your children to be able to pick up all the toys and put them away perfectly the first time you ask them to. It’s going to take showing them what’s expected, helping them do it correctly, gentle encouragement and lots of practice. But, with time and practice (and patience!), your children can learn to pick up after themselves.

Set a Good Example!

Observe your own actions over the course of a week: are you often leaving things out instead of putting them away in their designated places? Do you pick up what you got out? If not, I encourage you to start working on the person you see in the mirror first. You can’t expect your children to pick up after themselves if you’re not setting an example of doing the same.

{Ouch! I’m preaching to myself here!}

Once you’ve pared down your toys, have a designated place for toys and are training your children to pick up what they get out, likely the majority of your toy organization problems may be solved. But here are a few ideas if you’re still looking for some practical suggestions:

::The Rotational System

If you feel like you have too many toys, but you don’t want to part with what you have, consider a rotational toy system. Put away half the toys for a month. After a month, put away the toys you currently have and get out the toys which were put away. You could even do this on a quarterly basis.

This method can help you to see what toys your children really like and use. It also might help encourage more contentment with you already have since your children will probably feel like they are getting “new” toys quite often–when really it’s just the same old toys they’ve always had being presented in a new way!

::Days-of-the-Week Tubs

This idea has so many variations, but the basic gist is to divide most of the toys in your home into seven groups and put them in seven different tubs labeled with the days of the week. Your children can then play with the appropriate tub each day. It keeps things rotated and fresh, while creating less mess. We’ve done variations of this in our home with great success.

See how Stephanie implemented this in her home.

::Friend Toy Swap

This idea came from The Bargain Shopper Lady:

My boys started a “friend toy swap” which is their idea of giving to their friends. Anytime they have a friend over to play, they let their friend choose one toy to take home. I approve all toys before the friend leaves just in case they are trying to give something away, such as “their brothers favorite toy” or something that they just got and is still pretty new. This method is great for us! We have friends over often and it really helps with the clutter!  My children are also learning that they really enjoy giving toys they don’t play with as often to their friends!

Always Remember: “The Best Things in Life Aren’t Things”

Amy from Amy’s Finer Things often says this, and it’s so true. I loved the example Kendra gave of making a cardboard laptop for her daughter. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to keep a child contented, happy and busy!

What strategies and solutions do you use in your home to keep the toys from taking over your life? Tell us in the comments.

photo credit: hownowdesign

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37 Comments

  • donna h. says:

    A huge space saver for those who have millions of stuffed animals. Saw this many years ago, but truthfully never used it. However, gave the idea to others who did. If you can get ahold of the large center tube,( approx 6 inch) for the center of a roll of carpet. You can get these at carpet stores. Spray paint it. Sew small velcro tabs on the stuffed animal and glue the other side of the velcro to the “pole” Kids can peal the animal off easily and just as easy stick it back on. The pole will need to be cut down lengthwise depending on the ht of your ceilings, but takes little room. Sort of like those pole lamps I grew up with.

  • Cate says:

    Great tips! We recently began rotating my 11-month-old daughter’s toys. We found that when all of them were out, she was overwhelmed by them and didn’t play as much. With fewer of them in sight, she plays more. We also try to purge her toy collection regularly, starting at the moment she’s given a toy. If we find it objectionable in some way (for example, we’re not much for battery-operated toys, and she’s scared of them!), we donate it immediately, rather than letting it gather dust or scare her.

    Also, can I just say “baskets”? We’ve implemented baskets as organizational systems all over our home, and they work great! They look a little fancier than plastic bins, but cost the same.

  • Sara says:

    My daughter has two baskets on the bottom shelf of the bookcase in our living room. One is for small toys, the other is for books. We do this because she doesn’t like to play alone in her room. She prefers the living room when I’m in there or cooking in the kitchen.

    She also has a basket of colors and paper in the kitchen so she can color at the table.

    We keep the bigger toys in her closet. It is home to her blocks, dollhouse and doll stroller. The dolls live in a little cradle in her room.

    I like our system because when toys cannot fit neatly in her basket in the living room or in her closet, it is time to purge.

    By purge I mean put in a storage box so that they can be used again by future children. Once we have more children, we might have to revamp our system. =)

  • Awesome tips…this is something I really need to do. Sometimes I feel like I live in a playroom — my whole house is one huge playroom…

  • Crystal says:

    Great ideas! I am trying to deal with all the toys right now. It is crazy! We have always tried to keep them to a minimum but, somehow we still have tons. One of the best things I did was put up rain gutter bookshelves. (I have a picture on my blog I just put up if anyone is interested.) I am liking that days of the week bin idea.

  • Julie says:

    Thanks for the tips. I especially love the Day-a-week-tubs. It’s a perfect idea for my daughter who often gets bored. I enjoy your blog very much and I have to say you always get the wheels turning in my brain and I’m thankful for that. Keep up the good work girlfriend!

  • Sarah Taras says:

    I’m LOVING these posts- in fact, it has spurred me on to blog about the same things!

    I have found that not having ALL of my daughter’s things out where she can get to them all at once helps. She’s almost 6 and we have lots of polly pockets, little pet shop, etc- and they all have tiny pieces. Having all of that dumped in the middle of the floor can be frustrating. So I Have a shelf now in the top of her closet and she can play with them one at a time. If she wants something else down she has to pick up what she already has out. It doesn’t take that long to do this…and its saving my sanity!

  • Ashley says:

    I just reorganized the toy room/area on Sunday. I was getting tired of toys being dragged from one end of the house to the other, and the kids couldn’t even get to most of their toys anymore. Our new setup not only allows for easier storage, but has a “play area” designated to help keep the toys contained.

  • Rhoda says:

    I find it very hard for my to organize my children’s toys. We live in a small three bedroom house. The one bedroom is an office for my husband and the other the girls share that room. They are quite a few years apart so have different interests with their toys. How do I organize their room when it’s already so small for their toys but there is no other room to put them in? I feel like we are always trying to figure out where to put their things? They don’t have a lot of toys either for this reason.

  • I always need more tips on organizing toys, these are great! I have a post here about how we store our books, it’s sort of like the rotational system:

    http://homegrownmom.com/domestically-challenged/too-many-books-here%E2%80%99s-one-solution/596

  • zena says:

    We have one big tub in the den. We also rotate one garbage bag of toys for the current toys in the tub. I realized storing any more than that was too much. So when it goes over the large tub and the trash bag, I start paring back down.

    Off topic, can you tell me where you got those adorable floral curtains in the playroom? Pleeeeeease? I love them!

  • We, too, have a designated area for the toys, in the basement and in the kids’ rooms upstairs. HOWEVER. A huge time and clutter saver is to have a basket on the main floor for “toy creep”, so for a quick pick-up they have a place to go. Every now and then, I’ll go through the basket and send the kids off with the individual items to put them where they belong, either in their rooms or in the basement. This method has helped us tremendously.

  • Great tips!! Tons of storage is my secret! I just made over our playroom and used just about everything I could find to conseal all the toys and clutter! Cubbies are my best friend!

    http://www.bystephanielynn.com/2010/03/playroom-with-room-to-play-and-space-to.html

  • Lee says:

    I have 3 boys all different ages, all into different things. We have 12 boxes with plastic bins that hold the toys. 5 of those belong to my sons lego’s they are sorted by color to make assembly easy and put away simple for him. The other bins hold a set of toys for the other boys. When the bin gets full we purge. They have 1 of those totes for “mismatched toys” that we purge often, these toys don’t belong to a set they play with a lot. The baby toys get purged the most as my little baby grows out of them! We do have toys stored for the baby to grow into, and a few sets of toys that take up more space like geo trax. They are stored in BIG totes in the closet for rainy days or special treats!

  • I also struggle with toy storage. I don’t want to get rid of too much because we are not yet done having children. One way I have tried to combat this problem is by not purchasing many! Just as Money Saving Mom, my children play with non-traditional toys such as blankets (tents), egg cartons, and the like. See my blog for constructive play ideas that don’t require much outside of ‘around the house’ things!

  • Ann B says:

    Great tips.
    Now that all my children are school age, it seems like they play with less of the bulky toys. They like things like crafts, books, puzzles, board games, and legos.
    I just had a garage sale and donated what we didn’t sell. That pared down a lot of the toys. I checked out our toy closet again and I really think I can get rid of more. So I am going to fill up our garage sale bins again and see if they miss it.

  • Karen Rucker says:

    One thing that’s really helped in our house is to have some play items that aren’t mobile. We have dry erase boards mounted to the wall, so the kids keep their art supplies near them naturally. We have a train table that’s heavy enough that they can’t move it, so the cars and train toys tend to stay nearby to it. If there’s one or two big pieces that are hard to move, it’s less of a battle to keep the kids from spreading the accessories all over the house.

  • Jenni Kimble says:

    Just check with the other child’s parents before you give them a toy! I wouldn’t want my kids coming home with toys from every play date! 🙂

  • I’d also love to start teaching my kids how to go through their toys and evaluate what they would like to keep and what to get rid of. They might be a bit young right now, but knowing how to determine what is worthy of keeping and what you don’t need/want anymore is a skill that takes time to develop.

    • Ln says:

      I don’t know what ages your children are, but I think you can definitely do it. I’ve done it all my life and so it was natural for me to pass it on to my kids from day one. My daughter, age 5 and my son, age 3 are very capable of getting rid of things they no longer play with. In fact, the other day my son came to me with a motorcycle toy and said, “You can donate this one. I always play with the other one.” And my daughter is so good at it! Her grandfather gave her a toy for Christmas that she wasn’t the least bit interested in that she was ready to donate it immediately. After he gave it to her, she responded gratefully and graciously, played with it quite a bit while at his house, and then said when we got home that she wasn’t really interested in it. I told her to keep it for a while just to make sure….but sure enough, she hasn’t touched it since. We added it to the donate pile a few days ago. Kids can do way more than people give them credit for…so if you’re up for teaching them…it can be done!

      • @Ln, That’s great! It certainly has never been a natural thing for me to do. I’ve moved every year or two for the last nine years, and every time I think “Why do I still have all this stuff?” I would love to get my kids (ages 3 and almost 2) to the point where it comes naturally for them.

        • Ln says:

          I have an almost 2 yr. old as well the other two kids…he can’t tell me that he’s not using something anymore, but he can clean up!

  • Denise says:

    We struggled for a while with the whole toy clutter issue. Relatives were always wanting to buy our kids toys, which was fine. But, it was adding up to a huge mess that couldn’t be contained. We finally told family that they were welcome to buy the kids toys if they wanted too, but, if the kids ended up having too many toys that couldn’t be neatly put away, we would have to get rid of some of them. Being upfront, and also kind, really helped. We don’t have to feel guilty about getting rid of that certain toy from Grandma. Bringing it to everyone’s attention that we don’t have unlimited storage for every cute toy they see really helped put things in perspective for everyone. Besides, the kids would rather spend ‘time’ with their relatives, than have a bunch of toys that sit on a shelf.

  • Tina says:

    I have a method for getting rid of alot of the toy clutter. If I see the same toys out of the toy box, but not being played with, or some that just sit on the shelf, I take them and put them in a bag in my closet for one month. If my kids do not ask about them or miss them, they get donated. I don’t consult the kids , the toys just go…No drama!!

  • Jennifer says:

    I had a friend who hid all the Legos her sons left out and refused to clean. She picked up everyone left out past playing time and stored them and then re-gifted her sons with the whole load of already gifted Legos for Christmas. They were thrilled. They barely remembered them as their own toys they had refused to clean.

  • Lauren says:

    The Eco-Parents group of Lawrence, Kansas held a toy swap in February and we’ve also held two clothing swaps, all very successful. For more info, see http://www.lksecoparents.blogspot.com/

  • Ln says:

    Everyone should read “Too Many Toys” by David Shannon. First of all, all of his books are just adorable. But this one is pretty cute. It’s about a little boy who has too many toys. His mom wants him to start getting rid of some and he just can’t part with…except maybe a few. Just when she thinks he has finally filled a box with toys to get rid of she finds all of the same toys dumped out. What’s he doing? Playing with the box of course.

  • Cyndy says:

    Where is the picture of Crystal’s days-of-the-week plastic bins for her daughters????? I am trying to search for it and can’t find it.

  • Margy says:

    Such a cheerful playroom, I love it!! Great article too I struggle keeping my boys toys contained in a small house, since we lack an extra room, I converted our dining room into the play area and we eat in the kitchen. I must ask though I have been looking for a play rug for cars for my boys and I love yours, would you mind letting me know where you got it?

  • Tabitha says:

    I have heard of (and am excited to try when we finalize our latest move) families filling a tub with toys that they don’t mind sharing. Then trading them with a group who has similar age kids. Every two months they pass on their tub and get a new tub of toys. If you could get six families involved, your kids would get “new” toys every other month for a whole year. Don’t know if it will work out but I am VERY excited to give it a try. Anyone tried this and have any suggestions?

  • I particularly loved the last point about “things”. I am trying to reduce the number of “things” in our house at the moment and it is a great feeling to move them out of the house! Thanks for linking to my post as well, much appreciated!

  • Stephanie says:

    I am starting to homeschool my daughter in the fall and I would really like to hear/see how you organize your homeschool stuff in a small space. Also, what are the essentials to have when homeschooling a kindergartener? In order to avoid clutter, I am trying to only get things that are really necessary. Thanks for all you do!

  • Diane says:

    My son spent some time at a preschool that employed a concept called “sections” which was basically a series of bins filled with “themed” toys. i.e. a super hero’s bin, a toy car bin, a lego bin, etc… When it was play time they were allowed to pick one section to play with. If they tired of that section they were free to put it away and select a different “section”. I’ve tried this at home (though usually allowing 2 sections to be played with at a time, after all what boy doesn’t want to build with his blocks then smash it down with his super heros or cars?) Still the “section” theme works fantastic. It keeps the toys much more organized and easy to find when sorted by style of toy and it makes clean up much easier when they are only allowed a minimal number of sections out at one time.

    My only problem is time management and a darling husband that doesn’t grasp the wisdom of the sections. It never fails that after 2-3 months there have been enough times that we allowed him to leave for school or church without putting away his section because we as adults had run out of time. Then in a rush to clean my husband will just gather it all up and toss it all in the toy box in the corner without putting them back in their proper sections.

    For section “bins” I have used everything from clearanced small plastic tubs with flip-top lids to nice fabric storage bins to gallon size zip-locks stored in a larger box.

  • Diane says:

    Also, my son is 6 and since he was 3 we have been drilling him the concepts of either donating items for other children whose parents might not be able to afford a new toy to selling his less used toys at garage sale so he can afford a new toy he has been wishing for.

    Telling him he can have that single more expensive toy if he only sells enough of his older toys at garage sale is a win win. We get rid of multiple toys and replace it with only one. He learns to let go of his toys and the value of money.

    ** One secret – we haven’t yet tackled the concept of throwing away toys that just are of no more value (to broken, too many missing pieces, etc.) We are still just letting him think they are going to someone else who can’t afford a toy. He just gets so attached to some toys, letting him believe someone else is going to love and play with it was the only way to get him to let go.

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