Have you looked around your house lately and felt like it’s been overrun by an endless array of toys (that probably don’t even get played with most of the time)?
Do your kids whine and groan and complain about having to clean up when playtime is over?
Are you tired of having to move baby dolls, giant Lego creations, and entire small villages out of the way just to walk through the living room? I’ve got good news!
You can create a beautiful play haven that your kids (and you) will love because it will keep them entertained for longer periods with less mess! I’ve got a toy organization system that will change everything. Are you ready? Let’s go!
Your Toy Organization Tools
Before we get started, you’ll need to gather a few tools. You probably have most of things on hand (or a good substitute) already. Gathering all of your tools up front will make the work a lot easier!
- Garbage bags or empty cardboard boxes
- Someplace to store toys you plan to keep out (I prefer individual bins or boxes)
- Someplace to store toys you plan to put away (clear plastic totes work great)
5 Steps For Toy Organization
Now comes the fun part! (No? Just me? Ok.) It’s time to dive in and get your play space(s) organized and ready for play inducing awesomeness!
Some helpful tips before you get started:
- Have an idea of where you plan to keep the toys. This helps you know how best to organize them as you work through these steps.
- Depending on your kids, you may want to do this while they are sleeping or away from home to minimize their interference when you inevitably try to get rid of their “favorite” toy (that they haven’t touched in ages…)
- Choose a spot in your house that is out of the way to do this work, since it may take several hours or even a couple of days to complete.
Step 1 – Gather all the toys
Start by gathering together in one place every single toy in your home. Remove all the toys from your child’s bedroom and toy room.
Check other rooms as well for any misplaced or forgotten toys (including the ones you’ve taken away previously). Look behind, under, and inside furniture as well (you never know…).
Don’t worry right now if they are broken or missing pieces or aren’t neat and orderly. Just grab them all and throw them in a big pile somewhere that they won’t be in the way.
This is a step your child(ren) might be able to help you with. Get them involved if you can!
Step 2 – Time to start sorting
Now that everything is in one place, it’s time to start sorting. You’ll need to choose four spots to put things. You can just mark spots on the floor or use boxes or bags, whatever works best for you.
Make a pile for toys to keep, toys to toss, toys to donate, and toys that you’re unsure about or that you want to put in storage. The “toys to keep” pile are the ones that you know your kids love and that get played with often.
These are the toys that will be kept in your play space for the kids to play with. The “toys to toss” pile are all the toys that are broken, missing pieces, or are otherwise unusable.
The “toys to donate” pile includes anything that is still in usable condition but that your kids no longer care about or that you can’t stand.
Whatever is left at this point are the toys that you’re not quite ready to part with yet, even though they might not get much use right now.
This might also include toys that you want to keep, but prefer to keep them put up for a rainy day. These toys will go into storage.
How to decide…
It may be hard to decide where you should put each toy, especially if your kids are helping. But there are some general guidelines to help you determine which toys are best for your family and which ones it’s ok to get rid of.
- Keep open ended toys. Toys that encourage imagination and unstructured play are the best kind of toys! These are the kinds of toys that will get your kids immersed in hours of deep play as they create and explore all kinds of imaginary worlds and games and ideas. This includes things like blocks, balls, vehicles, small figures, dolls & stuffed animals, etc.
- Does this toy make your child happy? If it’s something your child truly does play with all the time, you should probably keep it. Even if it’s the most annoying thing in the world to you, something that makes them happy can keep them occupied for a long time.
- Does this toy make you happy? Is it a toy that you’d love to see your kids playing with more often? Does it bring joy to you that you’d like to pass on to your kids? Is it something you think they would enjoy under the right circumstances? Then keep it! It might just need to be presented in a fresh way to pique their curiosity.
- Do you love the toy but find that your kids don’t really touch it? Is it something that needs to be played with under supervision? Do you think your kids aren’t quite old enough yet to really enjoy it? Is it a great toy but it causes conflict often? It might need to be put away in storage for a little while.
- Is it broken or missing pieces? Toss it. Is it no longer useful for the purpose it was intended? Maybe you can repurpose it.
Step 3 – Bag up the “toss” pile
Put everything in the toss pile in garbage bags and haul them out to the curb right now. The quicker you can complete this step the better you’ll feel.
Once these eye sores are out of your sight, you’ll feel so much better! Now isn’t your space already starting to look better?
Step 4 – Box up the “donate” pile
Quick, before you have time to think about it or your kids have time to share their opinion, put that donate pile into boxes (or bags) and load them in the car.
Whatever you do, do not stick them in a corner or a closet or a spare bedroom. The longer these boxes sit in your house, the more likely it is that things will start creeping out of them and back into your living space.
Instead, get them out of your house as quickly as possible. If you can, drop them at the nearest second hand store or drop box right away. But just get them out of your space immediately.
Step 5 – Get organized
Now you are left with two piles of toys that make you and your kiddos really happy. These are the toys that are most likely to induce hours or independent, imaginative play. But they need to be set up the right way first.
A bunch of toys thrown in a big toy box together are not going to create the type of environment you’re hoping for. Instead, you need to be intentional about how you display the toys in order to entice your kids to want to play.
First, let’s put all the things in your unsure/storage pile aside. You can go ahead and put them into your storage bins for now and we’ll come back to them later. Now you’re left with all the things you (or your kids) want to use right now.
If there is too much, kids can feel overwhelmed and less engaged. They get decision fatigue and don’t know what to play with or how to play with it.
But with just the right amount of toys, they can begin to engage in deep, immersive play for long periods of time. How do you know what’s too much?
Well, my general rule of thumb is that if you can’t pick up the mess in under five minutes, it’s probably too much.
Set up a toy rotation (optional)
If you’ve determined that there are too many toys to keep out at one time, then you’ll need to set up a toy rotation system.
This simply means that you’ll keep some toys out and some put away and every once in a while, you’ll switch them out. Our toy rotation system is really simple.
The toys that are “in rotation” go on our cube shelf in the living room, while the toys that are “out of rotation” are stored in toy bins in a closet. When it’s time to switch, we just pull one toy bin out and put one away. It’s that simple.
Sometimes I switch them out every few days and sometimes I go longer. It’s really up to you what works for your family. The idea is to keep the toys feeling fresh and exciting.
So when you notice that certain toys aren’t being played with as much or are being misused, it’s time for a rotation.
You can organize your rotation by toy type (which is what I do), or you can just split your toys evenly into a few different boxes and rotate them out periodically.
Organizing your play space(s)
Now that you’ve got things narrowed down to just the right amount toys that everyone loves, it’s time to set up your play space! Start by sorting your remaining toys into groups.
Put cars with cars, dolls with dolls, blocks with blocks, etc. It’s easier to play creatively when everything is organized and easy to find.
Something I’ve found with my own kids is that toys that are on display tend to get played with more than those that are in a box. It seems to me like the ones in a box get forgotten.
So you can set your toys up Montessori style, with them displayed on a shelf in a way that encourages play.
But keeping them in boxes works great for some, too (and can look more clean and streamlined if you’re keeping your toys in a main part of your home). Choose whatever method works well for your family.
You may also want to set up some separate spaces for other types of play. A movement space allows the kids to run and jump, climb and swing and get all of their energy out.
This could be an outdoor space or an indoor space. Or you could have one of each! You will want to include things like balls, bikes, things to climb on, swings, things to hang on, things to jump on (or jump off of), balancing, etc.
You don’t necessarily have to buy anything new. The couch cushions, a few balls, and an open space in your home can provide tons of opportunity for open ended movement play.
Another space you may want to consider is a messy play space. This would be where your kids are free to get creative and, well, messy.
Some things to consider having in this space include paints, crayons, markers, and other arts & crafts materials, and sensory activities like sand, water, beans, beads, playdoh, or rice.
You’ll want to set this space up somewhere that’s ok to get a little messy. It might also help to have a dedicated sensory table, some painting smocks or old t-shirts, and an easy clean mat to put on the floor.
Finally, a quiet play space is a great place to set up a couple of kid sized chairs, beanbags, and pillows next to a shelf with books, puzzles, and other quiet play activities like lacing cards or beads, and activity books.
Finally, back to the unsure/storage pile
Now that you’ve got everything set up, it’s time to revisit the toys you put in storage. Sort these toys into two piles: toys your kids aren’t quite ready for and toys you’d like to add to the toy rotation.
The toys they aren’t ready for can go back into storage and be put up and out of sight for now, you can revisit them in a few months and re-evaluate. For now, we’re going to focus on the toys you’d like to add to the rotation.
These are toys that you weren’t quite sure whether or not you should get rid of or they are ones that you would love to see your kids play with but that haven’t gotten much use in the past.
You should store these toys separately. Over the next several weeks, you will pull one or two toys out of this box at a time and add them to the other toys that are in rotation.
Leave them out for several days on display with all the other toys and watch to see how your kids interact with them. Continue rotating these toys into play and see what happens.
Put them on display in different ways and with different toys to see if it helps your kids envision how to play. They may discover that they love these toys that they never really noticed before.
Or you may discover that they aren’t working for your kids and that it’s time to pass them on to another family.
Keeping Up With Your Play Space
You’ve finally got everything organized and you’re feeling great! You’ll likely notice that your kids start playing more deeply and imaginatively.
Though, it might take some time to see this change if they haven’t played this way before or in a very long time. Be patient and continue encouraging play.
In order to keep this space working for everyone it’s important to set some guidelines. First, set the expectation that the toys are to be picked up and put back in their correct spot every time you finish playing.
Your kids may need reminders and help the first several times as they relearn this new set of expectations, but stick with it. Second, it’s important to pay attention to how your kids are playing and what they are playing with.
If you notice that they are beginning to act out more or misusing toys in a way that’s harmful to people or things then it’s likely they are getting bored with what they have available.
If that’s the case, it’s time to do a rotation or add some new toys to the mix. Another way to add some excitement to toys that have grown stale is to practice strewing. This is when you set up toys in a way that invites play.
So in other words, you might begin building a house with the blocks but leave it partially done with blocks left out for the kids to finish building.
Or you might set up an imaginary land with dinosaurs and small figures of people that your kids can then create their own story and imaginary world.
You might set up a space with some sensory materials like flour, water, and food coloring for your kids to explore and experiment with. The options are endless.
The point is to give your kids an idea that they can build on by providing the materials and stepping out of the way.
The third, and final, step to keeping up with your toy organization is to make sure to keep broken or unusable toys out of the rotation.
If you notice that something is no longer safe to play with or cannot be used effectively, it’s time to toss it. If you find that there are toys your children are no longer interested in, pass them on to someone else.
You can have a great play space for your kids that encourages independent and imaginative play without mounds of toys or obnoxious lights and sounds.
All you have to do is get the right toys arranged in the right way and let the kids do all the work of play! How have you organized your kids’ play space? Drop a picture in the comments!