I haven’t met a single parents who has said “My kids just don’t have enough toys.” Have you? And yet, we keep accumulating more and more. Never is this more evident than after Christmas when there’s a barrage of new toys that now need to find a home in your already cramped-for-space house. Is toy organization an oxymoron? Where do you even start?
You start where every organizing project does – Purge & Sort.
PURGE – Start by going through ALL of the toys that you have. Yes, ALL of them. Throw away anything that’s broken or missing pieces that are integral to it’s operation. Make a pile of toys that your kids have outgrown and donate those (or, if you’re not done having children, pack the grown-out toys away for when you return to that phase).
After Christmas is a great time to do this. Make room for all of the new loot by getting rid of the stuff you don’t need. Bonus: Include your kids in this step. It’s good for them to be a part of the process and then they’re not looking for that thing you secretly threw away because they were part of the decision to get rid of it. (This works, maybe, half of the time.)
SORT – Categorize toys by grouping like items together in piles. Start with broad categories (ex. Art, Building, Pretend, Active, etc.) and once you’ve gone through everything, go through the large piles and break them up into more specific categories. Your goal is to have each pile match the size of the containment that you have. Remember, that is your goal, but it will not happen with every pile. Just work toward that and we’ll deal with the surplus later.
“How do I choose containment?” Great question. Start with the available space with which you have to work. If you are in a position to purchase storage, start with a piece of storage furniture that maximizes available space (i.e. uses as much of the space as possible), remembering to utilize vertical space.
We have an entire wall in a room, so I chose the Ikea Kallax shelves. They have multiple sizes and with the drawer, door and bin options, it’s almost as good as customized built-ins. But they’re not fixed. The shelves can be moved at any time and serve many purposes as our needs evolve. The cubbies are significantly larger – higher and deeper than most comparable models, which meant getting more bulky kid stuff in each container. Win!
Now that you’ve done the leg work, here are a few tricks of the trade for transforming those purged piles into an organized toy space.
Toy Organization Tricks
1 – Use Large Toys as Storage Units
When we were looking to buy a toy kitchen for our daughter, one criteria was that it have the space in it to store the kitchen-related toys. We found this one and use every inch of the refrigerator, oven & dishwasher space to store play food and dishes.
The space underneath play tables is also an ideal place to store large or bulky items. We have large puzzles, and big trucks that fit neatly under our train table.
2 – Corral Smaller Items
These Ikea magazine file boxes are perfect for coloring books.
When searching for containment to corral, remember that you want to make sure that what you’re storing is still easily (key word!) accessible. If it’s not easy to get out, it will not get put back in it’s spot. Kids are lazy. They get it from us.
Toy organization is hard enough for adults to maintain. Make it as easy as possible for kids to maintain it. Or they won’t.
3 – Repurpose Unused Containment
You don’t always need to go and buy new storage containers. Start with what you have, but no longer use.
These jars used to hold my baking supplies, but I have since jumped on the oxo bandwagon. I kept these beauties because they were too perfect not to use for something else. In this case, it’s all of our coloring paraphernalia.
The clear glass is ideal because the kids can easily see what’s in each jar. (It is not ideal in that it provides a dangerous weapon for a 2 year-old to hit his sister in the head with when she uses the crayon he wanted. True Story.) Our play area is carpeted, so other than weapon use, the glass nature of the containment isn’t an issue.
4 – Give Kids a “FREE” Space
Create a finite space of your choosing in which the kids get to put whatever they want. This is their “Monica closet” (forgive me, non-Friends fans, but I know no better way to describe this space). This is the stuff that has no other space, but with which, your children cannot bear to part. Whatever can fit in that space is allowed to stay.
For us this is Home Depot projects. On the first Saturday of every month, my husband takes our children to the Home Depot Kids’ Workshop and they build something. It’s the cutest thing ever and they LOVE it. They hammer and glue and paint and make memories that will last a lifetime. And I’m stuck with the projects. My children, the sentimental beings that they are, cannot fathom getting rid of the trucks, toolboxes, bird houses and planes that they’ve built with their Dad, so that’s what they decide to put in their Free Space.
Now comes the fun part. If there is one. Each pile goes into your chosen containment. Decorate and label as you choose. As you can see, neither of those are high priorities in this house.
I had grand plans of labeling bins, but neither of my kids can read, so I was going to do pictures. But, it turns out, that kids don’t need pictures to remember where stuff is. I, on the other hand…
Some day, we will repaint the walls and put a chalkboard on the wall with cute art or something. Some day…
Here’s how our organization ended up: