Today, I'm sharing my latest contribution to the stylish and sophisticated BostonMamas.com, *the* resource site for moms in Boston and beyond. Enjoy! Before I (or any of my friends) had children, I remember walking into the houses of those who did and being horrified…blocks in a tumbled-down heap on the kitchen floor, dress-up clothes strewn all over the couch, cars under the toilet. My house will never look like this, I thought. But just a few years and a couple of kids later, I realized that toys creeping out from the requisite toybox is inevitable, and takes a huge amount of energy to combat it.
Since that moment of realization, my husband and I have tried a slew of products meant specifically for organizing toys, but it was only recently that we faced the truth. It’s not the product but the process that can free you from having toys take over your home.
1) Purge, divide and conquer: Take a good hard look at the toys in your home. Does your four-year-old use the Fisher-Price farm set? Do you have two dozen puzzles? Too much stuff can be really overwhelming for kids, not to mention the adults who have to live among it. Once your child has gone to sleep, spend an evening dedicated to purging the toy collection and organizing what’s left based on the way your child plays (dolls and clothes together, trains and tracks together, Legos separate from Duplos, etc.). If there are items you can’t make a decision about without the child’s input, make a pile and review in the morning. Donate or sell the rest.
2) Choose a home: You don’t have to have a playroom to have a “primary residence” for toys. Dedicate a corner of the living room, your child’s room, or a room in the house that’s not used very often. Depending on how your home is laid out, you may want to select one more “vacation home.” This allows for distribution of different types of toys, particularly if your child plays on two different floors. For example, the majority of our sons’ toys are kept in our sunroom on the first floor, but we keep big trucks and the bowling and ring toss sets in the basement.
3) Store based on your décor: Where you store your child’s toys doesn’t have to be plastic and primary-colored, but it does need to be child-accessible or else you’re going to be called to action whenever your child wants the Duplo blocks. Consider where in your house you’ve chosen to store toys. Go vertical with shelving and baskets if you have enough wall space. A console with sliding doors works nicely in a room that isn’t just for toys. A storage ottoman is terrific for a living room.
4) A place for everything and everything in its place: In our house, we use IKEA shelving with a combination of plastic beverage tubs (to hold chunky toys like bristle blocks and train tracks), plastic lidded boxes (to hold toys that have smaller pieces like Legos and Playmobil), and built in rattan baskets for puzzles, games and dress-up clothes. Once you’ve selected your storage system, explain where everything “lives” to your child (if he or she is old enough) – this will go a long way in both playing and cleaning up. If you have the time and inclination, take pictures of the contents of each container, then laminate and affix them as labels for pre-readers (even better, include the word and the picture).
5) Collect in key areas: It’s inevitable – toys will make their way from where they’re stored to other areas of the house. Figure out where those areas are (for us, it’s the kitchen and the car) and create runaway toy collection spots.
6) Get on schedule: This is the key step, because the first five won’t mean a thing if you don’t get into a regular clean-up schedule. Whether it’s every night or the end of every week, you and your child can work as a team to clean up – return the runaway toys to their homes and pick up the main play area. If the system is working, and every toy truly has a place, this part shouldn’t take much more than a few minutes each night or 15-30 minutes once a week.
Image credit: Oval Nested Woven Nylon Baskets, The Container Store