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When we arrived home, the carpet was missing. Well, it seemed to be missing. It was covered by a layer of balls, PJ Masks, markers, paper, books, and socks. So many socks.
My husband made the usual comment that it looked like a bomb went off in our living room. I let him know that actually the two kids and I had picked up the floor only a few hours earlier.
This wasn’t the work of a bomb, this was the work of a mad man. I mean, our little man.
Confession: I want to first own the fact that we have far too many toys. I know there is an excess and that the key to not getting into our literal mess in the first place would be not buying the kids so many toys. Yet the damage is done and here we are.
I’ve done what feels like everything… I’ve moved the playroom at least three times. From the living room to the basement, back upstairs to the morning room, and finally into the dining room. I’ve bought all the appropriate organizational furniture from IKEA, including multiple Trofasts and Kallaxes.
My most recent attempt at sanity was severe toy rotation – putting what I thought was everything into 16 giant clear bins on shelves in the basement to supposedly pull out one bin each week for them to play with. There was no rhyme or reason to what when in what bin, because then they’d only get to play with one kind of toy each week. I just dumped and hauled downstairs.
What happened instead of a happy, minimalist rotation of fun, is that they somehow grew four feet and were able to pull down whatever bins they wanted during our distracted moments, coating the basement floor in Target hauls of yesteryear instead.
So one morning a couple of weeks ago, I sat in my chair during breakfast and decided to check Pinterest once again for inspiration with our toy situation. Before my coffee was even gone, I had every single toy we owned on our living room floor, ready to go into bins carefully arranged with awaiting Sharpie labels.
The crazy thing is, it worked!!! The house hasn’t felt this open or clean since before the kids came. They’re totally buying into the program and I’m not spending more than a few minutes each day straightening up any toys!
Here’s what I did AKA how we got our sanity back:
Sit down with a pad of paper and think of every category of toy you own, by child and then by universal toys (yes, they’re all universal toys, but in our house they have their clear favorites). For us, our lists went like this:
1. LOL Dolls
2. Barbie’s / Disney Princess dolls
3. Dress Up (make-up, purses, wands, crowns, etc.)
4. Nursery Accessories & Baby Dolls
5. Moana Dolls
6. Calico Critters
7. My Little Pony
8. Stuffed Animals
9. Small toys (little figures, Peppa Pig, Shopkins, etc.)
1. Trucks, Cars, and Motorcycles
2. Planes, Helicopters, Boats, and Trains
3. Construction Equipment
4. Farm Equipment and Animals
6. Character Toys (Transformers, PJ Masks, etc.)
7. Stuffed Animals
8. Small toys (little figures, Daniel Tiger, small cars, etc.)
2. Pretend food (organized by protein, carb, vegetable, fruit, sweets, and cutting food)
3. Kitchen/serving toys (plates, bowls, cups, tea sets, pretend money…)
5. Duplo blocks
7. Musical Toys
8. Craft Supplies (paper organized by color, pens & pencils, crayons, markers, paint & brushes)
10. Board Games
11. Wooden Blocks
12. Train Set
13. Magnetic Toys
Create a label for each category, including a little illustration.
Acquire enough bins/baskets to separate the toys into. If you don’t have enough, just create separate piles behind each label on the carpet. As you organize, you’ll probably find more space, like I did. I was able to use almost all of my clear plastic bins for garage organization after everything was put away!
Start bringing in toys from all over your house and organize them. Don’t stop or put away anything until you’ve gotten every single toy in the house into one central location and in its correct pile. If you find toys that are used outside, put them in a pile to go into a home out in your garage or in a laundry room/closet.
I could feel my anxiety diminish as I dropped each toy in its appropriate bin. There was never a question of where any toy in my hand went (unless I’d forgotten to make a bin, which was easy to remedy)! Every time I find a toy now I know exactly where it goes without any hesitation. Just like Marie Kondo suggests, every single toy has a “home.”
Find a home for each toy, putting the bins with the most toys/small pieces on higher shelves. They’ll need to ask for your assistance to get these toys out. Don’t have a lot of shelving? Try the top shelf in their closet.
• All of the kids’ toys went to their rooms in bins in their Kallax shelves or in drawers under their beds except for the stuffed animals, which I put in giant soft hampers we picked up at Aldi once for $9. Large toys like big trucks, dinosaurs, or doll houses went directly on their shelves.
• The really small toys/figurines went into a set of three small clear plastic drawers. I love those things so much that I did get another for my son’s room once I realized he had enough tiny toys of his own!
• Board games actually went on a high shelf in the kitchen because that’s the room we’ll use them in. It also keeps them in mind for nights when we all need some time to connect.
• The universal toys all went to the playroom, with the really annoying toys like Legos and Play-Doh on the upper shelves of a tall shelving unit from Home Depot. Musical toys went on the bottom, and the Duplos and the kitchen plates went in the middle.
• Puzzles and coloring books went on bookcases in the playroom. A small bin was labeled for lost puzzle pieces (never buy books with jigsaw puzzles in them… not sure who thought that was a good idea!). Paper was divided in one of those rolling bin holders with colored containers. Coloring supplies were organized by white cups from Ikea and hooked onto their chalkboard/dry erase board easel.
• The pretend food categories each got a labeled bin in the Trofast, a move I debated about for a long time but I LOVE it now! The kids can easily make their creations and then know right where each item goes. It also helps them understand what kinds of foods we eat. The one bin for cutting food is easy for my son to access, as he most loves chopping up the Velcroed wooden blocks. I left its wooden knife in there, but put the rest of their kitchen utensils in a cup on their play kitchen.
• Having all of the magnetic toys in another Trofast bin was also brilliant — I’ve found all of those little pieces spread throughout the house for two years! Now they can play and put away.
Step 6: A New Rule
In fact, that’s the real genius behind all of this. With our new organization came a new rule, and that’s that they must put away the toys they’re done playing with before we get out more.
Say: “As soon as you put away your markers, we can get out the Play-Doh.”
Fortunately for us this is an easy one to model as we also tend to clean up one project before moving on to the next.
I hesitated forever to organize toys by category. When my kids were younger, I’d read to have toys in each room so they could be entertained wherever we went, but I’ve since learned that if I’m cleaning in another room it’s much easier (and smarter!) to just invite them to clean with me. They love to help!
Everyone is happy to know where everything goes, to have their own stuff safe in their own rooms, and to have a nice clear, clean space to create and play in.
Bonus Tip (for you Work At Home and Remote Parents!):
One last thing I changed at the same time was adding a desk to my living room. Since I work from home and my son is now home with me full time, I had to figure out a way to still get work done and be able to supervise and respond to him quickly.
I considered where he spent most of his time during the day and the living room was the clear winner. He brings everything to the living room. So I created a graph of our floor plan and furniture so I could arrange things first without breaking my back, and found a small space for a little desk that would have room for my laptop and notebook behind the couch.
It’s not quite as easy for me to work as it is at my desk with my dual monitors and my Mac nearby, but at least I can actually work and still be mom for a decent chunk of time every day!
I went from being interrupted every five minutes (literally getting up and down that often!) while trying to get an hour of work done, to being able to sit at my laptop in decent chunks of time for a few hours or more every afternoon. One of the reasons I originally moved the playroom to the dining room was because it’s attached to my office, but even being that close wasn’t enough. He clearly prefers to be in the living room with my face toward him, and so that’s where I needed to go!
I hope this might help you with controlling the clutter in your house. Comment below or send me an email if it did! Be sure to visit my Parenting page for more tip on raising kids ages 0-6!
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