As a kid, my mom had rules about the kinds of toys we got. Nothing that made noise. Nothing that required batteries. No toys that do all the imagining for you.
But even with those parameters, toys still seemed to pile up and make a mess. Today I have three daughters whose favorite toys are dress-up clothes, which I mistakenly thought would be less messy than a bunch of toys. When we moved to New York, we also gained a playroom. “No more mess!” I thought. I was wrong.
Here’s how to keep toys from taking over your house.
- Thin the herd. The first thing you need to do is go through your children’s toys and get rid of stuff they don’t play with. Older kids can and should help in this process. Younger kids may not be as helpful. With my toddlers, I usually pick out any toys I am sentimental about–first birthday gifts, baby gifts from a relative who passed, toys that were mine as a child—and then pack up everything else I don’t think they will miss. Then, I keep that bag of toys for a few weeks and see if they miss any of it. If they haven’t asked for any of them after my deadline has passed, then I give them away.
- Baskets are your friend. Baskets and bins are great for a way to get everything off the floor. With toddlers, don’t attempt any organization. With older kids, you can tape words and pictures to different bins to remind them what goes where. Sorting is a great exercise for them and it helps with sight words, too. Ikea and Target both have cheap options.
- Institute a routine clean-up time. We try to clean up toys every night after dinner, but it doesn’t always happen. But it’s a great habit to try and establish. Smaller kids will not do this on their own, but if you help and model for them, they will slowly start to do it on their own and you can step your aid back a bit as they get older. You can also let your kids help think of ways to problem solve when the task is overwhelming. My oldest has come up with many ideas of how we can clean up messy rooms, including delegating tasks to different siblings and using laundry baskets to go around the house and collect all the toys and then take them back to the playroom. Helping kids problem solve is so rewarding. You get to watch them be creative and independent, and they are so excited when they come up with an idea that gets the job done.
- Regularly throw things out/give them away. Pick a few times a year to go through toys and give things away. Kids grow fast and their tastes just even faster, so keep the toys pared down to the items that they really love and get rid of the rest.