The rules we live by to keep toy clutter at bay and live a more organized life full of fun play through playroom organization and toy storage ideas, with tips to help keep playroom organization systems that work in place!
It’s that wonderful time of year when kids dream of their holiday toy gifts and parents start to have anxiety levels rise wondering where they will store more stuff.
Long before I had kids I watched my sister implement playroom storage organization and toy storage ideas that stuck with me. It’s more of a minimalist approach. As someone who isn’t a minimalist, I have to admit I stood in awe and made a commitment I was going to implement the same playroom organization with my own children.
We believe in keeping things simple, encouraging lots of play, and not letting toys take over our child’s life or our entire house. He loves to play, he plays great on his own. We also have easy cleanup and great playroom organization that helps make the holidays way less stressful and principles that keep toys fun and meaningful. Here’s what we do to manage toys and play at our house.
- Be picky about the toys you let in your home. I’m a firm believer in pretend play and toys that encourage learning and imagination. If I see a toy that doesn’t encourage development, I try to not let it in at all. If it’s a gifted item I don’t have a problem re-gifting. Should my child really want it and love it, I let it stay for a while, but inevitably I know it won’t have staying power and it will lend itself to our process of the cleanout.
I’ve also shared the Best Toddler Toys They’ll Love and Play With, if you’re wondering what toys we’ve let into our home this is a list with most!
- Observe your child playing, constantly get rid of toys that aren’t played with.
If it’s been over a month and my kid hasn’t touched something, it’s time to go. Now I have a heart here. We keep a few items I know he’ll grow into. That set of classic blocks we gave him on his first birthday took a year to enjoy, and I happily stored it. But there’s plenty of items that come in and my kid outgrows or loses interest in. Particularly if it’s not meeting the criteria in #1, a month (or week for kids meal toys) of play is plenty, and then I help is disappear so he can focus on the toys he really loves.
Toy Storage Ideas
- Find a toy box or shelf that fits your space, and don’t let anything that doesn’t fit in that space stick around. This is my biggest tip. Toys can take over your life, but if you commit to only allowing what lives in this space to stay, you’ll keep things in order. We have two IKEA toyboxes with bins. If things don’t fit in the bins or on the shelf, they aren’t allowed to stay. This means a constant evaluation of what matters. Trust me, this is plenty of toy options for two kids, and the fewer toys they have, the more creative they seem to play. That’s why I default to quality toys that grow with them.
- Size matters. I always try to opt for the smaller versions of toys. Those giant teddy bears are fun, but a small one will be loved and cuddled just as much or more since it can travel easier. My preschooler loves Lightening McQueen and happens to collect Cars toys. I thought this would be a fad, but we’re going on two years of daily play with these cars. When he chooses a present we encourage the 4-inch die cast cars over the footlong sized car. He asks for a new Cars toy set every holiday, birthday, or Disneyland trip. Guess what, 25 of these cars fit fantastically in a small bin that is always played with and I’m happy to exchange any Cars toy that is larger for a smaller version.
They can easily play with smaller versions of the same toys. This works well with stuffed animals, baby dolls, cars, figurines, books, and dress ups. A few small items can make the same impact a larger version can. They also keep your house and playroom organization in such better order.
- Encourage their love of a favorite toy and collecting it.
Instead of needing 10 different bins for every type of toy, we have the Cars bin, the train set bin, the Magnatiles bin, etc. He loves all these things, so it’s easy to let him get a new car for Christmas or his birthday. There’s already a space for it.
I have three brothers I’m sandwiched in the middle of. We all loved Legos and collected them growing up. It was so easy for my parents to give us each a large plastic bin for our Legos and let us build that collection. It makes it so much easier to stress less when a new item can join the collection in your toy storage system you already have in place.
- Try before you buy.
It never hurts to let them play with a friend who has different toys and observe what they love and play with. My child played with Alphabots for hours at grandma’s house several times before I decided it was a good toy to add to a wish list.
Play centers, libraries, playgroups, and even a trip around the entire store while your child holds the toy can help you make a good decision. Make sure they love it and play with it and are excited before you let it come home or join a gift list.One of my son’s big Christmas presents this year is a puzzle he can play with for hours at the library. I’m so glad I’ve tried it often and I know he’ll love it and use it!
Toy Purging and Toy Cleanout
- Include your kids in the cleanout. My sister was a master at letting her kids know they had one toybox each and that was it (she has three children). When Christmas or a birthday came around, she always had a good idea of what new items would be coming. Before the event, they went through together and had her kids remove items they didn’t love as much. If they still needed room for new items, they could assess what they loved most and would fit. Sometimes the new toy won, and sometimes an old toy won out the new one was donated. When they know they only have one toybox to fill, they can feel in control or which items are most meaningful.
Also, she donates all they discard and has even had her kids physically take the old toy to a donation place so they can see and feel the good of giving other kids something to play with. I love that they learn to give and learn to appreciate play and the gift of play!
- Cleanout when they’re asleep. Particularly if you’re a toddler parent like I am, it can be hard to get them to clean out on their own. He’s happy to toss broken items, but he’s territorial about everything else. Because I watch what he plays with, I know the things he’s not likely to miss. Every month or so I go through our toy storage bins and find items I know he doesn’t even remember he has. We have one bin in particular for miscellaneous items, and it’s emptied often since he doesn’t go for the items in that bin often.
Be the Solution to Playroom Organization, Not the Problem
- Don’t get attached to their toys. I love that my parents gifted a nice item, but that doesn’t mean my kids loves it or plays with it long-term. I may have wanted play food as a kid, but guess what, my son doesn’t really play with it. There’s a business principle called a “sunk cost” where you paid so much you feel married to the idea and hold onto it. Let it go, realize it didn’t work out and money wasn’t spent wisely and move on. The same goes with toys. If I bought a basketball hoop I swore he’d love, but he doesn’t, it’s just taking up space. Keep the toys they love and don’t get attached to toys for them.
Experience Gifts For Kids
- Give experiences instead of presents. My son needed exactly nothing for his third birthday. He wanted dinosaurs, and I knew grandma’s soft heart would pull through with some. It did. So we opted to take our son to Disneyland for his birthday. He chose two small Cars toys to add to his collection (that fit in his cars box) and he has pictures and memories he still adores. There’s nothing wrong with breaking tradition and doing something fun instead of buying more stuff. I’ve written an entire post on this you can read here: Gifting Experiences Instead of Just Things: Experience Gifts Ideas They Will Love!
- Don’t be afraid to ask for no gifts. I know grandparents and friends may not be on board with your ideas. But I also know they will learn to roll with it. I’ve seen birthday party invites that say “Please no gifts, let fun with your child be the gift!” They have made my day! It’s a great lesson for kids to learn a party is a gift and fun with friends matters most. What a lesson in not using other people!
Also, it’s fine to give grandparents direction with toys they may like, or experiences instead. I know it’s less fun to open, but it’s more fun long-term. This can be a tough one to manage, but thanking them and explaining the values you’re teaching politely often do work. If all else fails, let the grandparents give the toy they want you gift an experience instead. Sometimes you want to be the fun one and ask they aren’t. If you’re really committed, let them buy the toy and be the one to do the experience gift instead.
Presents for Kids that Aren’t Toys
- Own more books than toys. My dad finished graduate school when I was born. I am the fourth child. We were poor and didn’t have a ton of toys when I was younger. My mom was and is the most resourceful soul and always found a way to buy books. Yard sales, library sales, thrift stores, school sales all yielded to lots of books in my life. I have so many fond memories of that huge bookshelf that was double the size of our toy boxes.
I’m pleased to say my son opts to read books just as often or more than he chooses toys. He’s learning to spend his time exploring books and he’s not so caught up in new toy items.
- Gift physical play toys like bikes or scooters they can play with and you can store outside. I’m less stringent outside, these toys get used and loved and worn out. It never ceases to amaze me just how long he can ride a bike, dig in the sand, or draw with sidewalk chalk.
Gifts that Keep on Giving Over Toys
- Choose learning boxes or subscription boxes over a toy you’ll have to store. I know a Kiwi Crate or STEM Club box would be so fun to unwrap and the idea that one is coming every month is so exciting! You can also do your own version with a craft item they can make (and toss a few weeks later) with a new one to replace it each month. My toddler loves sticker books. So I often gift one, and each month he gets a new one. One book to store on the bookshelf, and something new and fun every month that he spends hours doing.
Toy Systems and Playroom Cleanup
- Be willing to replace the things they outgrow and not hoard the old. My son loves puzzles. I can tell when he’s outgrown a puzzle and is ready for a bigger challenge. I also know when a piece has been broken or gone missing. I’m willing to replace these, sometimes when it’s not even Christmas or a birthday. Because he doesn’t live in fear that he’ll never get to do a puzzle again, he’s open to cleaning out the toys that break or he’s not interested in.
- Keep toys to one area and don’t let them bread into other rooms. My imaginative kid won’t sleep with a toy in his room. I want it to be a relaxing place for him. Thus, there are a few relaxing books to look at and a few puzzles for the days he does quiet time instead of a nap. We own very few stuffed animals, but they also live in his room to snuggle when he’s tired. He tries to sneak toys in his room, but we always escort them back out to the play area. Our playroom area happens to be part of the living room, and I love that I can be around him while he plays.
- Plan play that doesn’t involve toys. We try hard to go the park, a fun play center, a friend’s house, a Gymboree class, a bike ride, nature walks, or do art projects several times a week. I love teaching kids they don’t need things to have fun. Even if the weather is terrible and there isn’t the funding, there’s always a fun thing to do to get out and enjoy life without toys.
Space for New Toys
- Keep an empty bin. We have the large bin next to the window totally empty! That makes it easy to reorganize and give some space for some projects and temporary items to hang out. If he’s working on coloring a huge picture, it can fit there.
If a new toy comes in and we need to reassess the space, we have a day or two so we can purposely help. We can store the new item and determine if it has staying power and will be played with past the initial new excitement. After a few days, we have a great idea if it’s a winner and gets to stay forever. But open space allows for being mindful about new items.
Also, it’s a great catchall space when I need to clean in a hurry and I can have him organize later.
The Benefits of Fewer Toys in Playroom Organization
Can I add one more thing to these toy storage ideas and this minimalist playroom concept? My sister’s two kids have been our nanny and babysitter at different points of my kid’s life. They are two of the most creative, imaginative kids I’ve ever seen. I came home from work to see one with all his toys lined up watching him pretend to be a rock star on the couch with his favorite pop song blaring and almost died at the creativity and fun! He adores when they come! They come up with games and a billion ways to play with the toys he has. Clearly, limitations on the number of toys in their home in no way hurt them or their creative play.
Toy Organization Ideas for The Same Types of Toys
I also have to mention we do have some outside toys that live outside. Also, we break one rule with multiple toys that do the same thing.
There are a few types of toys that are the same concept, aka building toys. My husband is an engineer, clearly, we believe in STEM toys. Magnatiles, Lincoln Logs, wooden blocks, and Squigs all exist in our toy collection. I know we could do without so many, but we love them all. One of my favorite toy storage ideas is to keep them in bins and rotate available items. Sometimes we rotate the bins so he only has one or two options. If you just can’t pair it all down, I’d try hiding a bin and rotating. They have fewer choices but still the excitement of some new items.
Keeping Toys in Order
I didn’t expect this post to be this long. Apparently, I have a lot to say about playroom organization and toy storage ideas. We’re still learning as we go, but I’ll tell you what we’ve seen so far. It’s easy to clean up toys each night. Our child has an amazing imagination at barely three. His little brother has a little bin for baby toys, and the other toys are toys he will grow into and love. I watch my kids play and my preschooler does play with everything we own. He treats his toys well and cleans and cares for them.
I’m grateful for a sister who made it easy to copy her systems for playroom organization and play philosophies. The more I read research on toys and play, the more I feel like we completely unintentionally did something right to facilitate creative play and keep his toybox a place of order that’s easy to love and enjoy.
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