An "After Christmas Toy Storage Makeover"
If you have been scrolling around Facebook Marketplace lately, you'll likely notice a lot more toy postings than usual. After Christmas, a lot of parents are purging and trying to figure out how to store all the new goodies that Santa left under the tree. I have a double whammy: Christmas, followed by two January birthdays. January is definitely my month for toy purging/re-organizing!
If you feel like you've tripped over one too many toys and stepped on one too many legos, it is likely time for a purge/re-org for you too.
Step 1: Toy purge.
Before you re-organize, do a good toy purge first. There are many complicated ways to purge, but for toys, I think it is best to simply go through all of your kids toys (yes, all of them - caution, this may take awhile!) and put what they don't play with anymore in bags for donation or for sale.
It's really as simple as that! As soon as you are done filling the bags up for donation, I think you should get them out of the house. Don't wait, or the bags might linger in your basement or closet for a long time and you just end up with relocated clutter.
Involve the Kids in the Purge
If you can, I think it's important to include your children in the purging process: how you do that however, is best left up to you. My children are pre-school age and they don't notice toys missing that they don't play with. Still, if I'm not sure about something, I'll ask them. They are used to the purging process now though, as I do it a few times a year. I've explained to them the value of giving toys to other children, and my daughter will often say that she would like to ..."give this toy to another child who will use it and love it". During the last purge, they agreed with my choices and added a few more.
Step 2: Toy Storage Makeover - Hint: (Most) Daycares Do It Well. Just Look at What They Do and Adjust!
If your kids are like mine and they play with most of their toys, the toy organizing stage is the more challenging part of the process, but it's so satisfying! The kids loved our recent mini toy storage makeover. I switched from open face bucket storage, to closed bucket TROFAST storage shelves from IKEA. The IKEA shelves I used are about $100 give or take, depending on what options you choose. Here is the picture of the before and after:
Toy Storage Re-Do Checklist:
Give every toy "category" a home. You have likely heard this one before, but it's truly the key to organizing pretty much everything. You need a system and when it comes to toys, every "group" of toys needs a home.
To establish your groups, you need to think like the daycares do. If you look around most daycare centres, you'll notice that the toys are grouped together, likely in "bucket type" containers: blocks; dolls; cars and trucks; play food; etc. The buckets (or groups) can easily be taken out and put back into place when it's clean-up time.
Your own toy at categories at home might be obvious to you. If they aren't, you can try to think about the type of play activities that your children engage in. Or you can dump all the toys out in one spot and see what categories emerge!
My own current categories are: LEGO; wooden blocks; art supplies; cars and trucks; a race track; Playmobil; puzzles; small "creatures" (like Shopkins, Hatchimals, LOL dolls); and workbench tools. If the toys are played with at the same time (like my daughter's small creatures) they might be best placed in the same bucket. I think it is tough to not to have one "catch all" spot for most people. I have a "miscellaneous" bucket which has mostly larger toys and one soft toy box by 3 Sprouts which has larger items in it too.
If you are looking for storage for larger items (like the stuffies or large toy trucks) that won't fit easily into a bucket shelf, I recommend the 3 Sprouts brand for their inexpensive and attractive toy storage options.
2. Think "Toy Rotation"
"Toy rotation" is just a fancy term for not having all your kids toys accessible to them all the time. One fast way to reduce the toy clutter is to have the toys that your kids play with only occasionally stored away; brought out only for play and then returned to their home in storage.
I have my own version of a toy rotation, with a few clear stackable bins downstairs in the utility room that come out on rainy or snowy days. One bin contains play doh and accessories; another Kinetic Sand; and (probably the most used bin) the stamps and stickers bin.
Our clear bins aren't that exciting on their own, but the fact that they aren't accessible all the time seems to make them enticing. Plus, my little ones still need to be supervised with play doh or it ends up in weird places (like their hair or the carpet). Our stickers and stamps bin makes card making much easier, which has kept us busy on many cold and rainy days.
I think that craft-type toys, like play doh, make create candidates for toy rotation. Other good candidates for toy rotation are: puzzles, toys that your kids might need some supervision or help with, or things that are just simply special. For example, for some reason my daughter loves valentine's cards. I keep her old ones in a fancy box in her bedroom closet. They come out now and then and she sorts through them, talking about all her former classmates who gave her the cards. She treasures her cards, so we made a special home for them, tucked away until they cross her mind every now and then.
3. Other Toy Storage Thoughts:
Toy storage has to be convenient for the kids. Where in the house do they kids play? If the storage isn't convenient, the kids either won't use the storage or they won't use the toys, or both. The storage system has to be convenient for you too. You can't be running up flights of stairs to return each toy to its "home".
Consider setting up a "bucket" type of storage system, that allows for toys to be taken out and then easily returned to their home base.
Visual labels are best. For example, you can add a picture of a lego block to the lego bucket. I think because my kids have been in daycare so long and used to items having their own storage space, I didn't need to use visual labels in order for them to understand and use the buckets I set up for them. But visual cues work great for most children, and adults too.
Consider establishing play "zones": if you have the space, you might consider setting up "play or activity zones". I'm lucky to have enough space for a kids craft table. I store crayons on the table and colouring books in the bin right beside it. My little guy likes to "build" so he has a pretend work bench from Melissa and Doug, and all of his tools are stored underneath it, thanks to a bin from IKEA. If your children have a doll house, the dolls and accessories should be stored right beside it.
Consider hooks for dress-up clothes. Dress-up clothes are more enticing if they have their own hooks to hang on, rather than being clumped up in a box.
Teach your littles to pick up their toys after they switch from one activity to another. Like the daycares do! This is tough, but worth giving it a try.
Do a toy room or play area clean up at the end of each day. If your organization system is working, this shouldn't take more than a few minutes. If you can manage to get the kids to help, its an extra bonus!
If you buy new storage for toys, think about if you can reuse it or easily resell it in the future. This is a factor, as sadly our kids won't be kids forever. In a few short years, you likely won't need toy storage at all.
Revisit your toy categories every six months or so. Categories change as their interests do. That doesn't mean you have to get all new toys every six months. Just consider how the toys are put together and presented to match your children's changing play patterns.
Buy less stuff! I know, this one is hard, especially with kids. But the key to easy organization is to have less stuff in the first place.
At the end of the day, I consider us very lucky to have the "problem" of too many toys and how to store them. As with most parenting battles, you have to pick yours. I personally think that the right toy mix encourages quality play; and quality play does so much for developing brains and fighting screen time! I hope that your littles had a good holiday season and that you are enjoying whatever came their way. Happy play time!