For parents, trying to keep up with the seemingly endless eruptions of toys and dolls and tiny little (painful to tread on) game pieces can border on farcical. As you stand over the primary colored ruins of your child's bedroom or playroom the self-loathing sets in…
You are a bad mother who has created a slob ("She'll end up like one of those teenaged girls with clothes strewn all over the floor!"). You have spoiled your child. ("Who needs all these toys?"). Your child is out to get you ("I literally just organized and color-coded that lego bin!"). Well, all of that could indeed be true. But before you give up, consider these tried and true tips for organizing children's playthings!
1. Rotate! Kids don't need that many toys. Create a simple rotation system, collecting toys that have fallen out of favor in recent weeks and storing them in bags or boxes in the garage or under the bed. In a month, pull them out and it will be like Christmas all over again. Trust me, this is a monthly ritual for us and never fails.
2. Donate! If a toy really hasn't been a big hit with your kids, please do give it away to a charity or shelter. Have your child help you pick out from a selection of tier 2 toys. While involving the kid could backfire ("But I looooove that bear!") it could also provide a great opportunity to underscore the importance of generosity and charity.
3. Pare down and avoid duplicates! If you peer into a Montessori classroom you will see there is very little on each shelf. It is MUCH easier to get a child to return the item to its correct place when he or she isn't overwhelmed by oodles of stuff everywhere. Remember, if we as adults feel overwhelmed by the chaos, imagine how a less developed brain feels. if the room is simplified it will be much easier to expect children to follow your clean-up instructions. Another benefit of a scaled-down and sparser playroom or bedroom is that it encourages more concentrated and productive play. Children are less distracted by countless other play options peering out from every nook of the room.
Keep a few things on each shelf. If you watch a child play it is unlikely they actually engage in every single toy on a shelf. Instead they tend to go for a select few. But in the meantime they throw and mess the remaining toys about the room just because they can. Do you really need six green crayons and 13 white ones in that jar? Why not just keep out one of each color and store the rest? There is no reason for kids to have access to duplicates; they're just more things to misplace and mess up.
4. Avoid big toy boxes. Kids can't see what's in the bottom so they tend to tip or fling everything out. Instead, use smaller, specialized containers. Or if you need a large container for, say, big trucks or a gaggle of stuffed animals, make it a wire basket or see-through mesh one. That way, the child can identify the sought-after toy at the bottom and pull it out without disrupting the entire pile.
5. Label! If your child cannot read use labels with images. Your child can draw these or you can print out images from the web. I use plastic luggage tags and insert paper cutouts, which can be updated as my kids' toy preferences evolve.
6. Minimalize visual clutter. There is no reason that every single toy and board game and puzzle and stuffed animal must be on display. To avoid overstimulation of the senses (for us and the kids), use cabinets when possible in place of open shelves. In our basement, we have a row of cabinets across the base of the shelves where we keep many of our toys. If one of my kids is bored one day I may open one of these cabinets to reveal stacks of toys that have been out of sight and out of mind. For those toys that are quite attractive or are daily go-to playthings, place directly on the shelf or in open-sided storage.