Organize & Clean

Overwhelmed By Toys After the Holidays? Try a Toy Rotation System

updated May 4, 2019
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(Image credit: Bethany Nauert)

Late on Christmas Day, after Santa (Dad) had visited and the elves (me, Mom) had cleaned up all the wrapping paper, I remember looking at that giant mound of toys under the tree and thinking: where on earth is all this going to go? You with me? In need of toy space? How about giving a toy rotation system a try?

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Here’s the overall idea: make tubs of mixed toys which you rotate every couple of weeks, thus maintaining a wide variety of toys without having to deal with them all in your living space at the same time. Sounds good? Here’s how to get started.

1. First, gather all the toys you are going to rotate. Some parents rotate all their toys. This wouldn’t work in our house for something like our play kitchen food—there is simply not enough of it to rotate, and on the weeks the food was off-rotation, the play kitchen would be pointless. Maybe you’ll keep the LEGO out permanently, or those absolute favorite toys that are played with almost every day. Put everything else into a pile.

2. Take a moment to get rid of toys you no longer want. Toys that are broken and can’t be fixed: trash. Toys that are too “young”: give to a friend or to charity. Toys that never seem to be played with: hide away and see if they are missed; if not, off to charity with them, too.

3. Divide all the toys into groups. Some parents make the mistake of rotating tubs of one type of toys, as in, “This week: puzzles! Next week: puppets!” But the real art of toy rotation is to make a box full of mixed toys that will always allow for a variety of kinds of play. So, first we need to determine the categories from which this variety is made.

You could easily make your own categories by looking at the kinds of toys you own, but here’s my breakdown:

  • Arts and crafts (play dough, stamps, paints, etc)
  • Active play (balls, outdoor toys)
  • Transportation (cars, trucks, trains)
  • Building (blocks, LEGO)
  • Imaginative play (ponies, action figures, dinosaurs, dolls)
  • Dress-up (princess dresses, doctor’s kits, construction worker sets)
  • Puzzles and games
  • Books

If these categories seem too complicated, Little Stories suggests just three categories: thinking toys, moving toys, and pretending toys.

4. Assemble the tubs. Have as many tubs on hand as you want in your rotation. You’ll keep the toys on display for two weeks at a time, so 4 tubs would mean you have 2 months’ worth of different toys! If you’re using my 8 categories, take just one toy from each category (i.e. a board game) or one collection of small toys (i.e. a ziploc bag of cars) from each category and put it into the tub. Fill the tub with the amount of toys that you wouldn’t mind seeing dumped out on your living room rug—each parent has a different tolerance for such things.

5. One display, the rest away! Now for the rotating part. Take one tub and display the toys nicely on a shelf or in a space that is accessible to your kids. The other toys get put away in storage. When the two weeks are up, gather all the toys into that first tub and replace it with the second. Repeat ad infinitum, remembering to throw out/give away toys from time to time, perhaps replacing with new things as they come along.