How to keep toys from taking over!

IMG_3398[1]>>Can you post a picture of the toy storage unit you put back together? Still wondering how you keep all the games, toys and supplies organized and accessible in a limited space.<<

The most helpful thing I’ve found for keeping toys organized in a limited space is getting rid of what you don’t really get a lot of use or benefit from.

A while back I went through all of our toys.  Most of what we brought with us to Israel was board games and learning manipulatives but it’s amazing how easy it is to accumulate stuff!  I began to take note of which toys my children played with most, and no surprise, I once again saw the 80/20 rule in effect.

In this case that rule means that 20 percent of toys will be played with 80 percent of the time, and 80 percent of toys will be played with just 20 percent of the time.  And that means, that your space is mostly taken up with toys your kids rarely use!  If you can figure out what is getting the most use and significantly scale down the rest, you’re on your way to an organized play space!

I took note of what toys they used the most, and began a big giveaway pile of all the rest.  This cut down on the storage space needed quite a bit!  I strongly recommend that everyone go through this process; not only does it help you keep your house cleaner, but more importantly, it helps the kids get more enjoyment from what they have.  It allows them to focus without the distraction of Most of our learning manipulatives fall into the category of being used 20 percent of the time, but these are worth keeping around for when we do use them.

Here’s the cabinet that I use for toy storage – it has two internal shelves and two drawers.

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We keep the games and puzzles on the shelves inside – the games to the right are smaller boxes and there’s another pile behind each of those.

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This drawer is for Yirmiyahu’s toys.

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The bottom drawer is where I now keep the printer and laminator, which were taking up prime space by being kept out all the time.   I tend to use them heavily all at once and then not at all for long periods of time, so it makes more sense to take them out when I need them than to leave them out all the time.

By putting the printer and laminator in a drawer, it makes space on top for things that I want to keep visible and easy to access – learning manipulatives and several more toys.

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For those who are wondering what kind of manipulatives are included, here you go!

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Left to right – pattern blocks (2 boxes), base ten blocks, cuisenaire rods, assortment of mostly card games, flash cards, tangrams (2 boxes); bottom left – geoboard, 100 number tiles, word cards with plastic letters, dominoes, teddy bear counters.

We have several boxes of toys that we keep in the closet opposite this cabinet.  (Bottom, l – r – Lincoln Logs, Legos; top l – r – Morphun blocks, toy animals; tall box is a ball and stick construction activity).

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Below you can see the wagon of building blocks for young children, next to it a huge box of building blocks for somewhat bigger children (and next to that a couple of toys the kids found being given away).

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Our boys love building toys – it’s what they use 80 percent of the time – and this is where I invest most of my storage space and money.

Last year someone gave us a starter set of Duplo blocks, Lincoln Logs and Mega Bloks, and this is what my boys would play with every single morning.  The only problem was that there are three of them and there just wasn’t enough for them to play together so there was usually some kind of conflict.  When I cleaned out all the toys that weren’t getting much use, I determined that if I had an opportunity, I would add on to these toys that already got so much use rather than get more kinds of toys.

Now, eight months after that decision, I’m amazed at how the opportunities to add to the toys that mattered most to them have all somehow come around!

A friend was clearing out her toys, and I bought a mega blocks wagon and blocks from her.  That doubled our collection of these building blocks for young children.

Then, someone else was downsizing her toy collection and was selling Lincoln Logs, so naturally I bought that!  And that doubled our Lincoln Log collection.

The other two toys I wanted to get more of were Duplo block and Legos – Duplo because we didn’t have that much, Lego because they were ready for the challenge of more detailed building but we had only a sprinkling that my kids found being given away.  But both of these were really expensive and here in Israel, the price is double buying them in the US.  Not happening.

In the winter my mom traveled to the US and asked what the kids would like.  I told her if she wanted to get them Lego, they’d love it!  She was able to find some great smaller sets on clearance at Walmart.; my in-laws also got them a mid sized set.

I also ordered a Duplo compatible block made in Canada that was half the price (Unico), and my mom brought back a box of them.  I was so happy with these that I wanted to get more, but they’re bulky and it’s not the kind of thing you can ask anyone but your mother to bring for you.  :)

Then this spring a blog reader told me she was coming and would be able to bring things for us.  I ordered two more boxes of Unico blocks (thank you, SH!) and this was the best money spent ever.  They play with this all of the time, and there’s plenty for them to all play together even when friends come over.

Organizing things in this way has helped us maximize our space and keep clutter at bay.  I hope you find some of these ideas helpful in your home!

Avivah

Avivah

19 thoughts on “How to keep toys from taking over!

  1. Thank you for this post. Good points to keep in mind. What is your policy when the kids want to leave things they’re in middle of building ie. more complex Lego creations? Or is it a general play, put away type thing?

    1. I try to have them take out one thing at a time and put it away before taking something else out, but I’m not very firm about this. Sometimes a building project requires several different toys being out at one time.

      When they’ve spent a long time building a creation of some sort, I let them leave it overnight and up to one full day more, until the following night, so they have time to bask in their accomplishment. It’s unfair when they spend so much time working, to five minutes later tell them to take it all apart and clean up!

      1. Thank you. How do you deal with toys that belong to individual children, ie. one child gets a lego set or books as a present? Having grown up in a large family, i feel that after a certain age it’s important for kids to have space to call their ow but it seems it can go too far.

        1. If it’s theirs, then they can keep it in their personal space with their clothing storage in their rooms and aren’t obligated to share it. They can also keep it with the other games and someone has to ask their permission before using it.

          When I buy toys for the family, I stress that I’m buying it for everyone. I used to get more individual presents and have purposely done a lot less of that since moving to Israel. I didn’t like how much was accumulating, along with the amount of arguing over this is mine and how dare he touch it, etc.

  2. Great tips! I’m amazed at how small of a space you need for your toys! My difficulty comes with having toys for all of the different ages…my 1 year old needs different toys than my 3 year…my 3 years old needs different toys than my 5 year old and the big kids need different toys than the little kids…so I have a huge wall of toys …and my girls love their doll strollers and cribs which take up a lot of floor space!! What do you do about having toys for kids of all ages? Thanks!!

    1. R, as far as keeping contained to such a small space, it helps that we got rid of everything except for a box and a half of games when we moved!

      Right now our toys are mostly appropriate for ages 3 and up. With time I’m sure we’ll add to this but I think we have enough for all ages other than a very young child.

      I like the idea of a wide variety of toys, but experience has shown me that my kids play with their toys much more than when they have a huge amount. When we had many more toys, my kids didn’t spend much time playing with toys. Now that we got rid of so much, they play for long periods every day! I think it’s overwhelming for them to choose from so many choices.
      For Yirmi we’re starting to accumulate some toys, since we didn’t bring anything appropriate for a child his age, and we’ll end up needing more space than this. I’m planning to limit it to a shelf about the size of the one where the four boxes of toys are.

      What helps me is creating a limit and letting my kids know that the toys have to fit into this amount of space; once we get past that, they have to make a choice about what the most want. If your kids love the strollers and cribs, then that’s worth it for you to hold onto even if they’re bulky. But you can cut down on other things they don’t use so much, so that the storage space needed for toys isn’t constantly expanding.

  3. yes, yes, yes!! I KNOW I have to go through the toys, but none of us, not my too big children and not their mama, want to let go of anything at all. Someone might need it. But we need to. Thanks for the push… :-)

    1. I had an internal struggle when I decluttered the kids toys – exactly what you said, maybe someone would need it! But what I need more than having something around just in case one of my grandchildren one day wants to play with something, is an easy to access and clean play area.

      I have to remember to trust that if there’s something I need, it will be sent to me when I need it. I think fear of not having enough keeps people holding on to many things that aren’t serving them, not just toys.

  4. I only have one girl, but we have a huge extended family and she has SO many toys! Our problem is that DD is very sentimental, and she has an amazing memory. Randomly grab any toy, even if she hasn’t seen it for years, and she can tell you who gave it to her, what holiday, and what year! She gets extremely upset if I try to get rid of anything.

    HELP!!! We’re getting ready to move soon IYH, and her toys alone will take up half the lift!

    1. I guess I’m lucky that we don’t have many people buying presents for our kids – that definitely creates a different dilemma!

      Some kids have a harder time than others separating from things; for kids who have a hard time with this, it’s helpful for you to model how to let go of things. Taking a picture can be helpful before giving it away – it’s a tangible way to help a child hold on to something at the same time they’re letting go.

      Sometimes kids who have a hard time separating from their possessions also have parents who also have a hard time, so if this is true in your case, moving will be quite an opportunity for you to practice letting go as well! :)

  5. Can you post a few pictures of what it looks like when your kids are playing with toys?

    Also, my biggest issue is that kids keep losing parts of board games. Every single board game that we ever used gets a new set of made-up rules, and then the pieces are gone: Parcheesi pieces are part of a Lego maze, cars from Life are pieces of food, etc. My oldest is 10, so I thought we are finally hitting the point where he would care enough about the game to put away its pieces, but it does not seem so.

    Also, my only daughter wants specifically “girly” things: dress-up, dolls, Polly pocket houses. The boys usually do not play with those at all, but she really likes them. I do not want to dump all of those, even though it is only one child playing with them. How do you solve this?

    Finally, where do you keep those unfinished projects overnight? If every kid has an unfinished project to store, what happens then?

    As you can see, I am very anxious to come up with some sort of normal strategy to corral my mess…

    Also, my youngest is 1, and all he wants to do is DUMP! If he saw all those neat baskets, he would just gleefully empty them all. Is that something that you have to deal with at all? I find that the baby has to play in one room, and kids have to build Lego in another, and then I am keeping and storing two totally different sets of toys.

    1. Do you want a picture to be reassured by how messy it gets? :)

      Board games – unless parents keep track of the pieces, this is part of living with young children! I have the same thing. Recently my younger boys became enamoured with the game Settlers, playing it every day and I told them they have to be careful to put every single piece back. They were really careful for the most part but the second time I found a piece left out, they lost the use of the game for two weeks. Today one of their visiting friends asked when they’re going to be allowed to play with it again, and I said that this Shabbos they get to play with it again. There was lots of excitement over my response!

      Keep to the 80/20 rule by selecting out with your daughter 80% of the toys she uses most; it wouldn’t be fair to discard things because most of the kids are boys! I really do believe that we do our kids a favor when we help them to think consciously about what they really enjoy and teach them to pare down.

      My kids don’t do that many projects that are left out overnight, if you mean art. If you mean building with legos, they put them along the wall of the playroom.

      My youngest also loves to dump; the boxes of toys are on a shelf behind closet doors and the other things are higher up where he can’t reach. I told the kids if they leave out a box of toys and he finds them and dumps them out, they’re responsible for cleaning up since they shouldn’t be out unless someone is using them. He does strew the Duplo and Mega Bloks which are easily reachable for him but I’m okay with that. His toys are different from what the older kids play with. Now for his dumping in the kitchen, I just last week had to move things from the bottom cabinets to the top to keep them from his reach…:)

      There’s really no good way to keep your house clean if there’s too much stuff around. All you can hope for is to contain and manage it, and that will take lots of time and energy.

      In the US I had a full basement filled with games, toys, art supplies – and my kids hardly ever played with any of it. It was too overwhelming, and cleaning the basement was always a big job. My kids spend much, much more time playing with what we have now that we have so much less! It’s kind of like the more FB friends you have, the less time you spend on meaningful social interactions with friends – too much clutter.

    2. We keep a game closet for all the toys that have a lot of pieces. We keep it shut with a baby lock. The big kids know how to open it, and it keeps the littlest ones from dumping!
      The baby lock also serves as a sort of reminder to the kids that these games need to be put back. Not foolproof, but those games do stand a better chance of being put away than the toys that are not in that closet.

  6. On the subject of clutter, how do you decide what schoolwork/art projects to save from each child? I am in the process of organizing for the coming school year, and getting rid of lots of things from last year. I am not a “saver” and want to throw away most of what the kids have drawn/painted etc. over the past year (they draw and paint numerous pictures every day, and lots of it gets thrown out after being on the wall for a couple weeks, but I let them keep some of their most prized creations in a folder). Since you have grown up children, maybe you can tell me how you feel about having/not having all their artwork/school work from when they were little. Right now I want to get rid of all but one or two things, but I wonder if I will regret that later. Thanks!

    1. Rivki, I have very few drawings of my kids that I saved. Together with other things like certificates of merit, ribbons, etc, everything fits into one standard sized box.

      I can’t say what you’ll regret, but I don’t regret it. What matters more to me is that I was present during their childhood, I admired many drawings and they had the joy of creating many things, and that pleasure isn’t gone just because we no longer have a physical momento.

      But as I said in an above comment, taking pictures is a great way to remember special projects without needing to make lots of room for them.

      1. Thank you! I don’t tend to have regrets, but other mothers were telling me I’d regret throwing it out. Your comment about enjoying the memories and the actual creating speaks to exactly how I’m feeling and why I don’t feel any attachment to most of the physical things. I watch them create or create with them on a daily basis, and that is so valuable to me. Thanks again for the reply, I really enjoy reading your blog and your perspective on life.

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