Kids need stuff (although they could probably use less of most of it): food, a bed, clothes, shoes, toys, art supplies, sports gear, school supplies, swimming gear, bikes, balls, musical instruments... The list is long and just seems to grow as they do. Keeping up with our own clutter is challenge enough. It is possible to keep toys both organized and accessible for your young children; here's how to do it.
Sort and Simplify
The first step is sorting through the toys and supplies you've accumulated and getting rid of anything that is broken, missing essential pieces, or simply something that your kids are not interested in anymore. There's no point in taking care of stuff that's useless or unwanted, so get rid of it: recycle it, donate it, or pass it on to friends with kids who might be interested.
Key: Don't get caught up in buying containers to organize things in before you go through the sorting and simplifying process. Use shoe boxes, plastic bags, or whatever you have around to sort things. You can buy cute containers later.
Decide on a Home
The second step, once you've downsized the collection, is to decide where toys and supplies will live in your home. One of the biggest challenges of toy declutter is that toys just tend to accumulate, and they outgrow the designated toy space. Soon that toy box is overflowing and that shelf for art supplies is crammed with paper, yarn, and paint. Now that you have toys and supplies sorted out, you can figure out exactly how much space you need for the different types. Sports gear should have its place, outside toys (balls, sleds, etc.) should have a space, arts and crafts supplies should have a space, and so on.
Containers, Labels, and Kids
Once you've sorted and decided on homes for all the toys and supplies, put each set or collection in a different container. You can go all out and buy cute, matching containers, or you can keep it simple and reuse what you already have around. You don't have to be fancy, though it is a good idea to invest in toys with tight-fitting lids if you have babies and toddlers who will break into art supplies meant for older kids. That, or keep those dangerous items on a higher shelf. The key here is storing it in a way that's accessible for the kids who will use it (they can reach the shelf and open the container) but not for the young ones who aren't allowed. Once you've put things in containers and in their spaces, label them. Then take your kids on a tour: "this is where the trains go; this is where the craft supplies go..."
Institute Two Simple Rules
The biggest culprits in creating toy disorder are, always, the kids who use them. So to maintain your toy order, institute two very simple rules that even very young children can understand. First, only one toy set/collection/activity out at a time. So, no getting out the train set while you're playing with the art stuff. This prevents kids from creating these huge messes that are overwhelming for both kids and parents to have to clean up. Second rule: once you're through, put it back in its home. So, once Child 1 is done playing art and ready to get the train set out, no problem. She cleans up (maybe you help, depending on her age) and puts it back in its home; then she's free to pull the train out.
Maintain the System
To keep the order in place, you need to be very vigilant for the first two weeks to make sure toys get put away back in their containers and back in the spaces they belong; you're instilling the habit not only in your children, but also in yourself. Remind your kids and remind yourself, and if something's simply not working (that shelf is just too high, or that container is too small), then change it. If you're vigilant for a couple of weeks, both you and your kids will soon have the habit of putting toys back in their (labeled) containers and in their (labeled) spaces. And you'll know, when a new toy or supply comes in, where it should go, too.
image by stevendepolo.