Effective Toy Wrangling
Written by Lisa Montanaro | June 1, 2010

by Guest Bloggers Sarah Welch & Alicia Rockmore

If the title of this article caught your attention, it’s likely that you have stubbed a toe on a Lego or tripped over a wayward doll one too many times.  It is the bane of any parent’s existence. Once kids enter the equation, white couches, glass coffee tables, and soothing clutter-free rooms get swapped for the loud primary colors of Fisher-Price and the inevitable tsunami of toys. If only the kids would enjoy cleaning the toys up as much as they enjoy dumping out the contents of their toy bins, baskets, and buckets.  But don’t despair, even if your house looks like a Toys R’Us mosh pit, we’re here with a cheat sheet for getting your kids to meet you halfway.

  • Don’t Over-Categorize.  Yes, toys need a home.  But they don’t have to be put away in alphabetized, color-coded bins.  Kids simply love to dump things out and that’s just how they tend to want to put things away – dump everything back into a bin haphazardly.  They really don’t care if one bin is marked “trucks” and one is marked “cars.”  You’re going to waste your precious energy if you stress about organizing the bins and bags just so. If you are a label nut, rather than making up a toy classification system on your own, ask your kids how they would like to see their toys categorized.  You’ll be surprised by the different way they view their objects and, even better, if they help you come up with the system, they are more much more likely to follow it.
  • Tote bags are your friend. Earmark a specific, lightweight bag (preferably with handles) that can be carried around the house and used as a depository for wayward toys.  That way, when you or your child finds a toy that belongs elsewhere, it can be popped in the bag and given to your child to carry back to the proper spot later.
  • If it’s broken, don’t fix it. Well, don’t fix it unless it’s a big deal toy that gets used constantly and someone will be truly heartbroken if it is tossed.  Otherwise, if a toy is missing its parts and you know they’re not under the sofa cushions, just get rid of it.  Likewise, if something breaks, don’t let it gather dust in the toy chest.
  • Rotate and rediscover.  You know how kids will get lots of shiny new presents at Christmas and then play with the cardboard box?  Simple is often better when it comes to toys because little ones can get overwhelmed by too much stuff.  If you are lucky enough to have generous family and friends who buy many items for your children, divvy up the toy chest into two, three or four assorted piles.  Then put the piles into rotation, swapping out sets a few times a year.  Doing so gives kids the Christmas morning surprise more than once a year and saves you from having everything out at once.
  • It’s ok to share the love. In an ideal world you’d be able to keep the toys relegated to one particular room in the house, such as a playroom. But try cooking dinner and entertaining a preschooler and you’ll quickly learn that the playroom-only approach is not practical.  It’s ok to have toys in the kitchen, dining room, living room, and bathroom.  Whether you prefer canvas bins (easy to carry), plastic bins (easy to see the contents), or a good old-fashioned toy chest (hides everything), as long as each room has its own go-to storage space, it’s perfectly fine to share the love throughout the house.
  • Make clean-up fun. Sure, if you pick up the toys you can get it done three times faster than if your kids do it, but where’s the lesson there?  Teaching your kids to pick up their toys not only teaches respect for their things and for others, but it’s something they’ll be doing once they go to school.  Make it a game by setting a timer and challenging the kids to a clean-up race.
  • Make quick clutter clean-up a nightly routine. Again with the life lesson, but it’s true.  Whether you make it a post-dinner routine or something the kids do before bed each night, setting routines are a great way to tackle clutter on a daily basis. You can feel good knowing that you’re setting up your kids with a life skill (and the clean living room floor isn’t bad either).

Sarah Welch & Alicia Rockmore are the co-founders of Buttoned Up, inc. (@getbuttonedup on Twitter), a company dedicated to helping stretched and stressed women get themselves organized, and co-authors of Everything (almost) In Its Place.  We welcome your thoughts!  Please send ideas and questions to us at:  yourlife@getbuttonedup.com or visit us at www.getbuttonedup.com.

Meet the Author

Helping others be the best versions of themselves gets me jazzed!

I’ve worn many hats in my lifetime—often at the same time—while enjoying fulfilling careers. I’ve been a performer, teacher, sign language instructor, lawyer, career counselor, law professor, coach, consultant, mediator, entrepreneur, speaker, trainer, writer, and author. 

I’m an eternal optimist and life-long learner, constantly researching ways to improve personal and professional effectiveness. And it brings me great joy to then pass on the results of that persistent curiosity to my clients and audiences. 

Of all the career hats I’ve been privileged to wear, my favorite is owner of this business since 2002. Why? Because it provides me the opportunity to work with wonderful organizational and individual clients. On any given day, I get to connect deeply with audiences, work with dedicated teams, improve workplaces, watch clients have a-ha moments, and know I’ve made a difference in their lives and careers. And that is very satisfying.