Toy Management!

We asked what you guys would be interested in reading about, and BJ commented on our facebook page:

Theme week idea: toy management! Do you rotate through toys? How many toys is each child allowed at a time? Etc, etc…

Ah, toys.  We have far fewer toys than the average American family, but they still threaten to dominate our home.

Our family has made a few hard-core decisions up front.  We keep only quality toys—McDonalds happy meal toys, dentist office bribes, and that ilk get quietly tossed after the kids are in bed.  We’ve gotten rid of dozens of stuffed animals (the kids each have 2 or 3 beloved ones, and that’s it).  We have no-gift birthday parties in the early years, and now that the older two know the difference, we’ve moved to sticker-only parties.  Because our families love to give our children gifts, we have bought very few toys for them ourselves.  Every time we move (which has been four times since having kids), we leave a lot of toys behind for goodwill.  And when my kids are disobeying with toys, I take them away and donate them to goodwill, even if they are toys that I like.  (If they’re integral to a larger set, like legos, I put them in time-out in my closet for a few weeks.)

And yet…one day of no clean-up, and toys are scattered all over my house.  I’ve had to accept that the reality of having little children is that my house will always look like little children live here.  Here are a few coping mechanisms I’ve developed:

  • Every toy has a home.  Whether it is a bin, a shelf, a basket, or a nook, there is a correct place to put away every toy we own.  It’s a rare day when everything is put away where it belongs, but the kids know where things should go when we tell them to clean up.  And we do have a catch-all toy basket in their bedroom for quick clean-up before bed.
  • We do a loose toy rotation.  Basically, I only allow three little-pieces-big-mess type toys (play kitchen food, legos, duplos, blocks, matchbox cars, train set) out at a time.  Our play kitchen is too big to hide right now, but my girls literally play with it every single day, so “kitchen stuff” is out all the time.  The other messy toys each live in bins, and right now we have the legos and matchbox cars out.  If and when the kids want to play with something different, we put everything back in the bin, put it on the shelf, and pull the next one down.

toy management at

  • I do about two zone clean-up sessions a day.  My kids know that they each have three tasks that they must complete before the timer goes off.  My two year old gets the easier ones—putting away baby toys, putting pillows back on the couch, putting shoes back in their cubbies in the closet.  My big kids get bigger tasks—all books put back on the shelves correctly with spines facing out, all dress-up clothes back in their basket, all train cars back in bin, all art supplies put back, etc.
  • Puzzles and board games are kept out of reach on shelves, and we have a house rule that the floor must be completely clean before we can get them down.  That means that puzzles and board games are generally only played with in the evening, after the big post-dinner clean-up session.

shelves for puzzles

Art supplies are my current struggle.  I used to be able to keep them all in a bin, but now that my kids go through construction paper like water, I buy stuff in bulk.  We don’t have a basement or any spare closet storage space, so it just has to be stored in plain sight.

Since we haven’t moved in 2.5 years, I’m hoping to get rid of 2014 items in 2014.  Toys should be a big part of that!

How do you handle and organize toys in your home?

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