Tired of stepping on or over piles of playthings day in and day out? Chances are your kid is too. With no shortage of holidays and birthday gift giving, the toys can really stack up fast. But much better than stuffed animal piles and stuffed shelves are wide open, organized spaces that inspire more mobility and creativity.
To help families restore the order so there’s more room to, well, play, we asked Rose Lounsbury, simplicity coach and author of Less: Minimalism, For Real for her best toy decluttering advice. Here’s what this mom of triplets says are her top tips for tidying up the playroom–and keeping it that way!
Get The Timing Right
There’s no right or wrong time to tackle a messy space, so long as you’ve set aside enough of it to get the job completely done. Try to take on too big of a project in too little time and your efforts could be for nothing once the kids walk in and start to move things all around. How much time is enough? “To declutter and organize an entire toy room at once you’ll need several hours or an entire afternoon,” says Lounsbury. “But you can still chip away at a project even if you don’t have a big chunk of time.” Decluttering and organizing one small area or category of things at a time still makes a big difference! Even 20 to 30 minutes can help restore order in a playroom, making your next organizing session that much more productive.
Involve The Kids (Or Don’t)
Once kids reach school age, Lounsbury recommends getting them involved and having them focus on one category at a time. “Decluttering an entire toy room at once will feel overwhelming to kids and you want to keep this a positive experience,” she says. “Instead, have kids go through their books one day, their cars the next, their dolls the next, etc.”
If your child is preschool age, you can practice tidying up together, but purging toys in front of them may not be the best idea. “Their brains are too ego-centric at this age to comprehend how donating can help others,” she says. “But you do have my permission to donate your young kids’ toys while they are sleeping!” Before you get rid of something major, it’s a good idea to consult your partner, sitter, or anyone who plays frequently in the space with your child to make sure they’ve truly outgrown it.
Sort Like With Like
Use the floor or any large surface to make basic piles of vehicles, dolls, art supplies, blocks, puzzles, etc. so you can quickly get everything out into the open and take inventory of what you have. “I like to attack the physically biggest category first,” says Lounsbury, “but you won’t know the “biggest” until you’ve done that first like-with-like sort, so that’s the place to start!”
It’s okay to have a pile of random stuff too. Afterall, it may take some digging under furniture or lifting of rugs to find similar items or a complete set. If you keep all those miscellaneous things in one place, you can break them out later into their own group bearing you have all or enough pieces. (If at the end of sorting you have one-offs, put them in the trash). Sorting like with like can also help you decide what to keep (do you really need 40 toy cars or will 20 suffice?) and assess how much space you need to store it (single shelf or entire cabinet?).
Decide What To Keep
Fact: The less you have, the easier it is to keep organized. That’s why routine decluttering is so essential. “It’s easier to let go of things when you’ve decided what types of toys align with your personal values for your kids,” says Lounsbury. Consider donating or trashing toys that don’t fall within these categories (think high-quality wooden toys or educational toys or toys that encourage creativity) to make more space for the items you and your kids most appreciate.
If you’re having a hard time letting go, Lounsbury wants you to remember that your kids will always want to be with you more than they’ll want to be with their toys. “The best gift you can give your child is your time and attention–toys are just a bonus so you don’t need that many of them.” If your child is having a hard time deciding what to part with, remind them that we don’t welcome new things into our lives until we have space for them. “It’s a life lesson that will serve them well into adulthood,” adds Lounsbury.
Contain What’s Left
Once you see the things that are worth keeping you can either return them to their home or create them a new home. If you have more art supplies than puzzles, for example, you may need to relocate them to the freestanding cabinet and place puzzles on the single shelf instead. “No matter where you store them, the amount of toys you have should always match the amount of space available,” says Lounsbury. Try these smart storage ideas for some common playthings:
- Stuffed Animals
Put them all into a large bin or basket. This basket then becomes your “container” and when new stuffies come in, allow your kids to choose one to let go of to keep the basket from overflowing.
- Trucks & Cars
Create a “parking lot” for these big boys. A simple rug or taped-off area of the playroom floor will do! Have your child “park” their trucks in the parking lot before moving on from the playroom each day.
- Dress-Up Clothes
Set up a rack or hang hooks at kid height so your child can easily hang up those princess dresses and firefighter vests. Add a basket or bin nearby for clothes that don’t easily hang, like accessories and shoes.
As long as your child is okay with it, put all the random Legos into a bin together. If your child insists on keeping the sets together, put the set pieces and directions into a Ziplock bag and store all the bags vertically in a bin. Assign a shelf for “Lego display” so they can view those beautiful creations and then eventually let them go to make room for new ones!
The biggest mistake parents make when organizing a playroom? “Not having an obvious organizational system,” says Lounsbury. “Labels matter!” If your child is a pre-reader, print out pictures of the toys and attach them to bins using packing tape or clear luggage tags. If your child can read, have them help you add labels using a label maker, sticky chalk labels, or sturdy gift tags and twine so they know where everything is located.
Keep it Neat
And the trick to keeping the playroom tidy once it’s all tidied up? (Besides keeping the door closed, of course.) “It’s all about providing the structure necessary for kids to keep things organized,” says Lounsbury. “This includes creating routines for when the toys return to their homes.”
For many kids this means more than encouragement, it means supervision and planning. Parents should factor in cleanup time when they’re transitioning kids to a new activity or part of the day. So instead of a 5 minute warning, it’s a 5 minutes until cleanup time warning. When kids expect and accept cleanup time as part of playtime, they’ll be more likely to do their part-and one day they may just do it on their own.