The Ultimate (Headache-Free) Toy Storage Guide

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Let’s talk toys.

First of all, can we all agree that nothing ignites a mother’s anger quite like stepping on a LEGO (or a Barbie hairbrush for all you girl moms)? Hell hath no fury like a mama with a LEGO in her heel.

I speak from experience. Toys have a way of multiplying at our house and creeping into every available space. Kind of like the Mogwai from Gremlins. (My hubs would be so proud of me for that eighties movie reference.)

If any item calls for an organizational system, toys would be it. But, to be honest, there’s no real solution to keeping toys totally picked up. Toys on the floor–it’s part of living with children. No matter how many labels, bins, and baskets, kids will be kids. I’m not saying they should get a free pass from cleaning up after themselves, but rather a pass from meticulous expectations.

And just to be real here…The kids and I totally cleaned the playroom before taking these photos. I asked the kids to help me pick up because I was going to take a picture for my blog, and this is an exact quote from my oldest daughter: “Why are you writing about the playroom? There’s nothing organized in here.” Truth. ⇓⇓⇓

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So, my quick disclaimer is this: Even a compulsive organizer is sometimes no match for three children.

All that said, I believe there are certain ways to decrease the headaches of dealing with toys. A carefully labelled system is NOT one of them. That is only asking for more frustration, especially for someone like me who would never stand for an action figure landing in the Little People bin.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do use labels in the playroom, but I try to keep the categories general (e.g. a bin for all blocks rather than separate ones for LEGOs, DUPLOs, wooden shapes, etc.). My expectations will change as the kids mature, but for now, I keep it relatively simple.

And just for posterity’s sake, here’s the after photo:

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My Secret: Shelves and Containers

Yes, shelves and containers…the two major players in my toy organizing game.

I placed two bookcases in our playroom to hold books, plastic bins, and more plastic bins. Note: If your kids are climbers, you would be wise to screw these bookcases to the walls. I’ve heard the horror stories of toppling furniture.

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The bins are from Target, and I use them to store small items, such as dress-up accessories, plastic food, and balls. I put labels on the back of the bins to guide the kids when they clean up. (I hide the labels because I think it looks tidier.)

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I use baskets and totes to store dress-up…

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Once upon a time, I wanted to DIY one of those adorable “dress-up stations” often seen on Pinterest (made from an old bookcase and a curtain rod). But then it occurred to me–do I really want to try to keep every last princess dress on a hanger? It’s hard enough keeping my kids’ actual clothes hung up. Why add dress-up to the equation? So, I went in the opposite direction and stuffed everything into totes. Like I said earlier, lowered expectations = less headaches.

I also employ my shelf/container duo in the playroom closets. Closet shelves hold a special place in my heart. Who wouldn’t love a system that allows you shut the door on all those toys? Whenever possible, take advantage of your closets, and store toys out of sight. (This is why I also love functional furniture, such as storage ottomans, end tables with drawers, and shelved cabinets.)

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Both of our playroom closets had built-in shelves when we moved in. If you can, add shelves to yours! They don’t have to be built-ins–buy some freestanding shelves (or more bookcases) that fit inside the closet. Check your local thrift store for secondhand shelves or hit up some garage sales. Whatever you decide on, don’t invest a ton of money into it. Anything I put into our playroom never comes out looking the same. Search for furniture that’s durable enough for the battle ahead, but cheap enough that it’s no big loss when it comes out with a few scars.

As much as I advocate for shelves, I did remove one in the left-hand closet to make room for my beloved cube organizer.

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Don’t you love that vacuum? I’m starting them early.

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Most parents already know this, but it bears repeating: Cube organizers are fabulous for corralling toys. They may not be the prettiest pieces of furniture (if you can even call them that), but they are hard workers. I use mine to store games, instruments, art supplies (in the pink bin), and our LeapFrog TAG books (in the green bin).

On the top shelf, I place things that I don’t want the kids to get into without adult supervision. This includes small beads, craft supplies, magnets, and Hungry, Hungry, Hippos. (My youngest likes to collect those yellow and red balls in her mouth.)

And I know this is showing my crazy a bit, but I keep my kids’ book jackets in that wicker magazine file. Otherwise, they would be ripped to shreds within seconds. I love books too much to see them destroyed.

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In the right-hand closet, I store larger playsets, kids’ DVDs, and various toy “kits.” I collect various items into kits (e.g. “Bug Catching/Camping Gear” or “Tools and Building”) and pack them in the containers with the turquoise lids. The baskets on the floor hold Barbies and American Girl clothes.

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I store the DVDs on an upper shelf, again, to keep them out of the kids’ reach. I also keep some blankets and pillows for our family movie nights in the playroom.

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And I just had to share a photo of a hand-me-down from my childhood. I think some of you might recognize it from your own collection back in the nineties…

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Oh, the many hours I spent in front of this plastic pet shop.

Anyway, as much I would like the toys to remain in a single room, alas, that is not the case. I keep a stash downstairs, as well. I’ve found it comes in quite handy when I’m trying to cook.

I found a great tote at The Container Store (the tote in the link is similar, not exact to mine) that fits under my living room end table. I chose something that fits with my décor and doesn’t scream “PLASTIC, BLINKING, NEON TOYS.” And I’ve been surprised at how many toys I can stuff into this little tote! It holds a lot more than one would expect.

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I also keep some larger toys in a downstairs closet. Nothing fancy, nothing sorted, nothing categorized. Just a bunch of toys dumped into a basket. Easy-peasy.

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In this same closet, I hung a chalkboard for additional entertainment. It’s bolted on the wall, which means one less thing to end up on the floor. And surprisingly, I haven’t had any issues keeping the chalk picked up.

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So, that concludes the toy tour. I’ll leave you with a few additional ideas (depending on how far you want to go with this) and some maintenance tips.

  • At the end of each month or two, do a quick declutter. Look for old books, neglected/duplicate/broken toys, dried up art supplies, etc. Involve the kids and have them choose items to donate to charity. A great opportunity to teach generosity!
  • If you want to go a step beyond my basic shelf/container system, check out these toy storage ideas from the Container Store. Get inspired and figure out how to DIY it on the cheap.
  • To cut down on future toy clutter, give your kids consumable gifts. Think museum memberships, movie tickets, art lessons, amusement park passes. Don’t you agree that shared experiences make better memories than another toy?
  • Have a heart-to-heart with your children about responsibility and your specific expectations. As their parent, you know what methods of reinforcement work best for your kids. After chore charts, dire consequences (the black trash bag), and Target dollar section rewards, I’ve learned this: What works for one kid doesn’t necessarily work for another. Figure out a discipline system that meshes well with your child’s personality.
  • I know several people who divide up their children’s toys into several Rubbermaid containers. They rotate the bins weekly or monthly, and each time they open one, it’s like Christmas for their kids. Out of sight, out of mind. The kids forget about them, and the toys magically regain their novelty with each unpacking.

 

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