If you’re a parent, you probably struggle with the endless task of picking up and organizing the toys that have made their way into your house. If you have a toddler, like I do, it might seem like making the biggest mess possible is the main game they like to play: dumping blocks, pulling books off of shelves, and emptying the bin with all the dinosaurs are all great ideas to them. Meanwhile, you’re seriously considering bringing in the leaf rake or buying one of those grabber tools people use to pick up trash, because your sore hips and back are asking you to please not bend over another 75 times today.
Make it stop! Sorry; I can’t make it stop for you. However, I do have a few tricks you can steal to organize toys, tame the mess and help your children have more fun while cleaning.
Separate Toys into Categories
If you haven’t already, make sure there is a place for everything, so everything can go in its place. This advice has been said forever, but it’s true. Buys bins, baskets, toys storage, bookshelves, etc., and assign or even label where things go. This will help kids know where to put things and where to find them. If the toys are all mixed together, they will likely dump them all just to find what they need.
Once you have a system in place, you can ask your kids to find things in one category at a time, such as blocks, books, stuffed animals, cars, balls, etc. Not only that but depending on what it is, you can make it even more fun by turning it into a game as they find them.
Gamifying the Organization Process
Here are a few examples of how I do this with my two-year-old son. In addition to praising him throughout the game with things like, “You’re such a big helper” or “You’re so good at finding blocks,” I also try to turn it into a learning activity.
For instance, if I ask him to find all of the wooden alphabet blocks, I will count them as he puts them in the bag or name the different colors, numbers, letters and pictures on the blocks. If he’s finding balls, I let him try to make a basket in the ball bin and cheer if he makes it. If he misses, I hand him the ball and encourage him to try again. And if it’s a puzzle, we work on putting it together. Even animals or dinosaurs can be named as he hands them to me or puts them in the proper bin. If he resists putting things away, I like to say that they want to be with their friends or need to go night-night. Find what works for your child or children.
Use Music to Motivate
Many parents have special clean-up songs. I know the one sung on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is a popular choice. “Clean up, pick up, put away. Clean up, every day!” You can find it here. Others just play fun music while cleaning to keep it light and help with motivation. I personally like to play my favorite music while doing chores, so it makes sense that kids would like it too. Music makes us happy and keeps any activity from feeling like drudgery. Figure out what helps your kids get moving. If you need to take a break or two for a family dance party, all the better!
Toy Rotation is Your Friend
I admit it: this tip is one of those brilliant ideas that I struggle to implement myself, even though I know it works. However, if you are consistent with it, it can be a game-changer. It simply means that every so often, you remove a portion of the toys available to play with and hide them until the next rotation. It’s one of the easiest ways to cut down on the clutter in the first place. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
This method will look different for everyone, but it could mean you have a giant tote hidden in the garage that you switch out during naptime every month or two. Maybe it just means putting the bag of blocks on a high shelf while the dinosaurs are out and switching them back and forth. You want to limit the number of things that can be dumped and spread around the room. Find your worse culprits; mine were the wooden blocks and big plastic building blocks.
How is this tip “fun,” you ask? You’d think that taking toys away would upset your child (and it might if you let them see you do it), but the real joy is when the hidden toys return. It’s like getting new toys! I have read time and again that kids actually have more fun and stay engaged longer with fewer toys. They can get overwhelmed when they have too many or are surrounded by a mess. Perhaps set a monthly reminder to rotate toys and see if it improves the chaos.
As you’re cleaning, if you spot broken toys, toss them. If you see outgrown toys, store them for the next child or donate them. See if your child is willing to donate any toys or sell any at a yard sale.
If the main reason you have so many toys is because of gifts, politely suggest the gift of experiences, such as memberships to a zoo, art classes, movie tickets, etc. If you’re the one guilty of buying too many toys, stop and think about what they already have before putting new toys in your cart.
The bottom line is that there will always be messes to clean and toys will keep coming into your home, but following these tips can help you keep it under control and make it less of a chore.
How about you? What are your favorite tips for keeping the toy clutter from taking over? Share in the comments below!