My #1 Secret for Keeping Toys Organized

Whenever I go to visit my sister (who lives in Ontario) I almost always get to help them organize some part of their house.  It’s fun for me and I get to spend someone else’s money on organizing supplies.  What could be better than that?  A few weeks before I was to arrive my brother-in-law phoned with me a distress call saying, “help I’ve got organizational diarrhea!”.  He was referencing their toy situation which was taking over their living room. Rather than repeat that conversation and to not overuse the word diarrhea in yet another post, please go back and read this post if you missed it.

In that post I initially recommended a solution for them that consisted of a sideboard with some shelves.  Well two things quickly became apparent after that suggestion that required me to rethink that plan.  My anticipated $500 budget was slashed to $150 (due to unexpected expenses they had) and a sideboard was simply not going to be enough storage space for their needs.

Here was my challenge:

Toys, toys, toys everywhere (although on this particular day the toy clutter wasn’t really all that bad).  As you can see though not a lot of storage.  The green four basket container isn’t normally kept in the living room either, it is used for hats/mitts by the front door.  With all the company it ended up in the living room temporarily.  This toy area is actually a formal dining room space at one end of their living room that they used to have a second table in (they also have a table in their kitchen).  However after having two kids (now ages 3 and 1) they quickly realized they needed to reclaim this hardly used space for all the toys that come along with two kids.  They don’t live in a big house (maybe about 900 sq feet, on just one level) so I think this was a brilliant solution.  However with no boundaries and limits to the toys, they just seem to scatter everywhere, from one end of the house to the other.

What’s my #1 secret for keeping toys organized?

Don’t give kids free access to all their toys all at one time!

When kids have free access to all their toys a number of things happen:

  • toy sets don’t stay together making them less interesting to play with eventually
  • kids get overwhelmed easily with the volume of toys at their disposal
  • because they are overwhelmed kids get bored more quickly with their toys
  • kids have no place to play because the toys are taking over the floor
  • clean up is frustrating because of the magnitude of mess
  • imaginations are limited being surrounded by so much clutter

My sister didn’t have anywhere to tuck toys away and out of sight so that was our number one priority.  We looked at many different options including many Ikea solutions.  However so many were out of our price range and we really wanted to be able to fill the whole wall on the right hand side to maximize toy storage space as much as possible.  We decided to go with a pantry solution because we found a great sale at Canadian Tire that would allow us to purchase two matching ones to place side by side to fill the space.  Each pantry cost only $69.00 each and fit right into the budget 🙂

Here’s how it looked afterwards:

Now this solution isn’t going to be for everyone and for sure my sister and her hubbie would have liked to have purchased fancier cabinets however they had two options.  Wait a couple of years down the line to purchase what they really wanted or purchase what they could afford now to solve their current problem immediately.  It made sense to do it now in order to save their sanity and cure their organizational diarrhea.  The amount of storage these units provide is incredible and most importantly as you can see in the above picture we were able to add locks to them, hola!

Here’s a picture of the inside:

Our Daddy even attached them to the wall for us to keep my nieces safe and sound!

We still need to label everything.  Since I didn’t bring my label maker with me (Gasp, I know!  What kind of professional am I?) I will send her some labels in the mail.  My sister already had the fabric bins that we were able to repurpose and they each hold toy sets for things like Mega Blocks, dress up clothes, dolls and doll clothes, etc.  We did purchase the clear shoe box containers to house additional toy sets on the left and craft supplies on the right.  She even had room to store her party supplies and games on the top shelves.  None of these things had homes before and it is just so cool to have them consolidated now all into one place.  It’s a huge weight lifted off my sister and BIL’s shoulders.

(Barbies, Mr. Potato Head, My Little Ponies, puppets, Little People and musical instruments)

My sister can now bring out toy sets one at a time and my nieces know that when they want to play with something else they have to clean up what they were playing with first.  And because it’s just one container it’s not too overwhelming for them to do.  Now when toys come out it’s like they are new all over again.  The girls might not have seen them in awhile and it’s exciting to discover them all over again.  I’m a huge huge fan of toy rotation!  Not to mention how the cabinets now serve as a limiting container to keep the toy purchases under wraps.  If they get something new they’ll have to get rid of something they already own to make room.

I’m so relieved to know that they no longer suffer from this distressing organizational diarrhea dilemma and that they are now able to enjoy the freedom and benefits having an organized space provides all without having to go into debt to do it.  Success!

Filed under: Clutter Control, Kid Stuff, Living Room


25 Responses to My #1 Secret for Keeping Toys Organized

  1. 1
    eko says

    Fabulous space = such organization! I keep the extra toys in the *back room* of our basement, they have to put away what they were playing with before bringing out a new bin. Best tip I ever got as a mom – no access to everything at once! 😉

  2. 2
    Suzanne Jackson says

    Great job! Another thing that we’ve done for years is actually put some toys way-away — up in the attic, out of sight in the garage, wherever. Then, about once a month, they choose a couple of tubs to trade (maybe dollhouse toys for dress-up, or blocks for GI-Joes — you get the idea). Somehow, this makes the toys seem newer and fresher, holding their attention for much longer. I really didn’t limit how often they could trade (within reason), but they always had to trade to get something else from storage. Worked like a charm!

    I also had a few special toys that were limited use — they could only have them when we were going to an appointment, or when I was schooling the other children, things like that. That helped to make those toys special, too.

  3. 3
    [email protected] says

    I agree! My daughter still has to ask me to get down her big bin of Barbies in the top of her closet. I also have a limit for each kid – two kinds of toys. For instance, my daughter has Barbies and American Girl Dolls. That’s pretty much it – but she can build up the stuff she has for each of them. She loves it. My son – Knex and Legos and that’s it! It’s so much easier than having way too many kinds of toys. They get more creative with what they have. I like the cupboards…they have a LOT of toys, too!

    Becky B.
    Organizing Made Fun

    • 3.1
      Michelle @ Getting Through the Day says

      I love the idea of building up the stuff they already have. I’ve been doing a lot of purging of all of the extra stuff. While my shelves are well organized with boxes and baskets, I feel like there are so many different things! It’s just hard to decide what’s worth keeping and what’s worth purging. My boys would probably be happy with cars and accessories and my girls would probably be happy with just dolls and art stuff.

  4. 4
    Jan says

    wow! nice cabinets! I can’t believe they were only $69

  5. 5
    Joyce says

    It looks great!! Good job!

  6. 6
    Tara says

    I may in fact be the luckiest girl to have my sister (Orgjunkie) come and help us organize and spend quality time with us. It is just so fantastic to be able to spend time with family. The BIL says thank you for releiving his organizational “issues”.

    I cannot say thank you enough Laura. I had so much fun while you were here. 🙂

  7. 7
    Christine says

    This is exactly what I need but shorter. I moved all of my dd crafts out of the kitchen cabinets and need to find something for her school room. I can’t find anything. The closest thing I have found is a rubbermaid cabinet from Home Depot, but it is really for the garage and would look tacky. Any ideas???

  8. 8
    Michelle Sexton says

    I need to do this with my son’s toys too. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but I haven’t had the opportunity since I sprained my ankle about 6 weeks ago

  9. 9
    Jen says

    That is really a great tip. I wish I had followed that a lot more closely, especially when my son was a toddler – he has always had so many toys that he completely forgets about them and there’s no way to corral them all. I find that when I sit with him and go through toys to give away/throw away (there’s a lot of junk that gets mixed up in there), he finds a ton of stuff he didn’t even know he had. And then he has lots of fun playing with that stuff over the next week or so, because it’s as good as new to him. It’s actually a really good rainy day activity.

    I’m just glad he’s finally getting to that “older kid” stage where all his toys are not quite so giant!

    Here’s a good organizing challenge for you though – I have been wondering what exactly I’m supposed to do with all the Lego creations he makes that come from a set. I’ve been tempted to throw them all into one giant bin together (I’d do him the favor of keeping the instructions), but I feel like the small and/or specialty pieces would be hard to find later. But I also feel like I don’t want him to make stuff from the sets all the time, I’d rather he used his imagination just a little. So do I keep the giant Lego fire truck intact and use precious shelf space for it, or do I give him a couple of weeks to play with it and then put it in a bin with the rest of the pieces?

    • 9.1
      Laura says

      I think it depends on your child. If he likes to build and display (my oldest boy is like that) then I think it’s fine to honor that. I bought a five shelf bookcase from Walmart for my son to use and that was his limiting container. He could keep what fit on the shelf and after that he had to make a decision about what was torn down and put away with the rest of the pieces (or in ziploc to keep the pieces separate if he wanted to build from the instructions again).

      Now my youngest is different. He likes to tear down almost the minute he finishes building it and that’s fine too.

      Just my 2 cents 🙂

  10. 10
    sharon says

    I, too, love to have toys organized by sets. But I found that my son likes to ‘mix’ things up – he uses his superhero toys to conquer the world that is begin destroyed by a giant dinosaur in the monster truck. He tends to be much more creative when he can mix/match the toys so I’ve learned to just let him play the way he wants. Clean up takes a little longer but when we do it together it’s not that bad.

    • 10.1
      Roxanne says

      We have the same issue, and very limited space. So when we moved I took their favourites of each set out and got rid of the rest. Now we have 2 dinosaurs, 3-4 action heroes, 1 set of stacking cups, 4 Barbies… etc etc. They use their imagination and pretend the Barbies are being attacked by dinosaurs, when some action heroes show up to rescue them. And since the toys are limited to only a few in each category, their total toy count is extremely low now. It makes it so easy to store them all in a small shelf. Even with no bins at all! They all stand upright, with the exception of Barbie that needs to sit down. LOL

  11. 12
    MaryJo @ reSPACEd: Budget Organizing says

    I really like the cabinets. Very Danish Modern. Excellent find!

    I work mostly with parents in my job as a professional organizer, and I can say from experience that the key to keeping the toy area organized has two parts to it: physical and behavioral. The physical part is providing a way to store everything. The behavioral part is getting kids (and parents) to actually USE the storage. This is always the trickier part: teaching children how to put things away. If we don’t consistently teach our children to put their things away (and if we parents don’t put our OWN stuff away!) we can’t get upset when the children always leave toys all over the floor.

    For those interested tips for teaching kids to clean up their space, you might find this blog post I wrote helpful:

  12. 13
    Kirstie says

    I think we might go for cupboards – the toys seem to be getting everywhere and we’re only in a little unit so limited for space. And limiting access sounds great – will make tidying up so much easier!

  13. 14
    Emily @ Make It Happen Mama says

    How wonderful! I love what you said about waiting a couple years to be able to afford the ideal vs. solving the organizational problem now with something functional, if not as fancy as you would like. When it comes right down to it, as parents on a budget, function must often come before form. Great post!

  14. 15
    Alisha says

    Ok I LOVED this, but I can’t take this advice and make it happen for me. = ( I currently have 4 kids in a small room. I have one bunk bed in there (the bottom is a full) a crib, two dressers, and 2 desks (1 is going out soon. And all walls are covered!!! (well we will have about 1 1/2 ft of wall once I move the one desk) Their closet is a nice walk in one, but with four kids sharing it it isn’t adequate enough.
    We have had totes with toys on the shelves but they have access to them and never put them back. I have no idea how to lock them up. Any suggestions?

  15. 16
    Roxanne says

    “Not to mention how the cabinets now serve as a limiting container to keep the toy purchases under wraps. If they get something new they’ll have to get rid of something they already own to make room.”

    We have a similar set up, but no doors and our shelves are low to the ground. I love how it limits the toys. If they get a new toy, they have to choose an older toy to purge to make space for the new one. My babies have no sets of toys though so no bins. They own random toy pieces that don’t really go together. But the shelves display them all well standing up. l can see exactly where everything is at all times! A toy box is useless at that!

  16. 17
    CoolKids says

    You shouldn’t buy your children too many toys, so maybe the limited closet space is a good thing.


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