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How to Organize and Declutter Kids' Toys (and Keep Your Sanity)

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Marissa is the writer of ThePracticalMommy and the blog Mommy Knows What's Best. She is a stay-at-home mom to four and was a teacher.

Did a toy bomb go off in your house?

Did a toy bomb go off in your house?

Organizing Toys Before They Take Over Your Home

Walk into any home with active children uninvited and you’ll notice one thing: it’ll seem like a toy bomb went off. At least, that’s often how it is at my house. While I am endlessly working on clean-up-as-you-go skills with my preschooler, it just hasn’t stuck yet in his energetic little head. It doesn’t help that when he actually does try to clean up after himself, his curious baby sister is right behind him, undoing the good he accomplished.

I pondered on my blog what to do about this toy mess debacle. I reflected on how my house had gone from a clean, organized home with only two adults to a home with two adults and two children. Back when we were just a happily married couple, gift-giving holidays were welcomed. Now I fear them. People seem to think it’s hilarious to give gifts of multiple parts to little children.

I'm going to share some of my toy organization tips here along with some really great toy organizers for your home. I'll also give you some ideas about what to do with gently used toys and anything extra you have around that take up space.

How to Organize Toys

What to do, what to do. I decided to tackle the problem head on, organizing the toys when the kids were napping. Here’s my process and how it has worked for me.

  1. Separate the toys into categories. For me, this wasn’t too bad. I gathered several empty diaper boxes and collected toys in each room. Laundry baskets work well for this too. Vehicles in one box, plush/stuffed animals in another, toys with multiple parts/accessories (i.e., Noah’s Ark, toolbox, Mega Bloks, Lego Duplo blocks, etc), plastic animals/figures, pretend kitchen toys, baby toys, etc.
  2. Separate the categories. I went through each individual box and did another level of separation. From the vehicle box, I took out all of the Matchbox cars and put them in a storage container. I put all of the Disney Cars vehicles in another box. The larger trucks and cars were given ‘parking spots’ in a part of our “loud room”.
  3. Find places for each group of the smaller categories. Toys were given a home. Blocks, trains and tracks, cars, and Lego Duplo blocks were given a place in a hanging organizer in the closet. Stuffed and plush toys went to either my son’s or daughter’s bedrooms. Baby toys were put in the pack-and-play (which is always up in our living room). Play kitchen accessories went in the Sesame Street kitchen.
  4. Rotate toys. I chose toys that would stay out and some that would be put away. Every few weeks, toys would go through a rotation. Old toys become 'new' again, over and over.
  5. Show children toy placement and establish rules. This one, I hope, gets better with the age of my kids. I showed my son where I put everything and explained how each item now had a home to go back to when he’s done playing. The rule was that after he was done playing with something, he puts it back where it belongs. Of course, this rule works when I am in the same room as him and I can remind him. However, when I’m doing laundry or washing dishes, he tends to forget, plus the younglings take out all toys all at once and can’t grasp the concept of clean-up-as-you-go. At least it’s a start.
  6. Scheduled cleanups, three times a day. I ask my son (and the baby, but you know) to clean everything up three times a day: before naptime, before Daddy gets home, and before bedtime. That way there are three times a day when I can smile and say “Ah, now that’s a clean, organized house”, and the house is reorganized once more before more toys are taken out.

Organizing the toys like this once a month or once every two months will help keep your living spaces clutter-free. It will also help your kids learn some responsibility and respect for their toys.

Do you have any extra or unused toys? Donate them! If it hasn't been used in a while, try to find a new home for it. Often, a children's wing in a hospital, a police station, the Salvation Army, local preschools, or churches will take gently used toys.

No place to donate? Try selling gently used toys in good condition on eBay, Craigslist, at a consignment shop, or at a yard sale.

Example of a Cleanup in My Home

As I write, the ‘before Daddy gets home’ cleanup is underway. My son is finding all the toys out on the floor and putting them in their respective places. I’m giving directions as he completes his task, making sure to mention to the baby that her big brother is trying to clean up. She just giggles and proceeds to take things out anyway. But wait! He tells her, “No, no! We are trying to clean up. Here’s where this toy goes."

Ah. That’s my little organizing genius!

Keeping Up With Toy Organization

It's important to keep up with toy organization. If you let it go too long, there will be toys everywhere and it will just look messy all the time. Make sure to enlist the help of your children (as much as possible) when you're separating the toys into categories. Stick to the rule cleaning up as they go.

Keep in mind, as I am sure you know, the toys will keep accumulating. Before every birthday or gift-giving holiday, evaluate the situation. Are there toys that are no longer being used? Are there toys with broken or missing parts? Take the time to sort through the ‘old’ toys before the new toys arrive.

You could also do what I do when I know gifts will be given: pray for clothes.

© 2011 Marissa


Clare Taylor on February 26, 2019:

I want to buy the hanging mesh it's the colour and size I want.

Marissa (author) from United States on April 14, 2012:

barbergirl28, I'd love to help you out, but I think you should add it to your husband's honey-do list! ;) It does take a while to get through everything when organizing, especially when the kids play with the toys as you organize (i.e. my kids....)! Just do what you can, a little at a time.

The hanging organizers for closets are awesome. You'll be glad you got them!

Thanks so much for reading and commenting! Good luck!

Stacy Harris from Hemet, Ca on April 14, 2012:

I am horrible at organizing... anything... therefore do you want to come over to my house and organize the toys for me? Unfortunately they have gotten to a level of "nuclear bomb!" I keep trying to get through it but it is taking forever. Ahhh... one of these days... or I might just take garbage bags, donate it all and let them start over! Great hub and some great tips. I am gonna get some of the hanging organizers for the closet. Maybe that will help with the organizing!

Marissa (author) from United States on April 03, 2012:

kidscrafts, thank you very much for your comment! Having space for all the toys really does help with keeping everything organized--that's for sure.

Toy rotation really is a great thing; I'm glad you had success with it as well! :)I'll be doing a spring rotation soon for my kids toys; it's time to pull out the fun outside toys.

Thanks again for reading and for your comment!

kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on April 03, 2012:

I love all your ideas! I wish I had more shelve space when my kids were would have helped. I practiced the rotation of the worked really well. They had time to forget the toys and were welcoming them back when I switched was like having a new toy each time :-)

Marissa (author) from United States on March 02, 2012:

guyjackson, I'm not exactly sure what you're asking. Are you asking what the difference is with the Amazon capsules? In one, there is a bucket system toy organizer. In another, there are a variety of character specific basic toy boxes. In the last one, there are mesh toy organizers that can hang in a closet (or in my case, I have one hanging on the wall in my son's room). I hope that answered your question. Thanks for stopping by!

Marissa (author) from United States on March 02, 2012:

Shawna Van Trease, it would help to start the organization process for your two year old. Once everything has its place, she can be a big help with the clean-up. Have fun! :)

Guyene Jackson from USA on March 02, 2012:

What Different's of Toy Organizer on Amazon

Shawna Van Trease on March 01, 2012:

Glad I came across your profile and browsed your hubs. Somehow it only recently occurred to me that my 2 year old can't really be held responsible for organizing her own toys. This hub is a great motivator for me to get the toys in some sort of order she and I can help maintain together.

Marissa (author) from United States on February 24, 2012:

Brian, that's brilliant! I love the idea of building a house on a hill so all toys slide into a closet! ;) Thanks for reading and commenting.

BRIAN SLATER on February 24, 2012:

Thank heavens these days are over for me, constant bending and picking up after kids does my head in. next time I'll buy a house on a hill so all the toys slide to one side and drop in a closset. Now that sounds a brilliant idea. Congrats on HOTD :)

Marissa (author) from United States on February 08, 2012:

greatparenting, if I didn't clean up several times a day, I'd drown in the toys! My youngest is only one year old and doesn't understand yet the concept of putting away toys as she's done playing with them. My three year old and I conduct the clean-ups several times a day just for her! :) Thanks for reading and commenting!

Marissa (author) from United States on February 08, 2012:

LucidWarrior, it is hard to part with some toys with which you have many happy memories. It reminds me of Andy from Toy Story. :) I could only imagine what those messes must be like with two older kids! I'm not looking forward to that time with my kids... I'm glad that some of these tips worked in your home! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

greatparenting from philadelphia, pa and corolla, nc on February 07, 2012:

Just excellent advice! Love the fact that you are going for a clean up several times a day. That should make a dent in the mess!

David Cook from Suburban Philadelphia on February 07, 2012:

Great ideas. I have tried a few at our home and they work pretty well. My challenge is with my son "mr. pack rat." He does not want to part with any toy, even the toys he has out grown by several years. The other challenge is the age difference; my kids are 15, 12, and 5. Each one makes very different messes and only one of them is good about cleaning up. Uggg...!

Marissa (author) from United States on February 07, 2012:

Joelipoo, I'm glad you found it useful! :) Thanks for reading and commenting!

Joel from Ohio on February 07, 2012:

Definitely useful. Thanks for SHARING.

Marissa (author) from United States on January 31, 2012:

mfriedstore, it is very important that we teach our kids how to clean up after themselves, but it does make it easier and make everything look nicer if we parents give our kids organized spaces to keep those toys. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! :)

mfriedstore from 176 Flushing Avenue Brooklyn , New York on January 30, 2012:

As a parent or guardian to these little kids, we are obliged to teach these young ones keep their toys. well, it is good that we provide a shelving so that they know where to place their toys after playing.

Marissa (author) from United States on January 09, 2012:

tammyswallow, I'm glad you found my tips useful! Toy rotation is a great idea, especially with younger kids. It's fun to watch the kids think they have all new toys. ;) Thanks for reading and commenting!

Tammy from North Carolina on January 09, 2012:

Great tips! Toy and clutter management is a big issue for me. I will use these tips. I like to rotate my daughters toys. I will put some away for a later time and bring them back out when she gets tired of playing with other toys. Well done and USEFUL!

Marissa (author) from United States on December 13, 2011:

Ahyat, glad you like it! Thanks for reading! :)

Ahyat from Canada on December 13, 2011:

Great information love your hub!

Marissa (author) from United States on December 12, 2011:

Melovy, that's awesome! It's great to hear she did it all by herself. :)

Yvonne Spence from UK on December 12, 2011:

Actually, she tidied up herself last night! Probably because she’d spent several hours over the weekend hunting among the mess for various things she needed - some lessons are best learned for ourselves I guess. Her room isn’t spotless, but it is so much better.

Thanks for the suggestion to look at the WTI hubs. I will check it out if the mess gets worse again. :)

Marissa (author) from United States on December 12, 2011:

Melovy, I could probably work on a tween/teenage organizing hub...Heaven knows I have taught enough of them, and by the time my two kids are old enough to be teenagers, I'll be crazy! ;)

You could probably organize a bedroom in a similar manner as toys: sort everything into categories. There were some other hubs in this Weekly Topic Inspiration about bedroom organization; perhaps you can check those out as well.

Good luck, and thanks for reading! :)

Yvonne Spence from UK on December 11, 2011:

There’s some really useful information here. I can’t wait till your kids are older and you do a: “How to get your 12 yr old daughter to tidy her room” hub - only by then mine will probably have left home, so maybe I’ll just learn to love that messy room!:)

I think your suggestion of organising toys by category is a very good one. We tried lots of different systems and it was probably the way that works best. We’re lucky enough to live near an Ikea, which has some great storage systems.

Marissa (author) from United States on December 07, 2011:

evelynsaenz, it would be so cool if it did resemble a tree! I think I found that one at Target... Thanks for reading! :)

Evelyn Saenz from Vermont on December 07, 2011:

I love the stuffed animal hanging storage. Wouldn't it be nice if it resembled a hollow tree? Where did you find it?

Marissa (author) from United States on December 07, 2011:

Sara101, I try to reply to all comments, as it is the polite thing to do. Oh my! You're only eleven? While you are very well 'spoken' for an 11 year old, did you know you have to be 18 to join and participate on this site? You might want to check the terms of service in the Learning Center (see link at bottom of page).

Thanks, and best wishes!

Sara101 on December 07, 2011:

thanks but sadly my little sister wears pull ups and they come in bags. I am amazed that you have the time to comment even on 11 year old comments!!! You are so sweet! :)

Marissa (author) from United States on December 07, 2011:

Sara101, I'm glad you liked these ideas! Good luck with your organizing; 'stuff' can easily take over, just like anything else. You should check out some of the other organizing hubs from last week's WTI : . There are other great hubs there explaining great strategies for organization.

Thanks for reading! :)

Sara101 on December 06, 2011:

Oh my gosh! I love these ideas so much! Thank goodness that I read this! Tomorrow I have to clean our living room, and yes it looks like a stuff bomb. (Theres stuff, barely any toys.) So, tomorrow I am going to look for boxes. ;)

Marissa (author) from United States on December 01, 2011:

Tracy Lynn Conway, you're right: you need to gain control of the toys before they take over, which can happen in the blink of an eye. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

Tracy Lynn Conway from Virginia, USA on December 01, 2011:

Great tips! The key is to gain control of the toys before they gain control of you. :)

Tracy Lynn Conway

Mike Teddleton from Midwest USA on November 30, 2011:

Ah, yes, the cover of darkness, ninja style, cool. I'll also need treats for Buddy, LOL :).

Best wishes, Merry Christmas and enjoy a very happy new year. Mike

Marissa (author) from United States on November 30, 2011:

Lyrickkw, glad you found it to be useful!

Teddletonmr, that's why you have to declutter toys when the kids are sleeping or not around! Sneaky ninja style, you know? ;) Thanks for reading and commenting! Happy holidays to you and Buddy as well!

Mike Teddleton from Midwest USA on November 29, 2011:

Entertaining read, I tried many of your ideas and the kids threatened to throw me out with the dog. Just kidding, the dog lives in the house with our four kids. Nobody messes with the deal Buddy Has.

Great Stuff, be well, happy holidays. Mike

Latanya M Williams from PHILADELPHIA on November 29, 2011:

Nice hub! It is very useful.

Marissa (author) from United States on November 28, 2011:

BizGenGirl, thanks!

PermissionGiver from Lake Stevens on November 27, 2011:

This is an awesome hub!

Marissa (author) from United States on November 27, 2011:

Thank you to everyone who stopped by to read and comment on this hub!! I really appreciate the feedback and congratulations. Thanks also for sharing your own experiences and ideas! :)

Moon Willow Lake on November 27, 2011:

Thanks for the interesting article and I really liked the loud room idea! That is something I'm going to do here too.

Marisa Hammond Olivares from Texas on November 26, 2011:

Congratulations on the Hub of the Day! This is well deserved - great hub! These tips are useful and can be applied by parents, grandparents and sitters.

Voted up!

softhard from Kathmandu on November 26, 2011:

Congrats for the hub of the day. Really helpful article. Lots of parents will definetley befind this article helpful. Great work. keep it up.

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on November 26, 2011:

I just came back to say congrats on getting Hub of the Day! You deserve it.

RTalloni on November 26, 2011:

What a great "how to" outline for getting and keeping toys organized. I want to come back and read through the comments soon. :) In the meantime, Congrats on Hub of the Day--it's a fabulous pick to help parents get ready for a new plan before the New Year!

Brenda Trott, M.Ed from Houston, TX on November 26, 2011:

As usual you've got some good, simple tips...especially about waiting until the kids are napping. I had to share a saying I pinned on Pinterest: "Cleaning House while the kids are home is like shoveling snow WHEN IT IS STILL SNOWING." Congrats on your hub of the day!

arusho on November 26, 2011:

Great article, I let my daughter's room go messy and then clean it up about once a month. It gets so crazy though I feel like I am constantly going through her room! We got some great organizers from IKEA, with colored buckets.

Carrie Smith from Dallas, Texas on November 26, 2011:

The toy bomb reference is totally accurate. It's funny but true. Thanks for posting such a great organizing guide. I really like the idea of rotating the toys so they feel new again. Congrats on being the hub of the day.

Leah Lefler from Western New York on November 26, 2011:

We are VERY lucky to have a playroom, but I like the name "Loud Room" better! We need to get more organizing furniture, though - we are drowning in Imaginext and Legos!

Apryl Schwarz from Nebraska on November 26, 2011:

I really need to get a hanging organizer for my sons' stuffed animals. Their toy box is overflowing mostly because of all the stuffed animals they have, but rarely play with.

Sinea Pies from Northeastern United States on November 26, 2011:

Rotating toys is a great suggestion. Children don't need access to all of their toys all of the time. It keeps life more interesting if they are re-introduced from time to time. Voted up and useful. Also sharing it with my blog's facebook fans!

chamilj from Sri Lanka on November 26, 2011:

Very useful tips! Actually great for my wife. Thanks for sharing...

Marissa (author) from United States on November 26, 2011:

Sunshine625, that used to be my old technique for cleaning up... ;) Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

sestasik, the tips would definitely work for all clutter! I'm actually using my own tips in my office area today. Thanks for reading and commenting!

sestasik on November 26, 2011:

Great cleaning tips - I might apply some of this to non-toy clutter!

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on November 26, 2011:

Congrats on Hub Of The Day!!! Thanks for the tips! I organize my granddaughters toys once a week usually by moving them from one area of the house to another :))

Marissa (author) from United States on November 23, 2011:

thewahm, as I am the oldest of five kids, I certainly know how the toys can accumulate even faster! I'm glad you find the toy organizers useful.

Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

Tara on November 23, 2011:

With 5 kids we have a lot of toys! We have several toy organizers and they work great for the small toys.

Marissa (author) from United States on November 23, 2011:

randomcreative, rotating toys and books in the classroom does work well; my students always thought I bought new books when I went through a rotation. ;)

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on November 22, 2011:

Great tips! I love the toy rotation idea. I've found that this can work well in classrooms, too. Even rotating what toys or books are out on top of shelves gets kids to try new ones more frequently.

Marissa (author) from United States on November 22, 2011:

alissaroberts, love the phrase "the week a toy store threw up in our house"! I'm in the same boat; my daughter turns '1' six days before Christmas... Thanks for reading, commenting and Tweeting! :)

Alissa Roberts from Normandy, TN on November 22, 2011:

Thanks for the tips - I will be putting these in action right after my son's bday party and christmas (otherwise known as the week a toy store threw up in our house)! more toys!!! Great job - had to tweet this one :)

Marissa (author) from United States on November 22, 2011:

FloraBreenRobison, sounds like you had a lot of toys then. ;) Thanks for commenting!

K9keystrokes, I too giggled a bit when I used ‘younglings’. :) I’m glad you found my tips to be spot on! Thanks so much for commenting.

thebookmom, if you’re not clear about expectations, kids will never listen, right? Also, the scheduled clean-ups work so well, especially since it teaches the kids a bit of responsibility. :) Thanks for reading and commenting!

mathair, I can’t believe I forgot to mention the books! They tend to multiply just as much as the toys. I have them in their own spots as well, like in the two-drawer storage container in our loud room and in the small bookshelf in my son’s room, where we read the books at bedtime. Kids today have so much for us to organize, don’t they? ;) Thanks for reading and commenting!

mathair from Ireland on November 22, 2011:

Some really excellent ideas here for keeping toys under control. We already do the clean up before Daddy gets home but I like the idea of a regular toy organisation. I think we need to do it with our books too! Thank you

thebookmom from Nebraska on November 22, 2011:

Great Ideas! The idea of rotating toys and the thoughts on scheduling times for clean up with really specific expectations were my favorite.

India Arnold from Northern, California on November 22, 2011:

Those hanging toy organizers look like the perfect tool for organizing a home full of kids toys. The pointers for decluttering the home are spot on! I love the part where you talk about your son doing fine with you in the room, my nephew was the same exact way! I also enjoyed the Younglings...HA! Super funny term!

A very Well presented Hub, as always!



FloraBreenRobison on November 22, 2011:

I had lots of shelves growing up.

Marissa (author) from United States on November 22, 2011:

justateacher, my mom is the same way with my kids, plus she still has my eight year old brother at home! She too has the toys in her entertainment center and one lone toy box, but they're overflowing... And it's funny how you mention that the 'loud' toys or ones with millions of pieces are left behind at your house, because the same happens with her as well.. ;)

Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

Marissa (author) from United States on November 22, 2011:

Simone Smith, 'toy bomb' is really being nice...Sometimes it's more like 'toy weapons of mass destruction'! ;) I'm glad you like my tips. Some of the organizers I use for toys are really just basic home organizers: the hanging shelves for closets, the storage bin, etc. I'm sure they'd work great for your toys. :)

Thanks for reading and commenting!

LaDena Campbell from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz... on November 22, 2011:

Great suggestions! My kids are grown, of course, but with the grandboys, there are still plenty of toys around. I am in the search of a good toy box that would look good in the living room, but haven't found one I like yet. Right now, all toys are stored in a cupboard in our entertainment center - but it's running out of room! Everyone tells that if I would spoil the boys less, I would not need any extra room! Bu that is impossible! (And I won't buy loud noisy toys or those with millions of pieces -except Legos - because somehow they always get "forgotten" and left at Grammy's house!)

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on November 22, 2011:

SUCH a good guide. I smiled when I read "toy bomb" because it totally looks like one hit in most parents' homes! I love your toy organizer... heck, all of your toy organizing tools are fabulous! I may not have kids of my own, but I can use your good advice to organize some of MY toys :D

Marissa (author) from United States on November 22, 2011:

rsusan, I'm glad you liked the tips. I too never had so many toys growing up, but on both sides of my family, my kids are the first of their generation (i.e. first grandchildren, first nephew/niece, first great-grandchildren) so we are inundated with toys! My family seems to think it's funny.... ;)

The loud room has proved to be very valuable to us. It gives the kids a safe place to play and allows our living room to be a bit quieter at times.

Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

Rika Susan from South Africa on November 22, 2011:

These are very doable and practical tips, ThePracticalMommy! Great one. We never had so many toys when we were growing up! I also love the idea of your 'loud room'. That's a handy one to have!