Tired of rushing to find your kids' soccer cleats 10 minutes before the game starts? Frustrated about nagging your kids constantly to pick up their toys at the end of the day?
There is a way of out the chaos in your children's bedrooms! Just invest a little time sorting through their toys with them. Brooklyn organizer Amanda Wiss, a mother of two toddlers, says you'll celebrate when they can find their favorite teddy bear or that good luck catcher's mitt in a flash.
Get your child involved. Carve out time to take stock of what’s working with your kids' toy storage, what’s not and what’s important to make it function better. Are his favorite Legos too high for him to reach? Is her lucky harmonica kept separately from the bongo drums? Talk to your child about how you want to make it easier for him to get to his toys when he wants them. He'll feel invested in the process if he helps decide what to keep, where to put things and what to write on the labels to put on your storage boxes or shelves. The system will also work better from the get-go with input from both of you.
Create categories. Talk to your child about the different kinds of toys she has and ask her how she would group them. A younger child might want to group by color or size – which is a good exercise for young minds, even if you end up arranging them differently. Older children might decide that they want the toys they use most often to be easier to find. You'll want to store things that are played with together in the same place. For example, if all the musical instruments are together the next time your kid wants to be his own orchestra, you won't end up searching for the missing harmonica.
Make it kid-friendly. Use containers without lids and that are the right size for what is being stored so that your child can easily reach what's inside. Younger children can learn about shapes and sizes when they see that big items need big containers and small things need small ones – no one wants to dig into the bottom of the massive toy box to retrieve that missing puzzle piece!
Use what you've already got. A clear plastic bin can easily become the place to store dress-up clothes; an unused basket can store board books; a tackle box can transport toys from room to room; and plastic baggies are excellent for containing all those tiny parts whose game box has gone missing.
Keep favorites easy to reach. Your kids should be able to grab their favorites easily, which makes putting them away a breeze. For best results, get down on the floor with your child and see how she plays and where she can reach. Stock lower shelves, drawers or the floor with her current favorites. Breakables or collectibles from Grandma should be stored out of reach, to be used only with adult supervision.
Keep them excited – and build in treats. Make it clear that organizing together can be fun! So if energy starts to flag, take a break and play a game. Although you may need multiple shorter sessions spread over a few days, persist and you’ll see impressive results. Build in a fun reward – like a family jaunt for ice cream – when the project is complete.
Decide what to keep. As you and your child sort through her toys, consider setting aside the old chew toys or tummy time mirrors that your child doesn't use or care about anymore. If you're done having children, create different categories of boxes: current toys to keep, sentimental keepsakes to store, donations/toys to sell and trash (games with missing parts and dolls without heads are not charitable donations!). If you want to have more children, create a "Next Baby" box for things you won't have to buy again.
Add a "Not Sure" box. Some children will freak out at the loss of their toys – or perhaps the loss of one particular toy. If discussion over the Battleship game with no battleships left in the box devolves into a tantrum, put it in a special box to be discussed later. If you didn't realize the worn out headless Barbie doll was so special, then apologize and allow your child to keep it. Tell your child he can keep those special toys if he picks two other toys to give to charity.
Consider a trade. Host a toy exchange, where a few familes each bring toys or books that they're no longer using and swap them for “new” things. It's an affordable way to breathe new life into your toy collection.
Emphasize charity. It’s easier to get your kids to reduce their abundance when you talk to them about sharing their toys with children who didn’t get very many toys for the holidays. Ask them to choose toys they think another child would enjoy – including new stuff they haven’t played with or received duplicates of. Have a goal in mind – a deadline of when the stuff is going to be donated – and you’ll be motivated to make it happen.
Kids can deliver. It's good for your children to see who benefits from their donation – they can take toys that still have life to a local hospital, pre-school or a library with a kid’s area. To get your toys to kids staying at a homeless shelter or a domestic violence shelter, check out Charity Navigator to find a social service agency near you. Goodwill also takes used toys.
Keep the system going. Once your system is in place, place a box or bag in a closet where your kids can place toys that they don't want anymore. Once a month, you can sort through the box together and see what can be stored, donated or tossed out.
Storage can be affordable. Wiss also likes the affordable Double Mesh Folding Cube – great for corralling those stuffed animals, and it folds flat for compact storage when not in use. She also likes Target's Bin Toy Organizer – a sturdy container with 12 bins that allows your kids to see their toys and to group like with like. Caboodles' boxes have excellent compartments for organizing small parts, like action figures, Barbie® shoes and art supplies. They're available at Target, Walmart and other national retailers or through caboodles.com.
"Remember that your toy storage will be most effective when customized to the children using it," says Wiss. "So, get your kids involved, roll up your sleeves, and get to work!"
Notes: Amanda Wiss of Urban Clarity, is a New York City-based professional organizer and the mom of two toddlers.
Brooklyn-based journalist Katia Hetter helps teens tell their stories at Youth Communication. She has also written for The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Babycenter.com, Newsday and U.S. News & World Report.