How to Ditch the Mess and Keep your Toys Organized

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Toys, toys, toys.  How to keep your toys organized is something that so many families struggle with. Grandparents love to buy them.  Kids hate to put them away. So, we are left with a mess to keep tidy. 

I am not the type of person who can keep up with super complicated systems or keeping toys in just one room (#whosekidsactuallydothat), so I had to come up with an easy system to keep the toys cleaned up in our house. 

I’ve tried lots of things and today I want to share the top three things that have had the biggest impact on keeping our toys cleaned up.

Tip #1: Have Less Toys

I know, this seems like a no brainer for keeping your toys organized, but it’s so much easier said than done!  How many times did I think “ugh, they don’t even play with half this stuff, we should donate it.”  And then, nothing.ever.happens.  Or, you try to get rid of some toys and your kids totally have a meltdown because “it’s their favorite”. 

One way that I found success getting rid of toys was to start with the toys that were way below my girls’ age range.  So, chewy toys, rattles, that kind of thing.  We do have an 18 month old, but she doesn’t understand enough to realize what I was doing, so it was fine.  I would just go shelf by shelf, basket by basket and clean up the toys.  A toy either got kept, thrown away, or donated.  When a donation box was full, I put it in the car.

a donation box is a good way to declutter

We keep a donation box out continuously. When we are ready to get rid of a toy, it just goes in the box!

Another way to have less toys to clean up is to put your toys on a rotating schedule.  I have done this with some of our craft supplies and our books.  I have about 1/3 of our books out at any given time.  Then, every few months, whenever I think about it, I go get a box or 2 of books and put them on the shelf.  Then, box up the ones that were on the shelf and put them away for a few months.  This also makes the books seem “new” again, which the kids always get excited about.  This is also a great opportunity to *ahem* get rid of books that they didn’t want to get rid of.  Act like it’s getting boxed up, then sneak it into the donation box or trash, and they’ll forget all about it by the time the boxes are rotated. 

I especially like to clean up our toy inventory before birthdays and holidays because I know there will be an influx of new items to pick up toys. 

Another way to have less toys to clean up is to request things other than toys for birthdays and Christmas.  Grandparents (at least in our family) looooove to buy the kids presents.  Which is fine, but sometimes if they want to buy them an experience, then that’s even better!  So, maybe suggest tickets to a movie for a birthday.  Or a trip to the trampoline gym or aquarium for Christmas.  I have tons of ideas for experience based gifts that do not require dusting!


Tip #2: Make Clean Up Quick, Make Clean Up a Habit

One sure way to have a toy mess is to let it go for days without cleaning up the toys.  Isn’t it amazing how it can take you several days to get the house “totally clean” and then it only takes 5 minutes for it to look like you never did anything?!  If only we could somehow harness that energy for good…..

use a quick clean up routine to keep your toys organized

Cleaning up for a just a few minutes, a few times each day, can keep your toys organized and away!

But, if you get the toys cleaned up and organized AND can spend ten minutes each day cleaning up, your toys will stay so much more tidy and organized!  Ten minutes is not a long time, you can do it! Times you can find ten minutes:

During TV commercials

While your coffee is brewing

Instead of scrolling on Facebook

Instead of browsing on Pinterest

The bottom line is – if you want the toys to be organized, you (and your kids) have to keep them that way!  But, maintaining organized toys isn’t that hard once you get them organized in the first place.  So, take ten minutes each day and keep the toys cleaned up.

It also might help to try and schedule the ten minutes at the same time(s) each day.  So, maybe right before lunch and right before dinner.  Or, my kids watch a TV show before bed and they love that time, so they are super helpful when I say “ok, pick up your baby dolls and Legos and then it can be show time.” If your kids have an activity they do that they absolutely love, then use that to get the toy clean up done!

Tip #3: Give Kids Some Responsibility

This tip to keeping the toys organized is kind of an extension of Tip #2.  Depending on how old your kids are, they may be able to help at varying levels.  But, really, if they are walking, they can help.  As they get a little older, they should be able to do more and more on their own.  Once they are 3 or 4, most kids are probably ready for a consistent responsibility.  And cleaning up their toys is a great place to start!

In our house, our girls each chose one area that they are responsible for.  My oldest chose the “train table” area and my middle daughter chose the two baskets that hold the dress up clothes and baby dolls.  This makes it so easy for me because I can just ask if they cleaned up their areas and they know what they need to do.  And these girls are 5 and 3.  Cleaning up the toys does not have to just be your job!

I like to give my girls advanced notice and say “please make sure the toys are cleaned up before we go to the playground.”  I know they really want to go to the playground, so they will get the toys cleaned up without complaining.

When giving young children responsibility, you do have to make sure you are very specific in your expectations.  When you tell your 4 year old to “clean up his room”, he might not know exactly what that means.  So, he picks up the floor and puts everything on his dresser.  It looks a lot cleaner to him, but obviously, that’s not what you had in mind!  Being as specific as possible with your kiddos will help keep this misunderstanding (and the meltdown that will likely follow) from happening most of the time.  So, to my 3 year old, instead of saying “go make sure your room is clean”, I might say “go put the dress up clothes and baby dolls in their baskets.”  This gives her a specific task and she knows exactly what I expect.  And I know exactly what to expect to be done when I go in the room. 

More Busy Mom Tips:

We all want our kids to have toys that they enjoy and have fun with.  But, those toys don’t have to take over your house.  Use these tips to keep  your toys organized and cleaned up on a regular basis without the power struggles!  Feel free to add your favorite tips to the comments below!

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Keep the toys organized in 3 simple steps

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2 Responses

  1. These are some great tips, Surya! I especially love your idea of keeping a box handy to put toys in that your kids have outgrown. That definitely helps keep things from getting too out of control. Another tactic I have tried is putting toys in a box with an expiration date (1-3 months out). If my kids don’t ask for anything in the box before it has expired, I know I can safely donate it without feeling guilty. 🙂 We also do a quick pick up at the of the day before be. An alarm is set to go off every evening at 7 p.m. and we drop what we’re doing and tidy up. Now…to just make sure to be home every night to implement it (some evenings we have dance or Scouts and it’s harder to get it done). Such a helpful post!

  2. Surya says:

    Hi Kristin, Isn’t it amazing how one busy evening away from home can totally derail a good routine streak?! Crazy. I LOVE the expiration date idea! I am totally going to do that. Thanks for the tip!

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