Monday, February 1, 2016

5 Ways I Keep Toys Under Control

I love organizing.  It's one of those things that just automatically triggers happiness in me, both the act of doing it and also the after comparison and satisfied feeling of where everything is.  In fact, it's scary but I know where almost everything is in our home.  When I tell Andy something is lost, it 99.9% of the time is indeed lost.  Other times, I obsess over where something is because I know where I left it but it's not there because I've reorganized and moved it (oops).  Much like my maternal grandmother, I can be known for hiding valuables in odd places and then forgetting about it later.  That said, the basic approach of boxes inside of boxes, organized by category, and labeled, are my favorite things to do.

When it comes to toys, it's inevitable that they will be everywhere with three kids ages 4 and under in the house all day everyday.  However, I have a few rules that the kids abide by and though we don't always keep it super strict (who says I can't have fun?!), the guidelines help us clean up and keep me and my feet sane and happy (have you ever stepped on or worst, tripped over kid toy?  so painful!).

1. Use Categories
My kids love this, and recently, I even busted out actual labels and wrote words.  I've seen some super organizers use photos but since I used vinyl stickers and a black sharpie, it was easier to use words.  Despite not knowing how to read, my kids can easily understand which box is for what based on the themes or categories that we use.

Here are some of our categories for baskets/bins down below: cars, planes, wood toys, Marvel, Star Wars, train tracks, car tracks, action figures (loosely ones that don't fit into our Marvel and Star Wars categories), guns, and Octonauts (their big ships).
Labels on baskets/bins below that are smaller than toys that can sit atop the shelf
From left to right and top to bottom: Train stands (for Chugginton sets), Nerf guns, Octonaut ships, car tracks (another set), wood toys, cars, action figures not Marvel or Star Wars, planes
more train tracks, girl toys (small but growing), Star Wars, train set (another one), pirates, marvel, and more train tracks (for Chuggington sets)
For smaller toys, I use clear boxes (obtained from Walmart) that snap close to contain smaller toy parts by categories like Octonauts (the smaller figurines), trains, cars, larger cars by sets, duplos, legos, music toys, puzzles, etc.
The rule is - they must have an adult help them get these down.  Of course, there have been times when they climb up, but more often than not, they'll ask me nicely to help.  We have boxes for legos, trains (that go with Chuggington set tracks), bullets for Nerf guns, cars, Octonauts, and more cars (they have one box with Hot Wheel type cars and another with larger ones)

2. Include Kids in Clean-Up
It does take more time, I am definitely better at quickly cleaning up than my kids.  But even if it's a tiny effort, I include them.  They can put toys into one box and be done, or help me move all the toys that have found their way into the rest of the house back into the playroom.  Jordan will alway tell me that "it's so much work!" or "it's so hard!" but that's the perfect time to remind him of the next rule of one toy at a time (or themed toy) or to clean as he goes so it's not torture at the end of the day.  My kids never ask my why they need to clean up when they're just gonna mess up again, because they've stepped on enough toys to know it's a painful process and they enjoy having the room to spread out and play.  Bubba is a lot more keen to help clean up than Jordan, he knows all the categories quite well for a 2 year old and it's mostly just because of the routine he's become accustomed to.

3. ONE Toy At a Time
I heard this from a friend once before I had kids.  I thought I'm definitely doing that but at the time, I actually envisoned ONE single toy.  Obviously, they don't always have ONE single toy  at any given time, but I encourage them to always have ONE box or ONE bin, so they're able to zone in on ONE theme and it's super easy to scoop up everything and return it to its rightful box.  There are exceptions, I'm not always around when they're playing unsupervised while I cook dinner, but they're surprisingly good at picking a theme and sticking to it.  Lately, it's been a lot of Star Wars toys or their new Marvel toys or dressing up.  The guns will find their way out about once a day too, but the point is - my encouraging them to consistently have one toy at a time is understood and when friends come over and want to play with something new, I've overheard Jordan advise them that they must clean up before they take out something else!  Once while playing with his friends, one of his besties asked me why we have to clean up all the time.  I just told him it's so we can play more without worrying where everything is!  It might suck during the process, but I've never heard any of my kids complain, Mom, why does everything have to be so easy to find? ugh, I was really hoping we'd lose our toys and not know where stuff is.  

4. Pick Up Throughout the Day
How many times do you sweep the floor with kids?  I'd say about 5 times a day, once after each meal and a few times between for snacks.  It's a constant battle, but it's one that's easier to win when broken down into little shifts.  I feel the same about toys.  I don't like to go to sleep with toys everywhere, I like to wake up with them all put away.  But throughout the day, there's also periodic times when we will just pick up and transfer stuff downstairs.  It makes the nightime task a bit easier to tackle and the kids get it.. it's part of the day and we don't let our toys take over.  Done and done.
For example, the kitchen toys love making their way into the rocking train.  No prob Bob, just make sure it all goes back into the kitchen before other toys come out and get muddled together and make it harder to clean up!
The tool table is popular and super easy to clean - all the tools just go into the shelf below or the space below that shelf.  Larger toys that don't fit into bins can sit atop the shelves without looking super cluttered because everything else is put away (Note: Star Wars toys)
5. Rotate Toys
I donate or throw away toys that are no longer being played with.  Some toys are great, they're just not currently age appropriate for the active boys, or they are just too excited about newer toys (Christmas just came), so for these, I rotate them by storing them neatly in the closet hallway.  Again, we try to use clear boxes so we can see what's in each box, and stack large toys at top.  When they toys are rotated back into the mix, it's like Christmas again because they haven't seen the toys in so long!
closet with rotated toys currently out of commission
So those are my top 5 ways I keep toys under control.  I understand that it's part of my current place in life, and I welcome toys in the home... but I don't need to step on one in the dark when I'm roaming around.  I also don't generally allow them to have toys in their rooms.  Of course, there's always about one or two, but we keep books and stuffed animals in the rooms only.  It helps keep the clutter down, especially when I dump all the clean clothes on their floor before I fold and put them away.

Yes, now is also a good time to talk about the elephant in the room.  We do have a CRAPLOAD of toys.  But having them organized and knowing that they get worked into the daily routine at least once a day makes me feel good about having so much.  My kids' playroom is a haven that I only dreamed of growing up, and we love hosting playdates and having friends come over to enjoy the space and toys with us.  My mom and brother will be the first to criticize that we have too many toys, but I was in daycare as a kid and my kids are not!  I didn't have a mom at home until the second grade and by that point, a box of Barbies and extra clothes and lots of books were all I wanted.  I am at home with my little kids ALL DAY LONG.  I also work part-time from home and it's pretty cold in SLC right now, so having a place to roam at home is important to me so I can check email periodically, make homemade meals (or heat up frozen stuff), and take calls as necessary.

Our play room is happy place for the kids to meander about, but it's also a relaxing place for me to sit and observe, sometimes catch up on a few work emails, or get on the carpet and play with them.  We're grateful for the space, and we're happy to fill it up with lots of organized toys!  
Some larger toys just can't be put away.. they sit out nicely in the space 
Dagny also knows exactly where things are that she wants to play with (the Star Wars bath toys)
Jordan found an old computer and it's in his train so he can use it to navigate when he's in the train, also do you like my polka dots?  Got bored one day and used my circle punch and vinyl sheets Andy gave me a few years ago...

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