Monday, November 28, 2011

Toddler toy storage - the bane of my existence

Before having a kid, we swore we'd never have a house teeming with toys all over the living space.  Toys would be minimal, and neatly confined to our future offspring's bedroom, or a small toy box in the living room.  Our house would look just like it did before we had kids.

HAHAHAHA.  As anyone who actually has real kids knows, this is a fantasy.  The toddlers I know don't really want to play in their bedrooms or fancy playrooms by themselves - they want to "be with mama in kitchen!"  Hence the bottom half of our fridge and our dishwasher have been given over to a plethora of letter and number magnets, and the adjoining living room has essentially become T's playroom.

Which isn't all bad, really.  We love this living room, but almost never *lived* in it before we had a baby.  It has no TV, so we only used it for parties or visitors.  I'm glad we spend so much time in there now, because the high ceilings and wall-o-windows makes it pretty nice, even with our ridiculous 9 months of grey each year. 

The tiny baby toys were no problem - we had just enough to fit in a medium sized Rubbermaid box, and would just rotate a few out to entertain BabyT for the 30 minutes she was awake between naps.  And we had a small box for board books so we could read to her.  We thought smugly that we had this toy thing under control.

And then BabyT became a toddler.  Well, let me rephrase - she turned 1, and didn't exactly toddle, but started crawling and became interested in getting her own toys.  At first, it was fine.  We had the box for books.  My interior decorating-talented and smart mama friend Lisa suggested this cheap but nice looking storage ottoman from Target:

That worked for a while - we managed to contain all the toys into this ottoman plus the book box.  But then, to encourage T to stand up more, her physical therapist recommended putting toys out on a table to entice her.  So then we had instant toy clutter on our coffee table and another bench.  I rotated the toys that were out and stuffed the rest into the ottoman.  She also recommended push toys to get her walking.  The IKEA walker wagon showed up, and you can't really put it away anywhere.

And then our not-toddling-toddler became more adventurous in her crawling, and eventually walking.  And that's when toy hell broke loose.  We'd leave her in the securely-gated living room to go take a shower and return to find all the books dumped out, and every toy in the ottoman removed.  Duplos were everywhere.  Pieces to the much loved tea set rolled under the couches regularly.

And when she became more interested in toys, so did we.  I bought her a play kitchen, intended for her 2nd birthday, but was so excited about it that I had to give it to her 5 months early.  And she was thrilled - it's one of her favorite items.  But so big!  And you can't put it away.

And of course, with play kitchen, comes play dishes, and play food, presents for her 2nd birthday.  It was not unusual to sit down on the couch and find a lovely wooden mushroom in the cushion.  Or underfoot.  Or being sniffed suspiciously by Spike, in case it was For Eating.

Now let's pause here for a chat about philosophy.  I'm definitely not a minimalist, but I am an unsentimental de-clutterer.  I read a book called Simplicity Parenting about simplifying kids' lives, and it resonated with me.  They addressed things like overexposure to media, too many scheduled activities, as well as toy clutter.  I've been using a lot of their practices, which is why T is only scheduled for one "class" per week, she doesn't really watch much TV, we're anal retentive about her naptimes and bedtime, and we've only got about 8-10 books out for her at any given time, which I rotate through her collection.   Honestly, she just does better when we work to avoid overstimulation.  She's always been this way, so I guess she takes after both of her introvert parents.

As she gets older, we have more toys with pieces - Little People, alphabet puzzles, cool wooden stacking/sorting/arranging toys. And there's the not-so-small matter of my love affair with Montessori materials. I bought some trays to create structured activities for her to choose. But I didn't really have a good place for these, so they all lived in my craft room and didn't come out as often as I'd like.

We corralled some of the clutter with small bins from IKEA, but then we had bins lying around on the floor or on our side tables. The homeschooling blogs I've come across, the home organization blogs I drool over, *and* the crafting blogs I read sing the praises of IKEA's Expedit shelving.  You've seen it - it looks like a giant grid, and is open at the back.

We bought a small 4-shelf one for T's room, and it helped the clutter in there significantly.  But we couldn't decide what we needed for the living room so didn't buy anything on that trip.  This weekend, with several days at home to stew over our clutter issue, I decided we *had* to do something, and the answer was the Expedit 4x2 shelf:
I'm using the top set of cubbies for her pseudo-Montessori activities, and will switch them out weekly, or when she seems to get bored with them.  There's one tray per cubby, with only one item on the tray so she doesn't get overwhelmed.  She knows to put away the tray and items before taking out the next one. (yay!)

The bottom row of cubbies is more traditional toy and book storage.  I filled one of the IKEA Skubb storage boxes with some board books from her collection.  I'll rotate those out weekly as well.  The other cubbies have one of the Kusiner bins, plus maybe one other larger toy or a small bin.  I wanted her to be able to take out one bin at a time, and not have to take out multiple things to get to something in the back. 
Now I feel so much better.  Everything has a place.  She is in that super-helpful toddler stage where she LOVES cleaning up, so I can tell her where everything goes now, and it actually looks nice when she's done!

I'd love to hear about what you guys are doing with toy clutter, especially as the toys come with more and more pieces.  Plus, I'm kind of freaky and I love home organization.


  1. Your Expedit looks really great! I'm all about the storage ottoman, too.

    We are "less is more" types. At my house, we do frequent purges of stuff: pull out a big trash bag and go to town. When new toys come in after birthdays, Xmas, etc, it means some older, un-played with toys must go to the thrift store.

    Books and puzzles, however, we never seem to purge those - they're too precious to my DS.

    The kids play with molding clay and playdough a lot, and there's also a porcelain tea set gets a lot of use with real food used in their play, as well as some simple wooden dowels and old bedsheets they use to make forts. I bet I would love the "Simplicity Parenting" book.

  2. My first thought when I saw the Expedit was "That's very Montessori." Where did you get the trays? I have a couple from Target, but I haven't seen them since. I need 2 more.

    We're using the Trofast (, with varying bin sizes to keep the "current toys" out in the family room. We have smaller bins for the small stuff, currently one for people and one for animals. Bigger bins are for the bigger toys.

    We have some of the smaller storage ottomans for blocks and train sets.

    I really want to weed out toys right now. We have so many, but I promised that I would wait until after this winter so I would get a better idea of what the kids like to play with. I think I might have to just bite the bullet. I also think the kids would just prefer to have less stuff to choose from.

    Rachel doesn't seem to play in her room, like Sam did. I think that we will take the toys out of her room and just leave books up there, for now. Unless she brings the not napping phase home from school...

  3. Oh God, the toys, the books, the Legos. I have not found a solution after almost seven years in our house.

  4. @hush - thanks! How do you get the kids to let go of their stuff? If they don't want to, do you let them keep it?

    @Adrianne - the trays are from Oriental Trading Co. I don't love supporting them, but I couldn't find them anywhere else for a reasonable price. Maybe try Lakeshore Learning in Bellevue?

  5. We keep buying more shelves. Eventually we will run out of house.

    Luckily we have an extra room that is serving as a library and its closets as extra storage. The thought is when that extra room gets filled with baby we'll transfer all the baby toys to it, and as the baby gets bigger those toys will move on to other people outside of our house.

  6. We’re about to move into a new house -our 1st! – and I haven’t given much thought to toy storage. Right now we’re staying with my parents, and their living room is overrun with toddler toys, but they love it. It’s proof they finally got the grandchild they’d been clamouring for.

    Like you, Anandi, I was also determined to have an adult, European living room with clean lines and not primary-colour-plastic everywhere, but we all know that’s wishful thinking. I saw these pieces and fell in love ( but the cost is prohibitive, to say nothing of shipping to Trinidad and Tobago.

    Maybe I can take up woodworking in my spare time, if I can shake some loose from the couch cushions. Until then, those cubbies will be a good starting point. I used them before for baby clothes but I can see them working well for toys, too. I might even put up a curtain on the front that we can pull shut for a more finished look. Thanks for the suggestion.

  7. Such a universal topic among parents! My kids are almost 7 and almost 10 so we've weeded out a lot of the really big toys that come with toddlerhood and the preschool days. But I am deep in the world of Legos, action figures, art supplies. About a year ago I got those cube shelf organizers for my kids' closets and they really helped. You know, the ones that are often white and have canvas storage bins that slide in? Love them. Lego sets get their own large zip lock bag that holds all the pieces and the manual. Then there's a catch all bin that orphan legos go into.

    I have just been mucking out the playroom (which is also our guest room) in preparation for a visit from relatives. My trick for getting rid of unused toys is this: I get several big plastic tubs (NOT the see-through kind) and while the kids are at school I load them up with things I haven't seen anybody play with for a long time. I stash them in the basement for anywhere from 2 or 3 months to a year or more when I'm lazy. If somebody says, "Mom, where's my [fill in the blank]" I say "I'm not sure. I'll look for it while you're at school today." At which point I can resurrect whatever it is from the bin. If nobody asks about something or shows any sign of missing it, it goes out the door to a local charity after a suitable waiting period.

    I can't tell you how much stuff I have gotten rid of this way. Perhaps I'm not teaching my kids about letting go of things they don't need, but you know, they're kids. I figure as long as I model generosity and a willingness to part with my own unused items, they'll get the point eventually. They are really quite generous with others so I think it is possible to teach kids about sharing without necessarily forcing them to give away their own much loved, albeit unused things.

    As they get older I'm a bit more open about this. I'll tell them I'm cleaning the playroom this week and they know what that means. I explain that with birthdays and Christmas coming we have to clean out and get organized. They're not ready to be too hands on with the clearing out yet, but they don't get too agitated about me doing it. And I think the basement storage holding period has helped because I've always been able to find a genuinely missed item before it leaves the house forever.

  8. @nicoleandmaggie - i hear you! I keep wanting to buy more and more shelving, but the core of the problem is really, that I need to let go of the baby stuff. :)

    @got it ma - thanks for stopping by! I like the "hiding in the basement" approach, too. This actually works for me on a smaller scale - occasionally T will see a toy @ Target that she has, that I put away and I can get it back out when she asks for it.

    @Asha - I love the idea of putting a curtain on it. Maybe when T is older and has better motor skills I can do that :)

    @Shalini - Legos are hard to store. When I was a kid, they were just dumped in a big box, but I like the idea of sorting by color or set or something. Fortunately we're not there yet and just dump the handful of Duplos in a box.

  9. the toys, the books, the Legos! We have too many lego at home.


I love comments, so please leave me your thoughts. Thanks in advance!

sharing is nice

Related Posts with Thumbnails