"Help! I’m tripping over railroad tracks and plastic dinosaurs!” That was the plea from a new client whose 5-year-old son headed to kindergarten last month. After years of living and playing at home, this young boy was about to enter the world of school. My client was as excited to get his toys out of the house as the son was for “Choice Time” at school.
In this case, the son previously attended preschool just a few hours each week, so his primary playground was the family living room. Toys abounded in every crevice - tucked under the coffee table, stuck besides the fireplace, in the TV console and burgeoning from a corner basket. There were also toys on bookshelves in his room and stuffed animals in the dresser drawers. Time to declutter!
While the son was gone, my client and I pulled out every single toy and categorized them. She found multiples of the same toys, missing parts, broken pieces and, of course, absolute Hall-of-Fame toys. We followed the principles below to help declutter the toys, and I donated those (still in good shape) to a local charity. If you need help clearing out toys, follow these tips:
Follow the 80/20 rule. This tried and true adage rings true for kids and adults alike. Kids can spend about 80% of their time playing with 20% of their toys. To address this, start by taking an inventory of the toys and games your kids have. Look for duplicates, broken toys, missing pieces, and toys rarely used. Toss or donate those items, and start your organizing with the remaining toys.
Keep it simple. Simplicity rules when it comes to toy organization. Set up a system that is easy to maintain – and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Kid-height cubbies and baskets in simple shelving go a long way to provide ‘homes’ for all the toys. (And skip the lids!)
Skip the toy box. Toy boxes are cute, sometimes sentimental, and seem like a good idea. In reality, they turn into “coffins” of lost and broken pieces. Your child might dump out the whole box to find something – to no avail.
Organize from the bottom up. Adult furniture and organizing systems don't translate well to children's needs. Anything on a high shelf tends to be forgotten (or needs adults supervision.) So organize from a kid’s-eye standpoint. Favorite train set or Little Pony collection? Bottom shelf. Grandmother’s china tea set? Top shelf.
Labeling. Label! Label! Label! If your child can read, great. Use words to label bins & cubbies. (They can even be involved in creating the labels.) If your child can’t read, label with pictures or clip art. Also, consider using clear plastic bins or uncovered baskets until your child gets familiar with the order and system set up in his or her room.
Understand your space. For most, space is a finite thing. Because you can only have so much, be realistic and firm about what you have room to keep. If you have organized your toys and they don’t fit your space, you have too many toys. Throw out or recycle everything that is broken or missing pieces. Then, work with your kids to identify toys that can be given to a charity.
Toy rotation. Create a “toy library” for your child. Allow the child to pick their current favorite items, and take other well-loved toys into a plastic bin. This box can be pulled out on a rainy day, or when the child has grown weary of the current availability. Those from the toy library will seem new again.
Clean – with your kids. Make sure your child pitches in to clean the room so they understand the system and importance of tidiness. And so they understand the process - how to achieve organization. The usual peaks and valleys approach to cleaning a room can be frustrating. Their room is clean, they play, and suddenly their room is back to messy normal. Help your child stop the cycle by building maintenance routines into each day. Whether at night or the morning, make time to clean up instead of falling into the trap of squeezing it into the day – or yelling about it.