All of us have that favorite toy from childhood – the stuffed bunny with the missing ear, the motorized Barbie Jeep that scooted along at two miles per hour, or the Evel Knievel Daredevil Stunt Set that caused parental headaches across the nation. These toys carry sweet memories, but offered us much more than entertainment. Toys are invaluable to a child’s growth and development. They shape a child’s interests in the future, help them learn or develop practical skills, and foster creativity through imagination.
Toys can also become a mess. There is a fine line between a collection of quality, well-loved toys and a quantity of toys that quickly take over a room. Too many things – even good things – can create a sense of disorder.
As a professional organizer, one of the most common complaints I hear from clients with children is that their living spaces are no longer livable. Once-pristine living rooms are littered with Legos, broken crayons, and missing puzzle pieces. Many parents have resigned themselves to the notion that there is nothing they can do about the mess until their kids mature into teenagers. However, I believe families can implement strategies and systems to turn any home into a place of blissful order.
For these families, cutting down on quantity helps them refocus and appreciate items of quality. Getting there is a step-by-step process that involves the whole family.
Step 1: Involvement The first step toward successful organization is getting the child involved in deciding which toys to keep and which to pass on. If parents de-clutter without a child’s input, the child will not feel responsible for his or her belongings. A major meltdown could result. But if the child is allowed to make their own decisions with Mom or Dad’s support, it can empower them for future decision-making about belongings and set them on a path toward organization. With younger children, parents may need to facilitate this process, but as kids mature they can gradually assume more responsibility.
Step 2: De-clutter When beginning the de-cluttering phase, encourage the child to think about his or her feelings toward one toy at a time. Don’t focus on the negative idea of getting rid of toys, but ask probing questions with a positive focus. Is this something you play with every day or is it usually forgotten on the bottom of the toy chest? Would you rate this as one of your top 10 favorite toys? This will begin a reflective dialogue that will help the parent and child come to reasonable conclusions about a toy’s fate. In the process, remind the child that items they no longer play with could be delivered to other boys and girls who are less fortunate than they are. This helps develop a philanthropic spirit and makes the process of passing on items much easier.
Step 3: Give Homes Once the “all-star” toys have been determined, place them in designated homes. This could be a specific drawer, a certain shelf, or a basket. Toys that are played with often should be easily accessible for a child – they need to be able to reach the toy and put it away on their own. Categorize items based on function, such as building blocks or art supplies. Every item that fits in that category should live in that specific place. In the future, if Mom finds a doll anywhere else in the house, she can remind the child that the floor is not the doll’s home, and the toy should be put back where it belongs.
Step 4: Limit Space If a child is having a hard time parting with toys, give him or her a limited amount of space for each item. For example, if they are unwilling to part with an overwhelming collection of Legos, give them a reasonably sized box and allow them to keep whatever pieces they can fit in the box. This cuts down on the volume but still gives your child the freedom to choose.
Step 5: Label Homes The homes for each toy can be labeled for children who are old enough to read. For younger children, simply use a photo or drawing of the toy grouping. This helps the child know exactly where each toy belongs – and it makes cleaning up that much easier.
Many parents feel as though organizing is just another thing to add to their busy schedules. But in today’s cluttered world, organizing is more essential than ever. One of my favorite quotes comes from the great Benjamin Franklin: “For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.” The time investment you make organizing toys today could save a lot of headaches and clutter in the future.
For this project we used: Three Sterilite Clearview three-drawer organizers One Sterilite large two-drawer unit Two Sterilite shoe drawers Three Sterilite 25-quart ID-boxes
by Kallie Koumalats
Kallie is the owner of Joyful Organization, a local professional organizing business, and is a middle school Language Arts teacher. She writes a blog with tips and inspiration for organization, and enjoys helping others manage stress through simplifying. Learn more at joyfulorganization.com.