If you’ve got little ones, you’re probably familiar with the never-ending toy trail running through the house. There are stuffed animals in one corner, a pile of blocks in another, game pieces under the couch — and there are LEGOs everywhere. It can feel like an overwhelming task to keep it all in one place, especially when your kids are on the move. Just when you pick up one area, toys are certain to spill over into another part of your house.

When you’re at your wit’s end over toy storage, there’s no need to worry. There are solutions and storage hacks to keep your children’s playthings in check, no matter how big or small your living space may be. Some tricks are about simple changes in habit that can make a big difference for your family; others are easy DIY ideas to get the toys off the floor and neatly packed away when not in use. Choose the ones that will work in your home, and you’ll tame the toys in no time!

A Place for Everything

Whether you live in a single-family home or a studio apartment, toys belong in a specific location during clean-up time so you don’t have to look at them after the kids go to bed. In a larger house, a spare bedroom makes a great playroom, and you can simply close the door to enjoy adult time. For smaller spaces or a more minimalist approach, a closet can perform the same function, especially when you outfit it with drawers, cubbies and shelves to hold your kids’ prized possessions. For those with limited square footage who simply must keep toys in the living room, you’ll need to designate a shelf or other storage unit for toys — just try to arrange the room so that it’s not in your line of sight when watching TV so you can relax.

Keep Everything Within Reach

As you plan your toy storage, remember that your children need to be able to reach everything on their own. Low book shelves and cubbies are good choices, whether you place them along a wall or in a closet. Bins that kids can see into usually work better than classic toy chest because they come with dividers — and they don’t have lids that can crush little fingers. When it comes to kids’ storage, think outside the toy box.

Use Clear Plastic Bins

Once you choose a spot for your toys, it’s time to start sorting them by type. Put games in one section, dolls in another, art supplies in a third section, etc. Keep small pieces like blocks and Matchbox cars together in clear bins so your child can find what he’s looking for at play time. It’s also a good idea to label bins to help during cleanup. Print a label in an easy-to-read font or choose a photo of the toy instead for children who are too young to read. Get a set of bins that are the same size for a uniform look as you line them up and stack them on shelves or in a cabinet.

Unique Toy Storage Hacks

Some toys are too big for bins or too awkward to keep in an ordinary box. Fortunately, you can re-purpose other storage solutions for toys and other kid stuff to keep things neat:

  • Shoe Organizers: Whether you choose the cubby kind or the pockets that hang over a door, these are perfect for keeping a collection of dolls or other small items off the floor.
  • Magazine Boxes: These file boxes keep all those thin, paperback children’s books together so that they can stand up on a shelf without falling over. Use them to organize books by author or subject.
  • Stuffed Animal Swing: Save floor space by hanging stuffies in an easy-to-reach — and very fun! — multi-level swing. You can make this with some clothesline and scrap wood in just one afternoon.
  • Pegboard Storage: If you don’t have room for a shelf or other storage furniture, turn a wall into modular storage instead. Paint a pegboard in a color that looks great with your decor and add hooks and hanging bins to your walls to hold everything from books to art supplies.

Make Cleaning Up a Habit

Once you have your new toy storage system in place, it’s time to teach your kids to clean up. A floor full of toys is just as overwhelming for little ones as it is for you, so try to keep messes small to begin with by cleaning up a few times each day so things don’t get out of hand. You can make clean-up a habit by having kids pick up before snacks and meals — food is a noteworthy reward for doing the job, and making it part of the routine makes it easy to remember. Put on some music and challenge your kids to get the job done before the song ends, and you’ll make corralling the clutter both easy and fun.

Try Seasonal Toy Rotations

For families with limited storage area and lots of toys, try adding some heavy-duty bins for deep storage and rotate toys in and out of your child’s play area every month or so. Just as you pack away your winter coat and scarf during the summer, you can also tuck away a quarter to half of your child’s toys at any given time. Every month or two, swap toys from the basement or attic with old standbys to refresh your child’s selection — it’s like a mini-Christmas as your child rediscovers an old favorite.

Donate Unused Toys

As your child outgrows or loses interest in old toys, it’s time to donate them to others. Some kids find it difficult to let go of old playthings, but you can turn purging the toy bin into a teachable moment by having your child accompany you to the donation site and explaining how the toys will help those less fortunate. For younger children, donating toys to other children through a local homeless or domestic violence shelter makes the most sense, though older kids may understand that groups like the Salvation Army or Vietnam Veterans of America can sell the toys to raise money for other important work.

Limit Gift-Giving Holidays

When well-meaning relatives send presents for minor holidays like Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day, it’s okay to ask them to stop. Start a new tradition by setting up a special dinner or Skype session instead. It’s also perfectly reasonable to ask that grandparents give only one physical birthday or Christmas gift and divert any additional funds into a college savings plan. Likewise, you may decide that experiences make better gifts than toys, so ask for things like museum passes and amusement park tickets, which will still be fun but add no clutter to your home.

When you get the toys organized and help your child learn good habits, you’ll enjoy a much neater house in no time!

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