Tips for Organizing Toys and De-Cluttering Play Space

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Toys, toys everywhere! But, how many times do we hear “Mom, there is nothing to do!” or “Dad, where is my….”? As therapists we go into homes and often prefer to work with the toys a child has in his own environment but so often when we go to work on a puzzle or shape sorter we hear the parent say “Yes, he has a shape sorter, but I have no idea where any of the pieces are.” Many children have far more toys, games and books than they really need or even play with, so how can we remedy this situation? It’s really not that hard if you follow the guidelines Patty Kreamer set forth in her article about organization and decluttering.

Here are some easy ways you can declutter your kid’s environment in order to make yours and their lives more simplified:

Create categories: Your older kids can help you create these categories, grouping toys by type or function. We know books go together, but how about grouping electronics, musical instruments, art supplies, puzzles, manipulatives (blocks, Legos, nesting cups, peg boards), cars/trucks, sports items, dress-up/pretend play items, etc.

Decide what to keep: If your child is now two and you still have all his baby toys and rattles and don’t or won’t have any younger children, these things can go! If your son has 7 red trucks all the same size and type does he need ALL 7? You can sort your child’s toys with them and create separate piles for “donate”, “keep” and “not sure yet”…that last pile can be for the things that you want your child to purge but that he is just not quite ready to part with yet. Remember, anything broken or with missing pieces (though you might find them while decluttering!) should go immediately.

Donate: Start teaching about giving and charity at a young age. You can donate toys to local homeless shelters, Goodwill and even domestic violence shelters. You can use this link to find local charities in your area.

Involve your kids in the process: Even toddlers are very good at following a model, so when there is “a place for their stuff” they can usually find it and put it back. Not only that, but now when puzzles are with puzzles and blocks are with blocks, they can also find what they are looking for on their own as well! Organization can be taught and lasts a lifetime!

Create a lending or exchange library with friends/neighbors: This is an excellent idea for all families, especially those with special needs children. Do you have unique toys, sensory items or adaptive equipment that could be used by another family? Once a month create a “lending” box and exchange toys or equipment with friends or neighbor’s children. Sure you are lending out something and getting something in return, which doesn’t necessarily create more space, but it does keep your children happy, active & engaged with toys they see as “brand new”.

Rotate: I often suggest to parents to rotate their child’s toys every 2 weeks or once per month, this is especially useful for our 0-3 population who have a much longer attention span when a toy is new or novel. Also, children at this age are easily overwhelmed by too many toys from which to choose, so limiting what is out in their environment helps them attend and make choices too. Simply choose about 10-20 items each month that you put out for your child: 2 puzzles, 5 books, one shape sorter, one type of blocks, 2 baby dolls, 5 cars/trucks, 2 dress up outfits, one ride-on toy and then pack away the other similar items. In a few weeks or so, alternate these toys for similar toys and pack away the ones you had out previously and you will be amazed that each month your child is “wowed” by thinking they have all new toys!

Use the storage you already have at home: Often there is no need to go buy all new storage containers or bins when organizing. You’ll find you have a lot of solutions at home such as empty baskets for books or blocks, egg cartons for beads & strings, unused Tupperware containers, laundry baskets & even sturdy cardboard boxes can all work. But, if you prefer to buy new you can look for items such as a toy bin organizer which sells at Target for around $60. You can invest in a label maker to make life easier, or simply use tape and a Sharpie marker to label bins and containers. Use a digital camera for young children or children with special needs and take a photo of what is in the bin or basket to tack on the outside, so children who cannot read the label can still find what they need! You can find more organizational toys for infants & toddlers at Patty Kreamer’s website.

Make things accessible according to age: What do toddlers do best? Dump out containers! So is it wise to put the puzzles and small manipulatives within easy reach? Probably not. I can’t count the number of parents who have told me “He can’t have crayons because he colors on the walls.” Crayons are an adult supervised activity for toddlers! When organizing shelves remember to put the things within reach that are age-appropriate and put the activities that require adult guidance on a higher shelf (this includes anything with small pieces like games, puzzles, stringing beads, crayons & art supplies, etc).

Be Proactive: Use Patty’s rule of “one in, two (three) out”. Start to teach your children that when they get something new, they need to part with something old. Discuss birthdays and holidays with your family & friends. Tell grandparents to limit gifts to one per holiday and instead take the kids on meaningful outings as a gift. Some families have “charitable” birthday parties for their kids, requesting that instead of gifts guests can bring donations to a charity of the child’s choosing.

Letting go is hard for all of us, but doing so decreases your stress level and does wonders for your mental health. Here are a few useful Letting Go Affirmation Statements from Daily Affirmations:

  • Possessions do not feed my spirit. I am liberated from the desire to hoard things.
  • I give things away freely.
  • I say goodbye to things in my life that are blocking my spiritual growth.
  • I release! I let go! I coast along with my hands off the controls.