The combination of kids and toys has a tendency to create clutter with a minimal amount of effort. It’s the subsequent undoing of the clutter that demands effort!
“A child who has to plow through piles of toys to get to the other side of his room, stepping on them as he goes, might as well be wading through a pile of rusted tin cans for all the good they are doing him,” says Jane-Anne Hobbs, author of Babies and Toddlers—How to Survive Them. That makes perfect sense, but leaves you feeling somewhat despondent when you peep into the playroom and wonder what force of nature managed to wreak havoc there without your being aware of it. The combination of kids and toys has a tendency to create clutter with a minimal amount of effort. It’s the subsequent undoing of the clutter that demands effort!
Before arming yourself and tackling the playroom with a vengeance, consider what Julie Morgenstern, author of Organizing from the Inside Out says: “Most people approach the organizing process backwards, in an ‘attack-first, ask-questions-later’ style. A better approach is to ask questions first, to formulate a plan, and then to attack.”
The easiest way to begin organizing the playroom is by sorting the toys into different categories. Try to keep them simple, for example, cars, books, blocks, etc. Once you’ve done this, you can get a fair idea of what storage units you have available and what you still need. Vertical storage is generally the most efficient and accessible way to store toys, and takes up less space than other methods.
Small toys or toys with tiny bits are best stored in square, lidded containers that can be stacked. Label the containers with a thick marker pen or use pictures if your children can’t read. Medium-sized toys are probably the simplest to store. Baskets and vegetable or bathroom racks are effective—those with casters are particularly useful. Larger toys can be placed on shelves or in large baskets. As tempting as the use of a large toy box is, experts generally advise against them for the simple reason that although they may hold a lot, the toys generally end up in a jumble, with the ones at the bottom seldom seeing the light.
If your child has a vast collection of soft toys, store them in a net “hammock” on one of the walls, or, if you can handle the mayhem, try sticking a few strips of Velcro in a simple pattern on the wall and let the children fling their furry toys and puppets to hang there.
Another problem area is often puzzles. The pieces have a nasty habit of escaping from their boxes and joining the ranks of neighboring pieces. One way to regain order is to mark the back of each puzzle piece with a code to tell you which picture each piece belongs to.
Once the toys are sorted into suitable storage units, take a look at the room itself. Organization expert Donna Smallin says, “Think about the activities that take place in this room so you can set up activity centers. For instance, you might have an area for playing games and doing puzzles, which will require a table. You would then set up storage near the table where the activity takes place.” Try and keep the zones simple and obvious, but don’t fall into the trap of making an organized room a boring room.
Be creative in the zones you decide on for the children. For a reading corner, stacking books in a pile or on a bookshelf may look neat, but is not very enticing for children. Prop one or two books up with their covers on view or with their pages open, and change them regularly. Clear book holders for recipe books or the like are perfect for this type of display. An arts and crafts area can be made interesting by creating a notice board nearby. Children love to display their handiwork, and regular changes will retain their interest. Once a picture’s “display time” is over, create a special box or file for each child to store her best pieces.
Once the toys and the room itself are organized, the key to maintaining order is consistency. Take your children on a “guided tour” through their playroom. Explain where everything belongs and why. If they have any suggestions, try to accommodate them—they’re more likely to be willing to participate if they’ve played a part in the organizing. Then decide on a daily time for packing away toys. “One of the most valuable, real-life skills you can teach your children is that cleaning up is a part of playing, too,” says Morgenstern. “Make it a daily household policy, and stick to it!”
If you find that despite regular cleanups and rigorous organizing, that force of nature still somehow slips into the room, don’t despair. Toys inevitably become old, get broken, or the children simply outgrow them. One of the ways to avoid this is by rotating the toys. If you notice any that haven’t been played with for some time, quietly remove them and store them in a cupboard out of sight. Producing them a couple of months later will refresh the children’s attention and also lengthen the life of their toys. It’ll also help to reduce the amount of toys that need to be picked up daily.
It’s essential to get rid of broken or unused toys regularly. Allow the children to be part of the process if they are old enough, and consider choosing a time just before a birthday or Christmas when they know that at least some of the toys will soon be replaced.
Finally, accept the fact that the area designated for playing with toys inevitably spills out of the playroom and throughout the house! Try placing baskets or hampers in strategic points to act as temporary storage units for toys scattered about. Set aside a time every week or so to sort out the jumble and return all the toys to their proper places. Most importantly, don’t forget to enlist the children’s help. With a little effort (and a lot of persistence from you), they should be able to clean up after themselves someday.