If the title of this article caught your eye, chances are you’ve stubbed your toe on a Lego or tripped over a stray doll one too many times. It is the bane of any parent’s existence. Once kids enter the equation, white capes, glass coffee tables, and quiet, clutter-free rooms are swapped for Fisher-Price’s bold primary colors and the inevitable tsunami of toys. Hopefully children will enjoy cleaning up toys as much as dumping the contents of their toy bins, baskets and buckets. But don’t despair, even if your house looks like a Toys R’Us mosh pit, here’s a cheat sheet to get your kids halfway there.
1. Don’t over-categorize.
Yes, toys need a home. But you don’t need to keep them in color-coded, alphabetical bins. Kids just love to throw things away and this is how they tend to want to put things away: throw everything back into a random bin. They don’t really care if one container is marked “trucks” and another “cars”. You’re going to waste your precious energy if you worry about organizing bins and bags in the same way. If you’re a fan of labels, instead of coming up with a toy classification system of your own, ask your kids how they’d like to see their toys classified. You’ll be amazed at how differently they view their objects, and better yet, if they help you come up with the system, they’re much more likely to stick with it.
2. Totes are your friend.
Designate a specific, lightweight bag (preferably with handles) that can be carried around the house and used as a storage for unruly toys. That way, when you or your child find a toy that belongs somewhere else, you can put it in the bag and give it to your child to take to the right place later.
3. If it’s broken, don’t fix it.
Well, don’t fix it unless it’s a major toy that gets used constantly and someone will be really heartbroken if they throw it away. Otherwise, if a toy is missing its parts and you know they’re not under the couch cushions, just throw it away. Also, if something breaks, don’t let it collect dust in the toy chest.
4. Rotate and rediscover.
Do you know how children will receive a lot of shiny new gifts at Christmas and then they will play with the cardboard box? Simple is often better when it comes to toys because little ones can get overwhelmed by too much. If you’re lucky enough to have generous family and friends who buy lots of items for your kids, divide the toy chest into two, three, or four assorted piles. Then put the stacks in rotation, swapping sets several times a year. Doing so will give the kids a Christmas morning surprise more than once a year and save you from having everything ready at once.
5. It’s okay to share love.
In an ideal world, you could keep toys relegated to a particular room in the house, like a playroom. But try cooking dinner and entertaining a preschooler and you’ll soon learn that the playroom-only approach isn’t practical. It’s okay to have toys in the kitchen, dining room, living room, and bathroom. Whether you prefer canvas bins (easy to transport), plastic bins (easy to see contents), or a good old fashioned toy chest (hides everything), as long as each room has its own storage space, it’s perfectly fine for share the love throughout the house.
6. Make cleaning fun.
Sure, if you pick up the toys you can do it three times faster than if your kids did, but where’s the lesson there? Teaching your children to pick up their toys not only teaches respect for their things and for others, but it is something they will do once they go to school. Turn it into a game by setting a timer and challenging the kids to a cleanup race.
7. Make quick clutter cleaning a nightly routine.
Again with the life lesson, but it’s true. Whether you make it an after-dinner routine or something the kids do before bed every night, establishing routines is a great way to tackle clutter every day. You can feel good knowing you’re setting your kids up with a life skill (and a clean living room floor isn’t bad either).