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“Why doesn’t my playroom work?” This is a question that I get asked often. It can work and you can stay on top of the toy chaos, if you figure out what works for everyone involved.

I met my client with 2 girls aged 8 and 6 and a boy of 2.  Everything looked neat except for the toys scattered across the floors in almost every room of the house. What needs to be done to get the toys sorted to reflect the style of the parents?

She had renovations done and built a lovely playroom thinking that now she’ll be in control of the toy chaos that has been part of her daily life until then, only to find that nothing much has changed.

1. Consider the age, personality and need of each child

I’ve noticed, that most parents tend to forget that each child has an own personality and own needs. I asked Sara the six year old why all her toys end up in her bedroom. She responded saying, that the little two year old brother Peter, always messes up her dolls hair or if she builds her Lego, he destroys her effort.

If everything is placed in the playroom, younger siblings inevitably interfere with or destroy efforts of older sibling that took dedication and hours to put together. Not to forget that the opposite is also a reality. Ultimately this leads to unhappiness, tears and often retribution.

2. Different toy zones

We should not assume that the children will only play in the play room, nor should we banish them to it when they do not. You will need to have toys or activities spread across different areas of your home, they may want to be in your presence after having been ‘out of contact’ in lieu of your other commitments. This is especially true for the younger ones. Keep a limited amount of toys, suitable for the specific environment containerised in a pretty basket or have a shelf or drawer for storage in each area. This in turn will free up your time and avoid disruption in your activity. Discourage these items to be carried around the home and encourage that these toy are all packed away after an activity.

2.2 The Family / TV Room

Children are not going to sit quietly watching TV in the presence of their parents who mostly do not watch what the children are interested in.

Again store suitable toys here on a long term basis that will keep them quietly busy like Lego, random toys that are not part of a set, books and soft toys and even a blanket should they just want to snuggle up. A good idea is to have a toy basket for each child. Again limit the number of toys that are kept here, let them tidy up before going to bed.

DVD’s are stored in the entertainment center but minimize these by streaming their shows on Netflix or borrow from the library.

2.3 The kitchen

Keep stickers and sticker books, colouring pencils and paper in a drawer or any activities to keep the little ones occupied that will leave you free to concentrate on preparing the meal.

2.4 The bedrooms

Keep toys to a minimum in the bedroom. Store personal toys here, for example; Sara (6) prefers to quietly play on her own with her Barbie dolls. Keep her dolls, accessories and the doll’s house in her room. Rachael (8) prefers reading and making stuff with her beads. Her books and containerised beading accessories could be kept on a bookshelf in her room. In Peter’s room there isn’t much as he is mostly still playing under supervision, so a couple of soft toys and books are on the menu here.

I am sometimes amazed at the amount of stuffed animals kids have, there is hardly space for the child to sleep comfortably in his bed.  Keep only the favourite on the bed the rest should go to bed in a storage container when bedtime comes around.

2.5 The bathroom

Limit toys for bath time. Store them in a slatted plastic basket so that they can dry and be aired. Remember to sanitise and clean these often to prevent them becoming mouldy.

2.6 The Playroom

Key to good toy storage is a shelving or cube unit with an area dedicated to each child, but there is much more involved. I like using Julie Morgenstern’s principle of Kindergarten organisation, everything in its place for easy retrieval and tidying up. Each area or container labelled. Nursery school teachers have it down to a fine art, once an activity is completed everything is tidied and returned to where it belongs. Yet at home the children do as they please, you should not allow this.

Zone the playroom according to activities and store the toys or games close to where they are to be used, e.g. store the toy food, cutlery and crockery close at hand to the play-kitchen.

Keep board games and puzzles in their original containers in a shelving unit. Once the puzzle boxes are broken, store the puzzles and their pictures in Ziploc bags and store them in a clear plastic container.

2.7 Outdoor activities

There are so many outdoor activities for which you also have toys. These should be stored on the patio or close to the lawn or pool area where they will be used. I like storing balls, bats and large toy guns in a large dustbin or pretty plastic laundry bin on the patio. Pool noodles, water pistols and Pool games like basketball and volleyball should be kept in a waterproof outdoor pool storage box.

Sandpit buckets, forms, forks and shovels should be stored in a closed sandpit to keep them dry.

How do I get there?

  • Sort and purge – Make the kids part of the process when you declutter toys. They know what they love and are not emotionally influenced by how much a toy cost or who has given it to them. Purge little stuff, gifts by fast food outlets and the like regularly!
  • Categorise the toys into like with like. Once everything is sorted containerise and label.
  • Containerise – Larger toys can be kept in large clear containers while, small sets should be kept in smaller clear containers
  • Electronics –  store electronic games like Leap pads, their cartridges and pens higher up so that the kids have to ask for them to limit screen time.
  • Books are so good for children but they also can get out of control. I always liked going to the library with my children which taught them how to use a library and that it is okay to get rid of books once you have read them. Keep books in bookshelves weed them out regularly and donate to charity.
  • Art supplies – Encourage your children to partake in some creative activities. Keep the art and craft supplies, out of sight in a designated area close to where they will be used.
  • Display area – Display your children’s art and 3D projects, but be ruthless and capture them digitally if you are sentimental about their creations and replace them as they come in. Install a floating shelf for Lego structures.
  • Toddler toys – Be selective of what you really need, things like the Bumbo chair, swings, playing mats, push and pull toys, are always difficult to store. Little scooters and tricycles can be parked on the patio, under a stairwell or on a walkway next to the house, easily accessible for when they want to ride.

3. Maintain Order

3.1 Play with stuff out of one bin at a time and leave no trace

Teach your kids to play with one kind of toy or set of toys at a time that have been stored in its bin and to return everything into the bin once they stop playing with it. Encourage them to return the bin into its allocated space on the shelf before starting with another activity.

3.2 Rotate toys

If your children have lots of toys, pack some bins away in the garage and rotate them with toys that had been stored. In this way it seems to them as though there are always new toys around.

3.3 Ask for intangible gifts

We all feel compelled to give toys, but rather appeal to the grandparent’s and family to give an experience like a day out to the zoo or just some special time out together or to put money in an investment account.  Take photos as a reminder.

4. Lending Out Baby Stuff

Should you decide to lend baby stuff that you want back to friends, make sure that you tell them that you would like them back. You shouldn’t be perturbed if they don’t look the same when you get them back. If you do, then don’t lend them out! Pack them away until you need it for the next baby.

Try and figure out what works and what doesn’t and find solutions to the challenge. Remember that toys are there to be looked after and played with. The more they have the more there is to pack away, so decide on quality versus quantity.

We as adults need to lead by example to finish an activity by packing away after we are done. Don’t fret too much and assist in clearing the toys away at the end of the day.

Heidi Meyer

Professional Organiser