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Moms Talk: Organizing the Chaos of Toys in Abundance

Last week readers gave great advice about working with a young child about learning to talk. This week, Hazelwood Patch Moms Council participant Helena Hewlett inquires about how to organize your children's toys.

It’s the middle of the night, and you’ve gotten up to grab a glass of water in your quiet, peaceful house. Inevitably, you step on the fire truck and its sirens screech. You frantically try to muffle its noise so that it won’t wake the precious children you worked so hard to get to sleep. Finally the noise has stopped.

Then as you enter the kitchen, you step on the pointy end of a Transformer and while fighting the urge to shriek in pain, you stumble backwards onto a Barbie van, scooting across the floor before finally falling onto a pile of scattered Legos.

I think as parents, we’ve all been there. Or at least we’ve all battled frustrating, toy-related foot injuries. And even though there’s not really an easy way to prevent these, there is a way to keep our children’s toys a little more organized.

If you feel like your children’s toys are constantly strewn everywhere, many without places to be stored, you may feel like your house has been overtaken by toys. You might also notice that at least half of the toys out are not even being played with, creating even less of a need to have them out.

At this point, if you're like me, you may want to put the chaos into some kind of order. In my experience, I’ve found that my son is often overwhelmed when he has too many toys out. He doesn’t even know where to begin, or with what to play. This is what led me to my current philosophy for toy organization.

I’m a very organized person by nature.  If you ask my husband, probably a bit too organized.  Before my oldest son Caleb was born, I had already organized every one of his tiny outfits, socks, diapers, shoes, rattles and more. His crib was perfect, like something out of a catalog. Not a wrinkle in sight. An extra blanket was folded neatly and hanging over the edge of the crib, and his mobile was perfectly positioned above where his little head would soon rest.

It was so dreamy, and ironically so, so far from reality. My husband’s response to this perfect baby nursery was, “you do know we’re having a baby boy, right? Not a baby Martha Stewart.”

Now, Caleb is two years old and has a sidekick, his seven-month-old brother Jake. I had to modify my routine a bit, but I’ve adjusted and made it work out for all of us. My idea was inspired by The Berenstain Bears, believe it or not. This was one of my favorite book series as a kid, filled with all sorts of good lessons and examples. Two particular books have rooted themselves in my mind and lifestyle, more than I even realized; The Very Messy Room and Too Much Junk Food.

In both of these stories, the bear cubs learn that their lives are in need of some order and discipline. Some of the illustrations in the books have stuck with me as well. I loved, for instance, the organized little cubbies and bins that Mama Bear helped her cubs create in both stories.

So this mama bear got to work on organizing her own house. I bought about 10 small Tupperware bins and used clear packing tape on them so I could label them with the type of toy I would be storing inside. I used packing tape so that they would not be permanently marked, and it could easily be removed later if I changed my mind and wanted to store something different in them. I bought a few shelves for my son’s closet and easily fit all of the bins in there.

Then I picked up some inexpensive stickers from a local craft store and let Caleb decorate each of his bins. I have bins that store cars, action figures, Lincoln Logs, Legos, Thomas Trains, and more. Each morning, Caleb gets to choose two bins with which he would like to play. We bring them into the front room and he dumps them, makes a mess, and has a blast.

If he wants to play with something else he knows now that he must first clean up the bins that are out. Since I have done this with him from a young age, he already understands and anticipates the clean up that must occur if he wants to get another bin down.

Q&A Question

I have found that this method works great on so many levels, so here's my Q&A question. What are some organizational tools other moms out there use? Let’s face it, anything that keeps mommy a little more sane and can prevent some toy-related foot injuries in the future is the perfect gift!

Angela Atkinson (Editor) February 28, 2011 at 08:19 PM
Hi Helena, I am not so organized by nature. I'm one of those people who wasn't born logical--I've always been sort of "book-smart," but logic is something I've had to learn along the way. I have, however, had some success with using labeled bins. One tool that has helped me more than anything with getting organized is actually not something tangible. I found this website called Flylady.net when I was pregnant with my middle child. We had just moved into a new home and I was trying to get it ready for the impending arrival of the baby and ran across this site while looking for new ideas on how to organize. The idea is that people who are not Born Organized (B.O., as Flylady says) are actually perfectionists--the kind who won't do it at all if they can't do it right. The theory is that anyone can become organized and keep a clean home through simple changes in mindset and habits. While some of the material there is a little preachy for my taste, the concept is great and it's all free. The site, of course, does offer a bunch of different paid products, like books and journals and things to make cleaning easier, but none of these are required to actually implement the plan in your own life.
Helena Hewlett February 28, 2011 at 10:04 PM
Thanks for your feedback, Angela! That sounds like a neat site. I know I have some friends who have used it, but I will have to check it out. I'm not sure I'd entirely agree with her theory that people are are not "born organized" are perfectionists, only because I am a perfectionist AND very organized (almost to the point of Monica on Friends)! I have to have throw pillows in certain places and chairs always have to be positioned right or I cannot sit in my living room. I'm borderline crazy, lol. But I think part of the beauty of the way I try to organize is that it kind of takes me out of my comfort zone a bit and helps me to "adapt." For instance, if it were up to me to decorate the bins with stickers, they would all be perfectly spaced out, even and straight. Caleb, however, puts them wherever he pleases, which often results in huge clumps of stickers and lots of other bare spaces...which admittedly kind of makes me cringe :) So it helps me and my crazy tendencies. Thanks again for the site info, I am looking forward to seeing it!!
Marsha Hays March 01, 2011 at 03:36 PM
Helena, When my kids were little and their toys threatened to take over the rest of the house we would sort through them. Together, we decided what they actually played with, what they just liked to have around, and what they no longer needed or wanted. These toys we would put in storage for a yard sale. The kids always loved dragging "their" tote out on yard-sale day and setting up. They knew that half of the money they earned had to go into their savings account at the bank, but the other half was for something special. My daughter wanted a new jacket that I just could not afford one year. This motivated her to help herself. My boys usually wanted a new truck or car. I had forgotten about doing this, but the kids had not. Several years ago, they wanted a good-sized back yard swimming pool and there was just no money for one. They went through their toys and clothes that did not fit, were no longer age-appropriate, or that they just did not want anymore, and hosted their own yard sale with the help of one of my friends. They were so proud of themselves when we set up their new pool. It is never too early to teach kids how to save money or the joy of working for something that they want.
Helena Hewlett March 01, 2011 at 08:44 PM
Marsha, I love that idea!! I think it's incredibly important to teach our children the importance of saving money, and what a perfect way to incorporate that with being frugal and non-materialistic. I sort of have a rule that when we get new toys, we have to get rid of other toys (so essentially we are replacing them). My son is not old enough to really grasp this concept yet, but I'm hoping he'll catch on soon. Right now I can just sort of go through his toys and he doesn't even notice or care. But I really love your approach. It also helps kids learn that things must be earned, rather than being handed to them on a silver platter. Thanks for the tip!!

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