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The playroom organization vortex

trofastHere’s a secret. I have never figured out how to effectively organize my kids’ toys. In almost seven and a half years of parenthood (not to mention five years of selling toys), the playroom situation has gotten increasingly chaotic, with bins filled to the brim with random bits and pieces, and very few toys in the sort of orderly, complete state that invites children to play.

Recently, we’ve had a spate of behavioral issues with my older kids – mischievous troublemaking, mostly. Frustrated, I was venting to my mother, a clinical psychologist, who sighed and said, “Sheri, those kids have no toys to play with. How do you expect them to entertain themselves?” Ouch. Ironic and true.

So this explains where I’ve been these past weeks, spending my evenings sorting and sifting through years of accumulated toys, making multiple trips to IKEA, building shelving, brainstorming, labeling, and ultimately succeeding at conquering the playroom. And guess what? My kids aren’t wreaking havoc anymore. They’re too busy playing. Thanks, Mom.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Don’t try to cram too many toys into one space. Toss, put away, or donate some things to keep the shelves uncluttered.

2. Speaking of shelves: opt for open shelving in a playroom. Avoid drawers, deep bins or anything else that encourages kids to clean up by tossing everything into one place. Get a variety of plastic containers in a range of sizes to hold things with small pieces. I’ve fallen in love with IKEA’s Trofast system.

3.Think like a kid. How do your children play with their toys? They aren’t nearly as brand conscious as adults, and they probably don’t remember which pieces came with which sets. If they play pirates by mixing up the Lego and Playmobil pirate sets, don’t bother separating them – just put them all together in a small container labeled “Pirates.”

4. Label. Don’t worry about your artistic ability. Borrow some markers from your kids and label every bin – with words and pictures. This is especially important for kids who aren’t reading yet. Even a mediocre drawing of an apple will tell a preschooler: this is where the play food belongs.

5. Maintain. Spend 10 minutes each night after the kids are in bed making sure the containers are still in good order.

6. Be invested. My kids have watched the time and effort I’ve put into this project, and they really appreciate how much more accessible and enjoyable their toys are now. They’ve been really good about putting things away. I’ve made it clear that this is important to me, and now it’s important to them, too.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

3 comments

  1. Such great tips Sheri — I need to get things organized too …particularly in the craft domain for Laurel.

    Also, my home writer Paige (who is a huge fan of Magic Beans Wellesley!) wrote an awesome column on this topic… some overlap with yours + other points. http://www.bostonmamas.com/2009/08/avoiding_toy_takeover.html

    Enjoy! -Christine

  2. Love it! Time well spent!

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