How to Organize Kids Toys

If you’ve ever stepped on a lego on your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, then you’ll love this post. Let me show you how to organize kids toys so that they get involved and they don’t end up all over the house.


There are many things I was not prepared for when having kids, but the top contender is their clutter.  I had no idea I would one day negotiate how many sticks my sons could bring home from the park.  I was not prepared for all the “little things” such as the dollar store swag from party bags, tiny Play Mobile milkshakes, miniature notebooks, and hamburger erasers that break down into even smaller pieces!  It makes me completely nuts.  I remember watching Mommy Dearest when I was a teenager and thinking, “Whoa.” And, now I kind of get it.  Sometimes I have to fight the inclination to scream, “No more tiny erasers!” Yet it seems like every time I sneak these “little things” out of our home, one of our well intended parents will buy them another set that contains 150 individual pieces.

If you are laughing and nodding, let’s figure this out together, shall we?  We are smart people! We are certainly smarter than our 5 year olds.  And, we are in charge.  Let’s go.


Wait, it’s probably mostly out, right?  Isn’t that the issue?  Okay, put it all in one room.  All of it. Two kids? Five kids? Still put it all in one room.  Kids like this part, so get them involved.  Say to them, “Let’s get all the toys in the house and put them all on the playroom floor.”  This will make perfect sense to them.


Next, ask your kids to put things into piles of like with like.  They usually enjoy this part, too. Tell them they need to put things into collections: all the Legos together, all the blocks, all the sticks, all the rocks, all the potions, (the struggle is real).  If you have lots of different Play Mobile sets like we do, group those into separate piles by set:  the tree house with the tiny fishing poles, the ice cream truck with its endless mini cutlery and confections. Once you are done sorting, toss garbage and recycle paper scraps. Have them take all the sticks and rocks and pinecones and anything else that belongs in nature, into the backyard.  I tell my kids these things belong in their clubhouse, or in a special place they designate outside. They are usually okay with this.


Now comes the harder task.  Ask them to go through each pile and take out the things they don’t like to play with. They may look at you like you’ve lost your mind.  Be patient.  Stay the course.  I find my kids do better with this when I provide them with two bins and tell them anything they don’t want can either go to kids who don’t have any toys (i.e. donation), or into a “maybe box”. Tell them if they want anything from their maybe box later, you will get it out for them. This usually helps.

When they have gone through and taken out everything they no longer want and put it into their donation bin and “maybe box,” tell them what an awesome job they’ve done and pour them a big glass of chocolate milk (and maybe an adult beverage for yourself).  Snuggle them up in front of a movie. If it’s a movie you normally wouldn’t allow, even better. You aren’t a bad parent. This doesn’t happen every afternoon. Pat yourself on the back for all your hard work!


Now that you are alone with the stuff, take out the following if it’s not already gone:

  • Broken toys
  • Toys from fast food restaurants
  • Birthday swag
  • Other swag
  • Toys they’ve outgrown

You can add these to their “maybe box.”  I like to give this box a two week expiration. If they ask for anything from the box during the next two weeks, stick to your word and give it to them.  This will help them trust these organizing sessions.  If they don’t ask for anything, which is likely, then you can take them all to donation or the trash in two weeks.  Just don’t forget them in your garage.  Maybe set a date in your phone to remind you.


You will likely still see a mountain of stuff before you, but at least it will be in piles of like with like.  Here’s what to do next:  decide how many containers actually fit into the space, and get rid of the rest.  You could also decide to limit the number of containers. Know that the fewer choices your kids have the happier they will be.

When choosing containers here are a few tips:

  1. Choose containers that have just enough space for each collection so the bins don’t overflow, but not so much space they encourage your kids to add to them.
  2. If your kids have a hard time with containers they can’t see through then you may want to invest in clear containers. I used containers we already had for this project, but I also like these these bins from The Container Store, which you can use to divide up bins you already have, or use on their own.
  3. I also recommend taking all the lids off the containers because it makes it easier for your kids to put things away.
  4. Don’t be tempted to get bins that have a slot for each toy.  This will just make things more difficult for your kids to pick up.  The goal is ease.  They should be able to chuck something into the bin and be done with it.
  5. Finally, if it makes sense, let your kids put their toys directly on the shelves without a container at all, like the trucks pictured above. It adds a pop of color, and makes them easy to get out and put away.


Take a minute to vacuum or sweep their rooms or playroom, wipe down their shelves and bins.  This will give you a nice clean base when you put things away.


Put all the bins in their places.  Clear bins will prevent you from needing to take the extra step to label, but if you want to add labels, now is the time. If your kids can’t read yet, print pictures of the item type in each bin and tie or tape it onto the front. See the picture above.  Don’t use permanent labels, because they will most likely change in the future.


Set aside a space in your home that your kids don’t use.  Maybe a storage closet or a shelf in your garage.  Take any leftover toy bins and your “maybe box” and put them in that space.  If your kids want those toys, practice the one in one out rule.  If they want a new bin of toys, one bin has to go into storage.  Any toy bin they don’t ask for in six months goes to donation.  The maybe box should have a shorter expiration date.  I say, two weeks.


When your kids are done with their movie, take them to their play space and show them where everything goes.  Set some ground rules for their use of the space.  They will most likely want to start playing with things right away because they can suddenly see what they have without having to dig through the rubble.  Get down and play with them!


The one in one out rule will help with this.  But consider also setting a time every three months or so to purge and organize the kids stuff.  Its really hard to keep up with all the new toys they get from parties, and grandparents, and some days you won’t have the willpower for the one in one out rule.


Look at the clean play space and take a moment to celebrate.  Yes it will get messy again, but right now everything is where it should be.  When it does explode, you know what to do.

I believe simplifying my kids play spaces and rooms helps all of us feel less stressed, less anxious, and it gives us more time.  We have more time to play, connect, go outside and enjoy our lives.  It also makes kids more conscientious of their possessions and more aware of others who have less.

Do you have tips on how to organize kids? I’d love to hear them!  If you try this process with your own kids, let me know how it goes! Now if I could only get them to eat fruits and veggies… If you want to read about my attempts with that check out my post, “Kids Snack Organization.”

With Heart,


playing with kids