3 Tips to Declutter & Organize Toys In the New Year

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I may practice simple living, but that doesn’t mean I live in magazine-worthy home, full of neatly labeled bins and artfully arranged floral displays. And I’m glad. I am a mom of three beautiful kids. When they were little, that meant I lived in a house with stuffed animals, markers, glue, Legos, tutus, and love. (And I didn’t want to be anywhere else!)

I distinctly remember when the triplets were 6 years old and we had new floors put in our living room. To prepare for the work, we had to relocate everything to other parts of the house. Josh and I seized this opportunity to do something we’d been wanting to do for awhile–put all the kids’ toys in their bedrooms. I was so excited! I thought, Finally, I won’t step on Legos or have to share my living space with a herd of plastic dinosaurs!

But what I found was quite the opposite of what I’d imagined. Yes, the Legos and dinos were out from underfoot, but my kids suddenly weren’t. They were on me, triple-teaming me while I made dinner, randomly asking “Mama, what can I do?”, and using the dreaded B-word…”I’m bored.”

What had happened to the trio who used to play independently while I cooked dinner or checked email? How had my 6-year-olds reverted to the habits years before, when I was basically their sole source of entertainment? Hadn’t we passed that stage?

As I pondered these questions, the answer became quite clear: 

By removing my kids’ toys from the main part of the home, I had removed their purpose.

Play is how children work. And it defines them in much the same way “real work” defines us grown-ups. At 6 years old, my kids were not yet ready or willing to spend time alone in their rooms while the rest of life went on in the main room.

This led me to a whole new set of questions:

Isn’t their play just as important as my cooking or writing?

Don’t they deserve to live in a home that honors their kid-ness alongside our adult-ness? 

The answers were clear: Yes and Yes.

So I brought back the dinos.

I purchased an 8-cube shelf (the kind you can buy at any big box store), which I assembled for the better part of a Saturday morning, complete with plenty of cursing and a bruised palm from smacking stubborn parts into place. (Apparently my dad’s home improvement style runs strong in his daughter!)

I assigned one cube for library books and DVDs, and the rest for toys. This cube shelf didn’t house the sum total of my kids’ toys. I put in toys they played with regularly that lent themselves to bin storage (Legos, play food, wooden blocks, etc.). I kept larger, bulkier toys (dollhouses and train track sets, etc.) in their rooms.

My toy experiment demonstrates 3 tips you can use to declutter and organize your home this new year:

#1: Assign homes

If you want to keep your stuff organized, it needs an obvious-as-possible home. This is especially true if you expect a kid to be able to put it away. Kids do not instinctively know where things go unless you make it clear for them. Saying “Clean up your toys” isn’t as effective as saying “Put the blocks back in their bin.”

I recommend labeling with pictures, especially for your pre or early readers. For my bins, I used clear luggage tags. (I consider luggage tags to be the lazy mom’s Pinterest… And yes, I am that mom!)

I printed pictures of what should go in each bin, cut them to size, and slipped them inside the plastic. (Even easier, just cut pictures directly from the toy packaging to put inside the tag.) My favorite part about using luggage tags is that you can easily swap out the pictures if you change the toys in the bin. This is great if you set up a toy rotation or when your kids outgrow the current toy and move on to something else.

#2: Set limits 

Decide how much space you want to dedicate to an item and stick to it. My 8-cube organizer was the limit of the amount of toys I wanted in the living room. If the toys didn’t fit in there, they needed to find a new space in or out of my home. My kids and I could both understand this. It’s reasonable and clear to everyone.

#3: Your stuff should reflect your life NOW

Often, we keep items  that reflect the life we used to live; for example, rustic camping equipment from that early-twenties backpacking phase, VHS tapes from childhood, or a variety of fancy stemware we thought we needed before we had kids and realized that keeping stemware around kids is like having a golden ticket to the ER.

We also often keep items that reflect the life we think we might live in the future, such as boxes of china for as-yet-unscheduled fancy dinners, the weight bench that’s gathering dust in anticipation of our future exercise revolution, and the bins of baby clothes for grandchildren who probably won’t appear for a couple of decades.

It’s not wrong to keep these things around, but if they’re taking up valuable space in your home, they’re actually preventing you from living your life NOW. (And news flash… that’s the only life any of us are really living.)

The problem with my toy-less living room was that it did not reflect my life at the time. At 6 years old, my kids wanted to spend most of their time with their parents. (Now that they’re teenagers, I often long for those days!) They weren’t yet ready to shut themselves away in their bedrooms, headphones on, eyes glued to a screen. They wanted to be with us the majority of the time, and that’s a beautiful thing.

So if your kids are young and you’re fighting the “Keep those toys in your room battle”, I say… Bring back the Legos. I bet your feet can take it. Bring back the dinos. You’re ready to roar.

My home is a simple home, but most importantly, it’s a family home, full of kids, love, and yes, some toys, too. I wouldn’t want it any other way.


Be still my heart! Enjoy this glance back at my trio at 6 years old, happily playing in our living room. Ah, time…. How you fly!

To your most decluttered, organized, and happiest New Year yet!

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PS: If you’re a busy working mom who wants to simplify your work-mom life, but aren’t sure where to start… join me for my FREE *live* masterclass: How to Declutter Your Family’s Home Without Exhausting Yourself or Resorting to Threats.

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