When you feel like the toy population in your house is out of control, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Everywhere you step, there’s LEGO underfoot, the tables are covered in craft ‘essentials’, and a small army of cars and dolls and teddies roam the floors unchecked.
The time has come to take matters in hand, and we’ve got 10 top tips to get you started on keeping toys clean and organised.
1. Start the cull
The first step, says Lissanne Oliver, professional organiser and founder of Sorted! Organising and Decluttering is simply to reduce the volume.
“With so much of our stuff, we use 20 percent of what we have, 80 percent of the time,” she says. “Kids are the same. Help them identify those items (or make your own secret squirrel decisions when they’re not around, if that’s easier) and place emphasis on those items, rather than what’s being let go.”
She suggests using your storage as boundaries – “We are going to save and value what fits comfortably on these shelves.”
Extra: A great time to do this is pre-Christmas and birthday, when you can focus on “making room for new stuff”.
2. Help your kids manage their own stuff
We all know that it’s much easier to make decisions and think clearly when we’re in a clean, decluttered space. Teaching kids how to maintain their living areas is a life skill. “Ask your kids to nominate their top five favourite toys and make them responsible for looking after those items,” says Oliver. “And lead by example. If you’re sorting out stuff around the house, get them involved so that they can learn the process.”
Extra: When you do your own sorting, make four piles – keep, donate, recycle, trash – and explain to older kids why you’re putting things in each pile.
3. Dump the toy box
The old-fashioned toy box might look cute, but we all know that the toy your child wants is somehow ALWAYS at the bottom, which means everything ends up on the floor. Instead, divide toys into categories, in clear or easily visible tubs, and put them at child-friendly height.
Extra: A picture on the outside can be used to identify contents for kids who are not yet able to read.
4. Cull the craft materials
You know that feeling when you go to the supermarket and there are 30 kinds of cereal and you just don’t even know where to start. Now look at your craft supply box or table: “Creativity is stymied by too much choice,” says Lissanne. “Take a less is more approach to craft materials and the kids might surprise you.”
Extra: A spice rack can be perfect for storing glitter, beads, googly eyes, and other small craft pieces. And try a simple draw divider for everything from washi tape to pencils.
5. Use unusual spaces
If you’ve never considered the true beauty of a clear, plastic over-the door shoe holder think again. They’re perfect for everything from Barbie dolls and model cars, to craft supplies and even small dress-up items.
Extra: The walls become vertical storage with the addition of a magnetic knife strip (you see them in kitchens). Use the strip for model cars and other metal toys, or simply glue a small magnet to any small item you want off the floor.
6. Banish mouldy bath toys
Fix a spring-tension shower or curtain rod (the spring-loading is in the fitting and means the rod is not permanent) above your bath. Then hang some small, simple wire baskets from curtain rings, and use those to store your bath toys (like this). The wire baskets mean the toys dry out between use and should remain mould-free longer.
Extra: To clean mouldy bath toys, soak overnight in a mix of 2 cups white vinegar to 500ml warm water (make sure toys are completely covered in solution, weighing down if necessary). Remove from mix and scrub with a bristle cleaning brush. Rinse thoroughly. If toys are not completely clean at this stage, cover toys in warm water and add two foaming denture tablets. Soak overnight.
7. The puzzle puzzle
If your child loves puzzles, chances are you’re losing a lot of storage space to bulky boxes. Instead, place each puzzle in a large, zippered pencil case, remembering to cut the image from the front of the box and stick it to the front of each pouch. Then put all pouches in one, larger tub.
Extra: If you want to save a particular puzzle for posterity, you can use puzzle glue to keep it together. Slide wax paper under the completed puzzle, leaving an extra inch all the way around. Use a rolling pin to flatten your puzzle, then, following the instructions on the glue bottle, spread the glue all over the puzzle. Once dry (two to four hours), you should be able to pick up the puzzle in one piece.
8. Where the action is
If your child’s action figure collection is beginning to resemble a small, jumbled city, take action. Photo shelves or ledges are the perfect width for the action heroes of the world.
Extra: If all that world-saving sometimes leaves your action figure collection a bit dusty, submerge them in lukewarm water (never hot) with simple dish soap (or fizzy denture tablets if you prefer) for five minutes. Brush gently with a toothbrush, rinse in cold water and pat dry.
9. Stuffed with teddies?
The first step with stuffed toy storage is to cull (see step one). No child really needs 20-plus teddy bears. Really. To house the collection, look at using the corners of the room, with neat corner shelving, or try wire garden baskets attached to the wall for a funky look that kids will love.
Extra: To clean plush toys, read the care label first. Some will only need dust removed, and this can be done with a vacuum (place old pantyhose over the brush attachment to make it easy). Some toys can be placed in the washing machine, but be sure to put in a ‘delicates’ bag or pillowcase first, wash in cold water, and dry thoroughly.
10. Plastic parade
Most small plastic toys are easily organised into groups of like nature and kept in small tubs. Lego has its own special qualities and can be dealt with in many different ways: a wall of drawers with different coloured and sized pieces sorted into each one; the iconic Lego head storage centre (for smaller collections only); a table with storage underneath; or craft storage systems repurposed. There are so many ideas limited only by the space in your spare room.
Extra: While some sites do suggest that Lego can be washed, in a delicates bag on the top rack of the dishwasher, Lego recommends that parts are washed by hand only, at a max of 40°C, using a mild detergent and rinsing with clear water afterwards. Air dry.
Leading by example
One last tip that you might be able to work in: lead by example.
I realise this can be challenging but if you’re cleaning out your wardrobe or sorting anything around the house, involve the kids in the process so they start to understand that being organised is something you need to do regularly.
It’s not challenging: keep, donate, recycle, rubbish (and the latter is a lot of it when we’re talking broken/spent/outdated and unusable, e.g. missing jigsaw pieces). Give them some small, achievable tasks to assist with and keep the time frame short with a reward at the end. Even making labels or stashing in containers are child-friendly tasks they can contribute and participate with.
This article was written by Allison Tait for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz
Which toys do you find the most difficult to store away? What are your best tps for keeping things tidy?