I used to buy toys for my kids nearly every week at garage sales. The “new” toys would be wildly popular for a few weeks until they got bored with them or left them in favor of a new “new” toy. This taught me two things.
First, I learned that novelty is an important aspect of playing for children. After all, new toys mean new experiences and new ways of learning and growing their imagination.
And second, after buying “new” toys almost every weekend for an entire summer meant we were running out of space for all their stuff. I could see that it was getting frustrating for everyone. But once I stopped buying “new” toys, they stopped playing.
So I tried something new.
I went through their giant toy pile we had collected and got rid of everything I knew they wouldn’t miss. This is a picture of my first major decluttering. I sold this pile as a lot for $40 to the first person who would
take it. It was gone the next day.
It was the best decision I ever made. After that, my kids started to be able to “see” what they had and were playing again.
This is when the great counter-intuitive phenomenon of less toys equals more play captured my attention.
We still had lots of toys, but they were playing with them more and I didn’t have to pick up toys as much as I used to. But I still got frustrated!
What We all Want is More Playing AND Less Mess- but How?
I had three kids ages 2-6 sharing a room at the time and while having less toys helped, they were still starting to fight over their toys a lot and wouldn’t honor my requests for them to clean their room.
I began to ask myself, “What if toys are the problem? What if my kids had no toys at all?”
Now hold on, no, I’m not suggesting that’s what you need to do. But it was an experiment that taught me a lot. Here is what happened:
In one afternoon, I took everything in their room out except bedding and one plush toy each for snuggling with at night and hid the rest in my closet. Here are the before and after pictures:
My kids literally exclaimed “We have so much room now!” and then they ran in circles for 20 minutes.
I did this experiment for a week. In that week they colored more and read more and made up new games.
It was lovely… at first.
Around day four they got restless and started playing with toilet paper and empty bins and running around like wild hyenas.
At the end of the week, they got their toys back. They were so excited! They played with them for hours uninterrupted.
They fought less.
Even a few days later, they still weren’t getting bored!
I thought, “oh, this is why toys were invented in the first place! So your kids won’t turn your house into a pile of rubble in one afternoon.”
Having toys again was lovely… at first.
Then they got restless and started throwing toys and fighting more and… I began to see the pattern.
The thing that helped was novelty.
But how could I keep it up?
The Simplest Solution
Through all these experiences over the last few years, I’ve learned that kids need less toys to choose from, but they also crave a constant supply of new toys.
You could solve this dilemma by donating old toys and buying new toys regularly, or swapping with friends, or even borrowing from a toy library.
But the easiest method I have found is simply to organize their toys into collections to be rotated.
Imagine having a few boxes of toys. Each box is a collection and your kids get one collection at a time to play with. Once the novelty of the current collection wears off, they clean it up and exchange it for a new collection of toys.
The simplicity and the beauty of toy rotation has been… and I do mean this literally…. LIFE CHANGING.
Just last night my kids hurried to clean up the toys in their play room so they could get out some new ones from our garage. They call it “going toy shopping.”
It’s so exciting to them, even though it’s just the same old toys they’ve always had.
And the best part is that any given collection of toys is small so it never becomes overwhelming or gets out of hand. My kids are all under age seven and they clean their rooms up themselves.
How to Create a Toy Rotation System
So how do you go about creating a rocking toy rotational system for your kids? The following are all the steps to declutter and organize your toys.
I took one of my baby’s nap-times to get most of it done, including setting up my lights and camera. So it shouldn’t take you too long.
You can grab these free toy organizational labels to help get you started.
Here are the steps:
1. Gather Toys:
Gather all the toys into one location. And I mean ALL the toys from all over the house, including any that you may have tucked away in the garage or basement that you know you need to go through. Also, gather 3-12 storage containers. You could use boxes or plastic bins. I used Ziploc’s XL Storage bags. I ended up using 5 storage bags.
Begin sorting the toys into groups by the following categories: baby toys, pretend toys, thinking/building toys, creativity toys, and gross motor toys. Also, if you want to store seasonal or holiday specific toys separately, make a pile for each of those as well.
Examples for each category:
- Baby Toys- Teethers, rattles, sorting toys- anything that’s for the under 18 month crowd.
- Pretend Toys– Dress up clothes, dolls, play food, puppets- anything for creating stories and playing make believe.
- Thinking/Building Toys– Legos, blocks, puzzles, magnatiles, coding robots- anything that uses spatial reasoning or science.
- Creativity Toys– Pencils, crayons, play dough, glue, glitter, buttons, beads, stamps, paint- anything used to make art or crafts.
- Gross Motor Toys– Bilibos, ride-on toys, bowling sets, balls, tunnels, jump ropes -anything that moves your whole body or practices balance while you’re playing.
- Holiday toys– Christmas play nativity set or books, or pretend Easter bunnies or Easter themed puzzles, or Halloween costumes, toys, and trick or treat pumpkins.
- Spring toys– sidewalk chalk, gardening toys, frisbees, bubbles
- Summer toys– badminton or croquet sets, balls, pool noodles and floaties, bug catchers, sand pails and shovels
- Fall toys– Costumes, flashlights, magic sets
- Winter toys– Activity rugs (hopscotch or roads), baking sets, aprons, snow fort building set, snowman accessories
The next step is about decluttering. Before you begin, please note: The toy rotation system doesn’t require that you are a minimalist when it comes to toys. Toys are fun and educational and your children may have a special bond with them. A huge bonus of doing the rotating toy system is that your family will have less toys out at any given time to make a huge mess with.
It will also be much easier to see if there are some toys that they simply don’t enjoy. You can spot these easier as time goes on. Trust the process and try not to be overly controlling or restrictive right now.
With that in mind, take a look at each category individually. Are there any toys in this group that are broken or junky? Toss them.
Are there nicer toys that you know for sure your kids don’t enjoy? Put them in a separate pile for donating.
Does this type of category look a little sparse? Make note of these for birthday and holiday gifts so they can have a more well-rounded toy collection.
Repeat this decluttering stage for every category of toys you have.
4. Clear Out
After you have finished decluttering, take the donations you’ve collected and put them in a box or bag and put it in your car so you can drop it off to a donation center or give to a friend.
Take the recycling and/or trash out too.
5. Gather Storage Containers
Now get several smaller boxes or large plastic bags or bins. These will be used for your toy collections.
After you are finished, your children will get one of these out at a time so plan on each container to be able to hold about 10-20 toys or toy sets.
I like to use Ziploc’s XL storage bags because I can put them inside a larger tote and they don’t take up as much space as individual bins and boxes.
6. Baby Toys
Do you have baby toys? If your kids have outgrown the baby toys and you don’t plan on having another baby, put them into a donation box.
If you might have more babies, put the best baby toys into a storage container and label it accordingly.
But if your children currently play with them, leave the baby toys in the mix.
7. Seasonal Toys:
Did you create piles for seasons or holiday specific toys? Put each of these into their own bins and label them.
Also, if there is a category that you like to keep out separate, put it up now.
For instance, I like to keep the messy supplies that would be in the creativity category – all of our arts and crafts supplies – separate from the other toys.
8. Curate Collections
Now you’ll take each categorized pile you have left and divide it among each of your boxes/bins/bags to create your collections.
Your goal is for each toy collection to contain some toys from every category. This doesn’t have to be perfect, and you can make the collections to your liking, mixing in toys that go in a set and giving each collection a variety of their favorites.
The number of collections you have and the amount of toys in each is completely up to you. You can experiment over time and change things later if you find it’s too few, too much, or not a good variety.
Once you’ve divided each category into toy collections, label each container with the numbered toy collection labels and, if you desire, write down the contents of each collection.
These content lists come in handy when your child decides they want to play with a specific toy and you can’t remember which collection it’s in.
On the other hand, if you plan to mix things up periodically, then you may want to just use clear containers.
Choose one collection and place it in your child’s play area.
To make it easier on your child when they got to clean up, place all the toys into one central location like in a toy box or tote. This will help them to tidy up quickly because all that is expected of them is to throw the toys in.
Take the rest of the collections and put them out of sight of your children. Like in a closet, a garage, or basement.
When your kids get bored or restless with their current toy collection, have them throw it back into the toy collection box/bag and “go toy shopping” for a new collection.
I let my kids take turns doing this so when it’s their turn they get to pick out the collection they want.
I’ve heard of other parents who lovingly put out a toy display of the new collection when their kids are sleeping. This is a great invitation for them to start playing in the morning.
You do what works for you.
A Few Notes to Keep in Mind
For big toys like toy kitchens and doll houses you can leave them in the play area if you like. Or put it in storage and only bring it back to the play room when the matching toys are in rotation. It’s up to you. There is no wrong way to do it but you may be surprised by the creative outcomes when you mix and match.
I keep some big toys in the house, like this dollhouse, and some bilibos and little people toys.
But I keep other, larger toys, like this scooter and tree house, and a collection of small (read: choking hazard) toys in the garage separate from everything else. My oldest daughter occasionally gets these toys out and plays with them on her own.
It’s okay to constantly leave out a specific toy or set if your kids are playing with and loving it right now. Putting it away might feel like a punishment, and that’s not what you want. Your main goal is for your child to enjoy what they have and be a kid while still learning responsibility. So keep their teddy bear on their bed or their entire thomas the train collection out if that’s what they want.
If your child wants to play with a toy from collection 3 and a toy he just remembered that’s in collection 8, let them! It’s a great idea to mix and match. It helps their creativity grow and keeps things more engaging.
Remember, this isn’t about you, your need to have control, or a place to achieve your pinterest perfect or minimalist ideals. It’s about teaching responsibility while helping them enjoy what they have more.
It’s about making it less frustrating and more fun. If you find that the amount of collections you have or the amount of toys in each collection is burdensome to your child and for you, then declutter what isn’t being played with or loved. Make the system work for you.
New Toys and Gifts
When a birthday or holiday or an influx of new toys is coming up, I put away all of their current collections the day before. Then when the birthday or holiday toys are unwrapped they can just enjoy their new things for awhile. And then when, you guessed it, the appeal starts to wear off, it all goes into it’s own new collection and they swap it out for a different collection of toys.
Keeping the Toy Collections Exciting
Pay attention when your children are playing. Try to see what gets ignored over and over again. Make note of what’s popular. Then use this knowledge when you’re shopping for gifts and when you periodically declutter the toy collections. Then you can donate or save back for a younger child what they ignore or what they’ve outgrown. You can also add in new things to play with cheaply by shopping at garage sales. This keeps their toy collections evolving and fresh.
It does take a bit of time to set up the toy rotation system but the benefits of it far outweigh the effort.
To help get you started, you can download your free sheet of toy organization labels by clicking here.
And if you want your child’s entire room to be clean and organized and for them to keep it that way on their own, be sure to check out A Clean Room is a Fun Room.