As I sat down to write this post, I decided that, before I started dispensing my ideas about organizing kid’s stuff, I should probably do a little research and see what others out there in the blogosphere were thinking and writing about. Some people were all about organizing on a tight budget; others were ready to drop some serious money on custom organizing systems. Some people just wanted their children’s playroom to be tidy and functional and others wanted toy storage to be hidden away and integrated into the design of their home.

However, there were several themes that resonated through all of the blogs I read, and there was one consistent number one rule. And you are not going to like it. YEP

#1 Purge
I know, I know. SO. HARD. TO. DO. For me, purging feels like someone has asked me to cut off my fingers and toes to donate or throw away. We have all said “wait, I paid a lot for that,” or “it was a gift and…” or “I got such a deal.” But, those ideas cannot be the driving force behind a great purge. No, the driving thoughts need to be: do I love it, do I use it, is it in good repair?

When tackling a neglected area of my home I usually have to go through the purging process several times. First, I throw away the easy stuff. Broken beyond repair? Stained, torn or otherwise ruined? Pieces missing? Gone. Gone. Gone! That felt good! Now for the hard part, getting rid of stuff that is still in good shape but does not add to the quality of life. If your children are old enough, they can be part of the decision-making process. When my kids were little, it was really hard to figure out what to get rid of, but I knew they had too many toys and it was taking up so much time and energy to manage all those toys.

#2 Sort and Organize and Rotate
I think I started wrapping my head around the idea of less is more when one of my sons was four. All of the kid’s toys were kept in the sunroom off the kitchen. They were sorted into labeled bins and neatly organized. There were lots and lots of toys and it was a chore to keep them tidy and, quite frankly, I ended up doing most of the work. One day, as I was doing something in another room, my 2 and 4-year-olds were eerily quiet. This should have been my first clue of impending doom. I couldn’t have been gone for more than a few minutes and when I came back, every toy (and there were lots) was piled in the middle of the room and my son proudly proclaimed that he had created Mount Trashmore. He was so proud and I was so mad.

That was the day that the vast majority of the toys were moved to the unfinished basement. It was not my best parenting moment, but it turned out to be a good thing for our family. We kept a few well-loved, multi-use toys upstairs and we “shopped” out of the basement. Each boy could bring up a bin at a time. If they wanted something new, something else had to go downstairs and be put back away. Of course, there were exceptions for those days when a whole new city was being built and the trains, duplos, little people, airplanes, blocks, etc. were added and built on for days. But as soon as construction stopped and deterioration set in, we would clean it all up and start again. Within a few weeks, it was clear which toys were going to languish in the basement and were ready to purge.

The toys that remained upstairs and available for everyday use were put into labeled bins. Some parents prefer that toys be mixed up to foster representational play. I prefer sorted toys and the freedom to mix them during play. When you have fewer toys in general and fewer of each kind of specific toy, sorting them at the end of play time is easy. So, my goal was to have enough toys to foster play and imagination, but few enough for the boys to manage and keep tidy on their own.

#3 Manage Treasures and Papers
What to do with all the treasures? My kids loved to collect little things from everywhere. So, what does one do with all the fast food toys, goodie bags, trinkets and treasures? Some were car toys. They lived in a box with a lid in the car. If the lid did not close, some toys had to be sacrificed. Others went into a box, also with a lid, in the boys’ rooms and the same rule applied, you must be able to close the lid.
Papers also have limited real estate in our house. Each of the children had one bin where we collected art work and papers. Every time it got full, we had to purge the box. The boys would each pick things they were willing to get rid of to make room for the new papers, notebooks, cards, etc. Now that they are college aged, they each have a small sampling of their work through the years and they saved the pieces that held meaning for them.

Why is it important to have a clutter free, organized play area for your children? Well, it reduces stress (yours and theirs), it saves time and money, it fosters creativity, and it teaches life-long skills about valuing and managing stuff. That sounds like a win in my book.