Organizing your kids’ toys can seem like a insurmountable task for some, especially at this time of year when an even bigger influx of toys is pretty much a sure thing.

There are some really terrific bins, sorters, and organizers on the market that can help you get the mass of toys, games and stuffed animals under control – but, frankly, I’m less interested in that.

To me, getting kids’ toys under control first requires a really clear understanding of two fundamental ideas: limits and routines.

There are certain things that we all know kids need most: love, food, and shelter are undoubtedly at the top of that list – but limits and routines are the fundamental learning concepts a parent can teach their young children. Kids who understand these two concepts grow up to be responsible, thoughtful, caring adults. And you might be surprised to learn that how you (and they) treat their toys will teach them these life lessons.

toy mess

Establish Limits

I’ve seen again and again that you can teach your kids everything they need to know about clutter and organization from their toy bins. How do you do it? First, it starts with the concept of limits.

Decide the amount of space you want to allocate to their toys. Be clear about this in your mind. Having toys in every room of the house is not what you’re after. Next, provide the area with a couple of toy bins and organizers—however many will adequately fit into the space you’ve allocated for toys. This is where the toys live. This, of course, leads to the first important lesson: when the bins are full of toys, before your child can add a new toy, he or she needs to discard a toy.

Setting this clear limit teaches your child a few important life lessons: a) that he can’t own everything, b) great decision making skills (which toys are really important and which aren’t), c) the concept of giving to those less well off, and d) things don’t last forever.

kidanddad

Set an Example

Parents often are nervous about upsetting their children or causing a tantrum by getting rid of their toys. That’s understandable. But there are a couple of important things to keep in mind. First, you’re the parent! If you’re not going to get the toys under control, no one will. Second, kids have amazing amounts of compassion. When getting rid of toys, ask your child to help you find the things that your child would be happy for another kid to have who’s not as well off.

In fact, I love bringing a child to Goodwill to drop off the toys. Even better, talk to someone who works at Goodwill to chat with you and your child about what will happen to his donated toys. I promise you can have a wonderful teachable moment at that time. Both you and your generous child will ultimately feel great about what you’re doing.

Make a Routine

The second important lesson that you can teach your child from a young age is the concept of routines.

At the end of playtime, the toys go back into the bins or where they belong. Playtime isn’t over until the toys are put away. This routine teaches your child personal responsibility, early concepts of time management, and that as responsible members of the family they have to contribute to the running of the house.

The cleaning up of toys routine also teaches your child that you’re not their maid and that they need to responsibly pick up after themselves. I believe kids only become bratty when their parents haven’t firmly established that the world doesn’t revolve around them.

Of course, you should help clean up (and maybe even do the majority when they’re young) but they should participate in this very important part of playing. By starting with toys, the lessons on routines eventually carry over to putting away their clothes, cleaning up their rooms, and even eventually being on top of their schoolwork.

dinogirl

More than Storage

These concepts – limits and routines – are the basis for living a clutter-free and organized life and can definitely be taught from the earliest of ages. When these skills are learned at young ages, the benefits last through their entire lives.

So, instead of asking what type of storage solution you need, ask what we can do about getting the number of toys we own down to a reasonable amount. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

Finally, when doting grandparents, aunts, uncles and everyone else asks you what your child would like this holiday season, think about an experience as opposed to more toys.

Experiences last a lifetime. Toys last a few years, if you’re lucky.

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Peter Walsh
  • Melinda Mitchell

    I’m having this struggle right now with my grand daughter.