I don't consider a lot of toys to be essential. Blocks are major to me. Other than that, a few balls, books, cars, and dolls are all kids need. Yes, my boys have a doll.
We, of course, have way more than the essentials, and I feel like I am constantly pairing down as family is constantly pouring more toys into our little space. So, I have divided our toys into two categories: accessible and inaccessible.
Accessible toys are toys the kids can get out and put away by themselves.
I want my children to help themselves to books. Sometimes, they empty the whole bookshelf on the floor, but they're good about picking all the books up again.
These are in a flexible fabric toy box in the corner. They whole toy box can be pulled out or the kids can just take out however many blocks they want. When they are used, they are easy for the kids to put back again.
These blocks are my favorite. When my mom asked what the boys wanted last Christmas, I insisted on these, even though they are made of cardboard. They come as pieces of cardboard that you compactly fold into blocks. My oldest son stands on them. I have a friend who is a kindergarten teacher in the public school and she has used these blocks for years in games.
These live in two small toy boxes in the kitchen. I like having them in the main living area because it is the best place to build something big. They are easy to clean up and are a great company toy. They are fun for all ages and an activity that can incorporate all of the kids.
It's an old Fisher Price piano, a classic that everyone loves. We have a piano book as well, so Daniel and Bobby can each be playing with their own piano. It usually lives on one of the book shelves.
Small cars are always accessible. They are just constantly being played with.
The Megablocks wagon and Thomas the Tank Engine push toy don't have a home. They get "parked" at night. They both are played with daily, so they must be accessible.
Miscellaneous Toys I hate toy boxes, where miscellaneous toys usually go, so they go in these cubbies when not in use. A toy box full of miscellaneous toys is a great way to have toys fall to the bottom and not be played with. Some miscellaneous toys are also stored in the wagon, above. Also, the old computer keyboard attached to the wall, at the top of the picture, is great for when the kids want to check their "email."
Inaccessible toys must be asked for. If they are not asked for frequently, they are bound for the next batch of donated toys.
These are all hung by bike hooks. The rocking doggy in the far corner is in danger of donation. The slide and tricycle are frequently used, and can only be used one at a time.
These two tents were given to us by my sister and they are much beloved. One is a Sponge Bob themed tent with a standard tent shape. The other is a lion with a big head and a tunnel for a body with a tail hanging over the entrance. They are both fold up, pop-style tents. My son puts the Sponge Bob tent at the bottom of the slide and slides into it. They are both tucked behind they crib so that Daniel can't pull them out himself. Because they are so big, we don't want them taking up our living space all the time.
Some of these are a little too old for my three year old, so we will hang onto them to see if he will like them later. So far, none of these cars are in danger of being donated for lack of use. With this shelf, the rule is only one car comes down per kid at a time, and Thomas doesn't count yet. I made these shelves with some scrap wood and sturdy fabric, knotted at measured lengths. It is a great inexpensive way to do shelving and can be customized to individual decor.
Puzzles, Games and Baby Toys
I hate puzzles and games for little kids. They are always losing pieces. If it were up to me, they would all be donated in tact, with all of the pieces, right when we receive them. But it is not always up to me. So, we hang on to them until we realize that we have lost too many pieces for them to be any fun or to be donated and they are thrown away. I'm working on changing this system. Thomas isn't playing with toys quite yet, so baby toys, puzzles and games are all pretty much tucked out of the way.
These blocks will never be donated. They are still in their original box, which has rope handles. They hang nicely by one rope handle. They are up high because that insures they are picked up properly each time.
We have way less stuffed animals than we once did. My husband gets sentimentally attached pretty easily. A lot of stuffed animals can fit into a small space, but that doesn't mean that they should. My kids rarely ask for these stuffed animals, although Bobby and Daniel each have a few that they sleep with, including their one doll. Anyway, the last time we paired down stuffed animals was pretty painful for my husband, so I'll let these animals reside in our home a little longer without complaint.
So, that is our system. It changes when our needs do, and will change again when another influx of toys will be integrated in next month. One thing that is key in small space organization is the use of height. Shelving and securely wall mounting items is a must in order for us to keep all of the things my kids love.