Saturday, November 14, 2009

Toy Storage Ideas In A Small Space

People assume a lot of things about our family. One assumption is that because we have a small Christmas and birthday budget for our kids, our kids go without many toys. The opposite is true. We have a small Christmas and birthday budget for our kids because our kids have too many toys. They receive so much from doting grandparents that the only thing we can do to stem the tide is not contribute much to it.

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

Accessible toys are toys the kids can get out and put away by themselves.

The Bookshelf

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.

Brick Blocks
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.

Toy Piano

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.

Matchbox Cars

Small cars are always accessible. They are just constantly being played with.

Push Toys

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

Inaccessible toys must be asked for. If they are not asked for frequently, they are bound for the next batch of donated toys.

Large 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.

Large Cars
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.

Wooden Blocks
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.

Stuffed Animals
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.


Simple in France said...

Wow! That is an insane amount of toys. I'd never imagined how many toys came with kids. :)

I notice that all the toys in your house have a specific place where they go: cubbies, and low shelves for the kids and higher shelves that they can't access seems like a great system for keeping 'toy creep' from taking over the house.

I am a complete freak about clutter--I can't stand it. When I visit friends and family with kids, I always notice if there is 'toy creep' or not. I can't imagine not having space for the people in the midst of all those toys--but it happens. I'll file these ideas away for further use!

autumn said...

Great post. I love seeing how other moms organize!

Scottish Twins said...

I agree with autumn - I love seeing how others moms organize their toys. Toy clutter is one of my big pet peeves - I can't stand seeing a sea of plastic junk when I walk into a room.

But I totally agree with you about kids not needing a bunch of toys. We tend to put away toys and do a rotation with my older son, because he gets overwhelmed if there are too many toys out. He has a hard time focusing on one toy and actually playing. If all of the toys are put away and we get out one thing at a time, he will literally play with the same thing for hours.

I do a Goodwill toy sweep 3-4 times a year. It always feels wonderful to weed down the toy stash to something more manageable.

I love the idea of using the bicycle hooks to hand the toys. I might steal that one!!

iba said...

It's a great post. I like a couple of ideas that you have. We have too many toys, too. I am constantly weeding them to give away or throw away toys.

Anonymous said...

My kids had the cardboard brick blocks when they were little, too - we had a lot of fun with those!

Now that they're a bit older, my challenge has become corralling the approximately seven million lego pieces that are in our house...

Purplelizard said...

Do you have a colour picture of the shelf with the knotted fabric? I can't quite make out how that works in the black and white.

Kayleigh said...

Great organization! I love getting new ideas, and I agree - when living in a small apartment you have to maximize on storage by going up. I found a lot of wasted space at the top of our closets so I set milk crates on their sides to create a second "shelf" for seasonal items. I'd love to see my organizational posts!

Clisby said...

First, I love those brick blocks. I bought my son a set for his 4rd birthday; he's almost 8, and he still plays with them. (His 13-year-old sister likes to build with them also - one of the few activites she'll voluntarily engage in with him.) They're made of cardboard, but they are sturdy and last a long time.

My house itself is pretty organized, but the basement is a menace. That's where all the toy clutter goes. Occasionally, when I get energetic, I throw out a bunch of stuff or take it to the thrift store.

Captain Cleavage said...

A Suggestion for the games and puzzles which loose peices and have to be tossed.

Before I went on maternity leave I was a pre-K teacher and taught art to ages 1-5.

I would always ask parents to donate any unuseable puzzles and games to our classes.

Puzzle pieces make great art supplies for colages & mobils the bigger peices are good for younger kiddos and the smaller ones work great for older kids.

depending on the types of games you can actually use the peices for learning tools (what color shape size etc.)

I would suggest (if you have room of course) making an arts and crafts bin and recycling your puzzle and game pieces her or calling around to see if any local (usually privatly owned schools are more open to this) preschools are interested.


Emily said...

Purple Lizard, because of the fabric I used, it's no more clear in color, but I found a link with instructions, based on using rope, which is where I got the idea. I like fabric better because it adds color.

Captain Cleavage, thanks for the tip, I didn't even think of just putting them in my craft supplies!

Atheist Mama said...

I honestly don't know why anyone would give you a hard time about minimal toys. SO many moms attempt to do minimal amounts of toys and no one gives them crap for it...

but since you're know...yeah.

Okay. Anyway.

I personally hate toys...but as long as my daughter picks them up, well, I can deal.

I also put limits on the TYPES of toys we have in our house. Her main toys at my house are my little ponies and littlest pet shop toys.

When it's time to buy her new toys I simply add onto those collections.

(She also has other toys - puzzles, books, blocks, etc - but I do try to keep it simple!)

Anonymous said...

That's pretty sweet about your husband getting sentimentally attached to stuff animals like that. I'm much the same way and have always been. I've challenged myself to clear out as well, but I have those few that stick around. It's so hard not to get more!


amulbunny said...

My son is 22 and still has his Legos. When he's had a bad day at work he comes home and throws something together. It's a way of gathering his thoughts.
We always had books and they are voracious readers. Do you read to your kids every day? We had special books that were read over and over.

Amanda said...

This is a great post Emily! I always love seeing how other Moms handle all the toys.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised by how many toys you have! I do the toy box system, but it's just a small cart on wheels that rolls into a corner of the living room. Then there's a little shopping cart with a few stuffed animals in it next to the cart. THAT'S IT as far as indoor toys.

Nearly everything is organic or wood. Absolutely no plastic. With only a handful of toys it's very affordable.

I flat out refuse toy presents. Again I just can't because of chronic illness. Any kiddo would rather have an interactive mom than toys anyway.

Does your family navigate the internet well? Companies tend to have wish list options now. I did an Oompa list the first year and got most of the high quality toys we still own from the grandparents. -Cris

Emily said...

Cris, I wish I could flatly refuse toy presents, but it would be a huge fight. My mom is good about buying what I request, but others like to pick something out themselves, thus a lot gets donated a few months later. I'm curious how your kids' grandparents do now that you have the toys you want, do they just not give presents?

Jenny said...

Atheist Mama- Huh? Unless there's been a deleted comment or I totally overlooked something, I don't think there's been one critical thing said in the comments on this particular post... ?

Emily said...

Jenny, no one has said anything about this post, but I have been criticized for having a small Christmas and birthday budget for the kids.

Kim W. said...

Great post! Keeping toys corralled is an unending battle at our place; it's complicated by the fact that we have six children with the oldest and youngest 22 years apart. Oh, yeah, the first three are girls, then two boys, and finally another girl. It gets tricky!

What's worked well for us: 1) Enforce the one out at a time rule (this applies to specific types of toys; e.g., if the Legos are out, the toy figurine animals are not). 2) When we rotate toys, everything gets put away AND we clean that area before the next group of toys comes out. 3) Toys are assigned to specific areas, like the corner of the girls' bedroom which is larger than the boys' bedroom (no toys in there except stored-in-the-closet ones since it doubles as our guest room) or the family room. We play games and do puzzles ONLY at the dining room table or on the large living room coffee table, with the exception of nine-foot-long floor puzzles :). No trails of toys everywhere throughout the house! 4) The one in, one out rule applies to some toys. My kids love the higher-quality Schleich or Papo brand figurines, and when a new one comes in, an older el cheapo toy goes into the donation box, which helps a lot to keep toys from taking over the bedroom. 5) We encourage multi-purpose, creative toys such as blocks, Duplos, Legos, toy figurines, dress-up clothes, wood toys, puppets, classic toys, etc. And strongly discourage one-use toys such as electronic and beeping things, which drive me NUTS. 6) Certain toys are stored much of the time and only make an appearance once in a while. An example in our house is Marbleworks by Discovery Toys which are allowed out of the bag ONLY on the first Friday of every month. The kids enjoy their Marbleworks Friday immensely, and Mom is thrilled that there is only one day per month where she's awakened by crashing marbles :). 7) Every keeper toy is container-ized! We use Costco file boxes, duffel-type bags and backpacks, wicker laundry baskets and metal tins with lids. Puzzles, games, and activities such as pattern blocks are stored on shelves near where we use them.
8) We assign ownership wherever possible. This means Ethan is the ONLY one who plays with his frogs, unless he's given permission to his brother to join him. It may sound controversial but it eliminates much fighting. "Whose toy deer is that? Evan's? Okay, Elianna, you'll have to play with something else." Of course certain things belong to the whole family such as the aforementioned wooden blocks. 9) When making new purchases (applies to relatives who want to buy for Christmas and holidays, too), consider adding to already-existing collections rather than creating new ones. For example, we don't have any Playmobile though the kids have covetously eyed the newer sets on the rare occasions we go to a retail store. And we're not about to acquire any now! 10) We try to have at least a seasonal sorting and clearing out of toy collections. Some formerly-beloved toys get handed down to cousins and close friends during these times. I often use it as teaching time to help each child learn to keep his/her personal collections within reasonable bounds. It's also an opportunity to bless others with our treasures while learning contentment with what we've been abundantly blessed with.

Books........ We're all avid readers and veteran homeschoolers (in our 23rd year!). I'd be interested in your book selection criteria, Emily, if you have opportunity to post about it some time. I'll just say that, for us, a lot of the rules for toys are widely applicable to books and media collections. It's never about too many books but NOT ENOUGH BOOKSHELVES :)......

Kim W.

Atheist Mama said...

Jenny - yeah. What Emily said :P

Anonymous said...

Those shelves are awesome. I would be interested in knowing what kind of tools you have available. I end up talking myself out of a lot of DIY projects because the only real tool I have is a cordless drill. Useful, but not really all purpose.
On a related note, I would like to know exactly what you think is necessary for your kitchen. Size of your crockpot etc. It helps to know what you're working with.

Anonymous said...

You don't have the matchbox cars down where your baby can get them do you?

Emily said...

Anon, I used a drill, with cord, and an electric saw. If you have the right sized wood, you don't need a saw for the shelves. I also have a bunch of small hand tools. Maybe I'll write a post about it, and my kitchen essentials. I'll add it to the FAQ.

Kim, we have a lot of bookshelves, but not enough to fulfill all of our lusts for books. We do have to weed those out, and have many older kids books in storage. I love the idea of some toys only coming out on special days.

Anon, my baby is four weeks old. It's a non-issue: he's can't pick up a car.

Organizing Mommy said...

What a great system! I love it that there's a place for everything, and everything has a place. Whether you are rich or poor, this is golden. And the less wealthy of this life certainly do not lack for "things", as we all know!

natalie said...

Where do you find those cardboard brick blocks? A friend had those when I was little and I LOVED them!

We have a bucket for blocks, a basket for miscellaneous, and the bouncy balls go in the cardboard playhouse... but I think after Christmas and birthdays we'll have to reevaluate because we will have more than will fit in those places... thanks for this post. Love the hanging shelving, too, will have to go read that article you linked to.

Dustin | Engaged Marriage said...

As a father to two young children, I can only say AMEN! We have way too many toys around our house, and the stash grows with each passing holiday. We have resolved to go through them all and start purging. Goodwill here we come!

crabcakes said...

Good system!

My oldest (4) loves puzzles too much and while annoying, he has a good supply of them because I think they are good, smart toys. One thing that might be different though is that all of his puzzles are wooden pieces. To clean them up he assembles them again on their trays (usually 48 pieces or whatnot) and stacks them on his dresser at night. I find that wooden piece puzzles don't tend to get destroyed or lost as well because they are sturdy and less "flat" than cardboard pieces.

Oh, my boys have a baby doll too. I bought it for my oldest son when expecting my middle child. Nothing wrong with teaching boys how to care for babies and be good daddies. It's only funny when they've imitated nursing the baby. hee hee

Anonymous said...

Wow at a previous response! While it's hard with the onslaught of toys each holiday I wouldn't dare dream of offending relatives who LOVE my children by refusing their gift. Sometimes, what you don't know won't hurt you. Just say thank you and find another use for the gift. Give it to a shelter. I can't imagine being so rude as to refuse a gift. What on earth does that teach your children? I think wooden toys are best too, but I'd never act so snobby as to refuse a gift by telling someone that's all I will accept. Where are the manners in that situation? Just give it to someone who could use it!

Lisa said...

Hi! Interesting post. I like puzzles & games though , alot. You can keep games & puzzles in ziploc bags , that helps.I also like the play dough , slime & all that stuff.

Virginia said...

I understand that your childern are still young, but don't rule out puzzles. I have one two year old and he learned his whole alphabet by using an A-Z puzzle. Yes, that is 26+ different pieces (sometimes they have shapes too), but it is a great home schooling tool.

Patty said...

Thanks for this post. I too wondered how you fit into 'such a small space' until I thought more about the size of my former apartments. Plenty of room when you are dedicated and creative!
My husband and I both get sentimentally attached to stuffed animals. We're in trouble! Also, he's 26 and still plays with legos, which I'm learning are expensive (he actually coaches a girl scout lego robotics team which I think is a great use of his skill/passion/ if he uses their kits we don't have to expand ours right? yeah, right!). I don't have kids yet but I already have a toy closet between things I've saved from my younger years and those that my sister-in-law leaves at my house for when the kids visit (including cardboard blocks she didn't want taking up her home space). It is about time I pare down this collection of toys for kids that need it more than my closet.
I saw two boys at the mall with babydolls today. They had 'tattooed' (marker) heads it seemed.
I was going to recommend puzzle piece crafts but someone beat me too it. Other toys and animals can be suspended from the ceiling in creative ways I'm sure. I like the keyboard-email thing!
Thanks for the reminder to check in with my SIL before I buy her kids more 'stuff'.
Nice shelves. One can also stack milkcrates with wood shelves between. I'd suggest bolting to the wall if it gets tall or even remotely unsteady though. Have your boys started to climb everything?

Treva said...

Great post Emily! We are currently dealing with the age-old issue of a kid who thinks her room is clean b/c there is a path from the door to the bed. We have containers and such, but I think there are simply too many toys. We are slowly purging between now & Christmas. I think with moving 5 states a few things got away from us, like toy inventory. Normally we do a big clear out after Christmas & before her birthday in March, with 2 smaller clear outs in Spring & Fall. Kinda missed those 2 smaller ones this year and now we need a big one before the holiday season. My parents are coming to visit and I know they are going to bring lots of presents with them.

I agree with most posters that I like my kid to have things that work her imagination, like blocks, books, and basics (my little pony, littlest pet shop). We keep all the games in the house in one area and they are not accessible to DD at all. Game time is family time. She also has puzzles, but I don't leave them in the box. I put the pieces in a zip top bag and cut out the picture from the box top and put that in the bag, too. Much easier to carry around and pick up. We tend to keep it down to about 5 or 6 puzzles though, not dozens.

Emily said...

natalie, my mom got the card board blocks at Toys R Us.

Anon, I think the one who refuses toys as gifts had an agreement with their family, and it was not done in an offensive, way. That's how I read the comment at least.

Lauren said...

Hi I'm Lauren from Home with and I have linked your blog in a award. I recently found your blog and have really enjoyed reading it and browsing your archives!!! Hope you are having a wonderful day!!!


Clisby said...

You can also get the cardboard bricks at Lillian Vernon:

sunnymommy said...

We are dealing with the "too much stuff" in our house syndrome right now. And part of that is the toys. It used to be so easy. I just cleaned them out and donated every few months. But, now my oldest is turning 5 and it's not so easy for toys to just Disappear.

My husband and I also go back and forth about whether toys belong in the living areas or only in the children's bedrooms. Not to only play with them there, but when put away.

I have been trying hard the last few years to stem the deluge of gift from grandparents and think I am finally making some progress but emphasizing gifts that are geared more towards time/experiences than stuff. i.e. zoo membership, tickets to a performance, dance classes etc.

Another part of the "stuff" is clothing. Everybody has too many! We are continually paring down but have yet to reach my goal where every item in our closets/dressers is worn frequently and each child's clothing fits in one load of laundry! Emily, I am sure you have a perfectly organized strategy for clothing and laundry if you would care to share in that area sometime.

Sara Coats said...

Great post!

I feel like you can read my mind! Every time I wonder how your family does something or handles certain issues you write a blog post about it! Love it! Thanks for the tips!

Anonymous said...

Yes I have limited abilities due to my health (less obvious the more I heal) and I had to create rules like strict minimalism to ensure a safe, happy home. I can maintain one box of toys and that's it.

I can easily turn it around and ask why someone who loves me and my children would contribute to stress and not listen to my concerns? It was much more helpful to have the "reality about my health" talk and come up with new ways to celebrate than have people waste their money on things I can't keep. Walking into my home it's obvious life isn't "normal" LOL and my relatives and family know this. They weren't offended:)

Emily for my relatives the health issues were more concrete and we discussed alternatives to the deluge of gifts. One is coloring/activity books because those do need to be replaced. My parents like to thrift so grow-into clothing is another option. Another is Target gift cards so I can buy as things pop up - like organic clothing or cardboard blocks. I'll show them to the grandparents when they visit and point out what their gift card bought. They like that. This Christmas I will be buying a pig-shaped metal watering can with a gift card. -Cris

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