How to Get Your Kids to Put Their Toys Away

You may know by now that I love a good podcast, and it doesn’t get much better than The Clutterbug podcast , here’s the one I’m referencing:

Cass is so inspiring with how she talks about how the brain works, her story of how she went from a slob to an organized person, and how she is completely honest about why she keeps things neat and tidy- she wants more time to be lazy. Ha!

One of my favorite ideas that she talks about is toy rotation for children. She used to run a daycare, and so her house would look like there was both a tornado and frat party at the end of the day. She knew something had to change. So she made labeled bins and put one type of toy in each bin. She only allowed 2 or so boxes out at a time. Here’s a more detailed explanation of how her system works:

  • All other toys are out of reach.
  • Before meal times there would be a cleanup time.
  • If the children wanted a different toy, they had to cleanup one box in exchange for a different box.

She found that the children were much more likely to cleanup when the mess was much less overwhelming. An added benefit is the toys are much easier to play with when the parts aren’t mixed together.

Now I’ve wanted to implement this system but I failed several times because I didn’t keep all the toys out of reach, and I also failed to print labels. To overcome these obstacles , I finally got a printer and printed labels from and I keep my kid’s toys in their closet, and they have a child lock on their door. (That way they can’t sneak extra toys boxes and make a huge mess!)

Of course this system won’t work for everyone, especially if you don’t have much space to keep toys separate from where your kids play. But, I think it’s worth the try of getting creative. I don’t know about you, but I hate being a nag and trying to get my kids to cleanup and I would much rather do other things than get down on my hands and knees picking up legos especially when I am pregnant. I definitely want to encourage independence in my children as I’m sure most parents do.

How to Set Up Your System

  1. Purge any broken toys, toys your kids have grown out of, or toys your kids just have no interest in.
  2. Categorize all the toys. I know. For most of us, this is a HUGE process. Your kids can help you!
  3. Now count how many categories you have. This will tell you how many containers you need.
  4. Check to see if you can find any containers in your house that will do the job. This way you don’t have to go out and spend money. (unless you want a beautiful Pinterest perfect organizational system and you can afford it, be my guest!) I was able to just switch stuff around and use what I had.
  5. Make a shopping list if you need to. Hit up the Dollar Tree first. I like an open bin system except for the toys that are too big for it, then I use bigger tubs that I buy elsewhere.
  6. Go on, find pictures that represent the toy category and print them out! You could get fancy and print them on special paper that would make them real labels, but I just printed them on regular paper, cut them out, and taped them to the boxes.
  7. Put one toy category per box. For example, a critter playset will be all together. Cars all together. Animals all together. You get the idea.

Here are some bins like the ones I used:

The toy system will look something like this! I also have several other toy bins not pictured. To keep things extra tidy, I try to store everything in my kid’s closet. Does it stay this way all the time? No. But if I am on top of my game, I can get most all of their toys to fit nicely in the closet. If they don’t, it’s probably time to , you guessed it, de-clutter.

Bonus Tip

I love the way my local library stores puzzles. They have these special envelopes so the board and pieces stay together. Although I couldn’t find the same envelopes, I decided to improvise and I use Ziploc bags for puzzles that didn’t have a board, and Dollar Tree wardrobe bags for puzzles that have a board.

Pretty? No. Functional? You betcha.

View Essentials Suit Storage Bags, 24x36"
Image source

Though I didn’t use this envelope below, I think this would be another great option, and probably better than the garment bag because it claims to be heavy duty.

My Favorite Part

Is this system perfect? Of course not. It takes regular maintenance. Does it have it’s perks? Definitely. My favorite part of this toy system, besides less drama at cleanup time, is my kids being able to do things like this:

It’s kind of difficult to make an epic fortress if all the pieces are mixed together with other toy categories.

And this:

I’ve noticed my kids play for longer periods of time, they are more creative, and they can actually complete a puzzle because they have all the pieces they need.

So what do you think? Would you ever do this? Why or why not? What has worked for you? I would love to know in the comments!