Feeling overwhelmed with toys is a common problem for parents and creates chaos in the home. If you’re frustrated with unrealistic tips and tricks, here’s how to combat toy clutter the easy way.
When I was a parent of three kids under five, I felt like I was drowning in toys.
It came to a head when we remodeled our basement. All of the toys that were stored downstairs had to be moved. Suddenly our very small living and dining area upstairs was packed full—we barely had room to walk.
At times I felt like I was on the verge of panic. Clutter can trigger anxiety, and my nervous system was feeling it. Something had to change if I didn’t want to be a recurrent time bomb.
Now that I have five kids, I’ve learned a lot about managing toys, crafts, and all the other…frankly, crap that tends to pile up.
Being overwhelmed with toys is a common problem for parents. And it can be even more overwhelming when you look for ways to organize them and see impossible standards of perfection (I’m looking at you, Pinterest). Normal people with less-than-perfect living spaces need advice too!
You do not need a bigger house or expensive storage containers to keep your kids’ toys organized. All it takes is the right strategies.
It took me about a decade to figure it out, but now with two kids under age five, and three others in middle grades, our house is more organized than it ever has been. We’re not winning any awards for the way it looks—the photos below are unstaged snapshots in our home. But I’m telling you: these simple rules work, for normal people!
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How to Stop Being Overwhelmed with Toys: 5 Rules to Follow
Here are my five simple house rules that help us minimize clutter and stop being overwhelmed with toys:
- Get Rid of Broken, Outgrown, or Duplicate Toys
- Every Toy Has a Home
- Minimize Toy Storage in Common Areas
- Only Play with A Few Toys at a Time
- Clean Up One Mess Before You Make Another
Wondering how to get started? Here’s how I break it all down:
1. Get Rid of Broken, Outgrown, or Duplicate Toys
Our youngest daughter joined our family through adoption when she was two. It was very important for her to have structure and predictability in her life, since undergoing such a major change is so traumatic.
By committing to only keeping toys that are functional and that your kids love, you will make life easier not only for you, but for your kids. Our daughter is happier and better able to self-regulate her emotions when we minimize the number of toys she has access to.
Getting rid of toys on a regular basis is the most important rule to keeping them manageable.
Can a child have too many toys? While there isn’t a magic number, you know you have too many if your child feels overwhelmed by their choices.
When it comes to decluttering toys, I loosely followed the KonMari technique: if it “sparks joy,” keep it. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.
Once about every season, we sort through our toys in this way. When my older kids were younger, I guided them through the process. Now, they do it mostly on their own.
While getting rid of too many toys can be difficult when kids seem to be attached to everything, it’s a valuable skill for them to learn. Not only do my big kids know how to declutter their toys, they can also manage their clothes, school projects, books, crafts, and more.
2. Every Toy Has a Home
When I was overwhelmed with toy clutter, it would be frustrating to try and “pick up,” but all that meant was to shove the toys into a corner of the room. In minutes, they’d be scattered about again.
It would be equally frustrating for the kids when they wanted to play with something and couldn’t find it.
Once you’ve decluttered your toys, the next step to keeping them organized is to create a home for everything. You don’t need anything fancy to do this. I sometimes use plastic bins from the dollar store and cardboard boxes. From time to time I’ll splurge on a fancy basket.
As much as possible, try to make “homes” that are off the floor. Sometimes that isn’t possible, especially with baby toys like bouncers or large items like play kitchens. But in general, it’ll work much better if you can find places to stash bins out of the way—you’ll be amazed at how much tidier your living spaces are.
This is also an essential strategy if you have kids of different ages and you need to keep their toys separate. At the time I’m writing this, I have a young toddler whom I need to keep away from choking hazards. Toys like Legos and doll accessories need to stay in areas that he doesn’t have access to.
However, don’t go overboard with organizing toy homes. (In my experience, sorting Legos by color is an exercise in futility.)
Categorize toys so that they are easy to pick up and put away when your kids are done playing with them. You may have to experiment with what works for your family, but I try to keep toys loosely organized by what “plays well” together. For example, we have:
- A toy food bin
- A bin for miscellaneous toddler toys
- A bin for small dollhouse items
- A bin for blocks
- A bin for Little People
- A separate space for Legos in my older sons’ bedroom
- A separate space for LOL/OMG dolls in the girls’ bedroom.
I try not to freak out when some of the categories get mixed up. Even if we don’t always hit the target, just aiming for it makes a difference.
If you find that you don’t have enough storage space to keep your kids’ toys organized, that’s a sign that you probably need to revisit rule #1. Don’t give in to the temptation to buy more storage bins if there’s not a place to put them. This is another teaching opportunity for your kids.
3. Minimize Toy Storage in Common Areas
When I used to be overwhelmed with toys, it was because they seemed to be packed into every room of the house. The solution to this problem was to simply keep most of the toy “homes” out of common areas.
Our primary living space in our bi-level home is the dining room, which is also a schoolroom, playroom, and hangout room. It’s a clutter magnet. To keep it under control, we have very few toys stored in there.
Likewise, we’ve worked hard to minimize the toys we store in our basement living room area. While there’s more space to play, it can get overwhelming quickly when there are too many toys accessible there.
We store as many toys as possible in the kids’ bedrooms. But the same rules apply there; everything has a home, and generally, homes not on the floor. Most toys are in closets or on shelves; a few are in boxes and bins underneath the bed or on display.
I can’t tell you what a relief this strategy is to me, as I finally feel like I have breathing room in my own home.
4. Only Play with a Few Toys at a Time
Even if you’ve decluttered your toys and given them all a home away from shared living spaces, a mess can pile up quickly if they all come out to play at once. If you have a kid under five, chances are you’re familiar with their tendency to dump out all their toys at once.
In fact, few things make me feel more overwhelmed with toys than seeing them dumped out all over the house.
The solution to this problem is quite simple, yet it took me years to finally implement it. Little kids do not need, and should not have, access to all of their toys at once. They should only play with a few at a time.
I keep most of my little kids’ toys out of reach, up on shelves, or in closets. There are just a few things they have access to at their level, which are easy to pick up. Otherwise, if they want to play with a block set, a dollhouse set, etc., they need to ask for my help to get it down.
Not only does this help us keep our toys more organized, but it keeps the kids interested in the toys they have. They might go a few weeks without playing with a particular toy bin, and suddenly when they see it again, it’s like new. If you have limited room for toys in easily accessible areas, you can also put some away in long-term storage for a while. Bring them out again when it’s time for something fresh!
This rule also applies to coloring, crafts, etc. If kids want to create something, they need to ask for my help to get it out. While this requires a little more work for me up front, it pays off later because of the chaos it prevents.
5. Clean Up One Mess Before You Make Another
One of the best ways to keep my kids’ toys under control is to make sure they clean up what they are done playing with before they take out more toys. This is a really important step that I don’t always enforce as often as I should. But the more I do, the less overwhelmed with toys we all feel.
Not only does this prevent toy clutter from spreading throughout the house, but it also prevents toys from getting mixed up and put away in the wrong places.
The more consistent you are with this rule, the easier it is for the kids to help with it! Small children are perfectly capable of helping pick up toys as long as the task isn’t too overwhelming for them. If they have a small pile that they can easily put away into a single bin, they can be surprisingly helpful.
Bonus Rule: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect for You to Feel Less Overwhelmed with Toys
If I could travel back in time and give myself one piece of advice, I would tell the overwhelmed younger me that perfection is not the goal. These rules are great targets to aim for, but it’s impossible to hit them all the time.
That’s okay because even if you follow them 75% (or 50%!) of the time, you’re going to feel a lot less overwhelmed with toys than if you had no toy organization system at all.
It may feel daunting when you first get started, especially if you have a lot of toys to throw out, sort, and find homes for. But keep at it.
Around the time I was pregnant and then had my fifth child, I had very little energy to devote to decluttering and organizing toys. That was a season where I simply had to endure more mess. But once I started feeling better, I began implementing my system little by little. After a few months, we got into a good rhythm and I was able to keep things organized.
If you’re overwhelmed with toys and want to start following these rules, be sure to grab the free printout you can get when you sign up for my email list.
Do you have any toy organization tips that helped you feel less overwhelmed with toys? Share them in the comments below.