Have you heard about Allie Casazza? She is the mom who got tired of toy clutter and decided to get rid of it. Her kids had a plethora of toys, but rarely enjoyed them, and she found herself cleaning and re-cleaning the playroom day after day. She reflects: “I didn’t enjoy motherhood. I didn’t enjoy [my kids], they were a bother to me. … I thought that was just the way it was. I was in survival mode.” Fed up one day, Casazza gave nearly every one of her children’s toys away. She says her toy purge “saved my motherhood, my marriage.”
But should all parents empty out their kids’ playrooms, or are there other options for managing the toy clutter? Perhaps introducing a toy rotation could keep you from taking Casazza’s drastic measures. Before you give away all your kids’ toys, here are some hacks you can try for rotating toys—and keeping your sanity:
1. Start with functional bins
This can be as easy as buying cute and affordable containers on your next grocery trip. I invested in cubes similar to these for my son’s bedroom. In the basement playroom we use these $1 baskets. A good rule of thumb is to be sure to think about durability and replacement cost when it comes to anything going in the playroom.
2. Plan a sorting day
Once your bins arrive, begin sorting. Get your kids excited about the task if they are focused enough to help. Billy gets to find all the dinosaurs and put them in the blue basket and Susie has to find all of the balls and put them in the red one. If your kiddos are not up to the task, see if Grandma can take them for an afternoon. You need to focus on this task and take it from start to finish in one day or you are likely to get re-consumed with the volume of toys. Sorting everything by type will get you started, so put all dollies and accessories together, all of the Nerf guns and darts in another stack. Anything else that goes with a set should be sorted together. Throw away any broken toys as you sort to save time later.
3. Keep a few favorites available
Keep a few of your children’s favorites on hand at all times. For my son that means access to balls is essential no matter where we are in our rotation, so we have two baskets of balls that we rotate. Whatever your kids’ go-to toys are, be sure to have those available or you will just end up digging them out later (and un-doing all of your hard work).
4. Label bins with pictures
I crafted some picture labels with my camera phone, a laminator, ribbon and some metal snaps (which makes them reusable on other bins or if I need to switch the picture out). You can also buy bins with slots for pictures to go into. Last week my husband had our almost-three-year-old gather all of his stray toys in the living room and put them all in the right baskets by himself—and he got the job done! Much to my surprise, he was even able to figure it out without my help.
5. Decide on a rotation schedule
I applied a rule I learned in a youth ministry class in college to establish my rotation routine. I was taught to stop playing a game while students were still enjoying it. While our inclination is to play a game until it is dead, it is better to keep kids interested and wanting more next time. The same principle applies with toy rotation. Do not wait until kids are tired of them—rotate them before that boredom sets in. This might mean switching every Monday, every other week, or once a month. Decide on a schedule, but do not be afraid to switch it up if kids grow bored faster than expected. Keep your in-rotation boxes accessible and tuck the next-to-rotate bins away. I tuck the other toys into the top shelf of my son’s closet until it is their turn to come out and play.
6. Keep some special toys out of the rotation
We have a stash of toys in waiting, in addition to those in the rotation. These toys can be brought out on a day mom has to get some work done. These special items only stay out for a few days, but are always a hit. Keeping them in a special rotation of their own brings an exciting sense of novelty.
7. Get rid of toys still not used
Once you establish the new rotation, be mindful of toys that are still neglected. Sell them in your garage sale or donate them to a friend or a charity. No sense hoarding things you never use.
8. Suggest better gift ideas
If the grandparents love spoiling your kids with toys, gently suggest a different kind of gift. If your kids crank through craft supplies like candy, have Grandma begin bankrolling the construction paper and glue. You can also suggest games or books that the whole family can enjoy together. My favorite gifts are experience gifts, such as a season pass to the zoo or children’s museum. Tickets to a favorite sporting event or a community recreation center are gifts that will not clutter up your home but can still be enjoyed.
Now go buy some baskets and start sorting. You can do this! Your kids will thank you later.