A Well-Organized Toy Closet: Setting Kids Up for Success

by | Jan 19, 2013 | Parenting, Parenting Advice | 8 comments

This post is one in a series on chores for kids . . . 

I have posted previously about the first chores we assign our toddlers–the ones that they really love. Today I want to discuss getting them to do chores that they are less excited about, and helping kids of all ages to be able to be effective cleaners through good organization.

This one is a little more complicated.  It is important that toddlers help clean up the messes that they make.  If I just trudge through the sea of duplo and crayons to put my little guy to bed, and when he wakes up it’s all cleaned up and ready to be spread out again, he might just get to thinking that cleaning is for magical elves that come in the night and not for little boys.

On the other hand, I need to be realistic in my expectations and set him up for success.

Setting realistic expectations was a real challenge with my first couple kids.  I always erred on the side of expecting way too much out of mine.  But I also know moms who expect way too little out of theirs.  

So what’s right?  Well, the bad news for moms of just little ones is that the age at which I can expect a reasonable clean-up job to happen unsupervised is somewhere around eight.  So unless you’re a soccer-hooligan who really enjoys lots of shouting and nothing ever happening, don’t assign a kindergartner to clean up a big mess and then just walk out of the room. But he is perfectly capable of cleaning up big messes alongside you, and smaller, more manageable messes alone.

Which bring me to . . . how to set little kids up for success in cleaning.  The best way to avoid the impossible situation of trying to get a four-year-old to clean up a gigantic mess is to keep gigantic messes from EVER happening.  

This required a big outlay of time and energy and a not-entirely-unsubstantial financial investment.  But I would do it again in a heartbeat.  It is totally worth it.

The key is the old adage: A place for everything and everything in its place.  It was impossible for my kids to keep their stuff under control because none of us really knew where it all went.  So I sorted though all their toys, got rid of stuff that was broken or wasn’t getting used, and sorted what was left into reasonable categories (and we redo it every Lent).  

This is what my playroom closet looked like this evening after the kids all went to bed:

We have a fabric storage bin for each category of item.  At one point, we had an organizer with plastic bins (like this) which also worked well, but we outgrew it.  

I like non-folding bins with stiff cardboard sides and handles that kids can grab.

Each bin is clearly labeled.

And things like play dough and craft supplies that I don’t want kids to have unsupervised access to are in plastic bins with lids and stored on the higher shelves.

And we are a Lego family, so we have a dedicated system for Lego storage.  It consists of adorable rolling bins:

And my new favorite thing in the universe, the Lay-n-Go Activity Mat.

The huge, overwhelming challenge for my kids, and especially the little ones, is how to sort through lots of different kinds of toys and figure out what goes where.  If they have only spread out the contents of one bin, it’s pretty simple for them to put it all back in again.  (I actually tried to get a picture of the 15-month-old putting toys in the bin, but he wasn’t having it tonight.)  My kids are allowed to have up to two bins out at one time to allow for some boy toys and some girl toys to be out at once.

Oh, and the last part of the toy closet system is this:

I know, it’s pretty classy.

Limited access to the toy closet.

Stay tuned for my treatise on chore charts, threats, bribes, rewards, and expectations . . . coming soon to a blog near you.

How do you stay organized?  Send me a photo of your toy organization system to be featured in another post!  Do you think what we do could work for your family?


  1. Nanacamille

    I got inspired by your message and went in to the kids' room at my house (Kendra's old room growing up) and cleaned our the toys and organized them by age and type. We'll see how it works next time they come to visit and it's time to clean up. However, I'm the grandmother and don't have to be that strict with them and can have more fun with them and let the mom's worry about the hard stuff. Pictures to follow.

  2. Anonymous

    I love your dedicated closet, and I think the "closed for business" sign is great! Like, you, I highly approve of a place for everything. We have a shelf with mostly clear plastic bins – almost all with lids. That seems to be mostly effective at keeping the babies from making more mess than necessary. We also have more books than toys (both chapter and picture), and I've always alphabetized by author. That way, we can usually find what we're looking for, or at least we know where it ought to be! Abby

    • Kendra

      That's two bins out for all the kids. The goal is to avoid cross contamination of the bins, so they're easy to clean up.

  3. Stasia Blalock

    I have 7 kiddos and always find it hard when they don't want to share their toys. So when kid #1 gets new shiny toy, does it go in toy closet and anyone can play with it…I'm at a loss for how to share.

  4. Rosa

    Do you keep the rule with visiting children? I have toys in drawers & baskets at reach all the time & it's crazy. Do you also keep costumes away? My daughter, like many, changes up to 4xs a day.

    • Kendra

      I take only one or two bins out when we have guests over, to keep the bin-dumping to a minimum! And for dress-up clothes, those are accessible, but our rule is that they have to go OVER your existing clothes. That way I don't have to worry about getting everyone dressed again if we need to leave the house.

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