9 expert tips for taming playroom clutter
Tame the toys once and for all.
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Keeping a playroom organized can seem like an impossible task. It always feels like there’s more junk coming in than going out and toys and clutter seem to multiply every time we turn our heads. Duplicate gifts, broken toys, and freebies from gift bags seem to take on a life of their own—and they sometimes feel like they are there to take over your home.
It can be tempting to shut the door and turn your back on the mess but, trust us, this is a beast that can be tamed and, with the right organizational strategies, your playroom will get organized and stay organized for good.
Read on for expert tips from the pros on how to tame playroom clutter and keep it under control.
1. Start sorting
The first step in getting clutter under control is sorting through the chaos and pairing like with like. One big toy box may seem like an easy-dump solution, but Meg DeLong and Ea Fuqua of The Tidy Home in Nashville say it can lead to confusion for kids and a chaotic mess for anyone who has to clean up after them. They recommend you start by getting boxes, baskets, or bins to house toys and separate them based on category.
“Think Legos with Legos, Barbies with Barbies, toy cars with toy cars, and so on,” says DeLong. Sorting everything can be gratifying and it's something you can get kids in on. A big part of keeping a play area tidy is having buy-in from kids. If toys are clearly sorted, cleanup with kids can turn into a game and make maintaining an organized space a little easier to keep up with.
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2. Get the kids involved
Melissa Wright of The Organized Mom says to set up an organizational system with your kids in mind. Making your clutter-free plan kid-friendly is essential to ensuring you aren’t revisiting your chaos-crisis every month. “Be sure some of your storage solutions are kid-friendly and kid accessible. Smaller bins and lower shelves are great so that even toddlers can be encouraged to clean up and organize. Even better, they can easily pick the toys they want to play with and build independence,” says Wright.
Both DeLong and Fuqua like cube organizers for their versatility. A cube-style organizer offers flexible storage and is able to evolve and grow with your kids and their needs. Use colorful bins and baskets to store the sorted toys, and add labels to help kids identify what’s in a box—deterring them from digging through ambiguously-filled containers and creating chaos. “Label all of the bins and baskets in the playroom, even if the child is not old enough to read them. Labels ensure that EVERYONE in the family knows where an item goes when picking up or putting it away,” says DeLong.
We like these labels, which have both a visual representation of what’s in the box, along with word descriptions—which is a stealth way to get some pre-reading skills into playtime.
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3. Keep it clear
DeLong and Fuqua say they are fans of using small clear bins for kids toys. They are practical and manageable—especially for younger kids who may not be able to read labels or reach bins that might be just beyond their grasp. Since bigger bins can become a dumping ground for toys, the smaller sizes and the transparency keeps everything tidy. “Using a smaller size makes it more manageable for little hands…the clear bins allow kids who can’t read labels yet know what toys are in each one,” says DeLong.
4. Give in to the urge to purge
The absolute best way to declutter is to, quite simply, have less stuff. Fuqua and DeLong recommend doing a bi-annual purge. “We recommend going through toys and editing the items at least every six months—right before birthdays and the holidays is ideal,” says DeLong. Less stuff makes for a more functional, intuitive, and easier-to-maintain play area. Clear out broken toys, useless tchotchkes, dentist-office swag, long-discarded books, and dried up Play-Doh for an easy and efficient toss. Then gather all of the toys your kids have outgrown or no longer play with and put them in a box to donate.
“If your child hasn't touched it in ages, or it's just sitting under a pile, it is time to go! We like to pass on toys in good working condition to others, but when it comes to some of the smaller plastic toys that came in a Happy Meal, or those that just haven't survived well, there's nothing wrong with the garbage,” says Wright.
A smart tip is once those toys and books are in that donation box, put them right in your car so kids aren’t suddenly reminded of how much they “love” a toy they’ve otherwise been ignoring for over a year. Either drop them off at a donation center right away, or call an organization to pick up and make that clutter disappear.
5. If you don’t donate, rotate
When you’ve done your own pass, DeLong recommends grabbing a few toys that your kids haven’t used in a while, but still have a bit of potential in them, and stowing them away for a rainy day. Those toys can make a comeback in a few months when your child is complaining of boredom and their current stash of toys have lost their appeal. For toys that don’t make the cut of repeat uses, toss them into the donation bin and let them enjoy a new life with a new family.
6. Get the art under control
For art supplies, Wright says to consider storage bins with tops, so you can easily stack them and so that they don’t become catchalls for junk the way open containers can.
When it comes to displaying your little one's artwork, Jessica Litman, CEO of The Organized Mama, says some items will always be treasured keepsakes but, for most others, just snap a picture and let it go. “Ask yourself if you physically need to touch a piece of art to enjoy it. That will tell you if it can be a photo or if it needs to be saved,” she says. She recommends occasionally going through the photos and creating books of your child’s favorite art that you can revisit and treasure together, down the line.
As for the more current art that they are attached to, Wright likes the idea of letting them curate their very own rotating museum. Use a clothesline, chord, or display board to showcase kid art at a friendly height they can manage, so they can choose which important pieces should be proudly on display.
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7. Get your game on
There’s nothing worse than a flimsy game or puzzle box that causes pieces to fall out and disappear forever. Get games and puzzles under control. Litman recommends buying a bunch of elastic headbands to keep boxes contained and plastic baggies and photo boxes to store card games. “Game pieces and cards always get lost, and once they are gone they can't be used anymore, so it’s really important to get that storage under control,” she says. She also recommends re-boxing games and puzzles whose boxes are breaking down.
An ottoman or storage trunk is a perfect place to tuck away games and puzzles. It allows them to be neatly stacked and hidden away, and when it’s time to play, you immediately have a surface to spread them out on.
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8. Keep it consistent
Once you’ve done your purge and everything has a place, DeLong recommends you get on a schedule. Time is a commodity, but getting kids in on the habit of helping you will make this more of a maintenance project than an ongoing stressor. DeLong recommends you get the whole family involved and make it a low-pressure, rapid-fire organizing blitz. "Put a 10- to 15-minute timer on your phone and have everyone pitch in with putting everything back where it goes. When the timer goes off, stop!" she says.
Wright also recommends you encourage children to always put the toys they are playing with away before selecting another. Easier said than done for many of us so, at bare minimum, commit to a weekly cleanup where kids get involved and the floor magically reappears after a week of play.
9. Make it your own
You can adopt any amount of new organizational strategies but, Litman says, they will only work if you stay consistent and find something that is conducive to your home. She says be careful not to let guilt creep in and get in the way of your own organizational success.
“Pinterest can be paralyzing," she says. "Don't fall into the trap of never feeling good enough about what you can achieve. You don’t need to emulate others to have an organized space. Really look at your space and lifestyle and find what works for you. That's the kind of organizational overhaul that's going to last."
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