The expression on this polar bear's face just about sums up how I feel about toy clutter. Imagine my glee when this set of 9 Club Penguin toys was what the kids chose for their souvenir from our March Break mini-holiday. Of all the toys brought into our house, these are not the worst, they have actually gotten lots of imaginative play time, including the 4 hour drive home from our getaway. (We went to Rochester, NY to the Strong National Museum of Play. A fabulous kid's museum and perfect for the age our kids are at now, 5 and 8.) I have a frugal way to store toys, which is a trick we've been using well for our 8 years of parenting.
Part of my work involves coordinating a children's program. We are fortunate to have a wonderful Children's Program Co-ordinator. Jen is organized and knows how valuable thoughtful groups of toys are for kids. When she first joined our team, she shuddered at the toys in our play room. They were haphazardly tossed into bins, with no regard for what was what. Plastic hamburgers next to tractors next to doll clothes. She taught me on her very first day (as we rolled up our sleeves and sorted the buckets of toys): kids play with toys much better when the toys are organized. It's easier to pretend you are cooking a meal when you have food and pots together, instead of a doll diaper and a dinosaur.
We do our best to keep our toys grouped. It's not always easy, but the right tool can help a lot. While our reclaimed Craft Caddy is a new (and successful!) organizing tool for us, this one we've been using for several years. My absolute favourite way to group toys isn't bins or buckets, it's laundry bags. Specifically, the mesh, zippered bags that are intended for lingerie and other fine washables. Here's some examples:
There's a few reasons why I like using these bags so much. Laundry washing bags are:
- Cheap, a buck or two at the dollar store
- Easy for little fingers to open and close. If you've ever put a toddler into a snow suit (and seen how fast they get out of it while your back is turned) you know how early they master opening zippers.
- Take up only the space the toys fill; unlike a box or bin that's a solid size, no matter how empty they are.
- One piece. There's no lid to match with a certain box (which always takes longer than it should for anyone to find).
- Easily washable. In fact, if the toys inside can be submersed (i.e. no batteries, metal or paper parts) you can throw the whole bag into the dishwasher. It does not get easier than that.
- And the toys often form a line and march right into the bag on their own (like below).
OK, so that last one was a complete fantasy on my part.
Do you have a cheap and easy way to organize toys? I'd love to hear it - please leave a comment below!