Tip 1. Help your kids identify their value behind why a particular toy is important to them. Then help them prioritize their values.
By prioritizing what is important to your kids and having them articulate that to you, it will help you decide how much space to devote to a particular kind of toy. Let’s say, for example, that your child is nuts about dinosaurs. It just makes sense that he’d want a wide variety of dinosaurs represented, doesn’t it? On the other hand, a kid who loves dolls might be convinced that it is more important to lavish love and care on a limited number of dolls-and that the rest could find good homes elsewhere. That child might need more space for doll accessories, like a crib, but can make do with 2 or 3 especially beloved dolls.
Tip 2. Have as much shelve/bin/drawer space for your child as you can spare, so that they can stay organized.
Help kids learn to categorize toys into shelves or bins. This will allow your child to see visually how much she has of one kind of thing-and in turn help her decide how much she needs of one thing. Often it is not until all of one kind of toy has been gathered into one place, for example, that a child realizes she has as much as she does. Seeing it all together helps her realize one good set of colored pencils and/or crayons, for example, makes boxes and boxes of duplicate colors superfluous and therefore a waste of space.
Tip 3. Be creative about ways to store toys when you have limited space.
It can be really worth it to find storage or display cases for the size toy you have. My sister, for example, was a big collector of porcelain animal figurines. No one was bigger than around 4″ by 4″ so my dad built her a grid of shallow shelves that was about a foot wide and went all the way to the ceiling. With less than a foot of floor space, she was able to safely display more than 100 figurines. Deep but narrowly spaced shelves for things like boardgames and puzzles allow kids to store long flat things on shelves that resemble big CD holders. This kind of shelving can often be found in teachers’ supply catalogues. Rather than duplicating that kind of storage for each child, have a central location for similarly shaped toys. Soft things-like stuffed animals and costumes, can be hung from a series of hooks suspended from the ceiling (provide a foot stool, so children can reach up). Shelves that slide out on rollers allow you to place toys 2-3 deep, and kids can still be able to find them (especially if you think in categories, like dump trucks one behind the other, etc).
The best way to organize kids’ toys is to limit the number of toys they have to the toys they actually play with and use. Tips 4-8 address how to do that!
Tip 4. As toys and arts and craft projects and science kits and the like come into the house, write a date on them with permanent marker.
Has your child given a birthday party where all 20 of his classmates bring him a gift? She opens them all, but in reality only four or five things actually get used? By putting a date on presents as they come in, you can show a child concretely how long it has been that he has not touched the toy. That can make it easier for a child to let a toy go out the door. If a child is still reluctant to let go of a toy, give a date a month out by which the child needs to use the toy. Tell him that if he doesn’t use the toy in that time that, you will be donating the toy to a local charity. The key to this tip? Do NOT remind him that the month is close to being up and do not rub it in his face that you will be giving the toy away. Simply get rid of the toy, and if your child remembers about the toy AFTER the give-away date, comfort him and assure him that next time you are sure he will not let the give-away date come and go.
Tip 5. Help kids let go of toys by identifying the “best of” in the category.
Let’s say that your child loves doing arts and crafts, and your shelves are filled with the remnants of half used kits. Have your child identify which of the projects provided the most fun and satisfaction and offer to get refills for that project. Let’s say, for example, that your kid really loved the weaving kit she got for her birthday and she did all the projects listed in the manual, but then she ran out of supplies. The tissue paper and pipe cleaner flower kit, on the other hand, engaged her for an hour or so and hasn’t been touched since. Knowing that you are going to buy more weaving supplies, might make it easy for her to say good-bye to the flower making kit (and if not, go back to the Tip #3 plan and put it in place for the flowers).
Tip 6. Put away toys that your child is not ready for or isn’t likely to ever play with.
Go back to the 20 presents from a birthday party. It is very likely that you are a good judge of what your child is actually going to play with. In the chaos of the party, it is easy to “put things away” for safe keeping. If you put a bunch of the toys away, likely the out-of-sight-out-of-mind principle will apply and your child will completely forget they even got that toy. If a couple of months go by, and the child doesn’t ask about it, quietly send that toy away with the next Good Will bag. Along the same lines, if your child gets a toy which looks like it will someday interest your child but is too sophisticated for him or her at the moment, put it away in a closet-and assuming that your child doesn’t ask you for it in the meantime-YOU can gift it to your child when your child is old enough for it. OR you can later make it available for your child to give to one of his friends!
Tip 7. Use natural transitions, like the start of a new school year, to mark a Big Clean Out.
If tips 1-4 have not helped clear out the accumulation of clutter, apply a 10% tithe. Let your kids know that they are going to have to donate 10% of their toys to charity. They might balk at first, but this is another excellent way to get kids to prioritize and decide which, for example, of their books they absolutely must have. It will help them recognize that they still have books on their shelves that they read 2-3 years ago when they were much younger. Similarly, unless you have massive amounts of free space for enormous Lego projects, my guess is most kids will not register a 10% reduction of their Lego blocks (They simply don’t have the space to build something that would actually use all their blocks). If your kids greatly resist the idea of donating some of their toys, I highly recommend checking out the laugh-out-loud-funny Too Many Toys, a delightful picture book by David Shannon.
Tip 8. Help keep toys organized by making some clear guidelines about how many gifts can come into the house.
Share your value with your kids that they not equate stuff with happiness or security. Help them see the value of fewer treasured objects by encouraging more thoughtful gift giving. Let relatives know that less is more-or perhaps ask relatives if they would like to go in on a gift together. Some toys, like a fancy model kit, for example a) can be quite pricey and b) actually requires extra supplies-like glue, additional paint, a big board the project can be done on so that as it is being worked on it can be slid in and out from under a bed. Relatives who think of the big picture could go in on all the pieces together. That way one gift comes into the house instead of 6-7.
You can also enlist help from close family friends and relatives by asking that they provide your child experiences rather than toys that will add to the clutter. Perhaps your daughter’s best friend’s family will invite her to go to the zoo with them the next time they go. Perhaps your son’s uncle will take him to a hockey game. These gifts work on so many levels: They say to your child I am valued, People like having me around. They give your child time with another caring adult, so you are creating that larger safety net. The activity itself is often memorable–especially if it is in the child’s honor. Again, these are great opportunities for families to go in together on an outing that might be more expensive: Grandpa can pay for the ticket, Uncle can actually get the child to the game, Aunt-who-lives-far-away can provide a gift certificate for cotton candy or a souvenir.