Streamline your toy box

As we barrel toward the holidays, it is easy for me to think “we have too many toys!” and my boys just don’t need a thing. Other times, we visit friends for playdates and I think the opposite. Maybe my sons have all the wrong toys. Ugh.

Scary toy box from Wendy
Scary toy pile from Wendy

Here are some how-to instructions for doing an effective toy box sort (adapted from the guidelines by Discovery Toys‘ educational consultants):

  1. Sort. Make two big piles: “toy keepers” and the “toys you can do without” — More often than not, the toys in the “must keep” pile are open-ended (like Legos, blocks, stuffed animals) and the “forgotten” pile are toys that don’t do very much at all.
  2. Edit. Pare down the collection, remove any broken toys, pack away toys that are not age-appropriate (both too young and too old). Toys that are outgrown can be stored or passed along. Toys that are broken can be repaired or find new homes.
  3. Organize. Sort the keeper toys into like categories. Whitney uses these categories for her kids’ array of toys (with a bin or cubby for each): puzzles, small people + animals, things with wheels, puzzles missing pieces (triage), doll house accessories, pretend food, puppets, trains + tracks, costumes, babydoll clothes, instruments. I also like to store half of the toys in a back room so I can keep the selection fresh with rotation.
  4. Label. After you’ve pared down and organized, store toys in clearly labeled bins (preferably clear bins!) so that each toy has a place. For pre-readers, you can use photos and names on your labels.
  5. Evaluate. Is anything obviously missing? Is your child lacking puzzles, craft supplies, dress-up clothes, or age-appropriate books?
Streamlined toy system from Wendy
Streamlined toy system from Wendy

To fully appreciate Wendy’s efforts in toy storage and mastering the toy box, you must read her post. Her categories include trains and train tracks, train set “destinations”, play food and kitchen stuff, stuffed animals, plastic animals and safari toys, vehicles, construction toys and tool.

As part of this exercise in my house, we determined that Milo, the puzzle fiend, really could use a puzzle board so he can do his puzzles in the living room without the frustration of pieces sinking into the carpet. Holden and Alec are going to make him one as a project.

I’m not convinced Holden needs any more toys though. We have a Hot Wheels track that I haven’t given him from last year and I think he’ll really like it. If only I can find space for it!

How do you manage the toy chaos? Any success or failure stories you’d like to share?

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RookieMoms co-founder & mom to 3 boys in Berkeley, CA. Bossy big sister and project manager turned blogger helping moms enjoy their first years of motherhood. Find me on my other site on or hiding in my minivan eating dark chocolate.