After months of tackling it bit-by-bit, my playroom organization is complete – and I wanted to share with you all these toy organization tips and tricks! If you’re working on a whole house clean, check out my spring cleaning checklist and then continue on to see how I dismantled and reassembled my toy closet. Disclosure: this post contains commissioned images and links.
Before I launch into my whole playroom organization system, I need to show you what the toy closet actually looked like:
It’s a large closet that wouldn’t stay neat. Every time we looked for activities to do, we couldn’t find them, and there was nowhere to put new toys.
Even though it’s large, it has few shelves, and the corners are deep.
I needed to solve two problems:
- Make better use of those deep ends and
- Figure out how to use all the vertical space between shelves.
We COULD have built out smaller shelves, but that would have been a lot more work, and we wouldn’t get to it for another few months.
I also need to share with you that this playroom organization system works! I know this because it took me a good few months from start to finish, and the work I did was NOT undone in between. Usually, when a project takes this long to finish, it’s not sustainable.
While I’m going to share with you step-by-step each part of my playroom organization, you’ll need to customize it for your space. So I’m going to try to give you the tools to do just that.
1-3 big mistakes that people make with toy organization:
- Making things too pretty – While I’d love to have pretty baskets for everything, that won’t work for a few reasons which I’ll get to later. For now, I’ll encourage you to focus on function NOT form. If you don’t have a big, closed closet like we do, I’d recommend you get a cupboard with doors rather than open shelves.
- Making things TOO organized – I know that this sounds like a contradiction, but, once again, you want your playroom organization to be sustainable. Some things need to be accessible at all times and some things don’t. Some things aren’t practical to repackage into containers. You also NEED dump zones – but they need to be very specific. More on that later.
- Not getting rid of enough – You may not have wanted to hear this, but we all know it – we need to purge. If your kids are doing LEGO, time to dump the DUPLO… unless you have multiple ages, of course.
4. Playroom organization – what you need:
Here’s the quick list, and I’ll show you more about how I used each of these later. Make sure that whatever you buy will fit your toy closet – take measurements if you need to. Mine is very deep, yours might not be. The products linked below are brands/models I’m using wherever possible.
- A “purge box” – a place to dump toys that will be donated
- Ziploc bags in different sizes
- Recommended: a set of plastic drawers (or 2), if it will fit into your closet, for self-serve toy sets
- Recommended: a storage bench or toy chest for larger self-serve toys
- Recommended: a forward facing book shelf for self-serve books
- Recommended: an over-the-door shoe rack with clear compartments for odd assorted stuff
- Labels and a permanent marker and/or a label maker.
- Containers in different sizes. I highly recommend that most of your toy organization takes place in latching containers! I’ve had too many toy spills and I can vouch for that. Look for CLEAR containers that STACK. So here’s the function that you won’t necessarily find in pretty baskets: these things stack. They’re easy to label. You can see what’s inside. And they close securely.
Tip: Compare prices on Google Express – that’s what I did! You’ll get to see multiple retailers at once and most offer free shipping over a reasonable minimum purchase. You get $10 free if you’re new to their website.
Here are the container sizes I used in my playroom organization. There are two “power container” sizes that served most of my playroom organization needs, and then two more that filled in and supplemented the rest.:
- Power container #1: Shoe box size Sterilite containers – I used these a while ago for the basics as you can see in my before photo. I recommend them for toys with fewer parts or things that won’t be too full. Keep these in view, not in corners, since you’re more likely to spill them taking them out of a corner. They are SO inexpensive, stack nicely, and are quite sturdy. Get ones with latches if you have the budget, if not, just be careful with how you use them.
- Slightly taller containers with latches – this is such an odd size, but it was a lifesaver! I used them for toys with lots of small parts that filled the Sterilite containers too much but were too small to practically put in larger containers
- Power container #2: 12-15 qt latching containers – This was my next power size – it’s perfect for all those large sets with lots of pieces: Duplo, Magformers, train sets, etc. It was also perfect for art supplies and large enough to corral some puzzles and games.
- Large containers (56-72 qt) – I have one of these for my toy vehicles that latches but otherwise I stuck to non-latching ones. I used these both for things that are stored away and larger toys that are corralled together (kitchen toys, vehicles, outdoor toys dress-up).
Tip: Check out the Container Store’s toy storage selection here!
5. Toy Organization: the lowdown on how my playroom organization went:
I started doing things one shelf at a time, pulling out the contents, and putting them back organized into containers. Some things just didn’t work in containers. It was hard to let that go – there’s a certain satisfying feeling of having everything contained when you’re working on playroom organization, but it was worth letting go.
Larger puzzles and games that were in sturdy boxes sat on the shelves. Things that would take up too much space in a new box, and had solid, stackable boxes stayed. Everything else was either corralled with like items, or got its own box.
All those little Paw Patrol pups, action figures, toy people, and even mini stuffed animals that they tend to use for pretend play went into one container. Building toys with lots of parts went into another.
M’s microscope that I like when he plays with (it’s extremely educational, highly entertaining, and doesn’t make a mess) did NOT get put into the “noisy toys” container where it could have gone (more on that later).
Specialty toys or games that need my involvement went into one 15 qt box. The same went for random activities, his quiet book, and activity components that aren’t usually used in sensory play (those get their own containers), such as playing cards.
One large (50+ quart?), transparent container that holds the noisy toys! Sneaky of me! But if you want your toy organization efforts to award you a bit of sanity, do what I did, and stow them in a corner where the kids can’t reach them! Pull ’em out one at a time, only when you allow them. Honesty, I don’t think they get the most developmental play benefits from pianos and characters that sing loud, obnoxious songs anyway…
The dress-up toys are one of my biggest nightmares: they don’t entertain on their own, and they make a huge mess and end up all over the house. While dress-up provides lots of developmental play benefits, I didn’t want a station that they can access at all times.
A large, transparent non-latching container corralled all those things and I take it out when I’m feeling brave.
Below it is an even larger, non-transparent non-latching container with outdoor toys. It makes sense to stow them for now and dig in as we need them when the weather cheers up. I’ll probably transfer that to our shed (once we have one). It has in it sidewalk chalk, bubble machines and blowers, lots of balls, a ring toss game – you name it!
All of the toy vehicles – hot wheels and larger electronic tractors – are in one large container. A transparent latching one is recommended for this. I also added the few car-play accessories he has. If your child is more of a hot wheels collector, you can check out my Hot Wheels storage and display ideas here.
Since M was a toddler, he was obsessed with toy phones – even broken ones. So, every single relative whose phones broke handed it to him. He also has all these other non-toy toys that people gave him – a broken speaker, headphones, my husband’s ancient iPod shuffle, keys, a computer keyboard, and more.
Those also used to be my worst nightmare – they would be taken up and land all over the house. My playroom organization gave me a chance to solve that problem by corralling them as I would any multi-part toy, and when I take that out, it’s the only toy that’s out. Both boys love playing with it and their friends ask to take that box out when they come over. And clean-up is so much easier when that’s treated like a building toy would: it’s taken out as a set and not kept out with the “regular self-serve” toys.
Most puzzles were dismantled and put into separate Ziploc bags into a large latching container. Peg puzzles were stacked in the same container. They’re taken out one at a time, obviously – I do NOT let M raid the box, but it’s one single box to explore when M says he’s in the mood of puzzles.
6. A book rotation system is an important element of your playroom organization:
Books are one of our big mess points – the kids read LOTS of books every day and don’t put them back. They simply leave what they’re doing and forget. Previously, as you can see in my “before” picture, I kept a nice amount on the shelves, another nice chunk on a lower shelf, and about 1/3 of our books were out of reach on a higher shelf. Most of those books were ones that were left lying around and temporarily confiscated.
That system did NOT work.
Now, I leave about 1/10 of our books on the shelf. It’s a forward-facing shelf so that the kids can self-serve.
I stowed the rest in a large container and whatever didn’t fit I donated to my niece. My son saw that I was serious about giving away books that he leaves around, and he’s better about putting them away.
Once a month, I pull out the big box and switch the books. I make a point of putting anything seasonal on the shelves and sometimes I leave seasonal books out longer, for the duration of that season. So far, the system has been working. Each time we swap, the boys feel like they have new books!
This box is stowed in a corner, along with a few spare containers so that we have a way to deal with new toys that come in.
7. Stuffed animals can ruin your playroom organization – unless you play it smart:
Stuffed animals can turn into a nightmare if you have too many. Allocate a single location for them and the rest have to go. My kids like to sleep with them and tend to switch which ones they sleep with. We used a corner net to corral them.
Another great idea is to turn your stuffed animals into a functional “bean bag chair” using this cool little bag!
8. How to gain control over art supplies and sensory activities in your toy closet:
When M has off, and sometimes after school as well, he usually gets to do some activities – usually I let him pick them to some extent. I go to the dollar store, pick up supplies, and we have our day set!
I keep these from time to time and mix them up for new activities.
While may of our shared art supplies are stored in my craft-room-in-a-closet I do have some dedicated to him. I corralled a lot of the coloring materials, paints, and more in one large 15 qt container. Coloring books, paper, sticker books, tracers, and more were in another and they were stacked together in the same part of the closet.
I used a few different sizes of zip seal bags to organize them.
Other activities were organized in the same part of the closet, close to the corner. The deepest corner was used for a toy that M loves but can’t quite do on his own yet, and another that Baby Y likes to put into his mouth but it’s a choking hazard. That’s our “long term storage”.
We have a box with sensory bin fillers (colorful pasta, rice, etc), another one for shredded paper and tinsel (components of our “cutting bin“), and of course a play dough container that includes tools.
A larger container holds sensory activities and individual components (plastic animals, squeeze bottles, a tissue box!! that I pierced holes into and let the toddlers poke pipe cleaners… a funnel, a quisk, and more!)
I have more mix ‘in match sensory bin boxes (not pictured). The main point is: corral them in a way that you’ll be able to take out 2-3 boxes and come up with a dozen unique activities! And these boxes should ALWAYS be out of the kids’ reach.
9. Gaining control over toy organization while still keeping some toys accessible at all times:
Kids need to be able to help themselves with independent play and so, a limited amount of “every day toys” that your kids are likely to play with alongside other games and toys, or on a daily basis are worth having.
I used a few things for this. I highly recommend keeping these “accessible toys” in a few different spots – not only to give more opportunities to play, but also because kids have a tendency to dump the whole thing, and having fewer toys in each location means less to dump.
Since the bottom shelf of our toy closet is pretty tall, I used a set of Sterilite plastic drawers there.
Toddler toys take up the two bottom drawers – primarily stacking rings, shape sorters, and things like that. Baby Y is home with me all day most days, so I gave him prime location.
M’s tools are in the top drawer since he tends to take them out a lot and it doesn’t make sense to use as an “activity toy” that’s taken out one at a time in a container.
I didn’t have anywhere else really to put our Melissa & Doug latches board so I just slid it in the small space on top of the drawers.
Our main self-service toy area is a combo storage bench/coffee table since our playroom is actually also our living room. I shared more about how this creates the perfect kid-friendly living room here, but for now, as part of our toy organization, I wanted to share what an amazing self-service toy area it makes.
If you have a dedicated playroom, you may prefer a an actual toy chest (which doubles as furniture too, of course), but either way, you’ll probably want something like it to dump regular-play toys into, and having something that provides seating is a nice bonus! Note: the photo above is from before my playroom organization, so they toys inside don’t actually present what we keep in there!
It also serves as a dump-zone, and yes, lots of things get thrown in there that don’t belong (spare parts, prizes from school, etc.) It needs to be purged regularly (about once a month) but the space is limited so it’s a half-hour task.
And now speaking of dump zones…
10. Having places to dump spare parts and other “dump zones” are a key to keeping your playroom organization intact:
In order to keep our playroom organization intact, having a place to dump things is a MUST. For our spare parts box, I took a 15qt latching container. The rule is: when it’s full, it has to get emptied. Tip: each time you take out a toy that you know is missing parts, peek into your spare parts box and pull out what you see.
The spare parts box sits in a corner that’s less accessible and harder to pull out the whole thing, but easy to remove the cover and dump things in.
Below it, you can see our noisy toys container that I mentioned above.
Another favorite “dump zone” is the over-the-door shoe rack.
It’s really meant to corral all the small things that get taken out a lot (lower compartments) and parts of toys that don’t store with the toys (higher compartments). I could have stored those things in a separate box, in ziploc bags, but I didn’t want to have to remove the whole box each time we take out the toy.
This includes things like cars from my son’s garage (that don’t necessarily get played with alongside the rest of his vehicles), those small plastic balls that come with some toddler toys, fidget toys, and more. I also placed small seasonal toys that I made as well as special “toys” – like his tablet – that don’t make sense to put in a container – in the higher compartments.
I do regret not having a clear shoe organizer for this, but it is what it is!
11. Nailing your toy organization by labeling it all:
I waited until I was totally finished to label my boxes, because changes WERE made as I went along.
When I did, I used a Sharpie and color-coded labels, so that I can allow M to choose “a green box, a purple box” etc. I decided not to sub categorize like crazy, but you can do more diverse categories if you want your child to really be able to pic an activity or toy that’s appropriate for that occasion.
For now, that’s all I have to share on our playroom organization efforts! I think it was totally a success and worth the time and energy.
I learned a few cool lessons during my toy organization:
- My kid won’t miss it if I donate it.
- Pretty baskets are great for some places, but not for the playroom.
- I might be frugal and like upcycling boxes and making them pretty, but for playroom organization, I’m best off with something more sturdy and functional.
- It’s possible to make it last – as long as you leave space for more “forgiving” zones!
And that’s all – wishing you the best with your toy organization!
What are your best playroom organization tips? How do you keep your toy organization under control? Comment below!
Want more solutions? Check out these cool products that will help you gain control over your playroom organization!
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