I love organizing things. I love storage containers. I love label makers. I even have a Pinterest board dedicated to things I want to buy to organize my home.
Where I fail when it comes to organizing is maintaining said systems. Sure, I can spend a whole afternoon organizing my linen closet, but the moment I don’t have time to properly put away the washcloths, the whole system starts imploding.
I often have a hard time starting large-scale organization projects because I fear the inevitable imploding; cute labels on cute boxes mean nothing if I can’t maintain it. However, I finally got to the point where I wanted to try out a system of only having a few toys out in our playroom at a time and rotate “new” toys in and out of our basement storage closet on a regular basis.
Before I get into the how, I’ll explain the why.
Why I wanted a toy-rotation system
Ok, so my “why” is pretty simple and can be summed up in one word: annoyance.
I was annoyed at constantly stepping on toys (and we haven’t even reached the Lego phase in our house); I was annoyed at the mass destruction that occurred on a daily basis; I was annoyed that my older child dumped out every single toy at the beginning of the day but never seemed to actually play with any of the toys; I was annoyed that I couldn’t focus on playing with my kids because I constantly had the urge to clean up the toy tsunami; and I was annoyed at the battle that occurred every evening when we had our son clean up his toys.
We are extremely lucky to have a lot of friends with older kids who hand their toys down to us, like my son’s best friend, Lion; but I needed to make a change, so I started implementing!
How I established the toy-rotation system
Marked our calendar
This sounds ridiculous, but nothing happens in our house unless my husband and I put it on our shared calendar. We planned a month in advance that I would be tearing our house apart in the name of toy tranquility, and when the day came, he and the kids got out of the house and left me alone.
Gathered my supplies
I probably had a crazed, gleeful look on my face as I cleaned Target out of their storage bins; 6-quart bins, 16-quart bins, 18-gallon tubs…I got it all. Back home, I dug out my trusty label maker and was ready to start.
Since my kids are too young to make their own decisions about what toys they no longer play with, I made the decisions for them. Some toys just HAD to go. Then I was able to start the organizing process with only toys I knew they would still play with.
Establish the favorites
My son loves figurine animals. He has dozens of them (and he actually plays with them). So, when I started establishing the rotation system, I knew I couldn’t take away his animals, even for a day. He also has several books that he reads on a daily basis. In our playroom, there’s a small book sling that keeps the literary favorites and his box of beloved animals, but everything else rotates.
I separated each type of toy into its own storage bin; play food, cars, dinosaurs, etc. Most toys fit into the 6-quart bins, but the bigger stuff went into the 16-quart bins. Any other random toys such as balls, the cash register, dress up clothes, etc. went into the 18-gallon totes. I divied up the books into multiple crates. The bigger play sets (zoo, dollhouse, farm) take up the top shelf in our storage closet.
In our playroom, we have a compartment organizer (which I think is actually meant for shoes) that holds the 6-quart bins. The bigger bins hang out next to the organizer, and then we have a toy box for those random toys that don’t fit in containers.
I don’t have any sort of set rotation system. I initially thought I would rotate the toys and books on a daily basis.
I’m still laughing at myself thinking that this was something I would actually do.
I mostly base it on whether or not I have seen the kids play with something recently (or if I’m particularly annoyed with a toy).
If my kids ask for something specific, I bring it to the playroom for them, but to avoid bringing up ALL the toys, I don’t let them just rifle through the bins in the storage closet.
Sometimes I rotate everything in the playroom, but I mostly just take one toy down to the storage closet when I’m already heading down there and bring up another toy.
Clean up is much easier
Clean up is much easier, and not just because there are fewer toys out; it’s easier because it doesn’t feel as overwhelming to my 4-year-old. He can now focus long enough to clean up the playroom. I think it feels more attainable to him and therefore he’s more willing to participate. Every minute that the kids clean up their own toys and we don’t have to clean up later is a win in our book!
They engage longer
I actually have no proof for this, but it feels like they play with their toys for longer stretches of time than before. I think it definitely helps my son’s play to not have so much competing “noise” on the floor in his play space.
The morning after I do a full toy rotation is the best because they’re so excited to see “new” toys; I can almost drink a whole cup of coffee before someone needs me.
I’m less stressed
The rotation system was a lot of work on the front end, but it’s now a time-saver on a day-to-day basis. Once we clean up the toys together, swapping out a few storage containers after they go to bed is quick. Although I’m still stepping on toys all the time (it’s all those figurine animals), I feel less like my walls are closing in on me.
Their play has more variety
I try to make sure different toys are being rotated together. For example, our ball pit stayed out in the playroom for several days. My son initially saw it as a cave where he and his lion stuffed animals hung out, protecting the playroom from rogue hyenas. A few days later, I brought out the play kitchen toys and suddenly, the balls in the ball pit were berries being sold in a food stand. The creativity that has come from combining only a few different toys has been really fun to watch.