Playroom SOS: Systems and Strategies to Conquer the Toy Clutter

28 Nov 2017, Posted by alanacherneck_0 in Uncategorized
playroom organization


All. The. Toys.

Lately, I’ve been paying close attention to Moms on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and the struggle is real.

Moms are frustrated by the insurmountable toys, books and gadgets; overwhelmed with clutter and the constant mess, and exasperated by their kids’ lack of ownership and responsibility for their things. 

Are YOU swimming in a sea of TOY OVERWHELM?

Toy takeover is a phenomenon we ALL deal with, but there are solutions. And the good news is, once you have simple systems in place, life with kids {and all their things} gets a whole lot easier.

Inside this blog post, I share the best tried-and-true systems for de-cluttering and getting toys organized, and some secret tips for getting kids to take ownership and responsibility for their stuff.

Less is More

Before we begin with systems, let’s talk about this important principle: Less is More.

Today’s kids have the biggest toy collections in history, yet they play LESS. (Gray, 2011).

What if I told you that one of the biggest reasons your kids are playing less is because they have TOO MANY TOYS?

Clair Lerner, a child-development worker, carried out a US government-funded study into the effect having too many toys. She found that too many toys can actually restrict children’s development, and worse, may even cause harm. “They get overwhelmed and over-stimulated and cannot concentrate on any one thing long enough to learn from it, so they just shut down.” 

In other words, too many toys can be a source of stress, overwhelm and distraction, and can negatively affect the brain’s function. Toy overwhelm can actually inhibit the ability to learn, think creatively and attend to the task of playing! This is a good reminder to focus on quality vs. quantity. (Hollis, 2007)

Even though I probably don’t know you, TRUST me on this: Your kid has more than enough toys. When you offer your child less to play with, they will play more, and for longer periods. Fewer toys of better quality is a great rule of thumb – opt for toys that are open-ended and allow for imaginative play, and can be used in a variety of ways and settings. 



Be sure to keep the “Less is More” mantra top of mind as you make your way through the following steps to toy organization.


De-Cluttering: Dump. Decide. Divide.

As you begin the process of streamlining your kids’ play space, look at the project in three phases.

  1. Dump
  2. Decide
  3. Divide



The process to de-cluttering is a big job, but you’ll be so glad you did it {and you’ll be rewarded with me-time tenfold!}.

Once you have a handle on your toy inventory, and get centres and toy organization systems in place, your life with TRANSFORM!

Your kids will play LONGER {giving you much needed re-charge time!}; they will learn to take responsibility and ownership of their things {win-win!}, they will play more imaginatively and creatively {we all want creative thinkers!}; AND your play space will be more inspiring AND organized {hallelujah!}



Creating an organized and streamlined play space for your kids begins with taking stock of your toys, and selecting only the best, open-ended, and most used.

Send the children away {their presence will only hinder the process, and worse – potentially kibosh the whole toy organization exercise!}

Dump all the toys on the floor. That’s right. ONE BIG HEAP. Get four garbage bags – one for recycling, one for donations, one for hand-me-downs OR sentimental value (for storage), one for garbage.



This is the streamlining phase of toy organization.

Pick out anything that:

  • is broken / is missing pieces / comes from a Drive-Thru (these go directly into recycling or the garbage)
  • Doesn’t get used / has been outgrown / has sentimental value (donate, or place in storage for hand-downs)
  • Blinks/flashes/plays music incessantly (these electronic toys do all the work for the child, and generally do not open up kids’ imaginations)

toy organization


Step 3: Divide

Dividing toys is the “sorting” stage, and will probably be the most time-consuming. This step is CRITICAL to a well-functioning play space and toy organization system.

I love using Learning Centres in my playroom designs. Early years educators understand the importance of creating centres. Learning centres encourage children to explore in their own way, ideas that interest them, allowing them to be self-directed in their play.

Learning centres encourage children to freely choose and experiment with materials they find interesting. They encourage children to investigate, explore and discover ideas that are new to them, and make connections with things they already know. Learning centres also promote role play in order to understand and make sense of the real world, and their personal experiences in it. (Magnuson, 2010)

When dividing, consider sorting them in the following “centres,” which will be housed in baskets:

  • Literacy (books, paper, writing tools, stamps, paper punches, envelopes, stencils)
  • Art (paper, pencils, crayons, paints, paint brushes, buttons/beads/pom poms, markers)
  • Music (musical instruments, CD’s/iPod with music, headphones, notebook for notation/composition)
  • Dramatic Play (dolls, play food, toy animals, people, Barbies, superheroes, play kitchen, work bench, dress up costumes)
  • Construction (all building materials: Lego, wooden blocks, Magnatiles, KNEX…)
  • Discovery / Science (magnifying glass, toy insects, clipboard, tweezers…)
  • Transportation (cars, trucks, trains, roadways…)


Here is an example of Learning Centres in action in our playroom. The girls are mainly into art, dramatic play and music, and so our centres reflect these interests.

learning centres




Now that you’ve divided your toys into learning centres, it’s time to come up with a Toy Rotation plan. Because space is often limited, I suggest offering a few centres at a time, and rotating them as needs and interests change. Offer between 10-15 toys per basket, and house the rest in storage. (I like to use clear tubs with labels for Toy Rotation bins, and swap out toys when boredom sets in). The next post in this series will go more in depth into toy rotation, but for now, limit the toys to 10-15 per basket. (Same goes for books!) 




Your toys are much more likely to stay organized if they are housed in baskets. I love natural woven baskets like these:

baskets for books and toy organization


But if you prefer a more economical option, Dollarama and IKEA sell neutral white plastic bins that are suitable for toy organization.

 toy organization

Each Learning Centre should have at least one basket, some may have more (for example, our Dramatic Play centre has several because this is the girls’ favourite: kitchen stuff, dollhouse toys, Barbies, toy animals, doll clothes…) A typical playroom may have 10 or more baskets, depending on the space you have available for play.

toy organization

There are many baskets to choose from, depending on your storage solution and budget.

Click here for a FREE shopping guide to beautiful baskets for my favourite toy storage unit: the IKEA KALLAX.

basket options for kallax


If you want your kids to take responsibility and ownership of their toys, labels are CRITICAL. Labeling baskets is also a great way to create a print-rich environment: one that exposes children to reading in a functional way.  I love to use simple chalk labels, and they serve as a reminder that every toy and material has a home.

baskets for toy organization

Even though your youngest may not be reading yet, labels convey the idea that print carries meaning, and over time, your children will master the art of clean-up and organization, knowing exactly where everything goes. {This is also extremely helpful for dads who need a reminder too}. 

Pictures are not necessary, because over time, they will learn to recognize print.  I will be sharing my favourite ways to make and use labels in a future post, so stay tuned!




Just like anything we want our kids to be successful with, proper teaching and repetition is key. Setting ground rules for how to use the “new” space, and practicing routines (cleaning up, putting marker caps back on, throwing scraps away instead of the floor…) are important for developing responsibility. Simple games (“who can pick up 5 red things?”), songs (“We like to Move It!”), as well as tiny rewards (a gummy bear or two) – encourage kids and promote cooperation. Celebrate when kids have shown responsibility by cleaning up, and be sure to praise them for their efforts.

I will be sharing more ideas to foster independence, cooperation and responsibility in an upcoming blog post, but in the meantime, here’s how our girls do clean-up: {so sorry about the black bars :\ }

When systems and strategies are in place, we are so much more in control of our environment. Systems take the “guesswork” out of the equation, making life simpler and more familiar. Children love and crave routines: once you have taken measures to create a system that works; they will be happier to play, more engaged and more responsible little people.

I would love to hear if you decide to implement any of the Playroom Organization Systems, or tag your pictures on Instagram with “#PlayroomSOS,” and share how the systems have helped your family! Also – be sure to share this post with a fellow mom!



Gray, P. (2011) . The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and  Adolescents. American Journal of Play, 3(4) 443-463.

Hollis, L. (2007). When Toys Take Over. The Guardian. Retrieved from:  

Magnuson, A. (2010). Learning Centres: Why They’re Important.  Retrieved from:

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