Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Low-Budget, Minimalist Mom's Guide To Toy, Book, & Craft Storage

If I had unlimited square footage and budget, I would dedicate an entire room to toys organized on shelves by genre, like a toy store... a magical, orderly space that would guarantee clean playrooms and happy children.

No, just kidding.

I would be annoyed by how much money we were wasting in toy storage, give away most of them, move to a smaller house, and keep doing exactly what we do now.

Our kids are happiest when they have space to play and time to play. If any of our toys aren't ordered to these ends, I give them away.

Here's the guide I follow for what stays and what goes:

1. If a toy is broken or missing pieces, it goes.*

2. If a kid's puzzle can't be transferred to a zippered plastic bag, we give it away. All of our kid puzzles are kept in one box. (This system originated after I lost my mind taping puzzle boxes back together.) Any puzzle missing a piece is trashed (recycled).

3. If a toy takes longer to set up or clean up than my kids actually play with it, I give it away. (Domino Rally, Magic Tracks, electric train sets)

4. If a board game is missing any pieces, isn't played, or causes fights when played, I give it away.

5. If a child has more than a couple of stuffed animals, we give some away. (With an asthmatic kid, I see germs and allergens everywhere, especially stuffed animals.) Most are given away.

6. If any toy is used destructively or causes more fights than fun, it's given away.

This cool building set became medieval weapons. It's no longer with us.
7. If our kids don't play with it regularly, I give it away. (The one exception is an electric train set that goes up every year for Advent and Christmas.)

This whiteboard easel was given to us by a neighbor, and the kids played with it every day for several months. Once they lost interest, we passed it on and regained the play space.
8. If a toy makes electronic noise and can't be silenced by headphones, I give it away. I just can't handle any more noise.

9. If a toy takes up more space than the value it gives in play, I give it away. This can change over time as kids grow and their interests change. We used to have a playhouse, a play gym with slide, and a seesaw on our back patio. As our kids have gotten older, they enjoy riding tricycles more, which doesn't work on a crowded patio, so we've given away all the giant plastic toys. (Our church just added an outdoor playground to their childcare ministry -- perfect timing!)

10. If there's not room to play in the sandbox, we give away some toys. I try to keep sandbox toys to six trucks, three buckets, and three shovels, but somehow plastic sandbox toys multiply like rabbits.

11. Nerf guns are stored in a handmade organizational panel that hangs on the hall closet door. I'd love a better system that has less sag and includes space for 700 darts, if anyone has a suggestion.

12. If I don't personally like a children's book (due to topic, theme, moral, writing style, similarity to other books in our collection, unlikable characters, or my mood on any given day), I give it away. The public library is always happy to receive them.

13. If the number of books on our shelf makes kids more likely to dump them on the floor and roll in them than read them, I move more into storage. (For younger kids, I rotate books on the reading shelf about once a month. We keep 3-4 books per child on the shelf. I keep the rest of the books in a box in the closet.)

14. If a book is missing pages or destroyed beyond what packing tape can repair, I trash (recycle) it.

15. If crayons are broken, markers are nearly dry, glue sticks are empty, colored pencils break more than twice while sharpening (etc.), I trash (recycle) them.

16. If we have more craft supplies than fit in our craft supply boxes, I give them away. (If I didn't have a kid who loves crafts, I wouldn't have any of it.)

17. I usually err on the side of giving stuff away. The gained space from less toy storage and the gained time from decreased play management (breaking up fights, convincing kids to pick it up, reminding kids that it exists, gluing or taping it back together, etc.) is well worth it in personal sanity and family happiness.

18. There are exceptions. According to the rules of not taking too long to clean up and not causing fights between siblings, play dough should not be allowed in our home. I hate it. But my kids absolutely love it. So it stays.

Our Current Toy Collection
Most of our toys are stored on a bookshelf in the hall closet. The kids can take out one box at a time. They can change toys any time as long as they clean up and put away the first box. 

We keep the Lego and wooden trains/tracks in the playroom, and some days, the kids are happy to just play with those for hours.

We didn't intentionally focus on classic toys and creative play in our collection, but these are the toys that made the cut based on the guidelines above: 1) they don't break, and 2) the kids go back to them over and over and over.

To be honest, even this collection is more toys than I think we need (5 kids, ages 8 and younger), but it's where we are now:

  • Plastic Animals / Noah's Ark
  • Shape Sorter
  • Wooden Blocks (2 different sets)
  • Plastic Pipes (1/2-inch plumbing pipe cut to different lengths with assorted connector pieces)
  • Matchbox Cars (in multiple boxes, so kids can choose to play independently or collaboratively)
  • Little People Cars & People
  • Duplo (large Lego)
  • Lego (kept in a large box in the playroom)
  • Wooden Trains & Tracks (kept in drawers under the train table in the playroom)
  • Puzzles (locked in a cabinet)
  • Books (on the bookshelf)
  • Craft Supplies (locked in a cabinet)

Thrift Over Minimalism
Even more than minimalism, I value thrift. Most of our toys were given as gifts or hand-me-downs. We didn't buy a storage system to keep them, except the train table with drawers (used). We've used hanging closet organizers to hold toys, but I find open shelving easier for the kids to exchange toys independently. Depending on your budget, you could spend $200 on adorable boutique boxes and stylish shelves. You can also drive your neighborhood streets on bulk trash pick-up day and score some great finds.

*Regarding sentimentality and crappy toys: I'm sure my kids will end up in therapy someday because of something I did or didn't do as a mom. Nevertheless, it's not actually my aim to emotionally scar them by giving away beloved toys. Each kid has a small, dedicated space to keep their "treasures" -- mostly broken dollar store toys -- that they can keep and organize any way that they'd like.
3-Year-Old's Drawer of Stuff I'd Like To Trash

8-Year-Old's Box of "Treasures"

1 comment:

  1. I wish I had a good answer for Nerf Gun storage. I currently have ours in a plastic bin with handles so ideally they can just carry it outside to play with. I have instituted a rule that bullets that I find around the house are just getting thrown away.