Organizing Toys

I have three kids – age 22, 18, and 15 – so we have experienced every stage for toys. We have also experienced all you deal with in owning toys: buying/receiving, storing, cleaning up, purging. I have three different types of kids too when it comes to what they like to keep and what they can let go of in regards to toys. I have one who saves everything, one who keeps almost nothing, and one in between.

Toy organization
This was how I had our toys organized when we lived in a 700 square foot apartment. You can see the photo labels on the bins.
Toy organization. Organized playroom
This is the playroom from our previous home, when our kids were young.
Toy organization. Organized playroom
This is what our playroom looked like at the end of our playroom days, in the house we currently live in.

First, I want to say that I am very grateful that we have such generous parents, grandparents, and siblings in regards to receiving things for our kids. However, our kids had too many toys. As I look back, I wish that I had done things differently in handling how to deal with toys. I hope to help someone who is still in the thick of it or just beginning the journey.

Our boys’ room with their toy shelves.

We used to live in a very large house that had a playroom and a game room – both of those rooms housed toys. In addition, my daughter had some of her toys in her room and our sons had some of their toys in their room. That’s a lot of toys! One thing I did that helped with the chaos of all the toys is to have organization systems in place.

Our daughter’s room and her toy shelves.

Having a place for everything gives boundaries and helps the kids learn how to organize. I grouped each type of toy together. When they were very young, I took a picture to represent each group, laminated it and stuck it on the front of the box. Also, any toys/arts and crafts/board games that I wanted them to have help with I stored on a higher shelf where they couldn’t reach. Over the years I had different types of bins and storage containers. I started with plastic bins – which were more cost effective, and easy to attach photos to the front of the bin. We have also had baskets and wooden bins which were more aesthetically pleasing.

In hindsight, I wish I had done a better job of teaching my kids how to purge and let go of things. My oldest especially has trouble letting go of things. I used to feel like this was my fault, but given our middle child has no problem with this I think it is a temperament thing. I do believe it would have helped her to learn how to think about things in terms of what to keep and what to donate or discard if I was able to guide her starting at a young age.

This was our game room. You can see some of the toys on the shelf, and there were more in the closet. Notice my 3 year old playing on the computer and not with the plethora of toys we owned.

As I look back, I think my kids were at times overwhelmed with all the toys, and may have resorted to playing video games or playing on the computer more often than I’d like to admit. I remember having to direct them – to come up with ideas of things they could do. This wasn’t always the case, but I do wonder if they had less toys to choose from, if they would have been more creative in play. {{As I’m putting this blog post together and looking through the photos I had in mind to share, I’m even more regretful! We had an overwhelming number of toys!}}


I also think of how much of my time was spent organizing, reorganizing, cleaning up, and purging their toys. I think if they had less toys I would have had more time to spend with them. In hindsight, I would have had better boundaries for my kids and allowed them to make the choice as to what stays and what goes. This would give them the boundary, like whatever fits in this set of boxes, but would give them the autonomy to make the choice as to what is most important to them. Now that we are done with the toy phase, all I can do is pass along any wisdom and experience I gained in going through that stage of life!

Zone Cleaning

Several years ago, a friend let me borrow a book titled “Sink Reflections, The Fly Lady’s Baby Step Guide to Overcoming CHAOS.” One of the main takeaways I got from this book was her idea of zone cleaning. This method allowed me to keep on top of the clutter a little at a time. In her book, she describes 5 zones of your home: entrance/front porch/dining room (1), kitchen/pantry (2), the main bathroom/one extra room (3), master bedroom/bath/closet (4), living room/den/family room (5). I personally have broke down these categories even further to make completing these tasks more manageable. I have 12 zones in my home. Each home is different, and the amount of time you have to complete the tasks are different, so it is easy to tailor this to your home and schedule.

Decluttering
Here are about 10 items I recently found in my kitchen to declutter

The basic idea of zone cleaning is to choose one room each week to focus on deep cleaning and decluttering. I typically “circle” my house to keep track of which room is next. With this method, in my home, every 12 weeks each space gets a deep clean. Deep cleaning for me includes things that I don’t do each week: clean the ceilings/light fixture, dust the baseboards/blinds/window sills, clean the interior of the window, remove items from cabinets or drawers to clean inside the drawers, if the room has carpet I steam vacuum those. In addition, while I have things removed from cabinets and drawers I evaluate what I am using or what is expired to determine what can be decluttered. I try to choose 10 items from each room each week. I don’t always find 10 items in each room, but I will frequently find more than 10 items in some of the rooms. If I found exactly 10 items per week, that is 520 items per year leaving my home! That number seems overwhelming, but if you break it down to focus on just one room per week it is manageable!

In my bathroom declutter, I like to go through our medicine to determine if any of them are expired

The basic idea of zone cleaning is to choose one room each week to focus on deep cleaning and decluttering. I typically “circle” my house to keep track of which room is next. With this method, in my home, every 12 weeks each space gets a deep clean. Deep cleaning for me includes things that I don’t do each week: clean the ceilings/light fixture, dust the baseboards/blinds/window sills, clean the interior of the window, remove items from cabinets or drawers to clean inside the drawers, if the room has carpet I steam vacuum those. In addition, while I have things removed from cabinets and drawers I evaluate what I am using or what is expired to determine what can be decluttered. I try to choose 10 items from each room each week. I don’t always find 10 items in each room, but I will frequently find more than 10 items in some of the rooms. If I found exactly 10 items per week, that is 520 items per year leaving my home! That number seems overwhelming, but if you break it down to focus on just one room per week it is manageable!

I know some people are obsessed with the KonMari method of decluttering, and that works well for some people. But if throwing all of the clothes from your whole house into a pile seems overwhelming to you, maybe the zone cleaning method would work well for you. The problem with decluttering once and for all is that we constantly have things coming into our homes, especially if we have children. This zone cleaning method will allow you to continuously go through your items so you don’t have to dedicate a large amount of time all at once to decluttering. What do you think of the zone cleaning method? Have you heard of it? Does it sound like something that would work for you?

From Chaos to Order, Tips for Pantry Organization

Do you have a difficult time keeping your pantry organized? It’s challenging to keep a pantry neat, even for the most organized person. Items are always coming in and going out, which can make it difficult to have systems set in place that help keep it organized. Obviously everyone has different sizes of pantries, families, and budgets to support such a transformation. I have some tips that might help bring order to any chaotic pantry.

One of the easiest ways to keep things organized is to invest in some storage containers and bins. This doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. You could use unused bins from around your home, or even use cardboard boxes to store items. Mason jars are an inexpensive way to store food, and makes your pantry look visually appealing. If you do have the budget for it, there are a variety of options and places to get storage bins and containers. I love Target or the Container Store, and I know Dollar Tree often has great storage solutions.

Bormioli Rocco Fido glass jars
Bormioli Rocco Fido Jars

By far, my favorite storage containers are the Bormioli Rocco Fido glass storage jars with airtight lids. I have used these jars for over 15 years to store my baking items, staple dry goods (like rice and pasta), and even some staple snack items (like nuts and dried fruits). I have continued to collect these jars over the years as our needs have expanded and changed. They are a bit of an investment up front, but I think it is so worth it! I also recently did a pantry makeover and bought some reasonably priced plastic containers to store all of our items that generally come in cardboard boxes, making the pantry look more uniform, and making it easy to find what we’re looking for.

Using bins to store like items is another way to keep things organized. This would be especially useful for items that are in one category but rotate so you’re not purchasing the exact same thing each week.

Use baskets like these to store like items
Riser used for canned goods

There are other great organization tools for the pantry. I like to use a riser for my canned goods – that way I can easily identify everything I have available. You could also use baskets or bins for canned goods, allowing you to pull out the basket to see what you have. In addition, there are can storage bins which allow the cans to “roll” out one at a time. I use this for my cans of sparkling water. You could also use it for cans of soup or vegetables if you keep a good stock of those on hand.

Plastic storage containers, and can organizers help keep things looking neat

I like to label everything. You certainly don’t need to do this, particularly with clear jars or bins in which you can see the contents. I personally just like the look of the jars and bins being labeled. I like to keep meals and snacks simple, so I tend to purchase the same things over and over. If there is some change, the labels are fairly easy to remove. If they are extra stubborn, I just use Goo Gone and it easily comes off. I have used a variety of different labels over the years. I have written with a Sharpie on a plain label or name tag label. I have printed out labels. Most recently, I am obsessed with my simplistic embossing label maker. I like the old school, mid-century look to it. You certainly could get a fancier label maker as well.

The best way I find to organize a pantry, particularly if it is really messy, is to remove everything from the pantry. You could take this opportunity to clean all the surfaces. It’s also a great time to evaluate what food has expired or is not being used. For the food that, for whatever reason you aren’t eating, you could take it to a food pantry or I like to ask friends if they would like anything as everyone’s tastes are different!

Once everything is cleaned out, you have a clean slate. Now you can categorize the items and decant anything that will go into storage containers. One thing to remember prior to going out and purchasing storage containers is to measure your space. You will wanted to make sure the containers fit on the shelf where you are planning to store them. The final step is just a game of jigsaw puzzle – trying to see where everything fits. Especially when my kids were younger, I liked to have their snack foods on their level, and have junk food items up on a higher shelf where they couldn’t reach. It’s funny, even though they are teenagers, the snacks are still on the lower level in my pantry and the junk food is still stored on the top shelf!

I hope this gave you some ideas or inspiration to get your pantry organized! Do you have any tips for keeping a pantry organized? Any questions I didn’t answer?