Toy Management - Young Children

Updated on December 30, 2008
J.S. asks from Saint Paul, MN
13 answers


Here is my problem. I have two boys ages 3 1/2 and just turned 2. We do not really have THAT many toys when I compare our stuff to friends/neighbors etc. That said, the management of the toys in our small home (1100 square feet total!) is driving me insane!

Here is the main problem. I have the toys stored in our office closet. We have a good shelving system installed, which works well to store the toys. BUT, the boys both pull all the bins out and just dump them on the floor. Half the time they don't play with what they dump, just pull another bin out and dump it too. The other half the time they play "Snowplow" or "Trash Truck" or (my personal favorite) "Junk Yard" and either push the toys all over the house or make a pile of everything in the middle of the floor! This is frustrating to me because I try to encourage them to clean up one thing before getting out the next but they just keep pulling stuff off the shelf....

At any rate, I'm not sure how to address the problem. Do I get rid of the easy access bins, which then requires more help from me to get things in and out? I proposed to my husband that we put a sliding lock high on the door so they can't open it alone, which again, makes me have to be involved to start a new toy/game. He didn't think that was the best idea,

What do you all do to prevent all the toys from being out at once? How do you encourage putting away one thing before getting out the next? Are 2 and 3 year olds too young to really clean up everything all the time, or are one or two big clean ups a day good enough?

Your thoughts, as always, are appreciated.


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answers from Minneapolis on

Hi J.,

I was facing this same problem a couple years ago and have put most of my kids' toys in bins by category. I use Rubbermaid bins my kids can't open on their own. I don't open another bin until the last one is cleaned up. It has saved my sanity and it is also more fun for the kids because everything isn't available all the time. When they haven't seen their dolls for a couple weeks they actually enjoy doll day.

It is sometimes a pain to have to administer this but is preferable to a constant mess all day everyday.


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answers from Minneapolis on

Hi J......your house sounds like mine! I have 2 boys (5 & 3) and a 5 mo old baby girl!

Here is how we do it (it did take some time to get it all organized, but it was well worth the effort!) We rotate most toys from the basement (packed away in rubbermaid tubs) to easy accessible spots upstairs. We keep out the "favorites" (thomas trains, some little people, puzzles) all of the time.

In the first week of every month, we switch the toys. For example....pack up all the kitchen (play food, play table, plates/silverware, shopping carts) and bring up the Tool Bench (tools, tool boxes,hard hats, construction machines) Through out the month, if the kids really want something they have to trade something else for it. If the want some instruments up, then the matchbox cars get packed up and put away.

We have our boys each pick up one thing before nap, and then we all work together and pick everything up at night. Mainly because I don't have the energy during the day to follow after them picking up all the time.

I think any age can help pick up to some extent...we give them different things to pick up. My mom is a preschool teacher and she says that we wouldn't beleive the way kids in class treat toys...they don't appreciate them, value them, or respect them. Thoes lessons start at home.

My oldest had a "just dump everything on the floor and not really play with it" phase around 3 1/2 yrs and to stop that, we did make him pick it up every time he did it. It got old really quickly and he stopped it very quickly. We were very consitant with it...we would help him after he worked on it for awhile on his own.

Every once in a while, the kids do a lot of whining about picking up and how "hard" it is. All I have to say is, " pick up what is important to you and I will pick up the rest and give it to a boy/girl who will appreciate having it." You wouldn't believe how quickly they move :)

Good luck!!!

PS Our Grandmas tend to go way overboard with toys for Christmas for our kids. We told them this year that 1/2 of what the kids open is staying at their house...that worked like a charm also! Way fewer toys were given and the ones that were given were not as irritating :) Guess the mind games work on the Grandmas too!!!

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answers from Waterloo on

Give them a chance to pick it up - explain to them that they need to pick out all the bins they dump out. My daughter has a song she always sings - pick up, pick up, everybody pick up. She changes the speed, pitch, etc... while picking up to just make it fun.
If they don't pick up tell them you will throw them away and then follow through - through an item in the garbage to let them know you are serious and do not go get it back out. Usually it doesn't take the loss of too many toys for them to figure out that they need to clean up.
Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

My experience is that kids know how to clean up when everything visibly has a spot to go. I have a small house and three under 4 yrs. It's frustrating when they dump things out and play garbage. Mine do it all of the time. I try to only have what I am prepared to deal with out. I store many things in totes in the garage. When I bring in a big tote full of things, they play for 2 hrs and are completely entertained for the afternoon. We clean it up and put it back at the end of the day. It's like having new toys every day. This works well downstairs. My living room does not have to be full of toys all of the time. Our playroom is a small loft area upstairs by the bedrooms. I have rubbermaid platic shelves and some bins on them. I limit what is inside of the bins. They know how to clean up because they know which toy goes in which colored bin. Ex--lightening Mcqueen in red, john deere in green.
I have some empty baskets for them to play with. That way they aren't emptying the existing baskets to play with.
Hope this helps. I would not be opposed to locking the closet ifyou have other things availible for them to access. I used to store extras in a closet and had it locked, but these were not all of their toys.
Good luck!

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answers from Rapid City on

First of all I can't say a lot when my 2 year old granddaughter can make a huge mess at my house and I don't make her pick up, well, not to often which will change as soon as I get the computer moved so she will have a play room. If I do ask her to pick up her toys, she says "You do it" which makes me laugh (I know, but I am grandma not mom so she gets away with it more with me). If it is games I do make her pick them up before going to anything else because of the pieces getting lost. I also tell her when she trips over toys if she would pick up her toys she wouldn't fall over them and she will pick them up then.

Now with you, being mom instead of grandma and the boys being there all the time and not just once in a while, the lock on the closet would be a good thing. If they don't pick up their toys and you have to do it, you can lock the door for 15 mins or up to a hour then give them a chance again. It takes a few times but it does work. My parents watch my great neices, who are 3 and 6, every day and my mom tells them if they don't pick up their toys they will go bye bye. She will put them up somewhere the girls won't see them and leave them there until the girls ask for them and she tells them it went bye bye and makes them wait a day or two after. This has worked well for them, even the three year old.



answers from Minneapolis on

OMG - I was just thinking of writing this same type of question as I am sitting here with my 4 year and 2.5 year old getting very angry at them. i am eager to read the responses you get. Good Luck




answers from Rochester on

I have a 4 year old that is almost 5 and a 1 year old. I clean up what the 1 year old does (I let him get messy with about 5 or 6 toys). With my older one he has to clean up before he goes to bed. If I come down there and the toys are not picked up they get put away by me :) At first my son thought that was great. Mom was going to put the toys away. I put them in a big container and put them in storage! He woke up and did not have many toys left! He is now very good and picking up his toys!



answers from Milwaukee on

We have all been there. Once my oldest (will be 5 in Feb) turned 3 I started a "if you can't clean it up rule; you can't keep it." Sounds cruel, but he figured it out quickly. I just say will you can't clean it up and mommy does I will clean it up and put it in the closet until you can clean it up. He still needs encouragement, but does alot better job. I compare cleaning the toy room to me looking at the mountain of lundery. It can be very over whelming to a young child. Sometimes I will give choices like do you want to clean up the cars first or the food? My youngest is just 2 so the rules are different, but she too is held responsible to pick up somethings.

Good luck!!!



answers from Minneapolis on

I hope you don't take this the wrong way but I think you need to let kids be kids. Teaching them to pick up AFTER they are done playing is one thing but putting one toy back to take out another is very OCD to me. I have a 1 year old and have greatly had to adjust. You can't have a perfect house all the time. And if you don't give them access to their toys, they could hurt themselves trying to get to them without asking you. Teach them that when they are done playing, they need to clean up and relax!



answers from Minneapolis on

Until about age 3 or 3.5 my son loved the "dumping" game. All the bins just like yours. He stopped it on his own, then started again and at that point I put my foot down and said "No Dumping".You have it tough because if it was just the older one, you could start making some headway, but with the 2 together it will take a bit more time and patience. The best way to at least keep a little sanity would be to set a time of day when you all do a big pickup together (say around 4pm). Find aa fun song to play and make a game of picking up, maybe the garbage man needs all the garbage cans full so he can take them to the dump. Then after that point in the day, the closet is latched and you pull out one bin at a time. Then the next morning they have free rein on the bins for their junkyard game.



answers from Des Moines on

I would think the 3 1/2 year old would be getting old enough to start learning it, but the 2 yr old pry isn't. It is pry just a phase. My daughter is 3 and we are working with her on this. She just goes from room to room getting something out, and then moving on to the next without picking up! DRIVES me NUTS!

My son, who is 6, has it down! He is an excellent picker-upper and likes to keep things neat. HOWEVER, when he was younger...he was like you sons! I remember one time when he was pry 18 mos, I went in his room and he had pulled every single diaper out and threw them all over the room. The toys were scattered, AND his crib was pushed across the room!

I guess my advice is hang in there, be patient, and keep reinforcing the whole "pick up one thing to get another out" idea. It will eventually catch on. We did do sticker/reward charts for my son, and that always seemed to work. We are starting that with my daughter now. I know when my son was little, we only picked up at the end of the day...seemed pointless otherwise. However, now they are older, they do it several times. Also, sometimes offering them help works too. I tell them if they go pick up the toys, I will help them. That usually does it. Maybe try and make a game out of it somehow? Good luck...I hope something I said helps!



answers from Minneapolis on

I have a 2 1/2 little girl and she can pretty much get to any toy that she wants to. I usually let her play with whatever toy, whenever she wants, but if I start seeing things get too messy, I tell her to clean up before she can play with anything else. Sometimes she fights me on it for a minute or two, but I just keep telling her no. So, usually, toys get cleaned up once a day during the week (she is in daycare during the day) and a couple times/day on the weekends.



answers from Minneapolis on

Try this organize their toys into rubbermaid totes/bins the large ones.

Cars for one bin, legos for another bin, trains for another bin etc....

Make it to where they can only have 1 bin out at a time. Rotate bins to prevent boredom and have a rule if it doesn't fit in the bin like to many stuffed animals or to many cars then some have to go donate or throw away so you keep your toys under control.

Have the bins locked away some how so they need your assistance to get a new one out, put a lock on their clost if you have to.

I have never been a fan of board games, puzzles and toys with little pieces for small children because they get lost and never played with or cleaned up. My daughter is now 7 and I just let her have a puzzle. Sounds harsh but I need my sanity too.

I use to work at a home daycare and this technique works even for children as young as 2 and 3. We had the toys always sorted into LARGE bins locked in the storage closet at the daycare and we had 1 bin out at a time.

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