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Parenting Q&A: Toys Have Cluttered Our House!

Parenting Q&A: Toys Have Cluttered Our House!

Q. Our house looks like Santa's workshop with stuffed animals, race cars and art supplies scattered throughout. We try to get our children to keep their items in their own rooms, but it seems like a losing battle. Should we get rid of stuff or is there a best way to organize goods to encourage tidiness?

A. Santa’s workshop has elves to maintain order, mommies typically don’t. We all have found ourselves stepping on a Barbie shoe or broken Pez head. Toys can cost so little and manage to buy us time at the check out counter or relieve guilt after a frantic day. These things become meaningless and clutter our children’s lives and our common living spaces. Here are some tips to purge and reset order in your home.
1. Spend a few days observing your child’s play patterns. Toys that are not touched and have gathered dust around them need to go on a toss or store mental list. Whatever you do, do not ask your children. They will attach to every item like a tick. When children are gone, go through and toss or store unused toys.
2. Create simple portable bins for remaining toys. Take pictures of items or label them if your child can read so they know what to put in the bins. Legos go in a designated bin as do cars, etc. Bins are stored in the children’s room and can be brought out at in an agreed upon amount. Some children want to build a dinosaur kingdom so certainly the dino and block bins can come out at the same time. Heck, some creative carefree households could allow all bins. To see the other step Lonna recommends,

3. The trick is in the clean up routine: a timer. Warn children when the clean up timer will be set, then set a timer for a reasonable amount of time — say five minutes — to clean up. Children love a timer, the bigger and more visual the better. Clean up becomes a game and since things can be placed in their bins in a simple and quick way, success is certain. If, by the way, a timer with a buzzer is offensive to your senses, use a music box. It's just as effective.

— Lonna Corder

Parenting expert and Montessori school director Lonna Corder has been doling out advice for 25 years as a teacher, parent/child consultant, and on television. For more information, visit

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Join The Conversation
mstrauss mstrauss 8 years
I think it can be very difficult keeping toys organized, especially in small living spaces such as apartments. I have a friend who I think of as having the messy toy apartment and it became my goal not to have a home like that. Since I am in an apartment and have one main room that is used as the living room and my sons playroom, I took the doors off of the TV stand (which is huge since our TV is 62 inches) and put nice baskets on the shelves to fill with his toys. You can still see the toys, but at least they are contained.
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 8 years
I have to say that if i go into someones house whose entire place is dominated by kids toys I will be reticent to go back.
care0531 care0531 8 years
We live in Florida so people don't really use dining rooms down here to entertain (we use the patio) so we set the dining room up as my daughters play room. She has learned to keep it clean and all her toys over there because I take a garbage back and pick up anything that isn't cleaned up or put back in her play room and she finally realized she what she needed to do to keep her toys. ( I never threw the stuff away I put it in a closet until she would notice and then after our discussion she would get it back).
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