The Rotating Toy Box

A mom-tested method for getting your kids to play with toys, avoid a mess, and bug you less.

Currently, our homes seems like they are made entirely of a mountain of toys.  Thank you, Christmas.  Thank you, Amazon.  Thank you, dollar-spot-that’s-no-longer-the-dollar-spot at Target.  Right after the kids go to bed we tend to spend our kid free time organizing the toy area, a reset for the next morning.  And let’s be honest, it’s a mental reset for us as well. It often looks like the world’s cutest grenade went off in our living rooms.  It’s amazing how many things two tiny people can disarrange in a day.  They are like those ants that can carry 50 times their own weight and never seem to stop moving.  But somehow, still, they are bored.  They want to watch a show.  They want us to play with them.  They want something else.  My response is almost always, “Why?! You have SO MANY TOYS!” 

Here’s the thing.  Just like we sometimes wander into a grocery store and see fifty million kinds of ranch dressing and scratch our heads, kids can also find many choices a little overwhelming.  I mean I know if I wanted to build a bookshelf, I could probably do it if someone gave me a bookshelf kit.  Maybe sit beside me the whole time handing me what I needed and coaching me through it.  “No, no, Elizabeth.  Good job but you need to use the Alan Wrench for that.  A-L-A-N W-R-E-N-C-HHH.”  But if I had to go into Lowe’s and try to find the wood, nails, stain, glue (I obviously have never done this) then I would probably cry or ask someone to help me too.  So here was my friend’s suggestion.  Limit the toys.  No, don’t get rid of them, but ROTATE them.  Here is what she did.  She bought 7 boxes (foldable cube storage boxes work wonders) and divided up her son’s toys.  One box for every day of the week.  At the beginning of each day she would set out his toy box.  He would play and explore with all of those toys, she would toss them all back in the box at the end of the day, and the next day he would have a brand new box.  My immediate thought was “that doesn’t seem like enough toys to get through the whole day!  Didn’t he get bored?”  No.  He appreciated what he had, didn’t get overwhelmed trying to figure out what to play with first, and rediscovered previously ignored toys.  She also said that she excluded a few favorite toys from the sorted boxes, so these could continue to be played with on a daily basis.

  Toys, toys everywhere!

We have so many toys.  Most of us think this is the answer, but when you found yourself with a newborn and a toddler, it can become a struggle trying to stay sane while keeping everyone happy and entertained.  Toddlers always want to bring you things, handing you one item after the next…after the next.  Sometimes, we just wanted them to discover independent play, nurture their creativity, and seriously leave us the heck alone for five silent minutes.  We reached out to Google (or as Elizabeth’s husband calls it, The Oracle), read blogs, perused discussion forums, posted pleas on social media, and the best answer we received actually came from a friend with a toddler similar in age.  It was such a simple concept.  TOO MANY TOYS.

Hmm.  Less toys, more independent play, less clean up?  That’s what Michael Scott would call a win-win-win.  We all win!  So, Elizabeth set forth immediately, gathering boxes to split up the toys.  Don’t feel like these boxes need to be adorable and matching, feel free to use what you have on hand.  Honestly, if it’s cardboard, throw some crayon’s in that bad boy and you just created a whole new activity my friend.  But here’s the thing…this really did work for us.  She pulled out the toys in the day’s box and kept herself more entertained than she did when she had more options.  Rarely touched toys got played with, and when they came back into rotation 7 days later they were exciting all over again.  We have since fallen off that organizational wagon, between summer vacations and getting more toys for birthdays and her little sister being more mobile, all of the toys seem to have a family reunion going on in the living room.  And they have multiplied like RABBITS.  It’s only when Kate and I started discussing toys that the lightbulb went off- “Hey, I’ve been here before!”  

Bins are ready to go!

So here we go.  Round two with a system that’s tried and true, and Kate is giving it a go for the first time.  And since we have already gone over the basic concept, here are a few tidbits we’d like to share based on our most recent experiences:

-Don’t do this while your kids are at home or awake.  They will see you boxing up all of their toys, every single one of which “sparks joy”, and think you are getting rid of them.  May result in epic tears.  Oops.

-When dividing toys amongst the 7 boxes, make sure you are separating toys that have a similar function.  This may seem obvious, but you might want to shoot yourself if you somehow created a box full of musical instruments, so, you’re welcome.

-When sorting you may find some toys that are missing pieces, no longer age appropriate, or that your kiddos are no longer interested in. Feel free to donate them!

Now it’s your turn – how do you handle toy clutter?
Leave a comment below to share!

Happy sorting!


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