Over the last year, I’ve been diagnosed with a genetic disease that means I’m spending much of my parenting time sitting on the couch or in a wheelchair. It’s pretty much impossible to clean from the couch, so for a long time, I just gave up on having anything clean or organized in my house. We basically just lived in a sea of swirling rainbows, unicorns, mermaids and LOL doll heads. Yes, I’m a #girlmom.
Recently, I’ve been getting some much needed and highly appreciated help with a full-time personal care assistant, and one of the projects we came up with was a toy organization system to help keep a little order in my home. That said, I’ve always been a “toss all the toys in one giant box” type of toy organizer, so when we first got everything set up, I felt a little ridiculous, having everything so hyper-organized, but it has made a real difference in the level of mess around me and therefore in my sanity levels! I therefore would love to share some of my favorite solutions with you!
One of my top toy storage solutions is a combination play mat/storage bag.
These handy mats lay out flat for play and then you just pull the drawstring around the edge to enclose all the toys in a handy dandy storage bag! (linked above) I love these mats for blocks, tiny toys like Calico Critters, build-a-marble-roller sets, LEGOs, and anything else with lots of small parts.
For some reason my kids find it way easier to toss any escaped toys onto the mat than to put them into the toybox, and if they just drag the mat over to my chair, I can easily pull the drawstring and finish the cleanup without much effort at all. I can even use my grabby thingy (Amazon calls it a “Grabber Reacher Tool for the Elderly”, which makes me feel SO much more secure in my coolness). I just pull the mat over to my wheelchair and cinch up the drawstring if my children have escaped before I realize they haven’t put it away!
For the toys that don’t come in large sets, I purchased a bunch of shoe-sized storage bins.
I got these from Target when they were on sale, and sorted all the toys into lidded bins with labels on each side of the bin, so no matter how the kids stick them on the shelf, we can see what is supposed to be inside. One box is for doctor supplies, one box for My Little Ponies, one box for “tiny things” that used to consistently be lost like Polly Pockets, Hatchimals, and (my personal nemesis) LOL Surprise Dolls, who for some reason are continually losing their heads.
The girls can only get out one or two bins at a time, and they need to be put away before getting out the next bins. This has worked out a lot better than I expected because they can nearly always find the toys they need without dumping out every toy we own, like they did when digging for tiny creatures that always fell to the bottom corners of the large toybox. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to notice that the kids actually play with the toys a lot more since everything is well organized.
Finally, my current favorite organizing project—the art supplies!
My 5-year-old is an extraordinary and prolific artist. We have so many unicorn drawings that if you put them all end to end, it would lead you to an entire new world where fairies romp with elves and clean-up is all done with a shake of pixie dust! I want to encourage her artistic endeavors, but keeping up with the markers and crayons and pencils and glue sticks was just impossible when I can’t bend down to pick anything up! Enter the pastel storage drawers!
I found them on Amazon, and they’re designed for artists’ pastels but these flat, divided drawers fit perfectly on my bookshelf, and enable my daughter to see all her colors at a glance, rather than needing to dump out everything to find the perfect shade of aqua that she MUST HAVE for the mermaid’s tail! She can take out a drawer or two and set them on the table while she’s working, and then everything slides back in out of sight! It has revolutionized the art supply area. She is an organizer by nature and always organizes colored things by “rainbow color order,” so this ended up being a perfect fit for her.
Last but not least, we “shop for stray toys”.
At night we do a “toy shopping trip” with the little shopping cart, pushing it throughout the house and collecting the stray toys that got left in corners and under tables throughout the day; then we sort them into the right bins. The girls like this even more if they get to use my grabby thingy to help pick up the toys! (The perks of having a disabled parent!)
All in all, life is messy, and life with kids is even messier. But these tips and tools have helped me keep things a little bit cleaner so I can think a little bit more clearly! What are some strategies you use to corral the mess?
Anita grew up in Belize as a missionary kid. She has lived in 3 countries and traveled on 5 continents but can’t resist the allure of subzero winters so she now lives in MN with her Egyptian husband and two daughters. She blogs about God, motherhood, and appreciating beauty at anitamatta.com, and pretends to be trendy by posting pictures of coffee as @anitafmatta on Instagram.