Every parent has a love/hate relationship with their kids’ toys. You love them because they are good for your kids – they inspire imagination, help them to develop and are just plain fun for kids. However, you hate them because they are messy, create clutter and, if you are like most parents, you have stepped on a Lego or a matchbox car at one time or another. Your living room may look like a brightly colored hurricane rolled through leaving stuffed animals and board games in its wake. So, what is a parent to do? Here are 5 quick tips to help you out:
- Designate a portion of your home as a play area. Of course, a play room is nice but that is not practical in every home. That means you may have to create a corner that is the play area or convert a portion of their bedroom into their toy space. Whatever you choose, make sure it is clearly indicated and easy for the child to understand. Let them know that that area is where their toys belong. You may want to lay out a small rug or even use colorful tape depending on your preferences and needs.
- Bins, Bins, Bins! You need bins. You need as many bins as you can possibly buy. You need bins in different sizes, different colors and different shapes. Ideally, you would have shelving or some kind of system where the bins can sit. However, you can also buy stackable bins which sort of become their own little shelves.
- Label the bins. An unlabeled bin is really just an invitation for mess. You might as well put a sign on it that says, “Put junk here.” The only way that a bin system will work is if each bin serves a distinct purpose and the kids know what it is. If your kids can read, then label the bins with words. If they can’t, you can label them with pictures or try color-coding the bins. Whatever you do, make sure that it is easy to figure out where everything goes.
- Create a system for cleaning up and staying tidy. You need to set guidelines for your kids. If left to their own devices, they will make a horrendous mess and then walk away. This isn’t laziness on their part, they simply don’t know better. You have to teach them. You need to set up rules for their play area. Some rules might be that they cannot take their toys out of the play area, that they need to put one toy away before choosing another or that only one bin can be down at a time.
- Never, ever clean up their mess on your own. Can you help? Sure. Are you their maid? No. If you consistently clean up after them and never expect them to help then they will begin to see you as the magic toy fairy who cleans up when they go to bed. That’s not fair to you and doesn’t teach them any responsibility. Get them involved in cleaning up their mess.
These 5 tips are not exhaustive and, of course, there are some more complicated organizational strategies. However, these are a good start and, in reality, you’re not going to be able to keep everything completely tidy all of the time. That’s just not how kids are. Do your best and make sure they are helping, but if a Barbie is in the wrong bin or if a stuffed animal winds up on the floor, take a deep breath and put it into perspective.