Avoiding the Clutter Crazies

Nothing seems to drive parents crazier than having toys everywhere. My mom used to get the “Clutter Crazies” when my brother and I left toys all over the house. This has rubbed off on me because as a nanny, I don’t put up with much of a mess. Some parents come home and say “Wow, the house looks spotless!” and they’re surprised when I tell them that their kids did the cleaning. You can beat the Clutter Crazies and your kids can clean up their toys! Here are a few tips:


1. Make them clean up their own toys…

If you do one thing for your children, teach them to clean up their own toys. They will thank you in the future, I promise!

Common concerns:

  1. “Wouldn’t it be faster to just clean toys up myself?!”
  2. “My little one is so young, he can’t put toys away yet!”
  3. “Isn’t that just begging for a tantrum?!”

Easy answers:

  1. Of course, but do you want to clean up after them for the rest of your life? Didn’t think so. Start early to form lifelong habits.
  2. As soon as kids can walk, they can put toys away. Seriously. It might take a little direction – tell them what to grab and where to put it (“Pick up the blocks off of the floor and put them in this box”) and let them complete the entire task by themselves (i.e., do not start grabbing blocks).
  3. Yeah, you might get some tears or a little attitude, but insist that the cleaning must be done before they can play with anything else. Be firm! Once they realize that it’s quicker to just do it, they will.

What to say: “You need to clean up your toys before you start playing with something else.”

Side note: If you have multiple kids, assign each of them a task, and make sure they each do their own portion. Some kids will do the other kid’s job (in addition to their own) simply to get it done, but that just encourages free riding.

Moral: This will teach your kids that they are responsible for their own actions. And your house will be cleaner in the process!


2. …And if they don’t, take the toys away.

When I was nanny, I used to have a “Day Off Bin”. If toys weren’t picked up at the end of the day, I put them in the bin. Those toys were not allowed to be played with at all the next day. This is a super logical punishment, so it really works. Basically, if your kids can’t put their toys away, they can’t play with them.

Common concern: “Won’t this cause tantrums?!”

Easy answer: Probably. But once your kids are familiar with the concept it will limit the cleaning that you have to do at the end of the day.

What to say: “Remember, anything that is left out goes in the Day Off Bin!”

Side note: Some kids respond to this by saying “I don’t care if _____ goes in the bin, I’m not going to play with it tomorrow anyway”. If that is a consistent problem at your house, make another bin for toys that are chronically in the Day Off Bin and give them away (more in the next tip).

Moral: This will teach your kids that their actions have (logical) consequences.


3. Give some toys away

If your kids are always leaving toys out, they might just have too many. Kids don’t actually need that many toys. Figure out which toys actually get played with and which just sit around untouched. Pick a day and have your kids pick out a few toys to donate. Suggest some of the toys that they don’t really play with.

Common concerns:

  1. “Aren’t my kids going to resist getting rid of their toys?”
  2. “Will my kids understand the idea of donation?”

Easy answer:

  1. They might get upset at the thought of giving up their beloved toys (every toy becomes beloved when it is at risk of being taken away). Try showing them that you also give away some of your things (books, clothes, shoes, etc.) and do it as a family activity.
  2. The concept of donation is something that most kids understand from a pretty early age, especially if it is something they can relate to. Kids like toys, so giving toys to other kids makes sense to them. They might not be able to grasp the idea of donating money, but giving toys to kids who don’t have many will make sense to them.

What to say: “There are lots of kids who don’t have as many toys as you. I know you love playing with toys, so I bet those kids would also love having some toys to play with. Let’s pick out some toys that you can give them!”

Side note: Some parents are inclined to buy new toys as a reward for donating old toys, but I would caution against this. Not only does it defeat the purpose of getting rid of toys, but it also creates an environment where kids think that they deserve a reward for doing nice things for other people.

Moral: Teach your kids that giving can make them feel really good. It will also encourage them to count their blessings.


4. Try a toy rotation

This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you have the storage space, try rotating which toys you keep out and which stay in another place. You can decide on the toys that get put away with your kids or just make the decisions yourself (probably the easier method).

Common concerns: “Won’t my kids ask for the toys that I put away?”

Easy answer: Honestly, probably not (unless you try to put away their favorite toys). If they ask for them, there’s no harm in trading them out for some other toys.

What to say: After you pull out some toys to rotate, “Remember how much fun this toy is?! Let’s play with it, it hasn’t been out for awhile!”

Moral: These toys will feel fresh and new because they haven’t been out in awhile, and you won’t have so much clutter out in the open.


5. Finally, make storage accessible to kids

The way you store toys will greatly influence how many get left out at the end of the day. If you store toys on tall shelves, your kids are going to leave their toys out simply because they can’t put them away. If you store toys in deep bins where you can’t see the bottom, your kids are going to empty the entire bin looking for a certain toy. Things that aren’t accessible to kids end up on the floor or they don’t get played with at all.

Common concerns:

  1. “Isn’t it expensive to buy special storage containers?”
  2. “Won’t it look tacky if toys aren’t in bins or drawers?”

Easy answers:

  1. Check out the storage ideas below. They are easy and inexpensive!
  2. More tacky than having toys all over the place? Probably not. Check out Pinterest for lots of toy storage ideas that will fit with your style.

Here are a few storage tricks:

Try storing things in laundry baskets so you can see through the sides

Laundry Basket Dresser

Cut a shoe organizer in half and put on the halves on the back of cupboard doors to store dolls, small stuffed animals, or toy trucks

pocket organizer2

Create a wall display for little toy cars


Hang baskets on a tension rod for easy-to-reach storage



How do you manage toy clutter at your house? Share your ideas in the comments!

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