Keeping Kid Clutter Under Control

Author | Nicole Hostetter

Being a type-A neat freak doesn’t exactly align with motherhood.

With the arrival of our first baby, my once-tidy home quickly became filled with stuff. Bassinets, bouncy chairs, booster seats, burp clothes and whatever else I’d put on our registry in a hormonal-induced nesting frenzy.

When kid one and kid two finally grew out of those items, they went up to the attic (or were desperately given away to free up some space), the kid clutter remained; only instead of Snug-a-Puppy swings and tummy time mats, we had entered the world of Legos, blocks, cars, dolls, and art supplies.

Whether you subscribe to consumerism or not, parenting little people can come with a lot of “stuff.”

How to store it becomes one of the key questions in maintaining the harmony of your home and preventing it from turning in to the “kids house” rather than your own.

With a toddler and a preschooler at home, I’ve had some time to develop my own way of dealing with kid clutter. The three tips below are a quick guide to how we manage our toy and craft storage. I hope it helps you too!

1. Just Say No

You can’t have clutter if you don’t accumulate it to begin with.

I know, it’s so tempting to pick up a toy when you see something you just know your kid will love. It’s a great feeling as a mom to surprise my kids with something special. And it also buys me about 30 minutes to an hour (if it’s a really good toy) of peace after they open it up. But eventually, as every parent knows, that toy will then sit in the corner, unused.

So don’t bring clutter in to begin with.

Know your kids’ interests, and keep new toys limited to birthdays, holidays, or special occasions. Use consumable toys that engage kids like art supplies and play doh. Choose toys that can be used across multiple kids like dollhouses and toy cars or animals. Kids are creative, and I’ve seen them make more use out of a cardboard box than the toy that came in it. So keep it minimal. They’ll find something to do.

And let family members know your plan. Get them on board with gifts like swim lessons or passes to the Explore More Museum (which has re-opened with limited hours during Covid). Gifts like these don’t take up space, and your child will love them.

2. Contain the Clutter

If I have one guiding principle, this is it: There is a place for everything in a home, and everything belongs in its place.

The place for toys in our house? They all belong in each kid’s bedroom, and in the basement play area.

I decided early on that because we have an open-concept main floor, I wanted the living room, kitchen, and dining room to be “grown-up” spaces, free of kid clutter.

Of course the kids play in these spaces, and they make huge messes all over every day. BUT, when it comes time for toys to be put away, they go back to their bedrooms or down into the basement where all the toys live. So when I look around at night, the living room is tidy and there is usually not a toy to be seen.

Doing this helps keep me sane. The kids can play in their own rooms or in the basement at any time. All toys have a place, and the kids know where to put things when they’re done playing.

(Left) Humble Crew 20-Bin Organizer $78.99 Target | (Middle) Room Essentials 6-Cube Organizer $29 Target | (Right) Ikea TROFAST System $85.99 Ikea

Cube storage has been our go-to for years, and it’s earned its spot as a workhorse for toy and book storage. The shelves are right at child-level, and their arrangement makes it so that everything can be stored in one convenient place. Cloth boxes that come with these units are nice for hiding clutter, but they also hide toys from the kids, lessening the likelihood that they’ll be played with.

Try arranging toys directly in the cubes, or labeling your bins with laminated pictures so kids know what’s inside. I am not at that level of organization yet, so our toys live in a mix of baskets, bins, and open shelving depending on the items.

(Left) Beach House Storage Bins $17-$20 The Container Store | (Right) Large Weathered Gray Wood Crate $11 Home Depot

We also use a lot of baskets around the house on their own, both big and small. All of our common rooms have a designated toy basket, where I can quickly throw errant Matchbox cars or Legos to get them out from underfoot. I put these baskets behind chairs or under coffee tables so they aren’t noticeable, but I know they’re there and it makes me feel so much better to know the toys can all go in one spot until I can sort them later.

3. Rotate Your Toys For Maximum Fun and Minimal Clutter

Every few months I sit down in the play areas with a big Rubbermaid tub, and I go through all the toys, one by one.

Toys end up in one of three categories: Donate, Keep, or Store.

Beloved toys that are no longer being played with regularly get put into the bin which then goes up in the attic. The next time I do my informal toy inventory session (3 or so times a year) I pull out the bin and the kids are DELIGHTED to see the old toys back again!

It’s been a great way to prolong the life of good toys I didn’t want to donate, and I can always count on having a great afternoon with the kids going through their old things. Storing some toys frees up space in the play areas, which allows my kids to keep creative by using their same few toys in new and different ways. And re-using old toys keeps the amount of new toys we purchase to a minimum.

Hopefully these tips will help you get a handle on the kid clutter in your home. It can be a challenge to keep organized without kids! With them, it can feel daunting, but it is possible to keep your home harmonious with a little bit of planning and intention.

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