...because home doesn't happen overnight.
11.02.10 / Toy Story

I get this question {or some version of it} a lot.

“Your house doesn’t look like it has 2 kids living in it.  Where are all the toys?”

Contrary to popular belief, I do not lock my kids up in the basement or keep them outside.  In fact, they eat, play and make messes here every single day.  Just like any other kid.  We do have a ‘toy system’ in place to corral all the kid stuff in our house which helps to make picking up {or ‘redding up’ as Handy Hubby calls it} simple.  Here are a few of my secrets for keeping toys in check:

1. Donate, separate and rotate. About 3-4 times per year, I {sometimes with the boys’ help} go through all the toys and purge.  If it’s broken, missing parts or just not grabbing my kids’ attention anymore {young kids tend to outgrow toys quickly!} I get rid of it.  Most items make it to Goodwill where I always ask for a receipt to write them off at tax time.  A few things get passed onto neighbor kids who see the secondhand toy as new. Some people may have a problem with this idea, wanting to hold onto toys because they remind them of their kids or thinking the kid might play with it again someday.  But I find happiness in knowing that our donated toys can make another child smile while keeping our house clutter free at the same time.  {I do keep the rare family heirloom toy.}  Whatever makes the cut and gets to stay in our home is loosely categorized:  cars, trains, blocks, Knex, books, puzzles, games, etc.  I try to keep like with like.  I’m not military stiff about it; we don’t have labels or anything.  I also try to keep what’s at kid reach to a minimum…meaning I put away a few items to rotate into the mix every couple of weeks once the boys have gotten bored of what’s available.  I find the boys are more apt to focus on a few toys versus a gazillion.  Simply keeping a handle on the amount of toys in our home makes it that much easier to create a space where kids, adults and style can live harmoniously.

2.  Place toys in appropriate areas. In other words, I keep toys in the rooms/areas where I like my kids to play –  mainly the family room and guest/playroom.  I set aside one half of our guest room to act as a playroom upstairs.  I hated the idea of only using this room in our house a couple of times per year when we had visitors.  Now, it gets used weekly if not daily.

Believe it or not, my kids don’t really have any toys in their bedrooms.  Instead, I store all their books in their bedrooms.  My boys have always been great sleepers and it may/may not have anything to do with this. {Kind of the same reason Handy Hubby and I refuse to have a TV in our bedroom.}  To us, bedrooms are spaces for downtime and sleeping…not playing.  Same goes for the front living room in our home where you enter the house.  I don’t like the idea of people tripping over toys as soon as they walk in, so I don’t store toys there.  That’s not to say that we don’t get the occasional car or truck under our feet in the kitchen, living room or even dining table.  But, for the most part, we’re able to keep the toys in appropriate zones out of the way of normal traffic flow.

3.  Store toys in appealing baskets, bins and containers. Not only can this work to keep toys out of sight, but many storage options can actually add texture and interest to a room.  For instance, I use a console behind our family room sectional for toy storage.  The woven baskets hold toys and break up all the dark wood and leather.

I use baskets, bins and boxes all over the family room for disguising toys.

This corner may look unassuming enough but behind the chair is a fabric covered bin holding our Wii floor mat.  {Yes, those are my toes.}

One bin in the TV console is assigned to kid DVD’s.

The ottomans that flank the entertainment console actually house board games.

The black and white geometric ‘book’ has a secret.

Card games!

Even our sunroom is in on the basket organization action.

The basket holds Lincoln Logs.

Truth be told, we do have toys in our house after all!  You just have to know where to look.

4.  Get rid of bulky packaging. As soon as a new toy comes into our house, usually the first thing to go is the packaging.  {Don’t worry, we recycle.}  All that cardboard is unnecessary.  Once that’s out of the way, I’m usually left with a much smaller thing to find a place for, and I can come up with an alternative to the flimsy packaging that holds up way better.

For example, I use this linen box to house a solar system puzzle.

I cut the picture off of the original box and store it with the puzzle pieces for a quick reference.

5.  Pick up as you go. If Layne & Everett have been playing cars all morning {a typical morning} and then decide they want to try Playdoh, I’ll usually say something like, “Okay, I’ll get out the Playdoh while you guys put the cars away.”  That way we don’t have too many messes going on at once.  In case you’re wondering where the Playdoh is…

…it’s in the bottom drawer of this cabinet…

Before bedtime at the end of every night, we make ’em clean up toys too.  But I’ll be honest.  We do have those nights when I’m just so ready for them to go to bed that I’ll forgo the toy mess until later.  We’re not perfect!

6.  Save large items for special days. Over the years, I’ve kept the kids’ kitchenette, pop-up tent and ball pit in our unfinished basement.  I’ll bring one upstairs every month or so and leave it up for about a week.  After that, they’re usually tired of it and back down to the basement it goes.

So, there you go.  That’s how I keep toys from taking over our house.  Maybe this makes me out to be a stickler, but I assure you my kids have plenty to keep them occupied.  We rarely have the *newest* toy because there’s always going to be another *better* toy to follow.  Half the time my kids prefer to move around the furniture and build forts anyway.  Who needs toys when you have your imagination?



Great storage! Random but I can’t get over how pretty the flowers are on you coffee table. Are those real? If not where did you find such realistic fake flowers? Thanks!


Meredith – Do you mean the vase on the table in my sunroom? If so, they are FAKE. Believe it or not, I got them from Walmart about 3 years ago. Everybody who sees them thinks they’re real. They were a great find!


Love it! This how I am (or try to be). One thing we are good at is rotating toys from an upstairs storage area. That way not ALL the toys are out and they feel like they are revisiting or getting ‘new’ toys every few weeks. I’m sure after Christmas – what with all the grandparent and family toy purchases for them – I’ll go through with a strong hand and eliminate toys to send to Goodwill before bringing in the new.

Some people’s homes are CRAZY filled with toys and I wish I could tell them ‘uh, you don’t have to keep and have out every single toy they’ve ever recieved.’ It’s good for kids to have a limited number of toys – as they come up with new ways to play with their stuff it expands their minds and encourages creativity. Plus, mommy doesn’t go crazy! ;)


Great post! I wish more people realized that it’s ok to let the kids let their toys go once in awhile. I don’t think this makes you a stickler at all . . . it just makes sense. And it will help your kids understand to let things go more freely when they get older. It also makes it easier to clean . . . there’s nothing more annoying than fighting with your kid to get them to clean up when you know part/most of the problem is that they have too much stuff and don’t know where it all goes!


Katy – You’re right about the holidays and all the new toys that come with them. I just went through our toy inventory about a week ago in preparation for this. I’ll probably have to go back and reassess in January after all the damage is done!

Skooks – I’m glad you don’t think I’m a ‘mean mommy’ for giving toys away! I,too, find it MUCH easier to clean when everything has a place.


Oh good there is hope. We are trying to having kids now and I keep worrying that I would look like a bad mom if I thought this same exact way. Thank you so much for posting something like this. I love Ikea for their bookcases and storage options. ;-) I just love your home and I love it even more because you have hidden all the kids toys when they are not playing with them. Amazing organization you have. I’m saving this post and will come back to it when I need it. :-) And you are definitely not a mean mommy for doing these things. Some order is a nice thing. ;-)


We’re kind of sticklers too – of course visitors should know that a child lives in our house, but he/she shouldn’t have to clamber over toys to get to the breakfast nook for coffee or compete with toys for space on the couch. We have a bunch of stiff fabric storage cubes that serve as toy storage in our son’s room but sometimes the challenge is getting him to use ’em. But when he does use them, he’s very much like his Mom – there’s a certain place for everything: the clear, lidded plastic box for cars, the orange-colored cube for balls, toy tools go in the green crate, etc.


Great tips! I was just wondering where you got your black/dark brown console table with the baskets??


reese1592 – The console behind our sectional that holds all the kids’ toys is from IKEA. It originally came with 4 little legs to move it up off the floor, but I decided to leave them off. It’s much more sturdy {and kid-friendly} that way. The baskets are from IKEA also and, I’ll warn you, they can scratch the console when pulled/pushed in/out a lot. I just touch up the scuffs with a dark brown Sharpie every once in a while. Other than that {which I figured would happen}, I love it!


very inspiring post! where did you got the boxes in the expedit? i have the same bookcase for my little boy’ toys…but it doesn’t look so chic!


Where did you find the white cabinet with the glass front?


Tracy – Found it at homedecoratorsoutlet.com – it’s kind of hit or miss but you can get some really great deals. The glass-front cabinet was on closeout, so it was crazy cheap. I painted the inside of it green for a pop of color. I blogged about it here…


Hope that’s what you needed to know!


Oh, this is SUCH a great inspiration! I struggle so much with trying to keep all the toys in my son’s room bcs i think he should have play corners in every room. Where can i get this book case box with the pretty pattern print? Or is it DIY? So glad i came across your blog!


Julia – The geometric print book box was an outlet find. It’s a West Elm product that I came across at a Pottery Barn outlet. I knew I had to have it! Not sure if West Elm still carries it but you could probably find something similar at TJMaxx. Or, like you said, DIY it! That’s a great idea!


Can you post the link to the dark storage cabinet with the wicker baskets (I’m not finding it on the Ikea website)? That’s exactly what I’m looking for!!! Thanks :)


Marcy – Hmph. I’m having trouble finding it on IKEA’s website too. {It is a few years old.} I’ve seen it in my local IKEA store though just in the last 2 months. Next time I’m there, I’ll have to jot down the name and item number. Maybe you could contact your nearest IKEA store with that info and see if they have it in stock too.


Dana you have totally inspired me to buy bins and fake books and hide the kids toys, where do you find those fake books? not only through out our house as well as the kids room…thanks for the inspirations…


Mandy – Our faux book is from Pottery Barn outlet but I’ve seen similar ones at TJMaxx, HomeGoods and Hobby Lobby. You can even buy the plain paper mache versions at JoAnn’s and glue scrap fabric to it! I haven’t tried that yet but would love to.


Thanks for this posting… Came across it when trying to decide what to do with all my son’s stuff! Right before Christmas, I took a lot of his “big” and cumbersome toys and put them in an under-bed storage box and tucked them away to see if he even notices they’re gone. So far, no questions… I’ll eventually donate. I too, have the Expedit from IKEA. I have the four compartment for the living room and the eight for his closet (I actually had to build it inside for it to fit) I found boxes at Target that fit and do not scratch it (they are a snug fit, so you have to work them in a bit first and now they are smooth running)
Dana… I do have the wicker baskets in his closet one and I put those things that stick to the bottom of kitchen chairs to avoid scratching and making noise on the floor. Just an idea…


Michelle – Love the idea of using protective felt pads on the baskets for easier slipping in/out!


Just discovered your site and I love it! Thanks for all the great tips! I have 2 boys myself and will have to put some of these toy storage tips to use!


I just discovered your site and I love it! I really love your white, glass-front cabinet. And that white frame above it {with the 3 openings} is lovely! Did you mat{te?} it yourself with linen or buy it that way?


JoLynn – The silver frame above the white glass-front cabinet was from a West Elm store that was going out of business. I had planned on DIYing one myself…until I saw this one on closeout!! It was fate.


Oh, I love when that happens! I have been too lazy to tackle it too, but it’s been on my list of things to do for a long time now!! :)


I love every picture I see. Beautiful house! May I ask the paint color you used in your guest/playroom? It looks like the perfect shade of gray. I attempted to paint a bedroom gray using Behr Porpoise. In the store, it looked a lovely shade of gray, but in my room, it is quite blue… not what I was going for.


Did anyone ever locate the console at IKEA? I would love to get my hand on it too! Let me know. Thanks!


May I ask where you bought the 10 cube organizer? Been looking for one, but only found them in 4-8 cubes.


I believe that was an old Ikea purchase.


I love all of your ideas! We are preparing for baby #2 and my nesting has apparently kicked into high gear – I want to get rid of EVERYTHING – but I won’t :) Where/how do you store the big toys? We have silly things like golf bags and riding toys and metal dump trucks. They get played with often (at least weekly) but our house looks like a plastic parking lot right now!