Inside: Toy storage ideas from a former teacher and parent of 3 kids. These are tried and true organization methods that (more or less) keep the toys in line.
Are there actually toy storage ideas that work?
Welcome to the dichotomy of parenting: you need to have toys in your home AND have some semblance of home organization. Toy storage is somehow our white whale, holy grail, and Sisyphus “pushing the bolder up the cliff” moment – all at the same time.
(PS: Someone alert my high school English teacher on my excessive use of literary metaphors in the previous sentence. He needs to know.)
The point of all these metaphors is this: organizing toys is a challenge and frankly, most of the toy storage ideas on the Internet seem great for people who don’t have kids, a budget, or less than 10,000 square feet of open living space.
How do you store lots of kids toys?
You store them with thought, purpose, and deliberate intentions. That’s sort of the underlying thesis of this post (omg, again with high school English).
That AND that you can absolutely have organized and well stored toys at your house without:
- Having a playroom or basement
- Living in a McMansion
- Donating all your toys
- Spending tons of money on storage pieces
What it takes to have great toy storage is exactly what I said above: thought, purpose, and working deliberately.
My wins in toy storage happen when I think critically and thoughtfully for our space.
My fails in toy storage happen when I rush into an idea just because Pinterest told me to.
Why does toy organization matter?
Remember: toys are the tools for play in childhood. We must think thoughtfully about those toys. The storage of toys becomes a critical part of the play process.
Kids can’t access their play if they can’t find their tools.
Play isn’t as functional if tools are hidden.
Toy organization is more than just keeping your home “looking nice.” Toy storage can make or break a child’s ability to find their play, and we want children playing independently.
Here’s what you must know before you start organizing toys
There’s a few parts to toy ownership that need to be expressly stated.
After nearly a decade of teaching followed by another almost decade of parenting, I’ve experience a lot in terms of toys. I’ve seen what systems work, what fails, what helps kids play, and what prohibits their independence.
- Toys must be visible. Out of sight: out of kid mind. If they can’t see a toy, the toy doesn’t exist.
- Ditch the boxes. They take up space and hide toys.
- Too many toys can be overwhelming. When a child goes to play, if they can’t make a decision on what to play with (because there are too many choices), that child is more likely to reject independent play. We don’t want this. We want children to be able to find their toys and select them quickly.
- Toys must have a home. If a toy doesn’t have a designated home, do not expect it to ever be organized.
Let’s roll out some toy storage ideas
These ideas are what work for my family and in my home. Not everything will work for yours. My reasons in posting this are to give ideas around toy storage that are realistic, doable, and tried and true.
My storage tips have helps my kids with untold hours of play, and helped me keep my head on straight despite the number of toys we own.
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How to organize toys in a closet
Let’s walk through the organization of my son’s closet. My husband used pre-painted wood from Home Depot to create a simple set of shelves to hold toys. That was a huge first step in this organization: simple shelves.
Here’s how I organized those toys for easy selection and easy clean up.
I cannot sing the praises of this enough – we actually own two. These store all the chunky puzzles in our house. After 9 years of use, we haven’t lost a puzzle piece yet – largely because the puzzles have a safe home.
These clear bins are shoe box sized and durable. They’re on the spendier side for a budget-friendly list, but I can’t find a sturdier design that withstands childhood like these. There’s a reason teachers across America use them in classrooms.
NOTE: I put ONE type of toy in each container and avoid mixing. I’m going for maximum clarity on what goes where. If you look back in the picture of the closet, you’ll see each bin is holding one type of toy.
The company that sells these (Lakeshore Learning) often has a coupon on their website or through their texting service.
I know I just finished lecturing you on having toys be visible, but these find a good middle ground between “hidden mess” and “visible” toys. And they hold a ton.
NOTE: I only put ONE type of toy in each bin. These are not “catch-alls” for junk. Magnetic tiles in one. Wooden blocks in another. LEGO Duplo. Wooden Trains. Everyone has their own bin.
How to organize dress-up clothes
In my youngest child’s room, we found a space behind his door to support dress up clothing.
I used a mounted, accordion hat rack for the hanging clothing and three simple bins below for the hats and accessories.
This was the first time dress-up clothes organization worked in my home. After YEARS of failed attempts and I finally found a model that works for us.
The exact one I bought is no longer sold at Target but this version looks nearly identical. What I like about this organization piece is that the accordion can stretch or shrink to fit your space.
For accessories, I picked up 3 of these coil baskets again (say it with me) to keep everything visible and in arm’s reach. These are full of hats, belts, gloves, jewelry, etc.
I also use similar baskets in my daughter’s room next to her dollhouse.
This isn’t pictured on the photo of “dress-up land,” but this basket for my kids’ vast collection of weapons has been a life saver. Play fighting is a natural part of childhood, and having all their weapons in one place with this bin has been huge.
How to organize board games
Board game storage is a tricky one. It’s easy to want to leave things in the cardboard boxes, but that took up so much room for my family.
So years ago, we ditched the boxes and went with The Zipper Bags.
You know, The.Bags.
Yes, it means I cut down the boxes.
Yes, I know that’s hard for many of us.
But it was so worth it to get so much space back and be able to more efficiently store board games.
RELATED: Need more information on how I store games? I have a separate post just about the board game storage hack.
Toy storage ideas in a bedroom
All the toys my children own live in their bedrooms.
We don’t have a playroom or a basement, but we are blessed with a bedroom for each child. This means toys are evenly spaced throughout their rooms, and have to be highly organized to support all their play.
This hasn’t been an easy task – it’s on-going and fluid.
My daughter loves “loose parts play” and we store her toys in this utensils tray from Amazon. What’s amazing about this set is that not only does she keep it organized, but any child who comes to our house has been successful with cleaning this toy up because it’s such a well designed space.
That’s when you know a piece of toy storage really works: when non-family members can clean the toy up successfully.
Over the course of my parenting life, we’ve owned 7 versions of this shelving unit. This 4×2 has been in my daughter’s room since she was 2 years old. Target (who sells this unit) also has it in 1×3, 2×2, 2×3 and even more styles as well. We have this 4×2 tipped on the side and anchored to a wall.
Pro: This holds a lot, it’s durable, and the price cannot be beaten.
Con: It can sometimes be limiting to work in the 11′ inch cube parameters
Again, in the theme of making toys visible, these wire baskets are great. We have two in my daughter’s room: one is short (seen above, holds wooden rainbow blocks) and the other is taller and hold jumbo animal toys.
There is NOTHING my daughter loves more than a tiny toy. To contain and support her love of small items, we use these cubes from IKEA to organize her space. This set from IKEA comes with multiple sizes. I use the big cubes for clothing and the smaller ones for toys.
Her toys are categorized as: animals, mythological, Hatchimals, and TV/movie characters. Three to four times a year we “reset” her bins, but otherwise, this system has worked.
You can spend a few moments play “organization I-Spy” in my daughter’s closet. There’s the cube shelf (2×2), clear bins, visible toys, and a woven plastic basket.
One organization option that is in this closet, but I haven’t mentioned yet, are the plastic cookie jars.
These plastic containers are PERFECT for toys that don’t fit right in a rectangular container or if you need a different shape for your space.
I love that kids can see exactly what’s inside.
How (on Earth) are you supposed to organize LEGO bricks?
LEGO bricks are one of the most challenging toys for parents to organize. The 1000s of small pieces. The need to contain those pieces. Remembering all pieces have to be accessible at all times…. IT’S MADDENING.
Over the years of being a teacher and then having kids of my own, I’ve seen so many different (and successful) ways to store LEGO bricks. I’ll share them all today because LEGO organizing depends a lot on usage, skill level, age, and interest in LEGO.
Clear Bin – all mixed together
The first way I had LEGO bricks, I had them mixed together in tubs, similar to what you see here.
This worked great for my 5-7 year old students.
It currently works great for 2/3 of my kids.
The pro: this is easy to manage (especially with a lid) and it builds open creating
The con: this isn’t helpful for kids who want to rebuild or create specific sets
Clear drawers – organized by color
Around age 4.5, my very adept at LEGO son announced his LEGO bricks had to be color organized to support his building.
Great. We color coded them and put them into these great IRIS drawers. This worked for us for many years, until my son had another shift up in his LEGO building needs.
This image is loaned to us from Days with Grey. She uses the exact system I had used, but had a much nicer photo (shocker that I didn’t have a picture of LEGO bins in 2017). Thanks for lending this, Beth!
The Trofast LEGO System – fully sorted
Our next (and I think final) stop on the LEGO organization journey with my oldest was the Trofast system from IKEA. This is meant for any toy but works especially well with LEGO.
Please note that these units are NOT intended to stack. My husband was able to connect the units with a bracket and secure both to the wall.
In this iteration of LEGO sorting, my son has his color sorting AND a spot just for people, accessories, gears, motors, base plates, half-built creations, wheels, and his LEGO train.
This system for storing LEGO is in-depth and serious. It won’t work for every LEGO builder and depends greatly on need/intent of use.
Hardware Drawers for LEGO pieces
Going backwards a little back to my daughter, she loves the small bits and pieces of LEGO. They work in her small worlds and her play depends on being able to access them.
Since toy organizing is all about accessibility and functionality, it made sense to dump her mixed up bins and sort out all the small pieces into a hardware box. It’s been over a year (she was 6 when we did this), and it’s still well-organized.
This is also a great example of kids not playing with a toy that isn’t visible. When the tiny LEGO pieces were mixed in her LEGO bin, she couldn’t see them or find them. Now that they are sorted an visible in this fashion, her LEGO building playtime has quadrupled.
The important of toy storage ideas cannot be overstated
As I mentioned above, toys are the tools for childhood.
Children use these tools for the most important work they do: play. If a child can’t access or find a tool for their play, it’s a frustrating as when you misplace something in the kitchen or can’t find equipment in the garage for your next project.
Help kids find their tools. Think critically about your toy storage at home, and above all else: make a functional and accessible.
Susie Allison, M. Ed
Susie Allison is the creator of Busy Toddler and has more than 2 million followers on Instagram. A former teacher and early childhood education advocate, Susie’s parenting book “Busy Toddler’s Guide to Actual Parenting” is available on Amazon.
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