While I love the simplicity of living with less, there is one area where things can quickly move into chaotic overabundance: TOYS.
That being said, I honestly do not feel overwhelmed by the toys in our house. I don’t feel like our living space has been taken over by toys. I don’t spend hours picking up toys and in fact, spend less than four total minutes putting away all our toys. And while I am going to share how I organize all our toys, spoiler alert: there is no magical storage system or organization strategy that makes me feel in control of our toys. I feel in control of our toys because we limit our toys to a manageable amount. Simply put, we do not have more toys than we can handle. Justin and I both agree we would rather LJ have fewer toys that he actually plays with than more toys than he knows what to do with. And while I know our choices in this department will not be for everyone, I wanted to share what has worked for our family in case there is someone out there who feels like they are drowning in toys and wants suggestions for ways to simplify the toy chaos and take back control of their house.
How we keep our toys manageable
1) We rarely buy toys for LJ.
In a minute, I’m going to show you every single toy in my house. And since LJ has been born, I have bought exactly one of these toys (a xylophone). While there are a lot of beautiful, fun toys out there that I know he would love, I also know that at this point he is so happy with the variety of toys that he was given through my baby showers and Christmas last year. He gets exposure to other toys when we go to the library, play dates with friends, or grandma’s house and I do not need to spend money on more infant toys in our home for him.
2) We keep a loose definition of “toy”
LJ regularly plays with the hard plastic water jug I got from the hospital where I gave birth (he particularly loves the straw). He loves the ridges and crinkly sounds of a recyclable plastic water bottle. He is just as happy playing with these as he would be playing with a $20 toy from Target. Free promotional balls from local sporting events, books from Kids Eat Free night at Chik-fil-A – these are all fun for him to play with and also very easy to dispose of or put in a 25-cent garage sale bin when we need to make space for toddler toys down the road.
3) We’re honest about gifts
Both sets of our parents know about and respect our desire to live with less. We have communicated honestly with them that we love seeing their love expressed through quality time spent with LJ, cards, video chats, etc and do not need them to constantly gift LJ toys. We totally understand their rights as grandparents to occasionally spoil, so if they happen to see something that they just can’t resist giving him, of course that is okay! The key is occasionally and we so appreciate that they have mostly limited gift-giving to Christmastime or special occasions.
And speaking of Christmas, we don’t fill LJ’s wish list with toys. We do choose a few toys or books we know he’ll use throughout the next year as he develops and grows, but we also include other necessities (clothes, diapers, wipes, stroller attachments, money towards a convertible car seat). He is too little right now to know that he’s getting the “boring” gifts and there is no shame in my mom game to limit the toys and ask for other things he really needs. Gifts don’t have to just be toys!
4) We toy swap
We currently have a musical walker and learning table that we borrowed from friends – their first child has outgrown these toys and their second child is still too little. By the time LJ is done with both toys, our friends’ younger son will be ready to play with them! It’s a win-win; neither of us has to take up space storing these toys when our kids outgrow them. I do this with baby gear too (my niece is currently using LJ’s doorway jumper and Justin’s colleague is going to use LJ’s baby swing) which really helps keep storage spaces manageable!
5) We clean up when we’re done playing
When we’re done playing in a room and ready to move on, I very quickly scoop everything up and put it back in place. I’m a big believer in “outer order, inner calm” (thanks Gretchen Rubin!) – I am much less stressed when my house seems somewhat orderly and toys aren’t left everywhere. The mess always seems manageable because it is confined to one room and not spread throughout the entire house. Plus, I am always amazed by how little time it actually takes to get things back to baseline. Just a minute makes a huge difference!
How we keep our toys organized
We spend most days at home so LJ plays with his toys often. While I know I could keep them all in one room, I prefer to have them stored in three main areas as we move throughout the house during the day. Keeping toys in a few strategic places helps prevent the feeling that they’ve taken over our entire house but they are readily available where we hang out most frequently.
In LJ’s nursery, I have an old crate that I use as an end table + storage. This is where the bulk of LJ’s book collection is kept because we often read in the rocker. I store stuffed animals in a fabric basket and found the perfect little wire basket that fits just right to house a few other toys – crinkly books, rattles, animal links, and a wooden ball toy.
LJ frequently pulls everything off the shelf, but because it is a limited amount of toys and everything has a clear belonging place, it takes me between 30-45 seconds to put things back in order when we’re done playing.
I often have LJ in my bedroom with me if I need to fold laundry or get dressed to go out of the house. I keep a small basket with textured balls and a few other toys so he stays occupied playing while I do whatever I need to do. I timed our clean-up after the last time he was playing with these – it took ten. seconds. to throw everything into the basket and put the basket back against the wall. Just ten seconds out of my day and my room felt put back in order. Totally worth it!
We have a small den in our home that has become our main hangout space. It’s got a comfy sectional and our TV so it’s where we naturally gravitate as a family and is therefore where we have created a little playroom for LJ by blocking off the doorways with the sectional ottoman and a baby gate. I painted a buffet hutch that was handed down to me and we use the entire bottom to house LJ’s toys.
While I have the doors open to show you how I store the toys, I rarely have the doors open while we’re playing in this room. Instead, I’ll alternate taking out a basket or two at a time and close the doors so LJ doesn’t pull out the rest. I know eventually he’ll be big enough to open the doors himself, but for now, this method works really well for us in preventing all the toys from being pulled out every time. Examples of things I’ll bring out at any one time are:
Side note: You’ll notice I keep some of these toys in their original packaging. I know I can just throw everything into a bin, but I personally don’t mind spending an extra 10-20 seconds putting things back in the plastic pouch so I can store them vertically (space-saving) and make sure I have everything (easy to see if I need to search under the couch for missing items).
Last night I snapped a picture of the playroom after LJ went to bed but before I cleaned up.
I timed myself picking things up just to see how long it took. It took me ninety seconds to put away everything you see here. Then it took me an extra 49 seconds to grab my broom from a nearby closet and retrieve two balls that had rolled past my reach under the couch. A total of 2:19 and the room was back in order so I could relax and enjoy the evening!
Bonus – pack n play
While it’s not frequently used anymore, I do also have LJ’s pack n play set up in our main living room for anytime I need to set him down and leave the room. I keep just a couple toys in there so it’s always ready to plop him down into. I also keep his activity center next to it, although now that he is so mobile he does not like being in the activity center much so this will soon get converted to a toddler table when we give our friends their learning table back.
And that’s it! That is literally every single toy in our house. There’s nothing hiding out in a closet, there’s nothing I pulled out of pictures to seem like we have less. This is everything LJ has. I hope you can see that just because we choose to live with less does not mean we deprive our son. He still has plenty of toys to play with that engage his mind and help with stages of development.
Did you notice how much time it takes to clean up when we’re done? On an average day, I spend less than four minutes cleaning up. Four minutes is all it takes to get back to baseline for the next day. FOUR. MINUTES. This is not because I’m a magical cleaning wizard who can put things away at super-speed. This is not because I’ve discovered the perfect organizational system to store toys. It is because we have decided on what “enough” toys looks like for our family and we stay within that amount of toys. Living with less toys has simplified our lives and allowed our home to still feel like a relaxing haven rather than the inside of an overstuffed toy box.
I hope this encourages you to know you can still live abundantly without an overabundance of toys for your baby. What tips/tricks do you use to manage toys within your home? I’d love to hear what works for you!