My career as a professional organizer began when I made the transition from the corporate world to being a stay-at-home mom with two small children, a puppy and way too many toys.
I well remember the days of feeling like I lived in a toy store that had been hit by a tornado. For the typical American family, it’s pretty common to be overwhelmed by all the stuff that comes with having children. We love our children and want them to have the best opportunities in life and this instinct drives our buying habits. However, studies show that the typical child only plays with 5% of their toys daily. An overwhelming number of toys is just that – overwhelming. It’s stressful for parents to manage and actually discourages children from developing deeper, more creative play habits.
Children use play to learn so our goal is not to deprive our children but to help them have a more enjoyable, creative playtime. An idea that often works for my clients is to rotate toys. Always keeping the favorite toys accessible, divide the remaining toys into thirds. Keep 1/3 out and store the other two groups, rotating the toy groups occasionally. Parents are often amazed that their children don’t miss what is boxed up and actually seem to enjoy their play areas more.
When working with a family, my main goals are to teach the habits of organizing and to make it easy for children and parents to organize. Here are my top tips:
Control the Volume – 30 crayons are just as effective as 100 and a lot easier to put away.
Child Friendly Storage – Long, low bookcases are wonderful and the space above can be used to display favorite artwork. Bins are great for corralling toys but a few large, general bins are better for preschoolers. Don’t overwhelm kids with dozens of small bins and categories or Mom will be the one doing all the sorting.
Create Zones to avoid the ‘Big Mixed Mess’ – Have a art zone, a reading zone, a barbie zone. Keeping ‘like with like’ makes it easier to put things away.
Pick up a Little, a Lot – Build organizing transitions into the day: a quick toy pick up before meals, art supplies put away at the end of a project, books shelved after reading. Mini-cleanups throughout the day head-off that Big Mess so stressful to parents.
Schedule a Toy Purge – The best time to convince your children to let go of their stuff is when they are focusing on new, cooler stuff. Prior to gift-receiving events like holidays and birthdays, go through your kids rooms/play areas and toss anything broken or stained and donate the toys that are outgrown/unused. Involving your children in this decision making as well as the donation/recycling process often helps them ‘let go’ and creates de-cluttering habits that will serve them them well as they grow up.