Is your family room knee deep in Legos, assorted puzzle pieces, children’s books sans covers and a dozen mismatched Barbie shoes? I had five kids, (four were six and under) and this is how I coped with toy overload.

  1. PARE DOWN. Don’t do it when the kids are around as they will defend the broken toys and lens-less sunglasses to the death. See if a friend will watch the kids while you organize. You can watch her children while she does the same.
  2. Gather all the toys in one place and mercilessly dispose of irreparable ones. Replace dead batteries. Reassemble all puzzles. (More on puzzles later). Tape corners of damaged game boxes. Separate all similar toys into piles (small trucks and cars, plastic animals, Legos, Barbies and outfits, etc.)
  3. SYSTEMIZE. There are lots of great organizing systems available. Have your system ready to go. (If you are crafty, pick up some cute fabric and sew drawstring bags for each type of toy. These can be hung on hooks in a closet or toy room.) If not, just use small plastic tubs with or without lids and inexpensive but sturdy shelving. IKEA and Amazon are great places to get storage ideas. You will also need two medium sized plastic bins with lids.
  4. Put like things together. All the books go on this shelf, the tub of Legos here, the Barbie’s here, etc. Label the tubs and the shelves if your kids can read. Masking tape and a marker will work if you don’t have a fancy label maker.
  5. My kids loved puzzles. We had maybe thirty of them. But organizing them was the bane of my existence until I stumbled on this tip. On the first puzzle you bring into the house, use a permanent marker to write a one on the back of the puzzle frame and a one on each of its pieces. Second puzzle gets a two and so forth. The puzzle pieces will get mixed up, lost in the sofa or under a bed, but at least you will know which puzzle it belongs to. The bonus is that kids just learning their numbers will get a little extra practice.
  6. BOARD GAMES. Put board games out of reach. Yes, some kids still love board games. If your kids have several, the pieces inevitably get mixed up or misplaced. Make a rule that one game must be put away before the next one comes out. This works with video games too!
  7. CLEAN. Clean plastic toys in a pan or sink filled with water and a cup of hydrogen peroxide. Toss in the toys, wait five or ten minutes. Pull out the toys and air dry on a towel or outside in the sun.
  8. DONATE. Once you have thrown out any plaything that no longer has all its pieces or that is broken beyond repair, donate the cleaned toys your kids no longer play with to homeless shelters, women’s shelters, Salvation Army, DI, etc. If they don’t play with it, it might as well go to someone who will! Or go in with the friend who watched your kids and have a garage sale.
  9. STORE. Now, use your two medium plastic bins to put away some of your children’s toys. Store these bins out of sight and out of reach. This will serve two purposes. It will reduce the number of toys your children play with daily (and you trip over) and when you bring those toys out of hiding in a couple of months it will be like Christmas all over again. Just be sure to exchange the “resting toys” with toys currently in use.
  10. COOPERATE. It is really tough (if you have a bunch of kids) to keep all the toys picked up all day. After all they can’t play with toys on a shelf. I admit I hate clutter, but there will be a time in your life for neatness and this is a time to tolerate a little clutter. Make it a family rule that everyone pitches in before bed to put toys in their place. Make it fun. Sing a family favorite or make it a game. Who can get the most toys back in their place before you count to 100?

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