I don’t know about you, but I think getting a toddler to follow any sort of instruction can be an uphill battle. This is especially true for those very strong-willed types (aka mine and every other toddler on the planet) who are not ready to go to bed but their mama sure is!
We tried every tactic in the book. The first attempt was to sing cleaning up songs-that was a total failure. I can remember trying to keep my cool as I’m singing and picking up his toys, meanwhile he’s running around on the couch in his diaper like a little jungle boy.
Second, I attempted to use stickers as a reward. That lost its magic real quick. Then I used candy, which only made my child more hyper. Finally at my wits end after a long day; I would lose my cool and tempers flared, and time outs were being handed out left and right. Not a great way to end the day for anyone.
Finally, I had an epiphany. During our mommy and me music class, my child would pick up toys; put them in the bins; and hand it to the teacher like a pro. That’s where it dawned on me: the toys were minimal, organized, and picking up was part of a routine.
What does your child’s main play area look like? If it looks anything like mine did at one point there was no order, looked cluttered, and over all uninviting. Don’t have time or the money to do an overhaul all at once? Me either!!! These changes have been made over time and over paychecks and that’s okay. Progress is progress!
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Make toys accessible and visible. While I do think larger storage bins (like the fabric ones) definitely serve a purpose, they are probably better suited for bigger items such as stuffed animals. The vast majority of toys are smaller in size and get quickly buried under a mountain of teddy bears. This is just asking for a kiddo to dump everything out to look for one specific toy.
This is the type of shelf that I use in my home. What I like about them is that there are multiple bins, and they are at a good height for kiddos that under 4 feet. Often, my kids will take out individual bins of toys that they want to play with.
Organize toys by type. I was originally very skeptical of this step-will a toddler really keep toys sorted? The answer is definitely yes! Once again, going with the sub-organization by bins and by type of toys; my kids will simply take out whichever category of toys they want to play with.
When it comes to labeling, I wouldn’t sweat it too much. If you have the time and energy to print out a picture/symbol for each bin and laminate it, good for you! But if you just want to put a sticker label on and write the category in marker, that works just fine for us.
Here’s some categories that I am currently using to help get you started:
- Blocks & Shapes
- Paw Patrol
As you can see, you can go as specific or broad as you need to; this system needs to work for what’s best for your family.
Declutter, declutter, declutter! You would think that it would be every kid’s dream to have a room filled with toys but in reality, it’s not. Especially with young children they can get overwhelmed very easily with too many options. Having too many things stifles creativity, creates stress, and takes more time out of your life picking things up. I am making it a daily habit to find at least one item a day that is either trash or to donate. Please don’t donate junk to organizations. If something is still in decent condition but not up to the level of donating, put it out to the curb if possible. Of course, that depends on where you live, but you can always post it as “Free” on a buy/sell/trade website.
Decluttering takes so much work and is a lot of mental and emotional energy too. I constantly need motivation and encouragement especially after a holiday or birthday where a big dump truck of stuff comes to my house. I have been listening to this book on audio and have been loving it. I highly recommend reading or listening to this book for inspiration:
Lastly, make cleaning up toys as part of the daily routine for your family. For us, it works best to do the big pick up of toys at the beginning of bedtime. I’m partial to it because I like to do a nightly cleaning but maybe a different time of day works better for you.
With any type of new system or routine, it will take repetition and trial and error to make it smooth. So be patient with yourselves and your little ones, but make sure to be consistent. I usually start with taking whatever empty bin, for example the cars bin, and say “Let’s find all the cars and put them in the cars bin”. We focus on that category until it’s done. This is much more manageable then giving the basic command of “Pick up your toys!”. That’s kinda equivalent to having a doctor to say, “You need to lose weight!”. Way too broad!
If you have a specific spot for books and larger items, your child will get to know each item’s “home” over time. It’s so much easier to say, “Where does the baby stroller go?” versus trying to find a new spot every night.
I hope you find these tips helpful, practical, and easy to implement in your home. I know I have found great improvements in clean up time with both my 1-year-old and 2-year-old. What used to be a raging battle has become another box in the checklist of daily tasks; minimal effort to be done.
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