Getting to grips with toy chaos

Are you overwhelmed by toys that have overstayed their ‘play date’? Do you find yourself endlessly picking up, stepping on or tripping over your child’s playthings? 

Do you dream of a minimalist interior but would settle for a tidy one? If your answer is resounding Yes! then it is time to fight the toy invasion and introduce some storage sanity to your home.
But first, you must cull the clutter. Most of us will have come to realise that it’s much easier to make decisions and think clearly when we’re in a clean, neat space. Have you noticed how quickly your child will go play in their room if it’s tidy? As adults, we use only 20 per cent of what we have 80 per cent of the time, and the same goes for children
As the festive season will soon be upon us, now is the perfect time to declutter, not only to create space for new toys but to possibly make another child’s Christmas brighter by donating.

Reduce, reuse, recycle 
A good place to start is by labelling some boxes ‘keep’, ‘discard’, ‘donate’, ‘recycle’ and sorting toys accordingly. When asked, children are quick to select the ‘keepers’ and may surprise you with the number of toys they have finished playing with.
But then again, sometimes limiting the amount of toys entering your home can be difficult. While you can certainly curb your purchasing habits, controlling gifts from others (especially around birthdays and holidays) can be tricky.

One helpful clutter prevention technique is the ‘one in, one out’ rule. Alternatively, you could find an out-of-the-way area to stash a portion of the toys and work on a rotation system; this will reduce clutter while giving your child a treat when something they haven’t seen in a while reappears!
As for keeping toys for posterity and perhaps prosperity, you could always make room in the roof space for one or two. According to Leigh Gotch, head of the toy department at auctioneers Bonhams, toys from the not too distant past which are rising in value include hand-held electronic games and toys from fast-food meals.

“The original Barbie and Action Man already have a great collectable value, with the accessories and outfits sometimes more desirable than the doll,” he said. “Thunderbirds figures (from the late Sixties to early Seventies), Star Wars toys (1977-83) and Hornby trains also appear to be as valuable as ever.”

Holistic approach 
Keeping toys hidden away in children’s rooms sounds ideal, but isn’t always realistic. More often than not toys ‘spill over’ into all areas of a house.
Instead of fighting it, go with it! Low level cupboards within a child’s reach can be used to store and conceal toys, with shelving for books over.
Equally, put often-used playthings such as blocks and dolls on shelves your child can have easy access to. If they can see it, they’ll more readily tidy up on their own (instead of having to open a drawer).

The bottom drawers of a living or dining room credenza or sideboard can also be devoted to toys with maybe a drawer dedicated to each child.
And the next time you’re going furniture shopping, think multi-functional. Wherever possible, buy pieces with built-in storage such as ottomans, stools and even beds.
Indeed, beds with pull-out storage drawers, and built-in wardrobes can store just about everything, but remember to ensure easy and safe child access to toys and games.
If you’re handy at DIY or can afford to get a carpenter in, think of adding built-in storage to your fireside alcoves. You could also consider raising the bed off the floor to use the space underneath as a play / storage area.

Similarly, a raised floor design provides a novel way to incorporate an additional sliding bed for sleep overs or additional storage space for toys in a children’s bedroom. And how about built-in bookshelves in creative shapes? A boat, castle, or doll’s house…
A bit of imagination can also transform the space underneath your stairs into another world for children… a den!; of course it can be used for storage too. Consider using drawers in place of risers in the stairs to make the most of this under-utilised space.

Choosing matching storage containers will reduce the visual ‘noise’ in a room and make it look more organised. Using clear storage boxes makes content identification easy and is helpful when you are looking for a particular item in a hurry!
Alternatively, you could label the boxes or affix a contents picture on the front for younger children who may not be able to read yet.
Each child’s belongings can be identified with name tags, an image or colour coded stickers. It may be obvious but always choose storage containers that are secure, durable and affordable.

And always remember the ever humble, always handy basket which meets most storage needs and suits nearly all rooms. For the more adventurous there’s the wooden boxes or crates on wheels. Take a wooden crate, paint it if you like, put casters (in fabulous pink or blue) at each corner and hey presto you have a mobile toy box! You can then attach a piece of plywood (cut to size) as a lid, add to that a foam cushion and you have a toy box /seat!
For specific toy needs if your child loves puzzles, you probably have a lot of bulky boxes. Placing each puzzle in a large zippered pencil case and remembering to put the image box’s cover on the front of each pouch will save on storage space. You can then put all pouches in one larger ‘Puzzle Tub’.
For action figures, a clear, plastic over-door shoe holder is ideal. Fabric and jute storage bags work well too as do toy boxes that double as bench seats.

Storage containers that provide small compartments and are fun to play with include buckets, pop-up tidies and wall tidies with multiple pockets. They may even encourage your child to tidy up if each compartment is dedicated to a specific toy.

For the un-stackable you could make up a frame and attach a series of bungee cords top to bottom; this is especially handy to have in your garage for sports balls and other bulky objects as it provides easy access and keeps things tidy.

Up the walls 
Wall space is an organiser’s best friend so scale the heights with floor-to-ceiling built-in shelves and cabinets, all the while ensuring easy child access to toys and games at lower levels.
A top tip is to buy adjustable shelving; the kind that you choose should be able to conform and adapt to all of your stuff, not the other way around.
Another is to opt for adult-size storage furniture; skip the diminutive children’s shelving as they provide less storage and aren’t necessarily more practical. Also, children grow up very quickly which means you’re unlikely to get much use out of them.

Used independently, in addition to, or in combination with built-ins, many wall systems/panels are available that introduce a wide range of storage possibilities too, such as:

Slatted Wall Panels: fitted with hooks, rails and shelves, these walls can be can be used to hang anything from a basket to a bicycle.

Peg Boards: hooking supplies onto pegboard is a great way to keep your craft space organized.

Thinking outside the toy box 

The hobby table
Do your children like train sets? Then consider installing a permanent play/assembly table. This will keep pieces off the floor and act as a design statement, too. Adding drawers below will provide storage to hold all the related bits and bobs when it’s not in use. This could also work for Playmobil and Lego. Add casters and the table can be moved as necessary.

Spice racks
A spice rack can be perfect for storing glitter, beads, googly eyes, and other small craft pieces. Choose a select few; too much choice can stymie creativity. Taking a ‘less is more’ approach to craft materials could spark your child’s imagination.

Magnetic boards
Feel like getting ‘crafty’ yourself? Magnetic boards are an increasingly popular storage solution; simply place toy cars on the board or glue a little magnet to any small item you want off the floor. Framing the board with picture moulding will transform it into a work of art! You could stick magnetic spice jars to the board too if you don’t have a spice rack for your craft supplies.

Magnetic strips
Using magnetic strips to display your toy car collection is similar to the idea of using a magnetic knife rack / strip but on a larger scale. However, many new toy cars do not have enough metal in them to actually attach so you might want to do an ‘attach’ test first.

Deep shadow box display frames
For those trinkets and toys that you can’t bear to part with and don’t want to hide, present them in a shadow box and display them as wall art.

Curtain tension rods
Using wire or plastic baskets fixed to a curtain tension rod above your bath is a great way to store bath toys in a way for them not to get mouldy. You could also use a washing machine net, hung on a wall hook.

Gift boxes
More often than not, it is the tiny toys that can literally get under your skin! Small cardboard gift boxes could be put to work as mini display areas for favourite ornaments, and add a touch of fun to any room. Make something similar by sticking a number of boxes together with double-sided tape, and attach to a wall; covering their inside backs in decorative paper (offcuts) keeps things looking pretty.

Novelty items
Trinket boxes, decorative hooks/pegs hung within the child’s reach and teddy hammocks are all fun examples.

Picture ledge
A slim shelf that holds books and frames upright makes it easy to display cheery covers. Mount them low enough so your children can take, and put back, the books themselves. Picture ledges can also be used to display toy cars or other small playthings.

Not only for jam, the ubiquitous jar normally seen on shelves can equally be used for under shelf or counter storage, fix the lid of the jar to the underside of the shelf or work surface and screw the base of the jar (containing, glitter, beads, or Halloween ‘creepies’) to the lid. The same applies for other household screw top containers.

Baking pans and plastic take-away containers 
Shallow baking pans, plastic take away containers and cutlery trays all make great drawer dividers. Alternatively you can custom make your own from balsa wood or card and sort the beads from the buttons!

Garden baskets
Wall-mounted garden baskets can make great toy storage / bins. Hang them low so little hands can reach them.

Tin cans
Thoroughly cleaned up, sanded at the edges, and painted food cans can be hung sideways on the wall for storage or the right way up on a magnetic strip for art supplies.

Old drawers
Turn old furniture drawers into under bed storage by adding casters or if the drawer has got compartments, screw it to the wall for cubby hole shelving.

Both Clip and Pin boards are a great way to display children’s artwork on walls.

Plastic cups
Cut to size some cardboard to fit the inside of a plastic storage container. Then glue the base of some plastic cups to the cardboard sheets and tier/layer inside the container. This is a great way to store seldom used craft materials or even Christmas decorations.

Having a place for everything and everything in its place is satisfying and for most people, an orderly environment helps them feel more energetic, creative and cheerful.

Teaching children how to maintain their living areas is a life skill so if you’re sorting out your wardrobe or organising anything around the house, involving your children in the process will help them understand the benefits, and the need to do it on a regular basis.

Providing children with attractive, imaginative storage will add decorative interest to their rooms and encourage them to take care of their belongings.

Finally, and maybe more importantly, being storage savvy before Christmas should ensure that any new arrivals, ‘Stuart’, ‘My Friend Freddie’, ‘Barbie’ and ‘Action Man’ won’t have to sleep on the floor!

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Caroline Irvine

About Caroline Irvine

Caroline is an Architect from Dun Laoghire, County Dublin. You can get in contact with Caroline by visiting her website or on Mobile 087 2987401

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