Inside: learn the art of toy rotation, exactly how to set one up, and why using this method can save you a ton of stress – not to mention less time spent cleaning!
Today I want to share my secret for keeping my house semi-organized and semi-sane with a 3 year old and an 18 month old. This secret is not only simple, it’s also totally doable and actually quite cathartic.
We are talking about Toy Rotation! What it is, why to do it, and how to set it up.
If you’ve never set one up, by the end of this post you will be running to your nearest Target to buy all the clear storage bins ever made.
Today I will be tackling everything you need to know to set up a successful toy rotation in your home so you can start enjoying more time drinking wine at the end of a long day and less time cleaning up the graveyard of toys.
Why rotate toys?
When it comes to being a mom, I truly believe one thing:
“More is More”
More love. More “time-in”. More attention.
My only exception to this “more is more” rule is, you guessed it, TOYS. When it comes to toys, I truly believe “less is more”.
Follow me here. I promise, the end goal is so rewarding. I recently read an article on the website Raised Good that summed up my mantra perfectly. She said…
When kids have too many toys, they “become blinded and overwhelmed with choice. They play superficially rather than becoming immersed deeply and lost in their wild imaginations.”
Between baby registries and Amazon, extended family and birthday parties, kids can end up with a lot of stuff. So how do you know when too much is, well, too much? How do you know when it’s time to set up a toy rotation in your home?
- If your kids simply take out toys (but don’t actually play with them), it’s time.
- If your house is loaded with things (toys, books, games, etc.) but your children are constantly bored or seem uninterested in playing with what they already have, it’s time.
- If you spend more time putting toys away (than the actual time spent playing with them), it’s time.
- If your house looks more like Toy’s ‘R Us (R.I.P.) than a home people live in, it’s time.
So what exactly is a Toy Rotation?
This may look different for different families, and of course as with anything, there are various “levels” you can aim for, some more involved than others.
In this post, I’ll use the term toys as a broad, catchall term for anything that gets played with in your home:
- stickers & coloring books
- craft supplies (playdough, paint sets, crayons, etc.)
- stuffed animals
- dress-up clothes/jewelry
- gross-motor toys (ride-on cars, play strollers, push toys, etc.)
- cars, trucks, etc.
Setting up a rotation of your children’s toys means taking a good portion of their toys and putting them AWAY for a length of time. Away being the key term; preferably somewhere your kids can’t see, such as the attic or a guest bedroom closet.
Why have 15 puzzles in the playroom when 5 will do just fine? Why have 3 different ride-on cars when you can have 1?
Why have 100 different toys that your child can play with superficially, when they can immerse themselves in play with 1 meaningful toy?
It’s important to note: I do believe that kids need variety, and there’s nothing wrong with having a few different types of open-ended toys (blocks, dolls, pretend food, board books, cars, etc.) for them to choose from. The problem comes when there are way too many of each type of toy, or simply too many options available at once.
Now, back to the act of putting some toys away: When these toys reappear (in 6 weeks or 6 months), you may find they have a magical quality about them, as if they are brand new. And after the toys that have been put away rejoin daily life, another batch of toys is put away, hence the “rotation” aspect.
This of course works better with toddlers and younger kids, but any age is a good age for “less is more” – toys, that is.
Later on in this post you will find more detailed information for exactly how I set up my rotation plus tips and ideas for many different scenarios.
Now, if I’ve thoroughly convinced you that executing a solid toy rotation is the only way for you to live your life from this day forward, then read on, because we about to dive into the specifics!
The Ultimate Guide to Toy Rotation
How to Get Started
Step 1: Get Organized!
You may find it helpful to make a list, mental or written, of the primary places your kids play and where most of their toys currently are residing.
For example, in my house, these are all the locations that toys are housed. And remember, I’m using toys as a catchall term for anything that gets played with.
- My car
- Play kitchen
- Downstairs playroom
- Upstairs loft/playroom
- 3 year old’s bedroom
- 18 month old’s bedroom
Step 2: Declutter
Now that you have a firm idea of where all the things are located in your home, it’s time for step 2. The second step is actually my favorite. Before setting up the toy rotation itself, you’ll need to declutter what you currently have (based on where all the toys are located in Step 1).
YES. In a dream world this would be the perfect job for me. People would pay me to come into their homes and declutter and simply get rid of stuff!
If you’re not sure how to get started decluttering, I’ve already shared an ultimate guide to decluttering your whole house. However, for the purpose of just decluttering toys, you may want to start by having your husband or partner take the kids out for the day, or wait until they are at school. Then “visit” each of the toy locations listed above and do what you need to do.
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Generally, when decluterring, you have 3 avenues:
In our garage, we keep a clear plastic storage bin that is strictly designated for donations. About once a month we bring the bin to a local shelter. When deciding whether to toss or recycle, it really depends on what material the item is made out of, and which types of plastics your local recycling plant accepts.
Toss It or Recycle It!
- Toys or puzzles with broken or missing pieces
- Torn/ripped stuffed animals
- Random mismatched toys
- Broken crayons
- Ripped books or books with missing pages
- Toys, stuffed animals, puzzles, or books that have not been played with in a while or are no longer age-appropriate (if you are saving for another baby, you can store these toys in a labeled plastic bin)
- Duplicates – no one needs two of the same book, toy or stuffed animal – unless it’s very sentimental, it’s unnecessary clutter and could benefit another child
Now that you have decluttered, you are starting this process with less “stuff” which will make everyone’s lives easier.
How to Set up a Toy Rotation
Step 3: Get your bins
I use 66 qt size clear bins with the “latch” handles. I find these to be just the right size. You can easily find these at Target or Walmart. I like to use clear bins so I can actually see what’s inside of them.
How many bins you’ll need really depends on how many toys you have after you’re done decluttering (and how much space you have to store your bins).
Step 4: Decision Time!
Whether or not you include your kids in the process is really up to you. When my oldest was about 2 ½ she helped me decide which toys to put away in the bin and she physically put them in herself and watched my husband put the bin away in the attic. This helped her to understand that we would not being playing with those toys or reading those books for a while.
We sat down together in the playroom, the loft and in her room and we went through our many books, puzzles, stuffed animals, etc. and together we decided what we could “live without” so to say. And I may or may not have thrown some books in there I was very much tired of reading. Winning all around!
Can’t decide what to put away? Here are my best tips!
- Toys that are very similar: in order to keep a toddler’s interest and teach them to play independently, they often need to feel they are playing with something “new” – to accomplish this without having to actually buy new things, put away toys that are similar or interchangeable. For example: one alphabet puzzle stays out, one gets put away. When they finally get rotated – ta’da! It’s as if the other puzzle is brand new!
- Books that have worn out their welcome: To any mom who has read “Wheels on the Bus” or that Daniel Tiger story for the thousandth time, this one’s for you. Time for those books to say bye-bye for a little while.
- Stuffed animal takeover: I have a love-hate relationship with stuffed animals. Photographic evidence suggests I was a stuffed animal hoarder as a child and my own girls have become very similar. However, as a mom, there is something about stuffed animals being everywhere, all over the house (and covered in dog hair, I might add), that simply drives me nuts. At one point I realized we had 5 different stuffed bunnies. 3 bunnies were donated, 1 was put away and 1 was kept out. Now that’s the kind of math I could get used to.
- One Thing In, One Thing Out: This is a great rule to adopt around birthday and holiday time when there is an influx of toys. In order to keep the clutter under control, you can put this rule in place. Whether “out” means in a rotation or donation bin is up to you!
Step 5: Celebrate!
Enjoy less legos to step on, and more time spent engaged with fewer things.
Now that you understand the basics on Toy Rotation, are you ready to take it to the next level? Oh yes, for those of you who would really like to keep your toddler busy and happy playing with the toys available to them, this is for you!
Next-Level Toy Rotation Ideas
To the mom who has read “Frosty the Snowman” 300 times in the month of July, this idea is for you. In our house, we love a good holiday book. What we don’t love, is reading said holiday books all throughout the year.
Enter, the Seasonal Toy Rotation. In our attic we have clear bins dedicated to holiday decorations: Easter/Passover/Spring, Christmas/Hanukkah, Halloween/Fall, etc. Along with the decorations, we also store our seasonal book collections in their designated bins.
The great thing about this is it doesn’t require any extra work, since we are taking those decorations out anyways, and when those books reappear each holiday season, their magic is once again restored.
This would also work with any holiday-themed puzzle, stuffed animal, activity book, etc.
We live in a 2 story home with a playroom downstairs and an upstairs loft with toy bins and bookshelves. In general, we spend more time downstairs since that’s the main living area of our home. Therefore, the “upstairs” toys often don’t get played with as frequently.
2-3 times a year I will rotate a few upstairs and downstairs toys. This is not a complicated task and can take 10 minutes yet have a lasting impact.
It’s as simple as choosing a couple of toys, books, puzzles, stuffed animals, etc. from downstairs and switching them out for some similar toys from upstairs. You may be surprised how simply changing the location of a toy can change how your child plays and interacts with it.
Depending on how “next-level” you want to take this idea, you can rotate front yard and backyard toys, bedroom and playroom toys, even toys or books you keep in your car to entertain the kids.
Birthday & Holiday Rotation
This presents itself as quite the dilemma. You can’t tell your child they can’t have their birthday or holiday gifts, and you wouldn’t want to Grinch it up, either. But you do want to maintain your kid’s interest in the gifts they’ve received. So what’s a mindful parent to do?
Birthdays are naturally exciting for kids as they get to be all hyped up on sugar and then tear through 50 different gifts. While it is very enjoyable to see the gleam in their eyes as they get to open all of these new gifts, any parent knows that once a gift has been played with, it’s no longer new.
And unless that toy has some serious staying power, it will often get lumped into the toy bin with the others. Now multiply that times however many gifts your child opened on that day!
- Make room for new things: Just before an upcoming birthday or holiday, go through your house with your child and ask them to pick some things to donate or put away. If they are little, explain that soon they will be receiving some new things and it’s simply time to make room for something new!
- Ask for what you want: The Amazon Wish List is a beautiful thing. They are easy to set up and you can add items from any website, not just Amazon. I have wish lists for both of my girls and I like to put a mix of things on there and keep the lists updated throughout the year. This of course serves many purposes. You end up with things you and your kids actually want and grandparents and extended family who live far away have an easy way of keeping tabs on what the kids are interested in.
- Go halfsies: This is similar to the “one thing in, one thing out” rule discussed earlier. Let’s say on your 4 year old’s next birthday she receives 30 gifts. Together, you can decide on 15 gifts to set aside for later. You can also designate certain gifts to be specifically for quiet time (more on that below). This may sound outrageous and totally may not work for your child, but it has worked for mine. You’ll instantly see which gifts they gravitate towards (that Disney Princess doll) and keep those toys for playing with now. By putting some away for later, you instantly keep their “new” factor. This is naturally easier with a 1 or 2 year old who may not even remember what gifts they opened. You can also intercept any gifts that may come in the mail and “hide” those away for later. Because if you’ve ever had a bad day with a toddler, there’s nothing quite like breaking out a brand new toy they’ve never seen to turn things around. And all you had to do was head over to the secret hiding place in your closet.
Quiet Time Bins
If you’ve ever suffered through a no-nap day with your toddler, then you’ll be glad to discover the wonder that is a Quiet Time Bin. This is pretty much what it sounds like: a bin full of toys and books your toddler can play with quietly in their room.
There were many days my toddler would fall asleep right on the floor while playing with her quiet time toys. Toddlers need a little “me time” even if they aren’t old enough to realize it. Spending an hour just playing alone, without anyone instructing them or asking questions can do wonders for their behavior.
What to include in a Quiet Time Bin?
When deciding which toys to rotate, you can also designate some special toys to be reserved specifically for QT. Here are some things that have worked well for my 3 year old:
- Self-correcting puzzles (like these from Learning Journey)
- Frozen Little Kingdom Castle (the pieces are WAY too small for her to play with this around her little sister, so this is a perfect QT toy)
- Tea party set
- Leap Frog interactive picnic basket
- Disney Princess Look & Find book
This is exactly what it sounds like. Young kids, especially toddlers, do not need constant access to every toy, book, or game in the house.
To rectify this issue, I keep all of my 3 year old’s preschool-type activities, such as math puzzles, workbooks, learning activities, and art project kits in our hall closet. Out of sight, out of mind. And since these activities are not readily available in the playroom, they feel more special when they are taken out of the hall closet.
While decluttering can make a huge difference, simply putting toys away, where they are not readily available, can also be impactful as well.
Daily Toy Rotation
Don’t let the word “daily” scare you. This is actually way easier than it sounds. Daily toy rotation requires a great amount of decluttering, and this would most certainly work better for stay-at-home moms or homeschoolers.
Here are the basics:
- You’ll need 5 clear bins (one for each school day)
- You can choose to theme each bin (for example: construction, farm, doctor, travel, etc.)
- Separate the toys/books/dolls/etc. into each bin
- Choose one bin a day to play with – at the end of the day, all of the toys go back into the bin. The next day, choose a new bin!
While I personally have not used this method of toy rotation, I know many moms who have used it with great success, especially for themed homeschool units.
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