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Are you tired of tripping over your toddler’s toys? Does your toddler have toys he never plays with because there isn’t enough time to play with them all? Does clutter make you crazy? If you answered yes to any (or all) of these questions, you’ve come to the right place. I was you just a few weeks ago. I was fed up with my toddler’s room always being messy and being too overwhelming to straighten up before bed each night. The solution: toy rotation. Keep reading for the what, why, and how. Toy rotation has made nightly pickups a breeze and because it is simpler, my toddler even helps. It won’t be long before he will be doing it by himself. If you are looking for a solution to the mess, keep reading!
What is toy rotation? Toy rotation is a system where you divide your child’s toys into different sets that are roughly the same mix of types of toys (more on how to do this later). You then rotate these sets out so your child only has access to one set at a time. The number of sets and the frequency of rotation is all dependent on the number of toys you own, your available space, and your personal clutter threshold (a term coined by Dana K. White). If you have a low clutter threshold or small space you will want more sets that you rotate more frequently. Conversely, if you have a larger space or a higher clutter threshold, you can have fewer sets and only rotate once a week.
What are the advantages of toy rotation? Let me list them for you.
- Less day to day clutter. Fewer toys available means that there are fewer toys to get spread around and fewer toys to clean up. It’s just basic math.
- You don’t have to purge your toy collection of the toys you and your child love. For me, I couldn’t bring myself to
permanently take away toys my child enjoyed playing with or those with which I want him to play.
- Toy rotation allows your child more time and attention to be able to play with each toy more intentionally. Before I started toy rotation, my son was never that interested in
puzzles. He preferred all the toys with wheels. Now that we have one puzzle in each of his two sets, he has started taking an interest in the puzzles. He plays with each toy
longer and works his way through the toys more fully than he did when they were all out at one time.
- Open spaces are great for play. It is so much easier to play when there is open floor space. This is a lot more possible when
there are fewer toys out at a time.
- A simple toy system makes it easier for your toddler to maintain his or her own space. If you can’t clean it up in less than 5
minutes it’s too much.
Ok, time to talk about the process.
This will be a multi-step process that will end with a simple toy rotation and storage system that will simplify your life and save your sanity.
Step 1: Pack away (or get rid of) toys that are no longer age-appropriate.
If you have younger children or are planning to have more children it will prolong the life of the toy if you store them away until the next child is ready for them instead of leaving it in rotation until then. Even though my son could technically still play with some of the baby toys, he had more than enough toys that were more developmentally appropriate. I did this sorting and storing right after his first birthday when there was a huge influx of toys.
If you are finished having children, this can be a bit more difficult. I can see how it would be hard to part with the baby toys. Do the best you can.
Step 2: Get rid of the toys that you don’t like.
We all have toys in our collection that were given to our children by well-meaning friends and family that we just don’t love. That’s ok. Most of the time it’s ok to let those things go.
I do recognize that some people would get their feelings hurt. My solution to this is to have one basket of toys that you pull out when other children come over to play. Any toys that fall into this category can go in this basket until you can pass them along.
Do try to limit yourself to one basket. If your basket gets full, prioritize and get rid of what doesn’t fit.
Step 3: Evaluate your goals, space, clutter threshold, and your child’s abilities.
What are your goals?
Think through what you are hoping to get out of toy rotation and how that might affect your system.
Least amount of clutter? More time for each toy? Go with more sets and rotate more often.
Less clutter? Simple system? Go with fewer sets and rotate less often.
How much space do you have to store toys and to play with toys?
If the area in which your child plays is very small, more sets and more frequent rotation would help keep this small area under control.
If you have a larger area for play you can do fewer sets and less frequent rotations.
You also have to evaluate your storage space. How much room do you have to store your toy sets? You want the off-rotation toys to be stored out of sight of your child if at all possible.
What is your personal clutter threshold and what is your child’s clutter threshold?
Meaning how many toys are you personally able to keep organized (Check out this podcast for a more in-depth discussion)? This will be individual to each person and may require some tweaking in the first few weeks. Keep reducing the number of toys in each set, by creating new sets, until it is doable to keep the toys organized and cleaned up each evening.
Step 4. Determine how many sets you need and how often you will rotate.
Using what you learned in step 3, decide how you are going separate and rotate the toys.
For us, two sets, rotated weekly, works very well.
Step 5: Create your sets.
Ideally, this would be done when your child is not around. It’s not impossible to do with a toddler, I managed, but it would go a lot faster and easier if you had time alone. It took me less than an hour to get this done even with my toddler “helper”.
Pull out all of your child’s toys and sort them by type. This is subjective, of course, so use your knowledge of your child and your preferences.
I sorted my son’s toys by Playmobil, tractors, pull toys, animal toys, creative play, musical instruments, puzzles, shape sorter/ring stacker, and blocks.
Next, I thought about which toys my son typically plays with together. I tried to keep those toys within the same set. Other than that, I went pile by pile and divided them up into two sets.
It is important not to have an “A” team and a “B” team. Make sure that each set has an equal number of favorite toys. This was the hardest part for me.
If your child has one or two toys that he/she can’t live without, it is ok to keep them out all the time. Just try to limit the number of toys that fit in this category.
Once you have created your sets, it’s time to figure out how to display and store them.
Step 6: Store all but one set out of sight of your child.
If your child is still young, there will likely be no need to explain what is happening. It is always nice to treat your child like a human being, but before a certain age, they won’t even miss the toys that are stored. If they are old enough to understand what is happening then, of course, explain it to them and get them to be involved in creating the sets.
Make sure they are stored in an opaque box/bin/etc or behind a closed door they don’t access. If they catch a glimpse, they are likely going to want to get their hands on them.
Make sure if you have more than two sets that each set is stored in its own container to make switching sets simple and easy. You don’t want to have to re-sort the toys every time you want to switch them.
My son had six bins that fit on a shelf. I moved the shelf into a recently emptied closet and I pull out three bins at a time and put them under the edge of his bed. The three off rotation bins stay in the closet on the shelf. This has made rotation super easy. I just pull out the three bins from the closet and put the three that were out back on the shelf.
I understand that this bin/shelf system won’t work for everyone, so you will have to find what works best for your home and family. A simple storage tote would work just fine. Baskets would also work well. You can probably find something you already own to make this work for you.
Step 7: Set out the currently in rotation toys.
I recommend a simple system for having toys available to your child. One or more open-top containers (bins, baskets, etc.) make it really easy for young toddlers to not only access the toys but also put them away more easily.
When I put my son’s toys away in his three bins, I organize them by type across the bins, but if he is helping, I just let him put them wherever he wants.
I do use smaller boxes that fit in the bins for small items like his Tegu block set. He can open and close it on his own and is usually pretty good about putting them away when he is finished playing with them (with prompting).
The key is that your child can operate/manage/access anything that is used to store his/her toys. This allows them to be able to independently access their toys and put them away. The whole key here is to create a system that is easy for your child to maintain.
Step 8: Make adjustments as needed.
This system is very flexible. You can tweak it until you get just the right system down. Trust you instincts and what you know of yourself and your child.
Initially, I left one of my son’s toys out all the time (one he would ask for by name when it was in the other room and out of sight). After a few weeks of toy rotation, I decided to see what would happen if I put it away. Nothing happened. He hasn’t asked for it or anything. He plays with the toys that are available and hasn’t thought about the other ones. However, he does excited when I rotate the toys.
The takeaway for you is don’t be afraid to switch it up and experiment.
We have determined your goals. If what you are doing is not accomplishing your goals step back and look for ways to adjust to make it work.
Toy rotation is a great method to keep toddler toys under control, instill good habits in your children, and maintain your sanity.
If you decide to give toy rotation a try, let me know how it goes in the comments below!
If keeping the clutter in your home under control is a struggle for you like it is for me, I highly recommend Dana K. White’s book Decluttering at the Speed of Life*. She teaches her method of decluttering that allows you to make progress, even when you only have a couple minutes, without making a bigger mess, and only making progress. She also has a blog and a podcast where she covers her cleaning and decluttering tips, which are great for motivation, but her book is really the best way to get a succinct overview of her method. You would have to listen to/read a lot of content to get the same information that is concisely presented in her book. I think I read it in 1-2 days. It is available as a book, audiobook, and ebook. This is not a sponsored post, I just found her book* extremely helpful and want to share it with you.
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