7 Steps That Can Help Put an End to Picking Up Toys

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If you are a parent who regularly struggles with the overwhelm of picking up toys, this post is first and foremost going to make you feel a whole lot better about yourself, and second, it’s going to give you practical tips to stop the mess before you have to pick it up.

A Quick Back Story of My Picking Up Toys Breakdown

Several weeks ago I was having one of those miracle kind of Saturday mornings.  The time was 9:30 am and I was still warm in cozy, undisturbed in my bed. My twin baby girls were sleeping like angels and my 5-year son hadn’t busted in the door at 6:00 am like every other morning.  The house was quiet.  Maybe it was a little too quiet.  So I rolled out of bed to head to the kitchen for my morning iced coffee and to start making the normal BIG Saturday morning breakfast for the whole tribe.

As I passed by the closed door to my son’s room, I could see his bedroom light peeking through the cracks letting me know he was awake.  I opened the door just slightly to check in on him when I noticed that the door was resisting me a little.  So I pushed a little harder and a little harder.  Finally, the door broke free of its blockade and the momentum flung me into a room so full of stuff that I could barely see the carpet.  (This is the real-life picture below).

Messy kid's room

During my glorious morning of sleeping in, my son had literally destroyed his room.  It was JUST. TOO. MUCH for me! I knew it was too much for him!

I don’t know about you, but I daily fight a battle in my adult life with chronic disorganization.  Slowly but surely, over the last 5 years, I’ve been winning that battle in my OWN spaces.  But this- this was the last frontier and the straw that broke the plastic dinosaurs back.

I was done!!!!!

  • Done with fighting my 5 year old to clean up after himself.
  • Done with trying to find the perfect organization solution for all the toys we’re hoarding  storing in his room.
  • Done with picking up after him myself because it’s just faster.

That event was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It lead me to develop a fairly straightforward fight against spending all my picking up toys that I hope will help you too.

Here’s a quick system you can use to help your own child bring order to a room of chaos and stop spending so much time picking up toys.

1. Own the role of gate keeper.

We get to be the gatekeepers of our homes.  We get to decide what gets through the front door and what doesn’t.

True confession? 30% of my kid’s toys are MY impulse buys from Target. (What is it about Target where you get this happy feeling in the land of red and white and you just want to shower your kids with all the amazing toys they want?)

The rest are toys from Santa, grandparents, aunts, toy treasure chests, festivals, fairs, freebies, cereal boxes, parties, kid’s meals and so on!

The first step in controlling what toys we have to pick up, is to keep out what doesn’t belong in. When I assume this role and stick with it, I start to see things change.

The most practical thing I’ve done to make this work is put a large outdoor trashcan on the walkway from the car to the front door. That way if I want to throw stuff away or donate it BEFORE it makes it into the front door I can.

2. Get your kids OUT OF THE HOUSE.

Do you ever get that point in life where it seems like your whole house is in total chaos? You clean something and then one of your people come along and undo all your hard work?

If you plan to tackle the mess, send your kids to neighbors, school, day camp, grandma, or whatever you have to do to get them out of the house for a few hours. It prevents two things:

  1. Kids having melt downs that influence what you cleanse.
  2. Kids making messes behind you as you tackle this project.

Lucky for me, my son had a full day of parties to attend and so I kicked my husband and son out of the house for 4 hours.  When that car pulled out of the driveway I stormed into his room with a trash bag in each hand.  One for trash, one for donations!

I attacked that room and if it wasn’t a toy he played with regularly, it got donated. If it was broken, it went to the trash. I mean I got rid of some serious stuff including big toys like his Monster’s Inc factory and figures as well as his Jake & The Neverland Pirate ships and figures.

What’s more, later I stopped to take a potty break and I spotted it.  From my peripheral vision, I noticed the bucket of bathtub toys sitting there in the corner.  One more thing to wash, clean, or disinfect that he doesn’t even play with anymore!  GONE!

If he had been home when I was doing this, there would have been tears and major meltdowns.

3. Decide which toys are played with most.

Get everything out and go item by item and decide if your child still plays with that toy regularly or not. In some cases, you’ll have tons of tiny, cheap, toys that just add to the stress of picking up toys because they get everywhere and fast. These are those Happy Meal toys or random toys grandma gave them from the dollar store.

Put the stuff they just don’t play with in a donation bag or a “sell” bag and take them out of the space. Then you are ready to set up a divide and conquer toy system.

Toys donations box

4. Divide, Conquer, and Label the Toys

I think that people often say things like, the reason I’m always picking up toys is that our kids have too much stuff!

In some cases that is true and it’s why you did some cleaning out in the last step. But this step is about limiting ACCESS to toys to prevent having os many toys to pick up.

There are several ways you can go about it based your child’s age or stage.

Daily and Weekly Toy Containers For Kid’s Under 3

If you have children under the age of 3, consider dividing all the favorite toys into “daily” or “weekly” containers where your child gets a new container of toys each day or week to play with and you rotate them. This way it’s like they are getting new toys on a regular basis.

Toy organization divide and conquer

Labeled Small Boxes

If you have children older than the age of 4 don’t let them have a giant toy box! Instead, try buying Hefty 6.5 Quart plastic lidded containers like the ones I have.

  • Theme each box out by attaching a color page, sticker or magazine cut out of who or what’s in the small toy storage box.
  • Minimize the toys down to what they actually enjoy playing with most and on a regular basis.
Creating Order in a Chaotic Space

In our house we have:

  • One Super Hero Imaginex Toys Box
  • One Transformers Box
  • One Ninja Turtle Box
  • One Box for puzzles (Each puzzle sorted into sandwich size baggies)
  • 2.5 Lego Boxes (Most are from Cressel’s childhood).
  • One box of Cressel’s old Micro Machines/ Hot Wheels.

5. Limit your childs access to the toys.

Put these containers in a spot that is too high for your child to reach (even with a chair- I’m talking they would need a grappling hook and rope to get this stuff) and offer a new box to play with each day, every few days or once a week. It’s really up to you, your system, and how content your child is with the box. My son has a high shelf in his closet and no chair he owns can reach that high up.

The second common action I take is putting a childproof lock on the door so they can’t get in the closet without my help.

Okay, now before anybody freaks out about why I don’t just teach my kid to clean up after himself and do some kind of Montessori Method of room organization it’s because I’m ADHD and I’m easily overwhelmed with too much stuff in my environment.  This solves my problem FAST.  And frankly, it controls the environment where he knows that the only way he can access more stuff is to clean up.  So it actually works for me and I like this system!

6. Don’t Waste Your Time Organizing Tiny Things

I got the bright idea once that I was going to divide up all my son’s Lego’s by color into divided containers.  What a waste of time!  I don’t know what I was thinking!  There was no way that my, non-OCD kid was going to keep his color-coded after day 1.  So this time I just got smart because he has so many from his dad’s childhood.

  • I bought divided containers made for Adjustable Ornament Case Storage bin from Target that are $7.99.
  • These slide right under his bed and because they are shallow, they make it easy for him to find the size and shape Lego’s he is looking for while he builds.


They will freak out if they SEE them.  They will dig the toys back out of the bags when you aren’t looking.  Don’t do the cleanse twice.

Get Donations Out of the House

Quick Tips For Organizing Clothing:

  • Put clothes in bins and label with a dry erase marker.
  • Put all their shoes in an easy to toss bin so they can put them away easily and find the matches easy when it’s time to get dressed.  
  • If your kids like to constantly change shoes or clothes, lock these items in the childproof closet as well.

This simple act of bringing order to the toys your child owns and limiting their access to those toys can make a huge difference.


My son also doesn’t get overwhelmed anymore when it’s time to clean his room because all he has to clean up is one small box instead of a floor full of toys.

For the past few years, I’ve been fighting tooth and nail to figure out a system to help my son help himself with his room organization, and here are four of the keys I finally figured out after many experiments.

When my son returned home later that day, I braced myself for the impending toy loss meltdown.

But do you know what happened? He went into his pristine clean room and asked for his superhero box and he played quietly and contently with that for about an hour. Then we boxed those up, put them on the shelf, and got the Lego’s out.

It’s been over a month and he hasn’t even noticed that all the Jake ships are gone or that his Monster Inc factory is missing. Even though I let him watch Monster’s Inc the next day (I was sweating after I put it on the TV because I figured he’d go looking for the set and was kicking myself for not thinking ahead). But he just played with the toys he likes and didn’t say a word. That confirmed what I already believed. My son had way more toys than he needed.

  1. He needs less stuff.
  2. Put the stuff too high for him to reach so that he has to ask for help when he wants to play with it.
  3. Limit the flow…
  4. Make it easy for him to put away himself with labels and designated spots.


I hope that you have found this post a simple solution to your own toy organization needs.  If you are overwhelmed with the number of toys your children have, you can make a huge difference.  Here at Thrifty Little Mom, I’m dedicated to helping other overwhelmed moms take back control of their chronically disorganized spaces.  

It’s hard but with the right strategies, we can do this!

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