How to Teach Kids to Clean Up Their Toys

How to Teach Kids to Clean Up Their Toys

This article is by one of our guest bloggers Nikki at Growing Up Mom a rockin’ blog about motherhood and life. If you enjoy this article make sure to check out more of her good reads.

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Throughout the years I have learned that kids need structure and constant reminders in order to learn how to clean up after themselves. They need to know where stuff goes, what to do next, otherwise it is complete and utter chaos. Like in my house, up until this year.


I thought it was a really cute idea to get these adorable canvas bins to put in a bookcase for my daughters toys. When I set this up, it looked so nice. That lasted until my daughter played with my new “organized” master piece for the first time. After that all hell broke loose in the playroom. I tried for a year to teach her that she could put her toys in any of the bins, I didn’t care which one, just so she would put her toys away somewhere. I don’t know if its just my daughter, I’m going out on a limb and saying probably not, but giving her the “freedom” to put her toys in any being turned into putting her toys anywhere but the bins.


I also thought that organizing and keeping things neat was my job. I mean as the parent, and the one who cleans most of the house, why would this be anyone else’s job, right? Wrong! It is our job as the parent to teach our children how to clean up after themselves. I mean how else will they ever learn if we just let them put their stuff wherever they want and just neaten it up when the piles get to be too much for us to handle. Of course, we still have to start somewhere, and tackle the main problem first.


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What it looked like before we started going through the toys


It’s time to face the facts, most kids have too many toys that they never use.


My house is no different. It is our job as parents to teach kids the art of having just enough, and keeping only what you actually use. I wasn’t doing that, I didn’t realize we had a problem. It wasn’t until right after this past Christmas, that I finally came to terms with this dilemma. I mean with everything the way it was, how were we going to add in all the new things she got? Christmas is big for her because it also happens to be her birthday, so she always has extra gifts too!


Well, there went that well thought out plan of organizing her toys. I thought about giving in and just getting one big toy box, but then I realized that A) toy boxes are expensive unless you can find a good used one and B) toy boxes can become a big tangled mess as you add more and more toys in there.


What was I to do? Then it hit me, as “organized” as I thought the bins would be, I didn’t have a system in place. There was no rhyme or reason to our bins, my daughter needed more structure. She needed to know where stuff went, and she needed it to be right in her face. I searched online but couldn’t find just one way that I thought would work. I needed something visual, but I also needed to use something outside of the bins and bookcase set up.


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What it looked like once we “sorted” all of the toys (yah, way more than I thought we had)


Allowing the kids responsibility to decide what to keep and what to toss.


First thing was first though, we needed to go through her toys. There was no way she used everything she had. Starting to work on this was not just a lesson for her, it was a wake-up call to me when I realized just how many toys she really had.


I took a day and me and the big sis attacked her over-abundance of toys and made three piles in some of the tupperware bins I had (which would later be used to store some of her things).


Pile One: Keep for Big Sis

Pile Two: Put aside for Little Sis

Pile Three: Yard Sale (which will be placed in the basement for spring or summer – with the umpteen feet of snow we have over here in New England, we will be lucky if we get to this before June!)


To give her a sense of control, because let’s face it all kids need at least a little, I let my daughter go through everything with me. This way she knew what we were keeping, giving away, and saving for her sister. There were a few things we had to talk about that she hasn’t played with in a few months (yes kids need to have a semblance of control, but we still need to have the final say). I was honestly surprised at how much she decided to get rid of all on her own. She was also really good and understanding about the toys she was too big for, which we put aside for the baby.


It also helped us go through our toys too, because I decided we were only going to have certain types of toys. I was no longer letting her keep anything that looked like it came out of a happy meal, or from a party favor bag. You would be surprised as to how many little unnecessary toys you will find. It wasn’t that hard to explain this to her either.


Toy storage solutions are a mom’s job, if you want to keep your sanity.


After this was done, it was time to organize our bins. I’ll be honest, I didn’t let my daughter help with this step. I wanted to make sure that everything had a place to go, and that was my job. Otherwise, she would have put her toys just anywhere, and this was a bad habit I was working hard to break. Plus, that habit was my fault and I needed to fix it.


Here are the things we found around the house that worked best to help keep things organized:


Plastic draws. These are by far the best solution we found and I was lucky that we had some around the house. I just had to re-order some stuff, and we didn’t even have to buy any extra. Even if we did, they are totally worth it. Perfect for all of those little things like blocks and action figures, and then some.

Large plastic totes. These we used for her dolls, stuffed animals and our large array of dress-up clothes (which we buy discounted after halloween)

Wire bins – These worked great for games and puzzles, so they are easily stackable.

Plastic hanging file bin. This we used for all of her balls that were lying around. It was just big enough to fit everything and still has a bit more space left.

Here are some other great alternatives too:


Laundry bins/Trash bins. Anything with a swinging lid or no lid at all would work great. These may replace our plastic totes one day, I like the idea of being able to just put the toys in and out without having to deal with the lid (that gets half put on by my daughter sometimes), but we wanted to hold off on putting any money into this if there was a free way to organize.


Over the door shoe organizer. I had one and almost used this for the barbies (also great for cars and action figures) but our doors won’t close with the hanging over so no-go for us. If you already have these on hand, or can get them inexpensively at the dollar store or thrift store this is great. I wouldn’t spend money on new ones though.

Visual aides help kids learn, it’s a simple fact. They help them when it comes to learning the alphabet, counting, reading, and more. Most kids are not born to know how to clean, they have to learn to clean just like with anything else. And just like anything else, it is our job as parents to teach them.


Using visual aides to help kids learn to clean up their toys, and stay that way.


After we have things neat and tidy, it is up to us to make sure that our kids learn where everything goes. To do this, I made some printable labels, like the ones below.


Let’s face it, visual aides help kids learn. They help kids learn the alphabet, numbers, even reading. Kids are not born knowing how to clean, just like everything else, they have to learn how. It is our job as parents to teach this very necessary skill. Of course, it took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t really helping with this as much as I thought I was. Then, once I realized that my daughter needed to be taught where everything should go in her little play area, that is when I decided to take the use of visual aides to help this along.


With the help of my trusty Google drive and some clip art, I was able to create some labels to stick on our new storage bins. You can use our printable category list, with pictures for a visual aide, which you can see and print here.. Of course if our categories don’t work for you, you can always create some of your own.


Here is what it looks like now that we are organized and have been working with this since after Christmas:


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Since implementing this system, my daughter automatically puts everything in it’s right place. I was surprised how quickly she adjusted to this. In two days she had it down pat. Of course, I still have to remind her to actually pick up her toys sometimes, but when she puts them away, they are put away right. No kid is perfect, and no parent is either, it will always be a learn on the job kind of gig!


What do you use to help your kids playroom stay organized?

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