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Make Teaching Your Child to Control Toy Clutter Fun

Mom and child controlling toy clutter

When you have one or more children, they have toys. It’s a fact of life. The sooner you can teach them how to control toy clutter the better. You will spend less time reminding your child to pick up their toys and you teach them to be responsible for their belongings – a lifelong skill. When you make controlling toy clutter fun it’s a win for both you and your child.

At first, when your child is very small, they have little interest in toys. Plus, the toys are manageable. You can probably fit most of them in a basket.

As we all know, time flies. Before too long, your child will have books, stuffed animals, puzzles, building blocks and other toys to control. If you don’t have a system for teaching your children how to control the toys they will merge together and become toy clutter.

Teach your child to control toy clutter by having a place for them to put their toys.

Control toy clutter by having an easily identifiable place to put books, blocks, & toys

Let them know that, in a perfect world, before you get out another toy you put the one you were playing with away. Realistically this will only happen if you are playing a game with them or doing a craft with them and if you initiate putting everything away before getting out the next toy or game.

Label with Pictures

It’s easiest to put things away when there are clearly identifiable places to put the toys. Label the toy bins by category and use picture labels combined with the word label.

Labeling with pictures and words makes it easy for your child to put away their toys. It also makes it easy for their friends or a babysitter to help pick up and put away.

Also use clear bins, boxes, or crates

Limit the Games

Limit the number of games you have available for them. If all the games are always out on the toy shelf the choice can be overwhelming. Control toy clutter and limit the number of games available to 2 or 3.

Rotate the games and bring different ones onto the shelf every couple of weeks. This keeps the selection fresh and avoids the overwhelm.

Doing this also reduces the chance that game pieces will get mixed in together causing confusion and frustration. It’s hard to put games away when there are too many out.

Play Games

Make picking up toys a game. Control toy clutter by playing the seek and sort game. Ask your child to pick up all the blocks and put them away. When they have done that, pick another category of toy for them to seek and put away.

You are teaching categorization when you ask your child to focus on only one category of things at a time.

You can play a favorite sing-a-long song on your phone and ask your child to put as many books as they can before the song is over.

Toss the stuffed animals onto the chair where they belong, into a basket, or into a net hammock near the ceiling.

Remember this is fun. Fun for your child and fun for you to be teaching them this valuable life skill. Accept their effort as excellent! Resist the urge to go back in and correct the way they have put their things away until after your child has gone to bed. If you correct their efforts in front of them, they will get the message that what they are doing is not good enough and stop trying.

Make Putting Away Routine

Make controlling toy clutter part of everyday. When it is simply part of a routine it will not be a struggle. As often as possible incorporate a little game using seek and sort and/or music to make the picking up fun.

Every now and then reward your child for doing a good job picking up their toys with a special treat. In the book Suzie’s Messy Room, Suzie gets to go the ice cream parlor with her mom as a special treat. In Benji’s Messy Room, Benji gets to invite a friend to an indoor playground as a reward. Who among us doesn’t like to be rewarded for a job well done?

There are lots and lots of different storage ideas out there to use for putting toys away. How you control the toy clutter in your home will depend on the space available. Make the task fun for you and your child by providing them with easy to use and maintain toy storage. Contact me for more ideas specific to your situation.

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®, Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people affected by ADD, Hoarding, and chronic disorganization.


  • Seana Turner says:

    You are definitely an expert on this topic, and I love your books:) I think making a routine is so important for children. They thrive on it, even when they resist it. Predictability is a big part of what makes children feel safe and secure. When they push back and complain, remind yourself that if they can do it at school, they can do it at home. Teaching a child how to establish and maintain order is a gift that will reward them for a lifetime!

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Thank you very much, Seana! Knowing how to put things away and to have a system for doing so is a life-long skill.

  • Great tips! When my kids were young, I added pictures with the name of the items under the images on an Avery sheet label and then attached it to the bin so they could associate words with the things as well. It worked great. =) Thanks for sharing.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Thank you, Sabrina. Having a picture on the label with the word is a terrific way to teach children to associate the object with the written word. I’m glad that worked for you!

  • Melissa Rogers says:

    I definitely believe in limiting what’s out and available to choose from! Nothing is more frustrating than having to clean up a bunch of toys that got dumped out but never actually played with, on repeat. Great tips, thank you for sharing!

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Thanks, Melissa! I agree. It’s totally overwhelming to have to sort through a bunch of mixed up game pieces trying to figure out what belongs together. If it’s frustrating for an adult just imagine how a child feels!

  • Melanie says:

    I certainly love a good reward for a job well done, usually in the form of a glass of my favorite wine with my feet up after dinner. My kids are still super young but I’m working a clean up routine into play time with my 2 year old. I’ll have to check out your books! My girls are 20 months apart and I feel that a solid plan for toy rotation is in my future to minimize fighting.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      I’m with you, Melanie! That’s the perfect reward at the end of a long day. I hope you try rotating toys in and out. Let me know how it goes!

  • Great post! Thank you. Making picking up toys a routine is so important. I remember when certain friends came to visit they dumped out every bin we had toys in like they had a need to see absolutely everything on the floor. Any suggestions for that besides limiting availability? My kids were great with the one bin at a time idea. Maybe I didn’t label them well enough?

  • Organizing toys can be a fun and creative project. When I wrote about toy organization, I kept my grandson and my nieces and nephews in mind because they’re all at different ages. Still, making picking up and putting away a routine is important at any age especially getting started when they are young.

    I liked your suggestion about rotating the games and bringing different ones out every couple of weeks. It certainly cuts down on the amount of toys and when you bring the new toys out, they seem like new again!

  • Kelly says:

    Great article. Just bought the book for my nephew but see getting many more for clients in the future. Would love the book with a girl as well or maybe combine a brother and sister team to reach both audiences. Great idea!!!