Conquering clutter – how to tame the toys

Was a big playroom clean-up on your list of new year’s resolutions? Four months later, have you followed through or, like me, swept it under the carpet?

It never ceases to amaze how such little people can make the house look like it’s been hit by a tornado each and every day. And it just gets more and more chaotic as toys, artwork and child-related paperwork accrue over time. If you’re in the same slowly sinking boat, take heart – there’s help at hand.

Professional organiser Georgie Rees says it’s not just the mountain of baby gear, washing and toys that make homes with kids disorderly – many of the SOS calls she receives from families relate to paperwork management, whether it’s the digital or physical variety. She says many parents are simply time-poor, and the clutter can get overwhelming.

“It can feel out of control as soon as kids come into play,” says Georgie, of NSW-based Clutterfly. “Mums need to be kind to themselves and accept that there will always be an element of mess when little people are involved. What they can do is start to implement some structure or boundaries to how the toys are stored. This will also help the children in the long term as they are learning systems from a young age that become part of daily life.”

She says it’s best to try to stop the clutter from entering in the first place. But failing that, you’ll need some foolproof tips to manage the mayhem.

How to get started

Pick one area to begin

“Start small so that you finish quick,” Georgie says. “The amazing feeling you get from accomplishing this will give you motivation to move on to another area the next time.”

Start with somewhere that you can imagine finishing

“Not the place that you are procrastinating about the most,” Georgie says.

Set a goal

Determine that you want to reduce the number of items in a particular area by at least a quarter (or however much space you need to make). “This helps you to stay on track and ensure you are making a difference,” she says.

Expect to make more mess to get less mess

“So accept this but also manage your time so that when you need to stop, you aren’t still in the mess stage.”

Put like with like

This may mean grabbing items from other areas in the home. “You will soon easily see what you have excess of and it will be easier to decide what needs to be passed on,” Georgie says.

11 ways to contain the clutter

So now that you’re ready to take on that mountain of mess, how do you actually go about it?

Make room for new toys

Before birthdays, Christmas or even Easter, help your kids work out what they can pass on to other kids – via donation or to a relative or friend – to make room for new toys.

Borrow and return

Turn a cupboard or drawer into a toy library. Every time your child wants to “check out” a toy, they must first bring back another they have borrowed.

Toss the toy fillers

Make a 24-hour rule on those plastic novelty toys from fast-food places or party bags. No one will miss them.

Don’t be sentimental

“It’s really hard to get rid of toys given by grandparents and other special people in children’s lives. But if they no longer use it, lose it,” Parents magazine lifestyle director Laura Fenton tells NBC Today. “Often it is the parents who are actually having trouble getting rid of things, not the kids. If they’re not playing with it, it’s just clutter.”

Throw away the toy box

Put everything in a cupboard, on a shelf, or in a drawer or a bin. “Every plaything needs a designated home. With a toy box you’re throwing anything and everything inside, it’s a jumble, it’s a mess,” Laura says.


Use labels and apply liberally

“Labels are a great way to help the children learn where to find what they are looking for but also where to put it back,” Georgie says. “Yes, you will probably still have to do some picking up after the kids, but it should make it easier and quicker each night.”

“Some people think it might be over the top, but the beauty is that everyone in the home can see where things need to go – so no excuses there. Also anyone else coming into the home to help can also see where things belong, such as a cleaner, nanny, or helpful mother-in-law.”

Use boxes wisely

Categorise the toys and keep each type in a separate box or area. The idea is that only one box needs to be accessed at one time, for example just the Lego or the action figures or craft. When the child is ready to move on to another set of toys, the first box gets packed up and the next one can come down.

Use clear, stackable drawers

They help keep things together, plus you can see the contents without having pull each one out – and they’re easy for kids to open.

Shoe organisers aren’t just for shoes

Use them to keep small toys and accessories together – for example, all your Barbie accessories or Lego bits and bobs.

Hide under the bed

Under-bed storage can be a sanity saver, and a wise way to use space.

Bits-and-bobs box

As you’re cleaning up, inevitably you’ll find parts of toys or sets floating along. Have a small box in which you collect random pieces of toys/games. When you find the toy they belong to, they can be reunited.

And if you’re still dreading the thought of cleaning up, take one last piece of advice from Georgie: “Think of all the precious space being taken up with those excess things that you can’t find anyway – and then imagine the extra space you will have once you declutter them!”

There’s plenty of fabulous ideas for storage in our post archives to get your own decluttering adventure started. Let us know how you go!


Michelle Rose

Michelle Rose

Michelle is a journalist and mum to two girls who are obsessed with dinosaurs, fairies, pirates and princesses in equal measure. She lives in Melbourne's east with her husband, daughters and a giant, untameable labradoodle. Michelle loves all things vegetarian, wine (it's a fruit) and online shopping.

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