Dear Ronnie – On toy organisation

When I was younger, I used to joke that I would write a ‘Dear Ronnie’ column for a magazine when I was all grown up. Little did I know that one day I would be starting a Q&A column on my very own blog. Daggy name aside, I’ve been collecting questions sent to me by readers for some time now, always with a promise that I’d answer them in a blog post. As yet, I haven’t managed a single one. But since it’s the start of a new year, we are going to do this. Like for real. Seriously. So here we go…. are you ready?

One of the questions I often get asked is how I organise our boys’ toys. From what I gather, there seems to be a general consensus out there that children’s toys breed. And it’s true. They do. Big time. Often overnight, while you’re asleep. We are not big toy buyers ourselves. In fact, apart from birthdays and Christmas, we hardly buy anything for the boys. But even so, their inventory of toys is not lacking. Quite the opposite in fact.

The family room (shown above) is where our day-to-day toys live, and most of them are arranged on those two IKEA bookshelves, which I love. Sadly, IKEA actually doesn’t sell these Lack shelves anymore, which is a real shame in my opinion, but you can probably find some second hand on eBay, Gumtree or Craigslist if you’re lucky.

How toys are organised on the right bookshelf:

  • Top shelf (from left to right): Wooden toys (drum strategically out of reach) and Lego creations from Christmas.
  • Second shelf: Coffee tin filled with torches, 3D glasses and old mobile phones; scissors, crayons and ‘no-mess’ magic markers in Rick’s old school bag/case; Eric Carle building boxes; and basket filled with big plastic toys (e.g. cashier, laptop, etc.).
  • Third shelf: Remote control cars and Tonka trucks and cars in vintage Pepsi crates.
  • Bottom shelf: Plastic carwash set in small suitcase; wooden train set in Samsonite suitcase; wooden blocks in vintage train case; and crane set in its own tyre container.

How toys are organised on the left bookshelf:

  • Top shelf (from left to right): Puzzles & board games; Clippo set; random broken bits that need fixing (in bucket/tumbler); and farm animals in the Samsonite train case.
  • Second shelf: Creative activities and ‘thinking’ toys (e.g. beads, flashcards, Tap Tap, 3D puzzles, portable airport set, etc.) in the rectangular basket; magnetic blocks in top Lego box; Lego pieces in bottom Lego box; and standalone wooden toys (I like having these wooden toys on display because they add texture and colour).
  • Third shelf: Architectural building set in green suitcase; wooden puzzles in beige suitcase; and a big black tub of cars, trucks, planes, helicopters.
  • Bottom shelf: Huge wooden blocks for building roads, on loan from Rick’s parents.

As you can see, we group similar toys together, and I like to use a mixture of vintage and modern items to create fun and colourful storage solutions: suitcases, vintage train cases, Lego boxes, baskets, IKEA plastic tubs and vintage soda crates. Part of the reason I love these IKEA Lack shelves so much is because they’re roomy enough to hold things of all shapes and sizes, thus allowing greater flexibility than our previous boxy Expedit bookshelf.

Are these all the toys you have?

A wooden play kitchen lives in a storage cupboard under the stairs, along with a wooden carpark unit. Apart from the fact that this saves us valuable space in the family room, what we’ve found is that if we leave them out all the time, the boys just get bored of them. But if we only bring them out from time to time, the boys are much more interested and inclined to interact with them.

The only toys in the boys’ bedroom is a wooden crate full of coloured blocks, and they play with these after their bathtime in the evenings. Not only does this keep the toy situation simple and uncluttered upstairs, it also encourages the boys’ creativity as they constantly come up with new ways of playing with and building their blocks.

Lastly, paints, paintbrushes, chalk, bubble mix, Play Doh and outdoor type toys are all stored in an old Ikea wardrobe in the garage. Papers and colouring-in books are stored in our little kids table next to the couch in the family room.

What about new toys?

After every birthday or Christmas, which is usually when the influx of toys occur, I usually end up re-organising the toys on the two shelves. In my opinion, if our toys don’t fit on those two shelves, then there are too many toys out on display and the boys wouldn’t play with all of them anyway.

So for example, after we got home from our annual Mason Christmas lunch this year, I literally spent up to three hours that night working out which of the new toys could be combined with the old toys, re-arranging how the toys were stored on the shelves, and ‘archiving’ some of the old toys away upstairs into cupboards. By going through this process, I managed to incorporate what seemed like an enormous sack of new toys into these two shelves, whilst only having to archive two big plastic trucks and a box full of all their cooking and food toys. (Any of IKEA’s storage cubes that fit inside their Expedit shelves are great for toy archiving purposes.)

On maintaining the system…

My biggest tip with keeping toys organised is to teach your children where everything is kept and to teach them to tidy up after every play time. All three of our boys (including Jamie, our twenty two month old) know where everything goes, and they all know that before we sit down to eat or before we go out, they must help pack up the family room. They know they are free to make as much mess as they want while they play, as long as they return the room to the state it was before, which they do beautifully – even down to putting the TV remotes away in the right drawers, returning cups to the kitchen and putting the cushions the right way up on the couch.

How do you organise your children’s toys? Feel free to share your tips!

28 comments

Latrina January 17, 2013 at 11:10 pm

Wow, I have to ask though… are the boys good at keeping the toys in their rightful spots & cleaning up after themselves? Your storage solution is so clever… and orderly.. and very appealing too!

I can not say the same for my house when I was growing up — I can definitely say we had way, WAY TOO many toys… literally overflowing each room of the house. I have always been a neat & orderly person, even as a child… but trying to keep my toys in place with 4 other siblings were tough! lol

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Pink Ronnie January 17, 2013 at 11:27 pm

I have to say – they are pretty good at that. Give them a messy floor full of their toys and they’ll be able to sort through the toys and work out which toys go into which tub or container or basket or suitcase. I guess they’ve just been learning it day after day. I find they learn things like that pretty quickly if we’re consistent with showing them where/how.
Ronnie xo

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rachel swartley January 17, 2013 at 11:54 pm

Having a place for everything is so essential for keeping things organized!

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Tracey @ Bliss Amongst Chaos January 18, 2013 at 12:30 am

We have just recently bought a similar shelving unit from Ikea for our playroom, that covers one entire wall, and we’ve added drawers and baskets to it. It is seriously one of the best things we’ve ever done. Everything has a place, and it’s so easy to clean up the room after a day’s play! :)
xx

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Rachel January 18, 2013 at 12:31 am

The vintage suitcases are a great idea. I really need to do a better job keeping like toys together. Oh organization, ho you allude me.

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Jo January 18, 2013 at 12:37 am

I love the mix of old and new on the shelves, it looks great. Do you find that the vintage wooden boxes scratch the shelves, or have you put something soft underneath?
I’m not sure if I have left a comment before, but I love your blog and have been reading it for a while :)

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Pink Ronnie January 18, 2013 at 12:48 am

Hi Jo,
It’s always so lovely to ‘meet’ a reader! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. :) We were worried about the vintage crates scratching as well, but so far we haven’t really had any problems with it, even with nothing underneath.
Ronnie xo

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Debie Grace January 18, 2013 at 1:46 am

Your arrangement is very in order. I hope the boys know how to return their toys to their specific boxes! Good job, Mommy Ronnie! :D

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claire January 18, 2013 at 2:06 am

Funny, I just spent a few hours last week sorting out toy storage too (must be the post Christmas/new year thing, so probably not much of a coincidence after all!)…we have a great little 60s tea trolley in our living space – and the bottom shelf of this has become the space for Sassy’s everyday toys (she doesn’t need that many at her age). She also has some shelves in her room, and a basket in our room (to give us those precious extra minutes in bed in the morning!). I try to rotate her books/toys in these areas every week or two – and the excess are stored in a little chest in our room. It feels so great to know where all the toys are kept – and yes, it definitely helps to teach little ones that there is a place for everything! x

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Louise January 18, 2013 at 2:51 am

Hi Ronnie, this looks great! I’m super impressed, especially that the boys put everything away. But… what about SOFT TOYS!!?? Where is your big breeding tub of furry friends that no-one cares about until you’re about to chuck them? He he.
Lou xx

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Pink Ronnie January 18, 2013 at 10:04 am

LOL, we only have a handful of soft toys (mostly ones from Rick and my childhood actually) and they used to live in one of the suitcases, but during one of my recent re-organising sessions, they got archived to the cupboard upstairs!
Ronnie xo

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stephanie January 18, 2013 at 9:44 am

What great behaviours your boys have! I am curious as to how the boys get to the toys on the top shelf. Do they have a ladder or do they need to ask for help.
I think you may have started a hunt for LACK shelves :)

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Pink Ronnie January 18, 2013 at 10:06 am

Good question! If they want something, they ask us and we bring it down. Or if I’m setting up some play activities for them, I might bring them down of my own accord at the beginning of playtime. at the end of playtime, once they’ve packed everything back into their individual boxes and containers, we put the stuff back up onto the shelves.
Ronnie xo

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KarynS January 18, 2013 at 9:52 am

OMG I can’t believe how relative little space your toys take up. Well done for getting them to keep them so organised. We’re working on this around my place….slowly! You’ve done well also to keep the toys limited to the amount you seem to have – I cannot believe the amount we have (with just 2) and this is not from us buying them things outside of Christmas & Birthdays…my two get very spoilt by family & friends.
Thanks for sharing.

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Fiona January 18, 2013 at 12:18 pm

That’s a great system you’ve got there, Ronnie! We used to be able to keep it quite well like this until we had 3 kids and a 5 year old who got a heap of Lego for his birthday. I am desperate to get some order in it again, so this was really inspiring. I moved all the toys upstairs ater feeling like I was living in a day care, but they don’t play with them much anymore, so having beautiful baskets and vintage suitcases to store toys in is a great idea, especially when we have only one (small) living area in our house. Less really is more, especially when it means they can pack it away themselves with minimal help!

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The Beetle Shack January 19, 2013 at 7:56 am

Ronnie, you are inspiring. all. the. time.

stop it.

just be pregnant and lazy and have zits on your chin.

go on, join me. ;)

big love

xo em

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Pink Ronnie January 19, 2013 at 9:37 am

You make me laugh every time Em.
Big hugs to you too,
Ronnie xo

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Antonia January 20, 2013 at 7:10 am

Wow! What a wonderful space! I am currently feeling extremely overwhelmed by the amount of toys sneakily taking over every room in our house at the moment. You have inspired my to have a big sort out – thank you! Love your blog x

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Pink Ronnie January 23, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Thanks Antonia – it’s really lovely to have you here.
Ronnie xo

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Lottie :: Oyster & Pearl January 21, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Wow – I love this. Really impressed with your orderliness, but in such a stylish way. Particularly love your use of vintage suitcases – I bet this adds to the ease with which the boys know how to clear up.

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Jane January 22, 2013 at 1:57 am

I love your organizing tips but I also LOVE the way you write. I cracked up when you said toys breed! And oh my the drum set strategically placed out of reach :) You also have a lovely collection of vintage suitcases!

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Jessica January 23, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Thank you for sharing your process! My son is two (our only one so far) and the old adage about a child liking the box the toy came in more than the toy itself is totally true, in our experience. I can’t wait until he’s old enough to start creating things from ordinary objects around the house. I kind of do this already for him, using cardboard and so on but there’s magic in watching a child create something from nothing. :) We live in an apartment and we’re tight on space so I’ve tried to keep things at a minimum from the start, but more so as he gets older. I love finding toys that have multiple purposes or will span several age ranges.

I love your blog – found you through Liz Tamanaha, another remarkable woman! :) Cheers!

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Pink Ronnie January 23, 2013 at 11:28 pm

Hey Jessica,
So lovely to have you here – thanks for stopping by! Liz is so awesome – definitely one of my heroes. :) Anyway, thanks again for reading and I hope you and your son enjoy lots of creative time playing together in years to come.
Ronnie xo

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Kristin January 28, 2013 at 10:17 pm

I’m a new reader (very new, this is the 4th post I’ve read) and you are already changing my life :) I love the idea of archiving the toys! I had been thinking of ways to rotate toys for my 2 year old daughter, and it never occurred to me to pack some up in another room. I will be a busy momma tonight!

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Pink Ronnie January 29, 2013 at 1:56 am

Hi Kristin,
Thanks for stopping by – so glad you ended up here! Enjoy your toy archiving. It works a treat for us!
Ronnie xo

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Katie October 28, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Hi Ronnie,
I have just discovered your blog from Em at The Beetle Shack and I LOVE your blog.. This post is so helping for mum’s. I have 3 children and struggle with the ‘Toy situation’.. so thank you for your photos and I love the way you like a minimalist approach!
Katie xx

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I love hearing from you!

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