Ask Unclutterer: Accessible but clutter-free toy storage

Reader Patricia submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I want to keep toys for my grandchildren to play with when they visit our home, but our condo doesn’t have much extra space to store the toys. My friend says I need to have a special drawer for them, but I can’t think of a place that is accessible. Some of the toys are appropriate for different ages. I’m also afraid I will forget that I have the toys stashed away somewhere and nobody will ever get to play with them. Any good ideas?

I like the concept your friends are suggesting, but I can see how a drawer might not be the specific solution for you. It’s easy to forget about items you have stored, especially if you are a visual processor. You need a dedicated area where the toys can be contained and accessible, but they shouldn’t be in your way or captivate your attention when your grandchildren aren’t visiting.

I’ve come up with some ideas for you, based on solutions I’ve seen work for others. Be sure to check the comments, though, for even more ideas from our readers. If we’re lucky, at least one will work!

  • A small bookshelf that you can put in a closet or a low-traffic area of your home. The lower shelves can contain toys appropriate for young children and the higher shelves can hold toys for the older kids.
  • Repurpose the lower shelf of a bookshelf you already have in your home. Label boxes with your grandchildren’s’ names, and then put the age-appropriate toys in the specific boxes. Your grandkids won’t ignore boxes with their names on them.
  • Get a traditional toy box and put it at the foot of a bed or near your main entrance. When your grandkids aren’t visiting, it can be a place to sit to put on your shoes. When the grandkids are visiting, they’ll know exactly where to find the toys. Separate toys in the box into smaller boxes and bins, with the older toys in boxes that require more dexterity to open.
  • Similar to the previous suggestion, get another container that works with your home’s decor. Paint “Toys” or your grandchildren’s names on the container. Again, your grandkids will know exactly where to go to find the toys. You won’t have to remember a thing.

Thank you, Patricia, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. This sounds like a fun problem to solve. Oh, and don’t forget to check the comments for even more great ideas.

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28 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Accessible but clutter-free toy storage”

  1. posted by HH on

    My in-laws keep the toys in the basket of a little plastic shopping cart (also a toy) in their front coat closet. Out of the way for them when we are not there, and easy for the kids (2 & 4) to get out and put away themselves. They love going to get them and bringing them to wherever the adults are gathered. A few children’s books are on their living room bookshelf, at toddler-eye level for easy access. As for age-appropriate divisions, I guess we always just monitor that during the time of play. Kids will always find a way to get what they ought not have!!!

  2. posted by Andrea B on

    Have you been over to House*Tweaking? She recently showed how she keeps her kids’ toys accessible but neat, using a combination of baskets and storage ottomans.

    Here’s the post:

    I don’t have any kids yet, but as a woman on a mission to organize her home from the inside out, drawer by drawer (and blogging about it for accountability), I was pretty impressed to read her solutions and am definitely keeping both this Unclutterer post and that House*Tweaking post in the back of my mind for the future when my husband and I hopefully will have a family of our own.

  3. posted by Jenn on

    Something else to think about is where the kids will be playing with the toys. Most likely the answer to that questions is right in front of the toy storage. So if that’s not desirable or near a heavy traffic area you may want to think of ways of controlling the play area further.

    For me, I wanted to keep the toys from spilling into a traffic path in the family room. I found that by simply moving our couch I gave the toy shelf more room in front for playing and now the walkway is free of legos.

    Another idea is to have a kid friendly coffee table or use a kid’s table as a coffee table and store the toys in easy to carry plastic bins and encourage the kids to play with the toys on the coffee table. Or you can designate a special rug (flat, not shag) nearby for playing. A rug makes an especially good visual containment and can be rolled-up and stored when not in use. You can also do the reverse and use a long runner to mark the path where toys cannot be.

  4. posted by KateNonymous on

    For BabyNonymous, we got a fabric container that is taller than it is wide. This might be useful for someone with limited space, because it takes up little floor space. This is the one we got:

  5. posted by Theresa on

    My parents keep the kid toys in one of their endtables. They only have to remember they are in there once. After the first time,the kids remember where they are.

  6. posted by Samantha on

    Some friends of mine who have a toddler keep his toys in the living room inside a round fabric covered box with a lid, that doubles as a side table or foot stool. It’s only small – if there’s too many toys for the box, the rest have to go back upstairs to his bedroom. It keeps toys handy but not in the way.

  7. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    We always had a toy drawer at our grandparents’ house. I had one for my niece and nephew at my old house, when they were little. Trust me, kids won’t forget about it once they know where it is. ๐Ÿ™‚

    If a drawer won’t work, what about an underbed storage box? A basket on a shelf or under a side table, with a lid, if needed? An over-the-door organizer on the back of a closet door? A large tote bag in the bottom of the coat closet?

    Keep in mind, too, that you don’t need to provide a fully stocked toybox to replicate what they have at home. A few well-chosen toys, games, and activities should be fine. I always made sure I had scrap paper, crayons, safety scissors, coloring books, stickers, and cards. There was also a small tea set, some stitch-through cards, and some large beads and string (for older kids). I have a few board games that cover a range of ages that live with our other board games, and a half a shelf of kids’ books, too.

    Good luck!

  8. posted by SarahA on

    My daughter’s toys are in nice looking bins in the coffee table shelves. She’s only 7 months but she already likes looking in each of the bins to see what different things they have.

  9. posted by JustGail on

    My parents keep an old small suitcase with toys in a hallway closet. The small area and hard floors encouraged the DS to take it to the living room to play. And yes, once he knew where it was, he did NOT forget about it. Since our visits are a few hours at a time, it worked well. If the ages are more than a couple of years, maybe a couple of suitcases would work, or perhaps a container for “action” toys (cars, dolls, etc), and a container for “quiet” toys (crayons, coloring books, etc).

    Even though he had lots of toy cars at home, the different ones at Grandma & Grandpa’s keep him playing happily for a long time, even though they were fewer in number. In fact, when he took his own cars, they were ignored. I’d recommend NOT duplicating anything they have at home.

  10. posted by Hannala on

    We have most of her toys in her playroom in the basement, but keep some toys near the living room. We put them in the Ikea Vessla storage container with lid. The lid just sits on (not tightly closed), and so, even our daughter (2 yr old) can open at any given time. Here’s a link:

  11. posted by Kara on

    I love the idea of a suitcase!
    Both sets of our childrens grandparents have baskets with toys. I strongly encourage you, as other have, to not duplicate toys at home but come up with things that you want to enjoy with the child. An etch-a-sketch at home would be pretty boring but when there are lots of adults around willing to try and draw for a child, it becomes a lot more fun! Also detailed oversized books can be fun when adults are willing to look with a little one. Don’t overwhelm them with toys just pick a few good ones that allow interaction.

  12. posted by priest's wife on

    I love the idea of using an old suitcase! This would work for any kid about 4 and older

  13. posted by Jen on

    I really like the idea of storage areas that can double as furniture during the times the kids are not around – like Erin’s suggestion of an entryway bench or something. Also, places like Bed Bath and Beyond have ottoman-like cube storage containers that are fairly inexpensive (maybe $50) and could easily fit in with your decor in a living room area. These would also be easy for the kids to access, and everything would be hidden when they are not around. My MIL has a couple of giant baskets that live in her entryway, but honestly they are always overflowing because she just has too many toys in her house, for someone who doesn’t have small children living there. It’s important to declutter the kids’ toys, to keep a balance between having enough toys and enough space!

  14. posted by djk on

    Andrea B–thanks for the link. Great site! that is going to take up a bit of my evening…

  15. posted by Jay on

    To keep your storage solution (whatever you end up selecting) smaller, make sure some of the toys or play items are versatile, such as crayons and paper, Legos, a recorder (the musical instrument, if you can stand to listen to it), a couple of indoor-safe balls, checkers, etc. With the “right” toys/play items, you might be able to shrink your storage area.

  16. posted by DeclutterGuy on

    My in-laws build a closet in one of the rooms were these toys are.So when the children come they know exactly were these toys are and they go there without even asking.

  17. posted by kelly on

    If you plan to use furniture for toy storage, please keep in mind safety issues. If you will use a drawer in a dresser for toy storage, the dresser should be anchored to the wall so that the dresser does not topple on the child. It may seem unlikely that it will topple, but that’s what we thought until it happened to our child. Same goes for bookcases. Also, be mindful of lids on trunks with little fingers.

  18. posted by Charity on

    Agreed, the kids will remember where they are! My parents have toys in various places through the house and mine (5 and 2) have no trouble at all asking for or getting what they want.

  19. posted by David on

    My mother used a laundry basket tucked behind one of the living room chairs. She also has a collection of owls. The softest and most rugged ones were kept on the lowest shelves where they could join in for tea parties easily.

  20. posted by David Carlson on

    We had a very long wetbar in our downstairs family room with all kinds of shelf space behind it, toys and games and out of sight. We didn’t drink alcohol, so no loss there. One of the rituals for our social gatherings involved young children taking absolutely everything out of those shelves and scattering them on the floor, as soon as they arrived. They always remembered what to do. Our daughters were in tears. They are both over 30 now. I’m not sure they ever got over the clutter.

  21. posted by MC on

    For all 10 grandchildren and now the (so far) 9 great-grandchildren, my parents have kept toys in a cardboard box that is approximately 18″x18″x12″. It’s on the floor of their hallway coat closet. Once the first grandchild knew where it was, there was no need to worry about anyone else finding it. I don’t think they’ve purchased a single toy for the box either. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m pretty sure everything in there was something my siblings or I played with. That box has tape on every square inch, but has been in use for over 30 years and will likely survive for great-great-grandchildren. If memory serves, in the box there is one doll, enough wooden blocks to make a decent height tower, and a small assortment of toy cars and trucks. Plenty to keep the kiddos occupied when the grown-ups are chatting in the living room. The only “rules” are that the box can only be brought into the living room, and when playtime is over, we clean up and put the box back in the closet.

  22. posted by Deborah on

    My parents have a cloth bag that is filled with crayons, papers, stickers and those magnetic building pieces. They keep it in the closet, but the kids know where it is when the visit. The kids have also learned that they must put everything back into the bag before they leave. There are also book which my mom picks up when her library has a book sale. When the books are too easy for my kids, they go back to the library for their next sale and Mom picks up new books.

  23. posted by Samantha M. on

    Both my niece and nephew have a drawer each in the kitchen for when they come to visit. When I redesigned the kitchen I had the drawers put in the breakfast bar area when we remodeled. If they leave anything behind it goes in their drawers so they know where to find it next time they come. They really do like having their own space and I do think the drawer idea is a good one.

    The best part is it corrals the clutter and when the drawers start getting too full to shut, we sit down and go through the drawers and sort out what to keep or what they have out grown etc.

  24. posted by pgturner on

    oh, i loved reading this post, it brought back many memories! my kids are now in their 20’s, but when they were little and went to visit G&G, there was a special place for them! G&G collected indian baskets, and so as part of their decor, they had a larger basket with a lid on it where they stashed toys for the munchkins! its a great memory for the kids because they remember it so well ๐Ÿ™‚ FUN!

  25. posted by Grammie Linda on

    When SarahA was young, her grandmother had some toys, both things she picked up at garage sales and some left over from earlier times. They were different from what was at home. One, which we have now, was an old-fashioned milk bottle and wooden clothes pins. All kinds of fun, including standing and trying to get one into the bottle. Another was a fur collar off an old coat.

    The kids knew their Gamma wanted them there–she had toys for them that resided in their own particular place. You have lots of places for storage (@Andrea B, that “house*tweaking link is wonderful!) if you just look.

  26. posted by Hollie on

    This is great. I went looking and found 15 organizational tools that would help any overwhelmed parent deal with their toy tsunami & thought Iโ€™d share!

  27. posted by Shae on

    I keep my nieces’ toys in an ordinary cheap chest with a magnet latch from HomeGoods. They have tons of them. I didn’t like the design so I painted over it with my own, an adult-friendly design that goes with my decor and allows me to keep the chest out in the living room.

    If you have less room, I like the idea of the suitcase, or maybe a rolling underbed box that could go under the couch or under a bed or bench and roll out when needed.

  28. posted by Joy from Just Plain Joy on

    I have used baskets, as well clear bins and functional furniture (aka storage coffee table).

    Check out this link for pictures of the baskets in my daughter’s room

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