Thursday, February 27, 2014

How to Make a Toy Library and STOP Picking up After Your Kids

This is the first in a new series I'm starting called 

The point of the series is to highlight neat tricks that make a parent's life easier, especially with toddlers. Here's my first confession: I can't make this stuff up. Most of my best parent hacks (like this one!) are learned, especially from my dear friend Ellie, but from lots of other lovely people as well. I'm not a proponent of the "it takes a village to raise a child" mantra (no, it takes a pair of solid, disciplined, and holy parents!), but it just might take a village to teach a mother. So...without further ado (too late!) Here's our first Hijack:

Note the Harold-style crayon markings on the dresser...

Now, we've all been there before (every. stinking. day). The kids have a conference early in the day on the ways to annoy you the most, and they decide that this is the core of their plan:

In our house, I've employed a few strategies before to try and tame the beast that is Toys Everywhere with a few strategies:
1. Have fewer toys
2. Keep them all in one location
3. Organize them by type
I pare down the toys and clothes pretty regularly around here, and I moved the toys all up to the boys' room (mostly) so that there wasn't always such a big mess in the main living areas.  I also have multiple plastic bins organized by type of toy (trains, Legos, cars, dinosaurs). Having less stuff is calming, I think and these strategies as a whole have eased things a bit, but what usually ends up happening is that ALL the toys are out of their special bins, on the floor of the bedroom, in time for a last-ditch cleaning effort right before bed.

The idea of the Toy Library is that you keep ALL of the toys in one area/closet, organized by item, and your kids check an item out, just like they would a book at the library! (Only difference being that there are no overdue fines piling up!). Each child is then responsible for cleaning up the toy/toy bin that he picks.

So yesterday, I endeavored to make my own Toy Library, and start reaping the benefits.

The ideal Toy Library is a closet or area that you can designate and set aside for this sole purpose, and one that your kids can't get into (for obvious reasons!). I chose to re-purpose a narrow hall closet next to the boys' room. A friend of mine has her's in a separate part of her basement area (their playroom is down there too). You could also just use a special bookcase or something somewhere, but it has to be a spot you can fit everything and keep the kids from getting into.
official Toy Library to-be
Step Two was actually to clean out the closet...I didn't take a before picture in time, so you are being spared the delight that it someone else's boring and messy closet in full bloom, but here's proof that I didn't already have a clean closet (so that you don't think I'm an Overachiever or something!):

old vacuum cleaner, never-worn clothes and a curious little boyo
After a lot of dust, some looking through old pictures (and sharing them to Facebook, of course!), and moving the clothing to a different (desperately in need of tidying) closet...we had this:

It's a Cupboard Under the Stairs ala Harry Potter, so I scoured my house for some type of shelf thing,
and came up with this crate that Steven got last week.
It's supposed to be for apples...but it's 16F out right now...I think I can hijack it for now!
So, prepped and ready, I started gathering toys and bins, mostly from the boys room (entrance to the left of the closet there), but also from downstairs and up in the TV room etc. The boys had toy stations all over the house! I thought about leaving their wooden train tracks in the bin in the TV room, but decided that I would rather not have to pick those up all the time too.

Here's what it looked like along the way. 

I was especially pleased that some of the trucks would hang on the pre-existing hooks!
And here's the finished product!

The top shelf has two (diaper) boxes of books (I left Where the Wild Things Are on the bedside table, because that's all the boys want to read at bedtime recently (kindred spirits and all that!). There is also a bin on the top shelf that is "baby" kind of toys that the boys will dump out, but we can keep separate for a while yet. The big red tote is their costumes (from Nana!), and the other bins are blocks, Legos, dinos, cars, trains etc.

So, how's it working?

I'm loving the amount of organization, and the fact that ALL the toys aren't out at once. I need to get a little hook and eye lock for the closet door, but for now the boys have been *pretty* good about not getting into the Toy Library without me. I also need to emphasize a time-minimum kind of rule, because they want to trade toys too quickly for my sanity. I think I'll have a timer for maybe 20 minutes or so that they can't trade in between picks. Overall: Five Gold Stars.

Bonus: I changed out Leo's bed into this neat toddler bed we bought a while back. He's been sleeping on a big futon (see above), so it's nice to have a little spot that's more for him. For the mattress I re-purposed a memory-foam mattress topper that we got from family by folding it into thirds. 

The juxtapositions in this room are wonderful, aren't they?
Also, only a picture of this corner,
b/c the rest of the room is a mess from my rearranging.
So, there you have it, folks! Get hijacking!


  1. Wow, first of all, love the toy lib idea!! Anything organization related, I am heavy into!! Though my kids are beyond the huge toy phase now, they still leave sporting effects, books and etc all about!

    Love your style.

    So happy you shared this!! Stopping over from the CWBN on FB:)

    Have a great day!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Chris! Best part of your comment: that kids move beyond the "huge toy phase"! I am always cheered to hear that there is progress to look forward to :)

  2. Your Toy library is awesome! It looks like a huge success! I also like that you put all the toys in one place. Right now I have 3 toy libraries. And the fact that we have enough toys to fill 3 toy libraries is scary! I may consider consolidating to 2 locations. I do like the space in the closet next to the kitchen for all the table toys the kids use when I need them occupied. This is so helpful especially when mathew and Anna are doing homework and Michael needs some "homework" too! I think I will start moving all the bedroom toys to the basement toy library. Thanks for the great idea!


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