Like most of the world, I read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up several years ago. (Though it wasn’t the book that kicked minimalism into high gear for me, our lack of space had already taken care of that.) Even though I didn’t need any help learning to let go of physical possessions, I had one life changing takeaway from the book just the same — and that was how I stored and organized the things I kept. (And, no, I’m not talking about the insane way she proposes people fold their shirts.) I’m paraphrasing here, but my life changing takeaway was to “store like things together.”
I’ve always been pretty neat and tidy and I had long associated neat and tidy with being organized. After all, everything in my house had a place and its place was not usually strewn across a countertop or floor. But any actual organizing was limited to wherever I had room — whether that be a hall closet in my first apartment that was home to Christmas decorations, extra bath towels and cleaning supplies or a drawer in my Toronto kitchen that held batteries, pencil crayons, the cheque book and spices. Yes, things were tidy, but they sure weren’t all that organized. Things had a place, but that place did not always make sense.
When we moved to Victoria, I had my first real opportunity since embracing minimalism in 2011 to start from scratch with regards to how our things were organized/stored. The habit of keeping like things with like had started in Toronto, but our small space and lack of storage did give me some issues. Even though I could see the benefit of tea towels, dish cloths, bath towels and bed linens all living together, the reality of our old space was that we had no hall closet, no linen closet and a kitchen with zero — count ’em, yes — zero drawers. So we continued to trudge to the basement — sometimes naked and wet — for bath towels.
I have very much found that the fewer things you have, the easier it is to realize the “store like things together” philosophy. Glassware, for example, is a lot easier to keep all in one cupboard when you don’t have things like Christmas-patterned glassware, plastic outdoor cups, crystal goblets, “regular” glassware, separate kids’ cups and so on. We have 12 Mason jars — six large, six small — and we all drink out of them for every occasion, so that’s easy to keep on a single shelf in a cupboard shared with the coffee mugs. Bath towels are a lot easier to store alongside beach towels when they’re one and the same alongside the bed linens when you only keep one spare fitted sheet for each child.
With Christmas coming, I thought it would be a good time to talk about how I store and organize toys. I love toys and seem to have a knack for spotting beautiful, German-made ones at thrift stores and garage sales for a few dollars, which is when it seems like it would be some sort of crime to not buy them. Minimalist confession — we probably have more toys than we need these days.
Long before Frankie Rose even played with toys, I had a problem keeping toys to one location.
It is just so fun (for me) to buy/make toys and arrange them in a way that I think will be stimulating for a child. As much as I desire, I don’t know, a single shelf or cabinet that holds all the toys, I weirdly like having “play stations” all over my house. Or I did, when I had one one-year-old child who, relatively speaking, had very few toys (one year olds don’t play with all that much, as it turns out) and when “all over my house” meant a small shelf in her bedroom and an area downstairs. (Please don’t ask me why a one-year-old had her own adorable jar of crayons on the windowsill down here — I guess I just couldn’t wait for her to turn three!)
In comparison, toys really do live all over Oak House, but, in my defence, three-year-olds really do play with toys. My philosophy towards buying/storing toys is as follows:
- Don’t buy/keep anything you wouldn’t be happy to put on display in any room in your house
- You don’t have to own every toy that your child finds interesting (it’s okay for the Mega Blocks to live only in the coffee shop, at a friend’s or at daycare)
- Kids have different interests and proclivities — don’t feel you have to save every outgrown toy for a younger sibling that might play with it.
- Even if toys are (like ours) all over your house, keep “like” toys together (I keep all the art supplies together, our music toys with our records, the farm animal basket with the barn, etc.)
- It’s okay to hate Play-doh
- Store toys in the area they are most likely to get played with in (e.g., bath toys in the bathroom, train tracks where there’s space to build, etc.)
- Separate toys into baskets for easy clean-up, beautiful storage and also to teach your child sorting/classifying skills (my work here is done)
- When buying/asking for toys at holidays/birthdays, buy/ask for things that can be added simply to toys you have already made space for. Frankie’s birthday present from us in January will be these amazing decals and a set of Calico Critters that she can add to her dollhouse and I’ve asked my parents to gift her a fairy door kit that we can use outside or in her dollhouse, too
- You don’t have to be the person that buys all the toys — give relatives genuine, specific ideas and sit back and relax on Christmas/birthdays, knowing your child will receive the things she needs/wants from others
- Feel free to hold Christmas/birthday gifts back for another time of year, especially if your child(ren) is/are born really close to Christmas like mine. One new thing from us, one from Santa and a stocking is PLENTY for Christmas, so I plan to hold many relatives’ gifts back until Frankie’s sister is born at the end of January — I know I’ll be grateful for a few new toys/books in those early weeks
In our house, the majority of toys are kept in our dining room built-ins:
Art supplies are on the middle shelf in this photo with (from left to right) watercolour paints, crayons and chalks, markers and a basket for loose paper, colouring books and pads of paper underneath the basket. (If you read my Feng Shui nursery post a few weeks back, I’d just like to note that this area of our house is the Creativity and Children area.) Frankie is getting a small set of Lyra pencil crayons and a sharpener in her Christmas stocking, another example of something new fitting right in with something I’ve already made space for. (I’ll add the pencil crayons to the marker basket.)
The next cabinet over holds all our music toys, right alongside our records and CDs, with our record player living on the adjacent wall in the dining room. Frankie is able to choose a record or CD, drag a stool over to the record player, put her own music choice on the stereo and “dahnce” (as she says, with a British accent — too much Peppa Pig, clearly).
The final cabinet holds her barn, farm animals, blocks, marbles (not pictured — she was probably playing with them) and puzzle-type toys.
Our dining room is more or less open to our living room, with our bookcase built-in spanning the width of the house. We keep children’s books and a few toys on the bottom shelf for her: train tracks and cars/trains (they’re most likely to get played with in the living room) and her cart. Periodically, I gather up all the children’s books in the house (each girl has a shelf in her room) and rotate them. Anything that never gets chosen/read, that I hate to read, that she’s outgrown or not yet grown into or that’s in poor condition (we went through a brief ripping/eating stage) I put downstairs for later, donate or recycle. (Good examples of “outgrown” are board books in good condition (save for baby sister) and “not yet grown into” are the classic Winnie-the-Pooh and Peter Rabbit books.) This allows space for new books — she’ll be getting two books from this whimsical Belle and Boo series from my parents for her birthday.
The kitchen contains her art/snack table, which we’ll briefly convert back to an exersaucer for baby sister in a few months. Either way, it makes the most sense for this piece of furniture to live in the kitchen. Frankie will usually sit pretty still with an art project or an iPad game here while I make dinner and soon I’ll want to keep an eye on baby sister in here, during that brief period of time between sitting up and mobility.
Toys and books are both kept in each girl’s bedroom and I think they’re toys that make sense for bedrooms — mostly stuffed animals and other quiet toys. The nursery holds Frankie’s doll bed (way more interested in mothering her stuffed animals than an actual baby doll, but I’m hanging onto her doll in case that changes after the baby is born), her little guitar and play tent and then a small basket of infant toys and stuffed animals for the baby (mostly ones that are nice quality, but that Frankie never attached to.) I’ve saved just a few of Frankie’s outgrown toys for her sibling, even after finding out we were expecting another baby. Anything Frankie never touched I sold — there’s a good chance baby sister won’t miss that toy either. And I won’t make the same mistake that I did with Frankie — an under-one-year-old really doesn’t need much in the way of “actual” toys. (My go-to “toy” for Frankie once she was sitting up was letting her go through the mail/keys/hat basket at the front door.)
Meanwhile, Frankie’s bedroom now houses her dress-up clothes and scarves (by far her favourite toys), play kitchen and food/tea set, more books and her dollhouse. She’ll be getting a “ride-on” unicorn (sort of like a hobby horse) for Christmas from Santa, which will easily live alongside her dress-up clothes in her closet.
Finally, finally, the bathroom holds a small number of bath toys (bottom shelf).
So, toys in every room of the house? With the exception of the master bedroom, yes. It astounds me how much of our living space is dedicated to our kids’ needs and enjoyment. Like… how many empty shelves would we have if it wasn’t for toys? Crazy how little space Pierre and I, on our own, actually use. How about you? Toys everywhere or did you achieve that one perfect shelf or room for toys? What are your “rules” for buying/storing toys? And how are you feeling about your toy situation heading into the holiday season?