Why won’t my kids pick up their toys?

First probable reason is that we have been picking up the toys for them for their whole life. So why should they start now?

Second probable reason is that we don’t pick up our stuff ourselves. We don’t really care, deep-down, that there are toys everywhere because it is easier to just leave the mess than to nag about the mess.

Either way, we need to talk. And I don’t have a magic, easy answer for you, dude.

There are 15 parenting books on my bookshelf, over there, right now!, that will tell you how important follow-through is and how healthy boundaries make healthy children.

The same principles apply to being organized: Set a good example and be consistent. Once you are in charge of little people, this becomes doubly important. And I know it isn’t easy, people. Having children is freakin’ hard.  That’s right! I said FREAKIN’!

Once they get in the habit of putting things away it’s like washing their hands. Sometimes you will have to send them back in to do it. But, a lot of the time they will do it on their own. Help them develop the habit.

For more ideas and specific details see this older post on organizing for kids.


Organizing kids’ spaces: Toy clutter is making me mental!

Organizing an area that is used by children brings up many issues about parenting and flexibility.  There is a lot to say.  For this post, I’m going to stick to talking about organizing the room to implement a system that encourages your kids to succeed at keeping their room organized so they can find what they want to play with.   I’ll try to steer clear of much parenting advice since, unless you know my perfect children, you have no reason to take parenting advice from a stranger.

It’s hard to organize things for others.   This is so obvious to professionals that I normally wouldn’t even mention it.  But, I’ve been coming across more and more people who are banging their heads against a wall trying to do the impossible: implement an organized system for someone else.  Usually that someone else is in their own family which makes the wall even more painful to the head being banged.

Children are no exception to this rule.  Just because the kid popped out of your body doesn’t mean they can maintain an organizing system of your design.  They probably wouldn’t want to if even if they could!

So, let’s talk kids and short attention spans and reckless disregard for how much those toys cost in the first place!

When organizing a room for small children (under 10) you want to keep it as simple as possible unless the child in question shows some organizing prowess already.  And if they do, believe me, you will know.  (You should have heard the stories coming out of the NAPO-LA (pro-organizers) meeting in response to “When did you know you had the organizing gift?”)  If you have an organized child on your hands, you should stop reading this right now and go read a post on what to do with all of your free time.

If you are still reading, your little angel isn’t as organized as you would like them to be.  Here are some ideas about organizing a space for those children:


Any kid older than two is capable of picking up their toys.  All of them.   If there are too many toys for them to pick up, then there are probably too many toys period!  You can thin them out (especially the ones with tiny pieces) and do a rotation, or just give away to your church nursery or a local charity.  Or, if they are made in China, please just THROW THEM AWAY.   I don’t throw much away so that is saying something.  Also, if you find broken toys THROW THEM AWAY.

Unless your child is old enough to truly understand charity, I do not recommend involving them in every thinning out process.  When you start taking 3 garbage bags to Goodwill, then you are going to need to explain your actions a little bit.  But, a few broken toys and some they haven’t seen in two years from the bottom of the drawer are not going to be noticed.  Every kid is different and sometimes a 5 year-old can get behind the idea of giving old toys to others.  But, the greater probability is that they are going to get re-attached to everything they see.  So, do it when they are at school or outside.  Another tip from my own mother–do it after a birthday or holiday because then they are so into their new stuff they won’t be upset about losing the old stuff.


Use bins and boxes that do not have lids. The younger the child, the fewer the categories should be. You can have Candyland still in its box.   You can have a bin for Duplos, or the container. But, don’t worry about color coding the doll clothes or keeping the two tea sets separate or anything crazy. Your goal is for lil’ Shnuckums to clean up his own stuff.  Set them up to succeed by making it easy.Have a big dress-up chest instead of compartments for hats and another for outfits for example.

I like these, widely available storage units for kids.

It’s a good idea to label the containers age-appropriately with a photo, simple words or—for extra-bonus-parent-points—label them in 2 languages!!!!   Ooooo!  Labels aren’t necessary for everyday use, but when you have a play-date and the other parents want their little sluggers to “help her clean up her toys”, you are going to be sending me a thank you note.   Also good for when you have a babysitter.


Make time in the day for straightening up.  Again, don’t beat yourself up for imperfection.  You can leave some toys out through dinner if you forgot to have Jr. pick them up first.  But, right after dinner it’s time to do some clean-up.  Make clearing the space as important as taking a bath or eating.   And always congratulate them for making their room so user-friendly.  Don’t set a precedent of giving treats for cleaning up.  It can be a chore for which they get a sticker on their chart, fine.  But, the real rewards are that they know where their toys are for next time and they have space in their room for bigger playing.  I know this is pretty optimistic and I’m not going to be mad if you give them some candy.  In fact, I have been known to reward with ice cream any of our children who can fill up the laundry basket with donate-able goods from their room.  (They are over 5.)  Still, your goal is to make tidying up part of the daily routine, not a big deal that warrants a cookie.

In conclusion,

  • thin out the toys/art supplies constantly
  • make the system easy (even if it ain’t pretty)
  • set aside enough time at least once (maybe twice) every day to do a quick clean up
  • always say something positive about their genuine effort: thank you, point out how great it looks, how there is room to play for next time, or how they are being responsible for their things.