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Beyond Colored Bins: Storing Toys, Games, and Gear

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Kids' stuff: It looks so neat when it's packaged in the store, but then you bring it home and realize the new things you just bought have 25 different parts, all of which are easy to lose. Here's the truth: All the "surefire" ways to organize, manage, and store your children's things are only surefire if you have a daily (hourly?) cleanup routine that you, your spouse, and your children follow. It may be obvious, but it doesn't matter how many nifty storage containers you have or how perfect your system is if you don't use it. Right? So, the first step to managing toys, games, books, and gear is to have your whole family get into the habit of cleaning up at the end of the day. And we know that's easier said than done!

Have an End-of-Day Cleanup Routine that Involves Your Children
The best way to do this is to start with a good storage system (see below). Then, make cleanup time fun time. Set the timer, put on some lively music (try Imagination Movers), and, for 10 to 15 minutes at the end of the day, race around the house at top speed putting all that stuff away. Okay? Okay.

If You Don't Love It, Lose It
A major hurdle to managing kids' stuff is having too much of it. You probably have too much stuff. You probably know that. The presents from relatives and friends keep coming, to say nothing of your own buying sprees at birthdays and holidays or any other days. But, if you can pare down your children's things (and your own), you'll have a much easier time organizing what's left.

A corollary step: Decide which toys your kids no longer use that you are keeping for nostalgia. Put them in labeled boxes and then place in storage.

It's All about Organization
If you want to go whole hog you can label your organizing bins, boxes, and baskets in words and pictures (so your preschoolers can read them), but if that's too complicated, here's what you need to do.

  • Put balls and other outdoor gear in an oversized bin that you keep on the porch or in the mudroom. This is the place for mitts, helmets, bats, balls, and any other sports equipment.

  • Install a cubby or rack system in your garage or by the back entranceway (if you're not going for aesthetic beauty). Have a cubby for each kid and a rule that everything gets taken out of the car and put away. Things for tomorrow go in the cubby.

  • Use a tiered puzzle organizer that sits on a shelf and keep flat wooden puzzles in it.

  • Keep stuffed animals in a hammock hung between two walls (make sure it's small enough that your child won't try to swing in it!).

  • Under-the-bed storage (the plastic bins on wheels work nicely) is a perfect place for dress-up costumes and other items.

  • Bookcases in your child's room can also be used as toy racks. Label the shelves and put favorite toys back in the same place each time.

  • Use hooks in the closet at child level to hang stick horses, purses, soft-cover books with handles, scarves, and more. Hooks of all shapes and sizes are your friends.

Toys Take Vacations Too
Rotating toys is a great way to make them interesting. Put a box full of toys on vacation, labeled with the date they went on their "cruise." Every four months or on a rainy bicker-filled day, have the toys come home. Guaranteed to be like Christmas (for an hour or two anyway).

All Toys Aside ...
Ask friends and relatives to give your child the gift of experience (an outing to the zoo, a brunch cabaret show, or the water slides) or a savings bond -- instead of more stuff!

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