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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, June 2, 2007

Combatting toy clutter? Here's expert advice

By Sonja Haller
The Arizona Republic

Carolyn Woods, a professional organizers and a mother of two, shows some of the creative ways she keeps her kids' clutter corralled.

CATHERINE J. JUN | The Arizona Republic

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Children come along, their toys follow, and a once-organized home soon becomes a disheveled embarrassment.

Laura Stack, a mother of three who advises buttoned-down business types on how to improve productivity, realized the scope of the problem when the corporate talk often detoured to Barbies, Roboraptors and Matchbox cars.

She decided that in addition to teaching people about taming the paper tiger at work, she would teach them how to handle the toy tsunami at home.

"We would be talking about labeling and filing, and someone would crack, 'I should do that with my kids' toys,' " says Stack, of www.ProductivityPro.com, based in Colorado. "I would say, 'You should, and you can.' "

The toys-everywhere issue, experts say, is because of three things: parents overindulge; parents have not instituted an organizational system; and parents haven't maintained the system.

Here are recommendations for reclaiming a toy-littered home:

ORGANIZE

Toys need to be put away every day, says Rachel Willes, 37, a Gilbert, Ariz., mother of four.

"There's no way you can have kids and keep the house in perfect working order," says Willes. "Once, I tried to make my home toy-clutter free and found myself following my kids around with a box and trash bag. Not fun."

Willes follows many suggestions from Stack of www.ProductivityPro.com and another organizational expert, Sherry L. Drolet of Gilbert, who's with H.I.S. Home Services. Those include purging, creating storage spaces and establishing a toy pickup routine.

SORT AND PURGE

Sort the toys, placing Barbie with her accessories or Mr. Potato Head with his body parts. Group large toys with large toys. Then get ruthless.

"The biggest downfall for parents is that they feel obligated to keep all the kids' toys," says Drolet, who does home design, rearranging and organization. Collect toys that aren't used or no longer are age-appropriate and give them to charity. If you're unsure about a toy, stow it to see whether your child asks about it. If not, give it away. Purge twice a year before Christmas and before a child's birthday.

BINS AND SHELVES

Most experts recommend a lidless bin-and-shelf combo. Label the bins and shelves so it's clear what goes where. For younger kids, attach pictures.

This system works for Willes because her three girls, ages 4, 6, 9, can carry the bins to another room to play. Her 1-year-old son can grab the blocks he likes on the lower shelves, but the more dangerous Mr. Potato Head parts are higher.

The system is important for parental sanity but also for children, parent coach Barb Grady of Parenting-Plus.com says. They, too, crave order.

"They have to have access, know where something is and where they can put it back," she says. "If you don't have too many toys, they'll figure it out."

ESTABLISH A KID ZONE

This earns cheers and jeers. Some moms like having a corner of the family room or kitchen dedicated to child's play, allowing parents to spend time together. Cleanup can be faster because children don't have to cart their toys to another room.

Rachel Willes isn't sold.

"It's way too easy for the kids to get out every toy they own if it's right in their face, and before you know it, you've bought an all-day pass to Clutter World," she says.

"We keep the toys upstairs in the bedrooms, except a basket of toys for the baby. It's too much work for a busy kid to transfer the toys downstairs just to play with them for a few minutes."

MAINTAIN THE SYSTEM

The house may look neater, but things will return to the way they were unless toy-clutter maintenance is established. Here are ways to implement a routine:

Toy in, toy out. When a new toy comes in, another toy goes out. It can either go to charity or to younger siblings.

Make old toys new again. If toys still are crowding you despite your best efforts, take some out of circulation. Box them up for three or four months. When they re-emerge, the toys will be interesting again.

Set cleanup rules. An organizational system must come with cleanup rules. At 2, children are old enough to help parents put away their toys. Try to make it a habit, and with small children you can make it a race.