A better way to enjoy our toys: avoiding the “paradox of choice”

After Christmas and John’s January birthday, I was reaching crazy-mom status regarding our toy situation.  A large toy box held a mishmash of toys, but Peter had to climb in to reach them and John couldn’t reach them at all.  Also, the toys, especially the more complicated and interesting ones, were not getting played with because they were in multiple pieces that were never seen together at the same time. I have frequently heard the advice to pack away and cycle through toys, but it just seemed like too much trouble for too little payout.  In my experience from Christmas and birthdays, the novelty of a new toy to a 2-year-old wears off within a day or so, and was certainly not long enough to justify me packing away and relocating items upstairs on a regular basis.

There were two guiding factors for my toy renovation.  First, I wanted a system to store items where both boys could see what was available and choose what they wanted to play with.  Second, I wanted a way to set out toys, puzzles, etc, for their consideration, so they could enjoy more of what they had without getting overwhelmed with too many choices.  While attending playgroup at someone else’s house, I noticed toys sitting on shelves within a built-in cupboard.  Peter was able to look through all of the shelves and select things that he wanted without having to dig through rubble at the bottom of a toy box.  I had a similar cupboard in our family room, but of course it was full of other stuff.

For phase 1 of my plan, I emptied our cupboard, filled it with toys and stowed away our toy box until we can use it to hold bigger items, like outdoor gear and sports equipment. As soon as the cupboards were filled, both boys were playing with toys that had rarely seen the light of day and they were having a blast.  John could get out his baby doll and carry him around the first floor, and Peter began playing his Melissa & Doug Car Carrier which had languished for months in several pieces around the house and at the bottom of his toy bin. Several weeks later and I am still loving this setup, as the toys, musical instruments, inflated balls, and whatnot are easy to find, easy to put away, and easy for everyone in the family to reach.

For phase 2, I wanted to create a staging/display area where I could set out some toys and puzzles and activities for the boys to choose from and rotate them every few days to keep things fresh.  Lately, I have been really inspired by reading the blog how we montessori, which after I got over my own feelings of inadequacy, has been pushing me to try to adapt our home to be as child-friendly, as opposed to child-safe, as possible.  I’ll definitely be sharing more of these thoughts in later posts, but I just loved how some of her pictures showed toys and activities just sitting out on low shelves for her children to choose from. And I had just the thing to create low shelves: my cubes.


I set out just a few items on my cubes and the boys couldn’t wait to play with them.

The cubes were something my mom had in her apartment in her single days before children.  I have no idea what color they were when she used them, but they were sky blue when my sister and I used them in our bedroom to store books and magazines, and they are now yellow and red, receiving their last painting about 10 years ago when I prepared to move into my first apartment. They are great for Peter and John not only because they are a very low shelf perfect for little ones, but also because they are easy to push around and Peter has used them many times to form tunnels to crawl through, bridges to walk across and jump off of, and doors for our blanket tents.

So while Matt took the kids out all Saturday morning, I cruelly purged our toy collection for the umpteenth time, lined all of our cubes up in one place and set out a few selected items.  Of course, the new set up drew the boys right in and is proving a great way to easily rotate toys without taking them anywhere.  Every couple of days, I just set a few new items or activities.

Our first morning with the cubes illustrates how storing toys differently facilities Peter’s creativity and his enjoyment of the many items available for his play.  Two items I set out on the cubes were a coffee can encircled with big plastic clips from the dollar store and a bin of square cloth scraps purchased for $1 at a thrift shop last year.  The cloth scraps are something that is always available to the boys, but hadn’t been played with for a few weeks.  Peter immediately grabbed the clips and fabric and started clipping them together to make a “stocking” that he wanted to hang on the wall.  Christmas may be gone, but is not forgotten, and we all had a good time helping Peter hang his stocking.  Now, the fabric squares are back in the cabinet, but we have continued exploring new items and revisiting old favorites.

How do you handle the toy choices at your place?


Pete hangs his “stocking”


3 thoughts on “A better way to enjoy our toys: avoiding the “paradox of choice”

  1. We had to do a major toy overhaul in January when we converted our playroom to Hudson’s bedroom (although he still sleeps with us for most of the night, haha). This brought the main play area into the living room which caused me to rethink our toy organization. I really love clear plastic bins that are the size of a shoebox. I use them to organize toys into groups or designate one for each toy set that has a lot of pieces (for example, the castle with figurines Grady received for Christmas or the dinosaur collection or the car collection or stacking toys, etc). The benefits are 1-they are see through for easy selection, 2- perfect size and weight for Grady to pull out and bring to the living room, 3- they stack onto shelves easily and neatly, 4- they keep little pieces off the floor and away from my little crawler. Grady loves to sort the toys at cleanup.

    My other tactic has been to have two larger canvas bins in the living room. Any bigger toys (Dolls, big cars, balls, puzzles etc) go in at the end of the day. At the end of the week, I empty the bins and put the toys in the place they belong. This way Grady can choose things to play with for a few days but usually chooses different things for the next week when the bin has been emptied. Plus I don’t have to facilitate (or do myself) major cleanups everyday.

    I sure do miss our play dates Jen! Love your blog though!

    • Thank for sharing, Erica. I remember that you had stored a bunch of stuff in plastic bins even before you moved. So, he likes to put the stuff away? Does Hudson get into everything yet? John loves to carry little things all around the house. How do you keep all the puzzle pieces together?

      • Well maybe loves to put stuff away is a bit of a stretch but he doesn’t complain and is proud when he completes the job himself. I replaced all our puzzle boxes with ziplock bags. I just cut the picture off the box and throw it in the bag with the pieces. We have a bin ( actually two) for the puzzle bags and that is fun too because we can do several puzzles in a row. Hudson is definitely into everything and snubs the baby toys in favor of anything Grady plays with. Sharing has become a daily lesson for Grady now!

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