Toy story: How to sort and store children’s playthings at home – Irish Examiner


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To you, it’s the dining room Saxony rug. To them, it’s the surface of Tatooine. To you, it’s the stairs and bannisters. To them it’s the perilous mountain face over a monster’s toothy lair, shaded by a stand of life-saving silver birch.

When you’re a child immersed in the hysterically exciting theatre of play, the house is an infinite stage for rich tales, textures, hiding, and ever-altering landscapes to assemble characters and props for the next chapter of an ongoing storyboard.

Ikea's Trofast Storage combination with boxes, 93cm x 44cm x 52cm, €68.
Ikea's Trofast Storage combination with boxes, 93cm x 44cm x 52cm, €68.

Hopping around with Lego imprinted in an adult instep, shrieking praise to the Almighty, it’s difficult to be generous about the limitless horizon of their imagination.

Still, we have to try.

Every home is a place to home school, and domestic science can include keeping the place straight, but it’s down to us to flag the way.

Get your kids involved in looking after their generally pricey stuff. Act as an empathetic team member and develop a daily routine rooted in the most rudimentary acting out of personal responsibility.


One of the seminal problems with toys (apart from a tot’s undeveloped sense of fair play) is your kids’ powerful relationship with the floor.

Having left the time of milk and honey, we as adults have forgotten the powerful draw of lying down, changing the perspective, and the eyeball-skimming scale of small playthings.

A tide of plastic litter across their designated playroom is one thing, but we all know the tiny tripping hazards rarely wash up there and nowhere else.

Take it to steps, door thresholds and traffic areas, and there’s a good chance someone’s doing the Blue-Murder-Two-Step or even having a potential fall.

Simple storage shelving with soft, finger-friendly drawers that can be carried around the house. Designs from €35, Argos.
Simple storage shelving with soft, finger-friendly drawers that can be carried around the house. Designs from €35, Argos.


Bedrooms aside, few of us have a full-on toy room, but you might re-assign a space you’re preserving in social aspic, like a dining room or a conservatory off the kitchen/diner. In a pinch, you can close the door and move on with your day.

A play rug can define the area well too; it’s crystal clear where the boundary begins and ends. Urban prints, such as Ikea’s Stadstel, offer a township for parking, driving a train, or lifting off with a helicopter, €22.99; or try Etsy, which is heaving with choices from Formula 1 circuits to flowery gardens. Just be aware that synthetic, stained kiddie rugs have only one future — incineration or decades mouldering at the dump.

Once they are old enough to take it in, there are a few communal traffic areas that are best designated as prohibited outright for toy scatter — right outside the back doorstep for example, or the head of the stairs, the kitchen floor behind the island, and facing into the stove. Just put your lips together and say “No”. Calmly, consistently — N O.

After that, providing easy, fast ways for them to clear up Fairyland in other less-hazardous areas of officer country is key. Low plastic laundry baskets with handles are ideal for the threes and up, if the side weave is small enough to catch little pieces rather than sieving them back out. Encourage them to rudely sort as they collect — a little primer in micro-managing their storage in the future.

Storage boxes and baskets from Bloomingville allow for quick clean-ups and easy totting to other play spots or even the car. Carts from €165, hand-made character baskets from €150,
Storage boxes and baskets from Bloomingville allow for quick clean-ups and easy totting to other play spots or even the car. Carts from €165, hand-made character baskets from €150,


Deep, lidless bins with soft edges remove the potential for catching little fingers. Few hinges or grown-up drawers or trunks are completely safe.

Turn the clean-up into a moment of play. Switch on some music, and have a ridiculous prize for everyone (like a hug or a single strawberry) who clears their area without whining or fighting, and puts things in the right bins before the end of the song.

Go over the top — effusive praise and delight is appropriate to start this gentle training. “You’re helping Daddy so much, thank you.”

Whatever storage set-up you come up with, avoid any heavy lifting or stacking; don’t complicate the process with mature expectations. A certain amount of aesthetic surrender, for now, is inevitable and inclusive for your children’s needs.

Where you can’t find ballast busters second hand, Argos has three choices in angled dowel support shelves matched to colourful removable baskets from €35-€47.

They could shuffle to the garage, office or utility room down the road.

The feted Ikea Trofast range of simple white, moulded hobby bins start at €4, with matching box units and colour choices from €35-€82,

Going slightly smarter in another versatile unit, choose a blonde wood frame matched to white slide-out, washable trays with Sklum’s Nopic, Nordic-style units from €125.

The matching Tedis storage cart with wheels (they are other animal character choices too) can tote their stuff all over a one-storey area, €38.95,

For soft, fake rattan woven baskets try Lidl, Aldi, HomeSense or Jysk — tasteful for downstairs territory.

Be creative. Over-door shoe storage is also great for crafting supplies and more.


Creating order or (clutches pearls) decluttering “friends” is a peculiarly sensitive business. If you start flinging out abandoned bits and bobs, not looked at in years, without a piece-by-piece edit by the smallies, expect infant or startling adolescent melodrama at a Hollywood level.

Having caught me doing a sly clear out of my Closet Major, my generally cool eight-year-old daughter elected one tiny sacrificial three-legged plastic palomino.

Fastening it resolutely to her heart, eyes fat with tears, she staggered towards the kitchen in a state of clear spiritual collapse and hurled it to the merciless snap of the bin.

We were months getting over that cruel mammy faux-pas, and It taught me a lesson regarding the undetected emotional investment of a young soul in an inanimate old thing.

That stuffed giraffe (No# 350 in their shelf-swallowing collection) might be nothing to you, but Spots McGee may have a vice-like grip on their memory and sense of control as a largely powerless little shape-shifter navigating new friends and environments week on week.

Involve your child. Suggest a toy-in, toy-out arrangement to prevent chaos before Christmas even hits.

Explain that some of these toys can go to other families, who will love them just as much.

If the piece cannot be salvaged for donation and is going discreetly to the landfill, at least don’t let them see its disembodied tail waving from the black bin.

My girl’s pull-along horse started weakly bleating “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” from a dump-crate in the boot of my car.

We had just got over the vandalised pony incident. She would tell you, she’s still an emotional wreck today. Roly Poly is sitting smug on the antique shelf in my house 10 years later.

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