Saturday, 30 April 2011


How to Organize Your Child’s Toys/Playroom?

J’s toys are fast degenerating into a disorganized mess, which makes retrieval difficult and is soon driving me crazy. Thus, I have to find a way to organize them so that J can find his toys easily and I will have the satisfaction of keeping track of the toys at my finger-tips. Here is what I have done, which I would like to record down for future reference, in case I forget what I have learned and improvised to suit my needs:

There are 7 main steps:

1. Organize Overall Space
2. Create Activity Areas
3. Design Storage System
4. Sort Toys
5. Label Toys
6. Rotate Toys
7. Implement Rules

Here are the elaboration of the 7 main steps:

1. Organize Overall Space

To the Singaporeans/Japanese/Hongkongers, we probably are considered to have lots of space, but to the Americans, we probably are considered to have relatively very little space. Making do with what we have, here is how I organize our overall space 266 x 240cm (8.73 x 7.87 ft) for the play area:

• For ergonomics, I opted for a square-shaped space for the play area and place the closets and open shelves along the sides, keeping the middle area free with sufficient space for playing.
• I try my best not to make the playroom too busy (although it tends to slowly crowd out again, and I need to do spring cleaning once in a while), so that it would not be overwhelming for J that he does not know where to start playing. Nevertheless, I still need to improve on the floor furnishing as it is too colourful at the moment.
• The mirror door from the IKEA Pax closet makes the play area looks like a gym, so that J can see and observe his own actions.
• I laid the floor with cushioning rubber pads and place a carpet in the middle to define the space for J’s floor activity. (I am thinking of changing the carpet to one which is more "muted", but haven't found one I like that is of the right price yet. This will help minimize too much colours and therefore minimizing over-stimulation and distraction from the main work/acitivty of the child).
• I use sliding doors to close up the play area, which double up as “wall space” for a poster as well as for displaying J’s recent artworks.

• For the books and puzzles, I place them on the most prominent spot of the low open cubic shelves for easy access by J, so that he will remember to read.
• I put in a kid-sized desk and chair against the wall for J to carry out his activity.
• I place a dustbin for J to throw away the rubbish himself.
• I hang a clock on the wall for J to get familiarized with the concept of time.

2. Create Activity Areas
We don’t have a big area, but it is possible to allocate a theme to each corner as activity area. Having a designated location for an activity provides order and helps to keep things neat and easy to understand for the child.
For example, at the moment, J loves playing with kitchen toys. Thus, I have allocated a corner for play kitchen. The following are the activity areas I have created in J’s play area:
a) Work Station – kid’s size table and chair together with IKEA Expedit open cubic shelves for display of books and toys for play nearby

b) Cleaning Station – bucket with cleaning kit

c) Play Kitchen Station

d) Musical Instruments Corner

e) Art Corner with easel and basic art supplies

3. Design Storage System

Largely the storage system that meets my needs consists of 4 types of storage as follows:

a) IKEA Expedit open cubic shelves for books and toys on display

• For the cubic shelves for books and toys on display, I opted for a cubic solution from IKEA Expedit shelves, with each cubic shelf space displaying a category of toys.
• For the two top rows of display cubicles, I display activities for important areas clearly labelled as:
 - English
 - Chinese
 - Maths
 - Christian Education
 - Art and
 - Room Time toys such as Lego, Wooden Train Set, etc.

Alhough this is beyond the reach of J, at 2 years old, he can easily see them, and he would ask me to get it for him. Once he has outgrown the Montessori Practical Life activities, these will move down to the two bottom rows, I imagine 1-2 years from now.

• The two bottom rows of the Expedit display cubicles are reserved for Montessori activities for now. One cubicle for each day, and thus total 7 cubicles and I change the activities once a week. The eighth cubicle near the desk is for books with easy access to J.

• One of the cubicle of the second row of the Expedit display cubicles are strategically reserved for books. It is nearest to the work station. Traditionally, the Chinese treat books like gold. We are not allowed to put books on the floor or anywhere near the floor. I want to teach J to respect books too. Placing the books on the second row elevate them off the floor and at the same time, put them at eye-level for J. This provides J the convenience and easy access to books, and transmitting the message that mommy hopes that he will always remember to read.

• It is my goal to pick out 7-8 books at the beginning of each week from the storage shelves to place on this display shelf. It serves to remind J and me that these are the books we plan to go through this week:

b) SMARTSTORE transparent boxes for Montessori Materials and toys to be stored away in different sizes.

When considering the sizes, think far ahead to your needs in a few years' time, when you need to expand. It is easier with standard size boxes so that toys can be placed in the boxes according to category. Each box can just stack up on top of the other as you expand. In this way, you save a lot of space - trust me. I speak with experience.

I choose three base sizes: 50 x 39 cm, 40 x 30 cm and 21 x 17cm. The variation in sizes for the other boxes would be the height, so that the boxes can be stacked easily in three different groups. An example of different sizes of base 40 x 30 cm smart boxes are stacked together:

Thereafter, I would recommended 7 different sizes: XX-Large, X-Large, Large, Medium, Small, X-Small and XX-Small

Base size 50 x 39 cm
1) XX-Large (50 x 39 x 41cm): Good for clunky trucks, musical instruments, etc.
2) X-Large (50 x 39 x 26cm): Good for balls, out-door toys, etc.

Base size 40 x 30 cm
3) Large (40 x 30 x 32cm): Good for large building blocks such as LEGO Duplo
4) Medium (40 x 30 x 19cm): Good for LEGO, wooden toys such as train set, wooden blocks, Montessori supplies, kitchen toys, etc.
5) Small (40 x 30 x 12cm): Good for standard LEGO blocks, cutting fruit toys, etc.

Base size 21 x 17 cm
6) X-Small (21 x 17 x 15cm): Good for small LEGO parts, counters, etc.
7) XX-Small (21 x 17 x 6cm): Good for small LEGO parts, scissors, stationery, etc.

• For toys with parts, I use cubic baskets or transparent boxes that could fit into the individual cubic space.

• On the top of the IKEA Expedit, I store the Montessori supply materials i.e. the sensory materials, bottles, and pouring containers, sorting items, etc. in medium-sized SMART transparent boxes. This provides me with an easy overview.

c) Transparent tool containers are very useful for sorting and storing small toys:

d) Baskets on the floor for large toys such as musical instruments and vehicles:

e) IKEA Pax storage closets for stocks and toys for rotation or toys not used on a daily basis:

• For the storage closets, I opted for IKEA Pax closets and put a mix of shelves and small, medium and large containers if necessary.

4. Sort Toys

To organize the toys, section-by-section, I went through each item and sort it into three piles: give, keep and throw.

Next I categorize the toys for storage into the following groups:

1. Puzzles (both wooden & jigsaw)
2. Board Games
3. Wooden blocks
4. Toy for rotation
5. English Books
6. Danish Books
7. Chinese Books
8. Art Supplies, magnetic drawing board, etc.
9. Lego
10. Science + Nature
11. Balls
12. Little People + Animal Figurines
13. Wooden Train Set
14. Theatre play puppets & props
15. Cleaning toys such as brush and dustpan, vacuum cleaners, etc.
16. Alphabet & numbers toys
17. Alphabets materials (A,B,C letter magnets, alphabet puppets, Leap frog)
18. Numbers materials (1, 2, 3 number magnets)
19. Play dough supplies
20. Art supplies + Colouring books (Stock)
21. Finished Artworks
22. Tray supplies
23. Educational DVDs and music CDs
24. Toys for rotation (a few shelf spaces)
25. New Books for future
26. New Toys for future (a few shelf spaces)
27. Baby Toys (toys that J almost growing out of)
28. Empty toy storage boxes/containers
29. Sports equipment (e.g. table-tennis bats and balls, tennis rackets and balls, badminton rackets, etc.)

I place these following groups of toys in baskets for play on the floor:

30. Musical Instruments
31. Cars & vehicles
32. Kitchen toys
33. Dress up Chest
34. Stuff toys
35. Dolls

5. Label Toys

• I first labeled the shelves/boxes with sticky yellow post-it-note, so that I can easily move around until I am satisfied.

• Once I am happy with it, I will label them with words and picture for quick recognition (I haven't complete this yet). This is a good way to familiarize your child with words while helping him stay organized.

• If a sticker label doesn't adhere to the boxes or baskets, I can tag it with a luggage tag or ribbon instead.

6. Rotate Toys

• Although I don't always succeed, I try to only give J just a number of toys on display on the open cubic shelves and store the rest in the storage closet.

• When considering what toys to put out, I try to consider J’s current interests as well as what I think is developmentally appropriate for him to have a go at it now.

• Although I don't always get to do this, I try to remember to rotate the toys once their appeals or novelty are lost.

7. Implement Rules

• I implemented the rule of putting back one set of toys before bringing out another set and try my best to encourage J to keep it. Sometimes, when I am tired, I let this slip.

• When putting back toys, we sing a clean-up song that I learned from the church nursery.

• I am also in the process of implementing the rule that if a new toy is purchased, J or I must pick out another toy that will be donated to charity. Hopefully, this helps to prevent the play area from becoming overcrowded and cluttered again in the future!


Some of the storage equipment and supplies are avavilable in Amazon:


  1. I really enjoy organizational posts! Yes, by American standards, the space is smaller. I'm in California and my space is small too, haaha! But I love small spaces, such a creative challenge as an interior designer.
    Here are a few links to a number of my own space "Transformations" before and after pics:
    And also, our "Work Space" (Home Classroom):

  2. OMG! I would love to play in this play room. It looks really neat and inviting. And you know, in Sg, we often share room - bedrm, studyrm n playrm all in one. So it’s really tricky to organise it neatly. But love your idea!


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