Organizing toys for preschoolers

I love for everything to have its place – my three-year-old, on the other hand, could care less. And I’m okay with that. I wasn’t organized until adulthood, and still manage to swim under clutter every now and then a lot more since the birth of our second. She doesn’t have a lot of toys, but the ones she does have tend somehow to get everywhere. And since we’ve recently switched from nap time to “quiet time,” she’s got a good chunk of time to herself to get into all sorts of mayhem.

Exhibit A:


We recently bought shelves and storage buckets at Ikea, which work great. However, when it comes to clean-up time, all the toys are tossed hither and yon into whatever bucket is closest (and you can believe me when I say it’s like fingernails down a blackboard for me when that happens – but I keep my mouth shut). I understand that she’s too young to sort well, and she can’t yet read. So.

Question: How can I label these identical buckets so she can sort-of put her toys away where they belong?

Answer: photos.

I took out a couple toys in each bucket and took a quick snapshot. Here is her pretend food:


I then printed the photo and taped it to the bucket.


Walla. A really high-tech, fancy label that will hopefully help my preschooler know what goes where.



(Notice how one bucket is already turned upside-down as a makeshift dining table.)

And I’m not so delusional to think she will now put everything exactly the way I would want it. I know there will still be mayhem and some gnashing of teeth come clean-up time. But perhaps this will help a bit, and will inspire this independent, I-wanna-do-it-myself little girl to keep her room a smidge neater.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

This is my contribution for both Making Your Home a Haven Monday and Tackle It Tuesday. I’m kinda busy this week.

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. That is fantastic – I love everything from the cubes to the pictures.

  2. cute room…and i would say that she has a lot of toys!

  3. We have clear lidded boxes. That lets me control how many toys get out at one time. The kids know that they are only able to get one box out at a time and will often be very good about cleaning the box up if I remind then. My two year old has very sharp eyes and is very good about finding missed toys and insisting that they be placed in the proper box. We also have a no toy in the bedroom policy. It makes bed time so much easier when you are not tripping over toys. We store our toys in our living room which is where we spend most of our time any way.

  4. simple mom says:

    @Alana – Thanks!

    @Corrin – Thanks also! Yes, she probably has more than I realize, though we do keep a tight rein on the amount. Most of the red buckets are nowhere near full.

    @Awesome Mom – Sounds like you have a good system that works for you! I’m okay with her getting out more than one box at a time, because I like watching her use her imagination combining the two types of toys – like her wooden blocks and her animals, for instance. She’ll build barns, zoos, etc. etc.

  5. I never thought of taking a picture. I tried to print clip art but there were limited choices. I do have mine labeled but it is only printed and he would respond better to a picture as he is three as well. Great site!

  6. I love it. Now I just need to find a shelf and buckets. :~)

  7. This is a great idea! I’ve thought of doing this many times for my 3 boys who are all pre-literate. Unfortunately, it’s a matter of getting out the camera, taking the pictures, and printing them all. About how long would you say the project took you?


  8. What a great idea. It helps her to know where they go.

  9. That looks like you have made great progress!! 🙂 We are in the process of doing the same thing.

  10. Wow, I love it! Looks great, thanks for sharing 🙂

  11. simplemom says:

    Thanks, all!

  12. This is a super fab idea!!

  13. I was a Head Start Preschool teacher for 5 years…. We did the exact same thing in our classroom!…. It’s a great idea to add the word below the picture… It helps work on later literacy skills and can peek an interest in what words say….

    Britty’s last blog post..Me…. I’m a walker!

  14. @Britty – Great idea! I’ll have to remember that and add the words soon. My daughter’s all into “what does this say?” right now anyway.

  15. What a great way to organize a kids room. I love the idea of using photos!

  16. Bridgette says:

    Where did you get the bins and the shelving for them at? I can’t seem to find them anywhere.

  17. WOW…first of, your intial description of your 3-year old made me smile. She could be the twin to our 3 year old who seems to play with very little, but busies herself by “tossing the place”. Love the organizer. I will have to check that out. We are using a clear plastic mini tote system that is just not working.

  18. Margaret Spry says:

    It’s “voila”, not “walla”….just thought you might like to know.

  19. My 9 year old still just throws stuff in whatever bin is closest and it still drives me crazy. I have 3 now, and 2 are very young so makes it very hard. I am trying to learn to just let go!!