Around his first birthday, my son had accumulated quite an impressive array of toys. Some I had purchased whimsically while pregnant, some I got at my baby shower, others were gifts sent from friends and relatives.
At his first birthday party, his collection more than doubled. I thought, how can one kid play with all these toys? It was then that I started experimenting with toy rotation and eventually found a system that worked well for us.
Why Should I Rotate Toys?
When kids have too many toys lying around, they often get bored with them and start to see it all as background noise. Toy fatigue can turn the coolest toy into a piece of junk in the eyes of a child. We all want to raise grateful kids who don’t scoff when offered a single sticker from the grocery clerk. BUT, we also know the importance of having toys available that encourage imaginative play, spatial reasoning, hand-eye coordination, etc.
For kids, novelty is everything. They want new experiences, new games, new toys, etc.; it’s a natural human desire.
For my son, I want to stimulate his mind and help him explore, but I don’t want to spend the money on new toys all the time, and I REALLY don’t want him to think he can just chuck expensive toys for bigger and better ones whenever he gets bored.
For us, the answer has been a combination of toy rotation, “borrowing” toys and books from the thrift store, and going to the library, park, beach, zoo, or anywhere new as often as possible. That way, his thirst for new experiences is satisfied, we don’t spend a fortune on toys, and the play room actually has some room on the floor for playing!
Depending on how many toys you have (and how big or small those toys are), I would recommend having about 5-7 large containers that can be stored somewhere your kid(s) can’t get into. Large plastic bins, old suitcases, cardboard boxes, or over-sized buckets all work just fine; I use a combination of all of them.
Which toys should be put away?
I like to keep toys that “go together” in one place. For example, all the trains with train tracks, Corduroy stuffed animal with the Corduroy book, Buzz Lightyear costume with the Toy Story toys. I do this for two reasons: 1) I just like to be organized, and 2) it helps him “forget” about the toys. If he doesn’t run across a stray train in his toy chest, he’s not going to ask me where the train tracks are. And if he asks about a toy that I know is stored away (which really doesn’t happen very often), I just tell him it’s put away and we’ll get it out another time.
This method works best before 3 or 4 years old when they are easily distracted and don’t have a good long-term memory. Now that my son is almost 4, he will randomly remember a certain toy and ask where it is. That’s where the clear plastic bins come in handy because I can sneak away and go find that one toy without dragging everything out.
How Often Should I Rotate Toys?
Depending on how many containers of toys you have stored away, you might have the best experience rotating the toys every 6-8 weeks. I keep six large containers of toys stored away at all times. So, every 6 weeks I pull out three of the bins, set all the “new” stuff out, then I fill the containers up with the old toys that he has been playing with for the previous 6 weeks. Then the next time I rotate, I bring out the ones that have been stored away the longest. That way, each set of toys is hidden away for about 3 months.
I usually do the toy rotating while my son is napping or out on an adventure with my husband. I don’t want him to see the toys being packed away (otherwise he screams that they are all his favorites), and I don’t want him to see where I hide the stored bins of toys.
Speaking of favorites, don’t rotate the actual favorites – the ones they love and play with every day. The whole point is to put away toys that aren’t being played with and aren’t keeping their interest anymore. So if your kid is really into Legos and plays with them for a little bit every day, Legos aren’t really good candidates for rotating. Wait until he gets another new favorite and thinks the Legos aren’t fun – then stash them away and try again in a couple months. Chances are he will act like he’s never seen such awesome new Legos before!
It’s important to remember that your toy storage will not be a perfectly stacked collection of pretty boxes with cutesy chalkboard labels. Mine has always included random containers, buckets, suitcases, etc. all mixed in with my other storage stuff. The important thing is that they are hidden away and organized enough so you can find what you’re looking
How Else Can I Keep Toys Fresh?
Thrift Store + Garage Sale Toys
We LOVE to buy used toys! I like to think of it as borrowing, since we will eventually end up giving it to a thrift store when he outgrows it. My son actually asks, “Can we borrow this one?” when we are looking at toys at the store because he’s now so used to the idea of having toys only for a time.
I also like to stock up on little toys, games, and puzzles at the thrift store for when I am in a desperate moment and need to bribe him (don’t judge). And if it’s a really desperate moment (important phone call and he won’t stop crying for whatever reason), I will pull out an entire box of stored toys and just let him discover and play on his own for awhile. If I’m lucky he will be occupied for hours, but at least I usually get a solid 30 minutes of silence while he plays.
Temporary toy exchange with a friend
My friend has a son the same age as my son, so we coordinated a toy exchange when the boys were about two. We each picked about five medium-sized toys (toy guitar, toy laptop, race track) that were big enough that they wouldn’t get lost or blend in with the rest of our toys. We also did a few books. They both had fun exploring new toys for a few weeks and we didn’t accumulate any more stuff or spend any money! Depending on how many you exchange, it’s a good idea to label everything in case you keep them for awhile. A small piece of masking tape on the bottom side of the toy with the kid’s name works well.
Make the Play Area Look Full of New Toys!
When I get books and toys out that have been in storage for awhile, I like to set up the new toys like it’s Christmas morning – the new stuffed animals propped up reading the new books, the train track set up and running, and cars and trucks lined up by size. I try to plan on getting “new” toys out when I know I’ll need some time to myself on a certain day, like if I’m hosting something at my house that night and need to do some cleaning. It’s usually a great way to guarantee myself a few hours of uninterrupted time while he plays and discovers his old/new toys and books!
Bring Certain Toys Out for Special Events
One of my favorite things to bring out when my son was younger was the zoo animal figurines the night before we were going to the zoo. He also loved the zoo brochure with the map on it, so I kept that with the animals and he would get so excited and have a blast playing with the animals and looking forward to the zoo trip the next day.
So, yes, it’s a bit of work to organize and store away large chunks of toys every month or so, but in my experience, it’s been a rewarding experience for our whole family. My son gets to enjoy the discovery of “new” toys and we save a ton of money in the long run.