Taming Toy Mountain

Taming Toy Mountain

There are two truths about becoming a parent:

1. You are going to lose some sleep.

2. Your home becomes a warehouse of kids’ toys.

Lots and lots of toys.

It is easy to become overwhelmed by the barrage of new toys arriving steadily from grandparents, family, and friends. Each birthday, holiday, and a trip to the dollar store can result in new toys being added to your child’s collection. And with Christmas just around the corner, now is a great time to take stock of your child’s existing toys and plan an exit strategy for any unused or outgrown toys. By following a few proven steps used routinely by professional organizers, you’ll have that toy mountain tamed in no time.

Corral Toys in One Place

First, gather all the toys to one location in your home. Pick a spot that is large enough to accommodate all the toys and ideally still leave you some extra space. If you have a large number of toys consider using the basement or an under- utilized room on the main floor, such as a formal dining room. If the thought of gathering up toys seems overwhelming, don’t be afraid to elicit help from your spouse, a relative, or best friend. Assign each helper a room and an empty laundry basket or plastic bin with instructions to fill their baskets with toys and dump the toys in the room you have chosen to centralize them. Think of this step as a stealth attack. The idea is to gather up all the toys as quickly as possible, not worrying about sorting them at this stage in the process.

Pair Like with Like

Once all the toys are gathered in one room, you may feel a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it, but don’t despair. The next step will be easier with all the toys in

one spot. Begin by sorting each toy into piles grouped by category: stuffed animals, Legos, arts and crafts, cars, dolls, games and puzzles, costumes, video games, tools, balls, etc. Create one pile for any unidentified toy pieces and one pile for broken or damaged toys. Continue sorting until all the toys are grouped into piles. Depending on how much stuff you have you may find it useful to further divide the piles into sub-categories, for example, the doll pile could be further divided into piles of Barbies, Barbie accessories, and larger baby dolls.

Trim It Down

Now that everything is divided into piles of similar toys, you can easily see exactly what your child has and has too much of. Time to look at each pile and attack each one individually.

First to toss out is all the stuff that is easy to let go of – junky toys. This includes toys that are broken or missing too many pieces, party favours, Happy Meal toys, the assortment of unidentified toy pieces, and bald Barbies. Put them directly into a black garbage bag.

Next, when looking at each pile think, does my child play with it? Does your child have Thomas trains but outgrew them years ago? Does your child have tons of DVDs but prefers to play Fortnite on your cell phone? Is your child searching YouTube but still hanging on to primary ABCs books? Think of what your child realistically uses and decide if there is anything you could donate or pass along to family members without your child really missing it. Create a new pile for items you can donate. And if you are saving it for a younger child consider boxing it up and moving it to a location in the house that children don’t use.

When looking at the remaining piles do you see multiples of the same toy? Consider the following: does your child really need fifty stuffies? Does your child play with 20 Barbie dolls, or do they only use the newest one? Does your child have three different sets of Memory and multiple packs of UNO? Multiples of the same toy take up valuable space in your home. Now is the time to be ruthless in your decision making. Keep only the best of any multiple toys, move the “ok” ones to the donation pile, and dispose of any that are not appropriate to donate.

Donating Used Toys

Here are some organizations you can donate used toys to:

  • Value Village
  • Salvation Army Donor Welcome Centres
  • Durham Region Reuse Days – Check Durham Region’s Events Calendar for a Reuse Day in your municipality. https://calendar.durham.ca
  • Bibles for Missions Thrift Stores  www.missionthriftstore.com
  • Art With a Heart Inc. – Art With A Heart Inc. is a registered Canadian charity located in the Durham Region, dedicated to using the talents and resources of like-minded, creative individuals to assist and empower people from local community special interest groups. For example autism, Alzheimer’s, brain injury, behavioural issues, mental health, physically disabled, poverty, substance abuse, seniors, etc.) Accepts art supplies such as paint, markers, paper, and glue. www.artwithaheart.ca
  • Diabetes Canada   https://declutter.diabetes.ca/pickup

Selling Toys

If you would like to sell your gently used kid stuff, a few brick and mortar stores offer cash on the spot.

  • Once Upon a Child – Pays cash on the spot for costumes, toys, books, electronics, bikes, kitchen sets, ride-ons, and name brand kid clothes. www.onceuponachild.com
  • Déjà vu Discs – Buys PS4, PS3, XBOX ONE, XBOX 360, XBOX Original, Wii, DS, PSP, PS2, and GameCube games. https://dejavudiscs.com

Online Selling

In addition to Facebook Marketplace, VarageSale, and Letgo, there are various Facebook groups in Durham region dedicated to selling kid stuff. You will need to open a Facebook account if you don’t have one and request to join each group. Typically, each group has its own rules that you must read and agree to abide to become a member of the group. If you are selling toys, it is best to offer a great deal by grouping like items together and to sell them at a bargain price (i.e., instead of selling one Barbie for $3, sell six Barbie dolls and their carrying case for $20.) Remember, this is stuff you want out of your house.

  • Oshawa/Whitby Mom’s Buy/Swap
  • Durham Region’s Buy, Sell and Trade Group
  • Durham Canada Buy&sell
  • Pickering/Ajax/Whitby/Oshawa & GTA Buy & Sell
  • Ajax/Clarington/Oshawa/Whitby Buy & Sell Group

If you are nervous about opening your door to a total stranger, you can arrange for what is commonly called a “porch pick up”— you leave the item for sale outside your front door, and the buyer leaves cash between your doors or in a spot you specify. Porch pickups are only suitable for smaller cash transactions as there is the risk that someone could take your item and not leave their payment. Other options for pick up include meeting at a public place such as a local library or coffee shop.

Toy Swap

A toy swap is also a great idea if you have access to a large space, such as a community centre or church hall. Parents can drop off used toys and exchange them for other used toys. The simplest swap assumes all toys have the same value so that if you bring one toy, you can swap it for one toy. This works for smaller toys but is not practical if someone wants to swap a more expensive toy, such as a bike. If your swap is going to accept expensive toys, you will need volunteers to assign values to all the toys so that swaps remain equitable. Ensure you have enough volunteers to pack up any remaining toys and take them to charity.

Suggest Toy Alternatives

Providing a shopping list to relatives at Christmas can help stem a toy overload. Consider asking for creative alternatives to toys such as gift certificates to local attractions, such as the movies or your family’s favourite ice cream parlour. A nice idea is to have your child tell the gift giver about your outing and how much they enjoyed it.

Organizing Your Space After Christmas

Now that your child has new toys you’ll need to figure out where to put them in your home. Toys will be used regularly if your child has easy access to them. Consider setting up themed play stations so your child will be sure to use all their toys. For example, a kitchen set and food toys could be placed near your kitchen to encourage a child to pretend cook while watching you prepare a meal. An art station with markers, paper, and stickers could be stored in a cupboard closest to your kitchen table. Legos could be relegated to an under- utilized guest bedroom to encourage creative play away from the TV and to keep the Legos out from underfoot. Books can be stored in a bookshelf near a favourite comfy chair or beside the bed to encourage bedtime reading. Costumes get more use when they are stored on a hanging rack near a full-length mirror. A mesh container for balls, sidewalk chalk, and outdoor toys can be stored in the garage for easy access when heading outdoors.

Storage of toys should take in several factors: your available space, ease of access, and ease of tidying up. Since many toys come with plastic packaging which must be destroyed to free the toy, you often end up with a toy and a lot of loose pieces that have no storage container. Clear bins with lids are a great option because they can be purchased in a variety of shapes to fit shelves, under beds, or the space under a coffee table. If your child has no shelves in their bedroom, look for a plastic tower with several clear drawers to take advantage of vertical space, or purchase stackable clear bins with hinged lids. Help younger children sort toys into the correct bins by taping a photo of the toy to the outside of the bin.

Other good toy storage alternatives include: inexpensive mesh hangers suspended from the ceiling to keep toys off the floor, purchasing a bed frame with built in drawers, covering a full wall with storage cubes, hanging storage nets in the corner of a room, purchasing a bench with storage cubbies underneath the seat, or placing toys in an over-the-door hanging shoe holder.

Toy Rotation

Still too many toys after Christmas? Consider implementing a toy rotation. Start by placing all your child’s toys in large storage bin containers and number each one. Start the rotation by giving your child Bin #1. Place all the other bins in a location your child does not have access to. When your child starts to get bored of the toys in Bin #1, pack up those toys, move Bin #1 to the location with the other bins, and give your child Bin #2. Continue this method until all the toys are rotated through. The rotation keeps your child’s interest and limits the number of toys that need to be tidied up.

Not sure when to rotate your child’s toys? Watch for clues from your child and rotate a new bin when they seem to lose interest in the current bin’s toys. Worried that your child may not want to rotate certain favourite toys? Leave any toys that are favourites and used on a regular basis out of the rotation, such as Legos. Don’t be so strict with your rotation system that there isn’t any room for flexibility.

Why Less is More

According to a study published in the journal Infant Behaviour and Development, toddlers have not mastered higher level control over attention. Their attention, and therefore their play may be disrupted by factors in their environment that present distraction. The result of the study suggest that an abundance of toys may create such a distraction and that when provided with fewer toys, toddlers engage in longer periods of play with a single toy, allowing better focus to explore and play more creatively.

Author, Joshua Becker, also agrees. In his book, Clutterfree with Kids, Becker argues that fewer toys are better for children because sparse playrooms encourage creativity, help develop attention spans, and teach youngsters about taking care of their possessions.

In my own experience I have found that children with organized rooms are proud of their space and enjoy showing and sharing their rooms with friends.

Final Words

If your child receives an excessive number of toys at Christmas, count your blessings and be grateful for generous friends and family. And if some of those new toys do happen to remain unopened, you can always donate them to a toy drive next year.

As published in:

The Local Biz Magazine Logo

Winter 2018 Edition

10 Tips For an Organized Christmas Season

10 Tips For an Organized Christmas Season

The Christmas season is a joyful time of year, one that many people look forward to with anticipation. But it is easy to understand why many people feel overwhelmed and stressed out by the busyness of the season.

Not only is there pressure to find the perfect gifts, there is worry about spending too much money, the expectation that you will fully decorate the interior and exterior of your home, the time commitment required for baking and planning special meals, the scheduling of multiple parties and get togethers, the obligation to send Christmas cards, visiting all your relatives, and when it’s over, you still have the enormous task of packing up all the decorations for next year. If you are feeling a little overwhelmed just thinking about it you are not alone. But there is hope! By following these few simple tips, you can have a more organized Christmas and avoid that feeling of being overwhelmed.

Schedule to Avoid Conflicts

Many of the activities we do around the holidays involve coordinating multiple family members and their conflicting schedules. Scheduling activities in advance can cut down on your stress level and make for happier family relations. To do this, print a large calendar for the month of December and tape it on or near the fridge. Instruct everyone to add their December events to the calendar so that everyone in the family can easily tell at a glance the comings and goings of each family member. For example, by letting your family know that the second Saturday in December is reserved for Christmas baking, or that December 20th is reserved for classic movie night, it allows everyone to schedule their other events around those of the family, thus avoiding hurt feelings and disappointment that comes from missing an event due to a conflict. Use the December calendar to schedule both family and work events, party obligations, get togethers, and volunteer commitments. 

Stress Free Decorating

Does holiday decorating stress you out? Between work and your busy schedule when will you ever find the time to haul out Christmas boxes, sort decorations, set up the tree, hang exterior lights, and set up the lawn reindeer? Whew! I get tired just thinking about it! But there is a way to avoid all the stress and hassle that is associated with Christmas decorating. Break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks. Smaller tasks are easier to complete and give you a sense of accomplishment, making the entire project less daunting and more enjoyable.

For example, just finding and hauling out the Christmas boxes from storage can be a daunting task, never mind unpacking everything and decorating the house. The solution is to break the job down into smaller, manageable tasks. Task #1 could be “Find and bring Christmas boxes to the main floor”. This task can be completed a day in advance of any decorating; that way you won’t feel tired from hauling boxes. Task #2 could be “Move Christmas tree and tree decorations to the main room”. Task #3 could be “Decorate the Christmas Tree”. The idea of breaking the job into smaller, manageable tasks is not to exhaust yourself by trying to do it all in one shot. Space out the work and as you complete each task think of mentally crossing it off of your to-do list. Maybe you are up for completing two tasks per day, or even three. The point is to go at a pace that is fun and manageable for you. This might mean a straight weekend of decorating where everyone pitches in and every task gets completed. Or, it could mean that you complete one task per day and complete decorating over a period of two or three weekends.

Take Stock Before You Bake

If you are like most people, you probably have some special recipes that only get made once a year for the holidays. You may even have a tradition of setting aside a day to bake or inviting family members to share in the ritual of preparing a special family recipe. Whatever your tradition, avoid stress on baking day by checking your recipes a week in advance to see what ingredients you need to stock up on. You may have forgotten that Aunt Mary’s shortbread recipe requires 4 pounds of butter, or that 2 dozen eggs are required for multiple batches. This is also a good time to check the pantry for ingredients you have on hand but may not be fresh. Brown sugar is notorious for going hard, and if your flour is years old it won’t perform as well as a fresh bag. Avoid that last minute panic of running out to buy key ingredients by checking your recipes and pantry a week or two in advance and shopping for all the ingredients beforehand.

Christmas Cards Made Easy

Like to send Christmas cards but don’t have time to write a personal note in each one? Consider typing a one-page letter detailing the highlights of your year. Can’t remember what you had for breakfast last week, let alone what you did at the start of this year? Use your calendar to help you recall events that happened this year and write about them. If you have time, purchase Christmas letterhead to print your letter on. This will give it that extra special touch and make your letter appear more in line with your personality. (Note: There are some funky Christmas letterheads out there!) Ensure the content of the letter is generic enough that its suitable for all friends and older relatives. And if you find postage costs prohibitive, or you have left card mailing too late, consider sending your letter by email or text to those who prefer electronic communications.

Preparing For Guests

With COVID-19 travel restrictions being eased, many people will have more guests for the holidays this year than last year. Chances are, the space in your home that was previously designated as a guest room has been repurposed during the last lockdown. Your guest room may now serve as your full-time home office, a home gym, or a catch-all room for kids toys and older furnishings. But there are some simple steps you can take to make this space welcoming for visitors again.

First, clear any horizontal surfaces of papers. This could be as simple as placing an elastic band around the piles and moving them to the floor under your desk or to another room that your guest won’t see. All guests appreciate a clean, flat surface to place a few items on, be it their medication or toiletries.

Next, ensure the floor is clear. Remove any tripping hazards such as toys or boxes so that guests have a clear path to the bed. Last but not least, pull out your guest linens and towels and give them the sniff test a week ahead of any guests’ arrival. If they smell musky, you will still have time to run a load of laundry before your guest arrive. (Note: To refresh clean towels, skip the wash and place them in the dryer with a scented dryer sheet.)

Gift Wrap Storage

To save time and cut down on frustration when it comes to wrapping presents, create a storage zone for all your gift- wrapping supplies. Keep everything you need for wrapping presents (scotch tape, a pair of scissors, bows, ribbons and name tags) with the Christmas rolls so you don’t have to search for each item when you are ready to wrap. Designate a convenient spot for all these supplies that is large enough to store them together. This could be a tall cardboard box stored in the basement, an under-the-bed storage box, or a garment bag hanging in a spare closet. It is also a good idea to keep an extra box of Christmas cards with your Christmas wrapping supplies to have on hand for any last-minute gifts.

 It’s OK to Say No

Too many times we agree to take on roles that we simply do not have the time for in an effort to be seen as accommodating. Did you agree to become chairman of a committee at your church because no other volunteer stepped up? Did you commit to drive for a local charity because they didn’t have enough drivers in your area? Did you agree to bake gingerbread men for little Suzie’s entire class because somebody heard you are a great baker? If these voluntary obligations keep finding you and you are negatively impacted by them, it may be time to set some limits on what you agree to take on. Remember, it is okay to say no if the task ends up causing you stress, disruption to your routine, or has other negative consequences. Think about what you can realistically handle. Perhaps you can commit to attend a meeting, but not be its chairperson. Or, you can agree to drive for the charity on an occasional basis but not once a week. Do your best to accommodate requests but don’t stretch yourself too thin.

Priceless Gift Giving

Christmas is a time of year that budgets get thrown out of the window. There are so many people in your life who you would like to shower with gifts. Gift giving has become synonymous with appreciation, caring and love. The problem is, we all have a limited amount of money and no one who cares for you would want you to go into financial hardship for the sake of a gift. So how do we treat a multitude of people to gifts without breaking the bank? First, make a short list of people who absolutely need a store-bought gift and budget for those people. Next, make a list of all the remaining people you would like to give a gift to but would appreciate a personal gift that isn’t store bought, such as preparing a homecooked meal or baked goods, offering to babysit or house clean, or volunteering at a loved one’s favourite charity. The gift of your time is very valuable. It cannot be purchased but its value outweighs any gift card.

Online Shopping Tips

If you have ever ordered something online, you understand the frustration of waiting for something to arrive that you desperately need. While Christmas presents generally do not fall into the category of “desperately need”, you don’t want to disappoint a child or be without a gift for your spouse because you are waiting for a delivery. Delivery times have already been impacted by shortages in the supply of microprocessors (used in many electronics) and shortages in labour forces. To avoid disappointment, order your gifts well in advance of December 25th. If you require a deadline to motivate you, pretend November 25th is Christmas Day and make a game of it to see if you can have your online orders arrive by November 25th.

As published in:

The Local Biz Magazine Logo

Winter 2021 Edition

Step-by-Step Guide to Organize Your Home Office

Step-by-Step Guide to Organize Your Home Office

As a professional organizer I see a lot of disorganized home offices. Desks covered with mail, floors hidden by piles of stuff, printers buried under papers, drawers with no room to add anything, and bookshelves crammed with stuff that is starting to fall out. The good news is that most home offices can be returned to productive, Zoom worthy, workspace in just a few hours. Here is my step-by-step guide for organizing your home office. Let’s get started!


1. Clear your space.

The first step to organizing a chaotic home office is to clear the space. Start my finding proper homes for the items that are taking up space on the floor.  If the item is not used to get work done, it is time to relocate it out of your home office and put it in its proper location in your home. (Yes, that means you, giant package of Costco toilet paper and your treadmill.) If you have old printers, monitors and other outdated technology just lying around it is time to get rid of them now. (Go to https://www.recyclemyelectronics.ca/ to find a location close to you that accepts old electronics.) 


2. Sort your stuff.

This is the fun part of organizing because you get to find all your stuff that has been lost! Time to clear off the desk, empty each drawer and remove every item from the bookshelves. Your goal is to sort every item into categories that you will create. Office supplies will be one category, books will be another, electronic cords will be another.  Keep creating categories based on what you find. If you do not have enough room on your desk continue sorting your categories in piles on the floor. If some of your categories get too big, consider dividing them into subcategories so that the piles stay manageable. For example, your office supply category has so much stuff you decide to create separate subcategories for printer paper, lined paper, and notebooks.

Papers that require further sorting should be boxed for now to get them out of the way. If papers are already grouped by project, use large elastic bands or Zip Lock bags large enough for papers, to keep them together.  A good system for categorizing papers is Current, Projects to Do, and Filing.

Keep going until you have sorted every item in your office. If you require more space, use the closest space outside your home office, such as the hallway or an adjacent bedroom.  Items will only be here temporarily so do not worry about how it looks for now.


3. Purge your stuff.

Now that everything has been divided into categories it is time to purge some of your unused belongings.  Look at each category separately.  As you were sorting you probably came across some items and thought “I haven’t used that in years”, or “I’ve replaced that”.  Your first purge should be these easy items that you no longer use. Have boxes labelled donations, recycling, and trash, ready to drop these items into.

For the next round of purging pick up each item and ask yourself the following questions:

  • “Have I used this in the past year?”
  • “Will I use this in the future?”
  • “Could I find this information online?”

If you are not currently using something and you have not used it in the past year, chances are you are not going to miss it if you get rid of it.  Only keep books that you plan to read or refer to again. For printed material ask yourself if you could find it easily online? If the answer is yes, consider recycling it.  For items that still have life left in them consider donating them.  It keeps them out of landfill, and somebody will want and use it. Remember one man’s junk is another man’s treasure!

When you are done making decisions, move the recycling box to the garage and the donation boxes to your car. Having the donations in your car will remind you to drop them off the next time you go out.  If you have any items to sell, move them to an area of your home that will remind you to list them online. (I like to list items for sale on Facebook Marketplace while watching TV, so I tend to move any items I have for sale to the living room.)


4. Furniture placement

Now that your office is emptied out, it is time to reconsider furniture placement. Is the desk in its ideal location? A window behind you is not ideal for Zoom calls, as the light will leave your face shadowed.  A window facing your screen may be uncomfortable on a sunny day. A window can also be a source of distraction.  Will facing a wall help you remain focused and improve your productivity?  Is your printer located far away because of the outlet?  Now is the time to grab an extension cord and try reconfiguring your office furniture to suit your current needs. If your desk is too large to fit another way, consider problem solving another way: use blackout curtains during Zoom calls, or consider covering a distracting window with artwork or an attractive window cling.


5. Storage decisions

Now that you have reduced the number of items in your home office, it is time to look at everything you have decided to keep and figure out the best storage solutions.  Think of storage space like real estate.  The space within arm’s reach of your office chair is prime real estate.  This is the space that must house the items you use every day, such as your laptop, pens, and your calendar.

Your next most valuable real estate is the area close to your desk but not within arm’s reach. This could be a bookshelf, a filing cabinet or a second desk. This space will store items that you like to have close by, but do not necessarily use every day, such as extra printer paper, reference material, and family photos.

The last storage space to consider is storage that is out the way. This could be a closet, a storage trunk, or the space under the stairs. Here you will store everything you only need to access occasionally.  This could be previous year’s tax records, completed projects, and sentimental items.

Things to consider when you are storing items:  Keep like with like.  Storing similar items together cuts down on the amount of time you spend looking for a particular item.  So, whether the item ends up in your desk drawer or it is stored in the closet, consider keeping like with like. Consider this example using household batteries: when you need a battery, it is easier to go to the junk drawer to find one rather than searching multiple storage areas of your home.  The same thing goes for items in your home office. Group all your extra pens, printer paper and Post It notes together in their storage location.  This will not only make them easier to find but you will be able to see the total quantity you own, cutting down unnecessary multiple purchases of items.


6. Paperwork

Most of the home offices I get called in to organize have been abandoned by their owners because stacks of paper have taken over the space.  Problems with papers tend to start when there is no system for addressing incoming mail and the filing system is outdated. To ensure you do not get overwhelmed by mail create a system that temporarily houses your mail until it is dealt with.  This could be as simple as a designated spot on your desk, or a multi-tiered tray labelled “Pay This Month”, “For Filing” or “Read later”. It is a good idea to keep a recycling bin under your desk to discard the outer envelopes and anything papers you do not wish to keep, and a shredder to destroy documents that contain confidential information.  Next, you must decide on a system for storing important documents you must keep. Whatever system you use, whether it is a filing cabinet, a box with hanging folders, or an accordion file, review it on an annual basis to purge the papers you no longer need.  If there are certain papers that you file regularly, ensure those folders are the easiest to reach by placing them in the most accessible drawer near the front. Hate to file? Do not do it every day. Let it build up and do it once a month in one easy swoop.


7. Hire a Professional Organizer

If the thought of organizing your office feels overwhelming or you simply do not have the time, consider hiring Organized by Catherine.  We save you hours of time by completing the sorting process, guiding you through the purging process, and optimizing your home office workspace. Hiring Organized by Catherine is an investment in your productivity!