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Sometimes, I don’t think we realize as mothers and homemakers, how much the decisions we make on a daily basis will impact our family.  Sometimes, a choice we made has a much larger ripple effect then we are prepared for.  Sometimes, (and only sometimes) the decisions I make prove to be better than I could have hoped for.
I decided one day – I’d had enough.  I made the choice to take all my kids toys and lock them in a closet in our basement.
Ummm . . . were my kids happy about this?  No.  Did my husband think I’d gone crazy and needed to leave the house and go shopping or go get a pedicure?  Yes.  Did any of that stop me?  Not a chance.
Now, before you notify child and family services, I would like to share with you these 4 “R’s”.
1.  The REASON I did this.
2.  The RULES behind it.
3.  The RESULTS from it.
4.  The REALITY of it.
Number 1:  The Reason
It had been awhile after I had my fourth child.  There were a few days that I felt like I had it all under control.  But for the majority of days, I felt like I was drowning.  Drowning in my to-do list.  Drowning in clutter and toy mess.  Drowning in this feeling like I was never going to get ahead or that I might never be able to catch a breath!  With 4 young kids, everyone had a different school schedule, eating schedule, and at every given second someone (if not all of them) needed something from me.  And as much as I hate to admit it . . . I am the type of person who cannot function well if my house is not in order and things are kept tidy.  I get overwhelmed pretty quick, and see the mess just spiraling out of control and wonder how in the world I will ever find time to get on top of it.  And then I shamefully start to nag, and complain and raise my voice to my sweet little kids to clean up their mess.
It was at this point in life, I truly came to understand what living with anxiety felt like.  It was at this point in life, I prayed daily to find joy and peace among it all.  I knew I was living my dream and I was grateful for this stage of life . . . but I needed to find a way to restore some order.
That’s when I noticed I had 2 closets in our basement that locked from the inside – and I wondered why the previous owners did that.  The wheels started turning, and I wondered what would it be like if all the toys in our house had one central location – and I was in control of what was left out.
Number 2:  The Rules
I gathered every toy in their rooms, every toy in the toy boxes (or wherever they stuffed them that day), and found every available empty tote box we had.  I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect, or pinterest worthy, but I categorized and labeled, and re-arranged, and downsized, until I had (almost) every play thing stuffed in those 2 closets.
 And I’ll let you in on a little secret.  I did this all while the older ones were at school.  No way was I going to deal with the tears and pleadings – because I probably would have changed my mind!
 Once the kids came home, I sat down to explain what had happened, and how things were going to be a bit different.  I tried to make it sound as exciting as it could be, and that their fun toys were now organized and easy to find.  Then I told them (like I had tried to several times before) that they were only going to be allowed 1 box/toy each at a time.  Once they were done playing with that box or item, they would clean it up and we would go down to pick out another together.  They seemed to think it was a good idea – until I told them it would be locked.
Number 3:  The Results
I have to tell you, I’ve been using this method for almost 4 months now.  I wanted to be sure I felt the true effects of it before I wrote about it.  I wanted to be able to really see if it made a difference in our home.  I can honestly say – locking up my kids toys has been one of the best things I could have done for my family.  I’ve been snapping pictures of them playing and doing things in those 4 months, when I notice something that may be a result of my decision, or a possible benefit of locking up their toys.  It’s also been rewarding to document these precious moments of my children enjoying themselves . . . with a happier mother in the home.
In no particular order, here are 12 reasons why locking up my kids toys has blessed our home and family.

1.  My children have developed a love for books.

 I could pick up books around our house all day long, if it meant they were reading and looking at them.  Locking up our library was never an option in my mind.  It is pure eye candy for me, when I see my children soaking in the pages of a book, with a stack of more reads beside them.  In fact, I was so surprised when I asked my kids what they wanted for Christmas, and 2 of my girls insisted on books.  We keep books by their bed, in the living room, and try to keep a rotating stock of library books for them to explore.  I’ve seen that it is only natural that without toys all over the place, they are more apt to picking up the books they see around them for entertainment.

2.  Without being connected to toys, my children connect with each other.

 I have observed many tender moments in the interactions of my children with each other.  Sometimes those involve toys, but it is so much easier for them to do when toys are not there.  Rather than fighting over them, they find ways to work together with what they have.  It has been so amazing to watch.  Just the other day, we got out the tote that holds all the stuffed animals and dolls.  They have been obsessed with playing with them together and putting on fashion shows and singing concerts.  I rarely saw something like that when dolls were placed in each room and all over the house and defined as mine and not theirs.
 Or consider this sweet moment above.  They had no toys out after school one day, but decided to gather some books and blankets and the 2nd grader proceeded to read to the little sisters with all the expression she could muster.  The little ones were delighted, as this rarely happens!  It was a moment I will never forget.  Rather than fighting over toys or going their separate ways, they came up with a way (all on their own) to connect with each other.

3.  Kids really don’t need toys to entertain themselves.  

Once the hype of picking out a box of toys everyday wore off, I found that my kids are so easily entertained, just by their surroundings.  My couches are more often used as a jungle gym than for sitting (which I am totally okay with).  And even though the pillows are usually strung all over the floor – it is a thousand times easier to pick them up then a houseful of toys.

4.  My children don’t seem near as materialistic as they used to be.

Okay, new toys and gadgets still excite them as much as the next kid, but it doesn’t seem to be as big of a deal as it used to.  For example, I used to take my 3 year old shopping and she would become so worked up by all the things she wanted – she would end up having a huge breakdown!  She would start to tremble, people!  That might be normal 3 year old behavior, but it was unlike anything I had seen with my other children.  Because she is still so little and needs stimulation, I involve her more in what I am doing when there isn’t toys around.  Rather than being obsessed with “stuff” now, she is OBSESSED with helping me cook and clean.  Most of the time (wink), I really enjoy that.  My older girls . . . well, they have shown a greater desire to save their money for things like our Disneyland trip, rather than hoping to make enough for an American Girl doll.
Overall, they just seem to be more interested in life, then in toys.
 Isn’t it way more amusing to dress up a baby brother, then a doll!  Haha!  Poor kid.

5.  My children play with more purpose and engross themselves completely in the “task” at hand.

 We have a bag of princess’s, that is often the toy selected among our 3 girls.  I’ve noticed that when they are allowed only 1 toy, they put all their focus and imagination into that 1 activity.  There is less distraction around them and I think it is helping them channel all their energy into something, which is a great life skill.
My girls do treasure their “alone time” with their imaginations, and by each getting their own toy to play with, those times when I feel they need to separate is easier to come by.  They will opt to take turns with what the others have chosen, and peace prevails.  (I get my alone time as well!  Double bonus!).

6.  Less toys and mess, means more everything else!

Because there is less clutter, less mess, less nagging, less fighting – there is more time for creativity, more exploration, more mommy lessons, more quiet time.  In a nut shell, when I am not having to pick up stuff all the time, or beg kids to clean up, it’s amazing the hours in a day I have found!
There is no way I was going to lock up our art stuff, and with toys under control I am much more willing to bust out the paint mess.
Also, because they don’t spend so much time cleaning, they find they are rewarded with a little more T.V. time, which they enjoy but rarely got during the week.
(She wanted to watch a movie on the tablet with her brother.  Ahhhh.)

7.  I am more pro-active and involved with what my kids play with.

When toys were strung all over the house, I had no idea what they would play with that day.  I would just hope they would think to clean it up – whatever they did.  However, there are days when I’ve noticed they haven’t played with a toy for awhile and I’ll pull it out for them.  Or I can foresee the benefit a certain activity might have for that day, and choose to encourage their play in it.
For example, I’ve got a busy morning and have to get a baby ready for a doctors appointment.  I notice they haven’t touched the blocks in a long time.  So, I say to myself, “Self.  You need them to leave you alone so you can hurry and get ready.  Hmm.  These blocks might do it.”  And when they don’t even ask for breakfast till I’m all prettied up, I know it was a success.
It’s like Christmas morning, and they demonstrate how fun it is to play with a toy they haven’t discovered for awhile.  I also love to set up scenes for them to run with.  If it is a rainy day, and we will be stuck inside, I’ll drag out the stuffed animals and prop them on a blanket and call it a picnic.  My kids wouldn’t have thought to do that – but because they are so excited by their “friends” they haven’t seen in awhile, and the fact that they get to eat in the living room – I’ve just bought me 2 hours on pinterest!  (hehe).  Or something more productive, I’m sure.

8.  My children have more interest in the world outside.

Here is another shameful confession – I am a home body.  I prefer to stay inside and accomplish what I need to.  As a result, my kids don’t get out as much as I would like to see them breath in some fresh air.  Yes, without toys – kids do get bored on occasion.  When I see that happening, I’m more likely to send them outside.  We have a magical backyard, with a slide off the deck and a giant sand box and all sorts of things to discover.  When they start to act like caged lions, I let them out and everyone is happier.

9.  I have a cleaner house.

A bit of a more obvious reason, but still a great reason to lock up your toys!  It is so much easier for the kids to pick up one thing that they can simply throw in a box, rather than a houseful of junk that they have strung all over the place.  A place for everything, and everything in it’s place!
My kids have also pointed out, that now when friends or cousins come over the house doesn’t explode with toys in seconds, and my kids aren’t left with a huge overwhelming mess to clean up – that they didn’t make.  This has been a major blessing for them that they have noted on their own.

10.  Less yelling and arguing.

I’ve kind of addressed this already – but it is really the biggest difference I’ve seen from this whole experiment.   I’m not just talking about the kids fighting with each other about who made what mess (because now we know who chose what toy) or who was playing with what first, but I’m mostly talking about my yelling.  I’m never proud of the moments I raise my voice to the children, but it was happening too often when the messes were more than I could take.  I am able to look at the mess and realize it is under control – and therefore I have control.

11.  I’ve saved my sanity.

This was the whole reason from the start.  I needed to find a way to restore peace and order, not only to my home but for my soul.  I wanted desperately to see how precious the moments passing me by were, rather than seeing a tornado destroying the house every passing second.  I wanted to find a way to decrease the anxiety I felt.  I am so grateful that this plan has worked as well as it has!
And the last reason . . .

12.  Reason’s 1-11 has helped us all grow closer together.


We are happier and more able to handle the chaos that inevitably comes when you have more children than hands.  My husband and I look for ways to spend quality time together with our children rather than spending all our energy’s on keeping order in the home.
The benefits of locking up our kids toys seemed to lift a very heavy burden off my shoulders.
And we all know, when mama is happy – everyone is happy.
I am thankful you have read the post this far, and I hope I’ve given you some ideas if you are looking to simplify your life a bit as well.  But real quick, there are some realities I want to share that came with this method of locking up our toys.
Number 4:  The Realities
When we started this, the very next day we found out some things that could present problems.  First being, the kids would try to get out one toy, play for 5 minutes, and then want another.  We had to set the ground rule that the toy they picked out had to last till after lunch, then they could choose one more for the day after they cleaned up the first.  Second, there were certain toys they just could not part with.  Like their favorite stuffed animal to sleep with, or their favorite collection of ponies.  I allowed a few things to stay out that meant so much to my children, as long as they kept them cleaned and not scattered around the house at all times.  Third, my 8 year old is actually really good at cleaning up what she gets out.  It bothered her that she would have to put away some things that she wanted to play with the next day.  We had a silent agreement that she could keep them in her room in certain places as long as she proved herself to keep them tidy.  Which she does wonderfully.  And fourth, my 3 year old simply needs things to keep her entertained more than the others.  If I get to busy and don’t get around to providing her with new items she can become a problem.  I have to check myself often to make sure I’m giving her plenty of things to engage her imagination on.
Lastly, we found that if we keep a toy box in the main living room, they can store the items they selected in there until we get around to switching them.  This really helps contain the clutter and makes for a quick clean up in the evening or when company is coming.
Well, there you have it.  I hope I don’t sound like the meanest parent in the world!  I would really enjoy hearing what you think of the idea, and if you would be willing to give it a try.  I welcome any polite discussion on the matter (in the comments below), or ideas for how you have found a way to stay above water when raising small children.  I learn so much from speaking with other parents and hearing of ideas that work for them.
Thanks for reading!

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  1. Sometimes, a choice we made has a much larger ripple effect than* we are prepared for.

    Thank you for the info. Very helpful!

  2. I just have to tell you that I am enjoying your blog so much. I just recently started blogging myself, and love it in the evening when I can wind down and read others’ blogs. I came across yours last night, and went from watercolor pillows, to the girls’ bedrooms (I love the personal touches you give each one ), to the dining room, and now this post. I love this idea! I am currently in the process of redoing my kids’ playroom, and although I thought when I first moved into this home I’d be okay with the playroom being messy, some days even trashed, I’m really not. I’m already a bin-freak, labeled and all, so clean up should be easy, but my little one wants to drag out one bin after another. Come clean up time, and he’s super overwhelmed. I like the idea of adding a lock to the playroom closet! My ten year old will probably flip his lid, but my sanity may be worth it. I look forward to reading more posts. You have a natural way of talking to your readers.

    P.S. I really like the faux brick wall in your dining room. I saw on another blog where someone added spackle to their bricks to make them more realistic, and I thought that was cool. I have tried to convince my Hubby that a brick wall would look awesome in our family room, but he’s skeptical (he lacks vision sometimes, poor guy). I haven’t ruled it out, but I like him to be on board first.

  3. Ok I guess we do it different somehow. My granddaughter is 18 months old. She is allowed to take out as many toys as she wants.
    When its time to get ready to go we tell her its time to pick up the toys. That’s that, she will put them in toy box and off we go.
    I don’t think she is unusual.
    We had seven kids when I was at home and we all learned to clean up after ourselves.


  4. Love this idea! Cute little boy by the way! What do you do with his toys? Does he have different rules because he is so little? I’m sorry if I missed it in the post!

    1. Thank you! I think he is pretty cute too 😉 He does have different rules at this point. He is still too little to get his own toys out and drag them around, so I keep them in that toy box in the living room and hand them to him. The older kids will occasionally drag those around as well (sigh) but they are a easy clean up. I know, once he is moving around, I’ll do the same thing. Rotating the toys is a good idea in general. Otherwise they get so bored of seeing the same ones they don’t even play with them. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. We have 6 kids ages 2-14 and I too sometimes feel like I;m drowning in clutter and toys! I love your idea! I think kids can get overwhelmed when they have too many toys and it seems like they tend to dump everything out in one pile and then not really play with anything. Only having one at a time would let them concentrate on that particular toy. We are actually re-configuring the bedroom that 3 of the boys share tomorrow so it would be a great time to put this into effect!

  6. This is pure genius! I only have two children, boys 12 and 4, so my situation is a bit different, but I can totally identify with having toy clutter spread from one corner of the house the other! I cannot function either when my house is a disaster. Definitely keeping this in mind!

  7. I love this idea. And sometimes being the mean parent in the end teaches great lessons. Growing up we had toys galore. They were everywhere. Now when we go and visit my parents I have anxiety that my kids are going to leave a big mess. I really wish my mom would get rid of stuff. It would help her have a clean and tidy house.
    We, as parents, have really tried to give the kids toys that help them. It is so hard when my kids have 3 grandmas that insist that they each get them something for Christmas or birthdays. Way too much stuff in my house. But we have taught the kids that each Christmas they have to get rid of 3 toys, at least, before they get to put the new toys away. Which has kept our house cleaner. Not perfect but better.
    I love your ideas. I might implement a few, but unfortunately I don’t have a closet to lock all the toys in. Yet. 🙂

    1. I so agree with everything you said! Christmas and Birthdays can be so overwhelming. We too have tried to teach our kids that we need to “make room” for new toys at those certain celebrations. The more kids you have, the more overwhelming it all gets. And yes, not everyone has an empty closet, but I think there are definitely ways you can implement these ideas without actually LOCKING everything up.

  8. I have a question. So, each child gets to pick one bin of toys to play with at a time? If you have three kids are there three different choices until lunchtime and then they can swap after? Or do all of the kids have to agree on the same one bin of toys to play with at a time?

    1. Great question! I thought about addressing that, but worried I was getting too wordy and detailed in the post 😉 So here is what we do in our house. Some of the toys are in smaller totes or even drawstring bags, like you saw in my pictures. A box for musical instruments, dolls, puzzles, fine motor activities (beads and such). I grouped those toys together in smaller boxes. Then we have larger totes that hold collections of Little People toys, Mega blocks, Dress-up clothes, Stuffed animals – larger stuff like that. I tell my kids (well, the 3 that are old enough to walk anyway) that if they want to each pick their own, they have to grab one of the smaller boxes. Then they can either trade with each other (whenever they are ready to in my opinion) until we have to put them away. If they decide they want one of the larger boxes (and they are all home at the time), I allow 1 of those at a time – and they have to plan together and decide, which is another benefit. My oldest girl did figure out how to get the key, and she proceeded to push the limits one day and grabbed more than one of the big boxes. She quickly learned her lesson when she realized that the huge mess was now her responsibility to clean up. I thought it was a great natural consequence, and she asks from now on. But truly, I think you could adapt this idea to work however would work best for your family. Thanks for reading!

  9. I love this. I have a dream of making my kids share a room so one of the bedrooms can be a play room. I want to be able to keep all the toys in one place instead of all over the house! Having kids “check out” a toy bin makes it more purposeful than just dumping out a box and complaining of being boooooorrrred.

    1. I think that is a great idea to put them in the same room, no toys – and then a room for toys. That would be so helpful! Great solution if you don’t have a closet with a reverse lock 😉

  10. This is amazing! I think I am going to do this. Even though Hadley is only 2 its good to start early. I get so frustrated with clean up and half the time she doesn’t even care about fthe toys. I didn’t have a lot of toys when I was little and I used my imagination. I want my kids to be more like that.

    1. I think 2 year olds need control more than any! The just drag and drop wherever they please. And yes – if I recall – you always did have a vivid imagination 🙂

  11. I have been thinking about doing this for months now but have been dragging my feet. I’m so glad to see that it worked for you. This is next on my to-do list. I have always felt that my kids would have MORE fun and appreciate what they have, when they have less at a time. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for commenting, and it was so good to hear from you! Doing this was on the back burner of my list for awhile – until I decided to move it up. So glad I did. I hope it helps your cute little family as well. Toys can just become more “noise” so easy.