baby proof: toy storage.

September 20, 2016

baby proof: toy storage | reading my tea leaves

We’re not big on toys in our family. We hate fun, is the reason. Just kidding! We love fun, we just don’t have a ton of toys! If you’re after a more general toy philosophy and a list of resources (just updated!) for where we’ve found some of our favorites, head here! Despite the relative scarcity around here, lots of you have asked what we’re doing about toy storage these days, so here’s a little overview of what’s working right this minute.

Here’s what’s been helpful:baby proof: toy storage | reading my tea leaves

Keeping like with like: “Baskets!” cries everyone, their mother, and the list of “nursery essentials” on every parenting website from here ’til kingdom come. Agreed: baskets can be very helpful for wrangling kid’s toys. But more than the basket, one needs a basket strategy. Seriously. The key to storing toys in basket (or old wine crates, or fruit boxes, or whatever kind of container you’ve got) is establishing that like goes with like. Toddlers are expert organizers, they just need a little nudge in the right direction. And without that direction, I’d argue baskets can become a clutter-phobe’s worst nightmare. Baskets become catchalls to shove all manner of things that you just don’t want to look at. In a single basket go wooden animals, stray blocks, hair elastics, a forgotten babydoll, a pair of underwear…you get the picture. Baskets can get clutter off the floor, but they can also allow it to pile up without being seen. But use a basket to house a single kind of toy, and things start to make sense. Stray blocks can easily be thrown in the basket with all the blocks. Instead of being strewn around the house, Faye’s play silks live in a basket meant for that sole purpose. (For the uninitiated, play silks are a Waldorfian early childhood toy—they’re just squares of silk to be used for making forts, wearing as capes, stringing together into, waving as flags, etc. Faye’s using a set that my mom made for me and my sisters when we were little.) Whatever the item, like-with-like basket storage creates a system that allows for order, and that’s helpful for the kid and for the parents.
baby proof: toy storage | reading my tea leavesEasy Access: For anything that doesn’t go into a basket, I try to make sure that it’s still easily accessible to Faye. Nothing sadder than an unused toy, if you ask me. There’s not a ton of space to really display toys around here (and, if I’m being honest, it’s not really my preferred look), but we do use the top of this old soda bottle crate to house a little collection of Faye’s toys. Books and additional blocks go into boxes or crates that slide under Faye’s bed. Things like puzzles that have more pieces get zipped into little cloth pouches and put into a crate. Here again, the like-with-like philosophy reigns supreme and the consistent pick up and return to the same spot means that that’s becoming second nature for the tiniest among us. Even better, when everything’s within easy reach, it’s easy to see what’s still not really getting much attention. Those are usually things we decide to pack up and save for the next kiddo or pass along to someone proof: toy storage | reading my tea leaves

Creating play stations:

Most parents I talk to agree that kids (and their stuff) don’t readily stay relegated to their bedroom. Kids don’t want to feel marooned and so they tote the contents of their shelves into the main living areas so they can hang out with everyone else. Even in our tiny place, I’ve noticed Faye doing this, and I’ve had good luck carving out little spots for her to play outside of the confines of her room.

In the kitchen, I cleared out one of our cabinets to house Faye’s “kitchen toys.” Her pots and pans hang from little hooks inside the cabinet. She’s got a bag of beans for “pouring,” a coffee can with utensils for “stirring,” and when we’re chopping up veggies dinner, she knows just where to head to pull out her own tiny crinkle knife and cutting board. 
baby proof: toy storage | reading my tea leavesBy the front door, there’s a tiny art-making nook. An old tackle box of supplies (stickers, crayons, erasers, etc.) lives on the top shelf and the middle shelf acts as a de facto desk and houses a glass jar with colored pencils and paintbrushes and a stack of recycled paper that James brings home from school (plus, most recently, a pad of thicker paper for watercolors!). Sure, the paper often gets pulled off the shelf and onto the floor while she’s working on her chef d’ouevres (an artist needs her space, etc.), but the cleanup is still relatively painless (my modus operandi for all things kid-related). baby proof: toy storage | reading my tea leaves

What about you guys? What’s working in your spaces lately?

For the curious: 

+ I found our foldable rice basket locally at Collyer’s Mansion (you can find similar ones online at Olli Ella).
+ Our navy bolga basket is from Indego Africa.
+ All of our other crates and boxes were found at wine shops, attics, or flea markets.
+ Faye’s bed frame is the same as ours, from Keetsa.

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  • Reply Lindsey heringer September 20, 2016 at 8:36 am

    I just finished Simplicity Parenting. It was great and the mania for the kind of parent I strive to be. I have a ten month old and it’s been great following your lead on how to live more simply with a child. I have small house by most standards, and appreciate your storage solutions. Why use plastic tubs when you can have beautiful, antique crates. We recently just made some of building blocks for our little guy, and I sewed a drawstring bag to store them in.

    • Reply Liz September 21, 2016 at 2:24 am

      I agree with you on Simplicity Parenting. I reread it every couple of months- whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed by the whole parenting thing. I originally bought the e-book but ended up getting a hard copy too so I could lend it friends!

  • Reply Lindsey heringer September 20, 2016 at 8:37 am


  • Reply Lynn @ The Not Dead Yet Blog September 20, 2016 at 8:41 am

    I use boxes–an art box, a lego box, etc–that I can shove under beds and couches. I also have wooden stacked toy bins from the Land of Nod, and I absolutely love them. Once the kids are past the toy phase, they can be used for something else.

  • Reply EMac September 20, 2016 at 8:45 am

    Okay – so, you have a TEENY kitchen yet seem to be able to 1) cook almost anything (including dishes that seem to need “fancy” cooking utensils) and 2) have enough space to clear out one (what I imagine is most like much needed space) cabinet for your daughter’s play kitchen items. Please do share the magic equation of how that works! 🙂 Or at very least, what are the NEEDS and need-nots in your kitchen…

    • Reply Erin Boyle September 20, 2016 at 9:18 am

      Not too many fancy utensils around here, that’s for sure! Otherwise fairly simple. There’s a post about kitchen supplies somewhere in the archive (and a page or two in my book;) but maybe it’s worth a revisit in this space!

      • Reply Theresa September 20, 2016 at 7:36 pm

        Yes, that was my question too.

        • Reply MissEm September 22, 2016 at 9:35 am

          From what I can see in pics, our kitchen is a little smaller than Erin’s, so we can’t clear out a cabinet for littles (we use an open metal shelf next to the cabinets for that), but as someone who cooks a lot, I can say that once you get used to it, there’s a lot you can do in a small kitchen with good, quality basic tools. You can also get a lot of real estate if you trade in things like a drip coffee maker for a French press, etc. And if you give up cereal you get a loooot of space back (but my husband and children won’t hear of that, otherwise we COULD clear out a small cabinet!)

  • Reply Anna September 20, 2016 at 9:07 am

    Great ideas! Although we try to keep toys somewhat minimal, I do try to occasionally put away a few toys that have been ignored and rotate them out from time to time.

    • Reply Mina September 28, 2016 at 4:44 pm

      There’s a wonderful award-winning Indian fusion restaurant in the East Village and to my surprise they had the same size kitchen as we do (xsmall) – and there was more than one person in the kitchen! I happily gave up on creating more counter space that night.

  • Reply Connie September 20, 2016 at 9:15 am

    Years ago I noticed that the children’s room librarians had coded the wooden puzzle backs and pieces with letters so that putting the puzzles back together was much easier—all the A puzzle pieces fit into the A backing, eliminating that endless hunting for where to fit this and that piece.

  • Reply Kim R September 20, 2016 at 10:21 am

    Thanks for this post Erin! As I said in my comment to yesterday’s post, we are buying a house so this is hypothetical but there is a space near the kitchen that I’d like to make a space for my 16 month old where she can play and allow me to cook. I realized that she finds nooks wherever she is and sits in them (small space between wall and bookshelf, inside a kitchen cabinet) so I’ve thought of making one or two cabinets just for her, as you have done. I encountered another dilemma when I remembered why we used to put all of my daughter’s stuff in one room – we could close the door! You see, we also have an enormous dog that sheds like crazy. This hair would potentially get all over any play things. I think the only solution is to give him his space too and put a bed in this area so he is isn’t shedding on the play rug. I could put a gate up to prevent him coming in but I would really prefer not to. Losing battle I suppose.

  • Reply Bethany September 20, 2016 at 11:03 am

    Ooooh! Where did you find the wooden dolls and the animals?

    • Reply Erin Boyle September 20, 2016 at 11:08 am

      Both were gifts. Not positive the exact origin of the wooden dolls. The animals were from Acorn Toy Shop here in Brooklyn. The shops I linked to in my previous toy post should have lots of similar play things!

    • Reply Jay September 20, 2016 at 4:28 pm

      Are these the dolls you were thinking of, Bethany?

      • Reply Erin Boyle September 20, 2016 at 4:32 pm

        Oh! If you were thinking of the colorful dolls, those are indeed the ones (ours look a little lighter because they’ve been through a few kids.) If you were after the unpainted dolls, as I imagined, I don’t have a direct source!

    • Reply Darcy December 8, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      You can buy the people here (as well as wooden beads for stringing on shoelaces/ pipe cleaners etc.) Frankly, I went a little nuts here on Monday- gift tags, wooden people, stringing beads… Guess what friends’ children are getting for birthdays for the next 20 years?

  • Reply Mary Kate September 20, 2016 at 11:20 am

    I adore the wine crates. Curious, do you just walk into a random wine store and ask them for old crates? Does most wine still come in lovely old-fashioned-looking crates?

    • Reply Erin Boyle September 20, 2016 at 11:24 am

      You can definitely try that approach. Not all wine shops will give them up (and not all wine is still shipped in them) but I’ve had friends who have had success asking outright. This particular crate was on the sidewalk outside the shop with a note saying “Take me.”

  • Reply Monika J September 20, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Where did you get the cloth bags? That would really help out our toy storage situation!

  • Reply firstmilk September 20, 2016 at 12:00 pm


  • Reply Debra September 20, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    My children are grown, but when they were little my favorite book was “You are your child’s first teacher”.

  • Reply Rachel September 20, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    I’m inspired by how you include all the important elements of play and play areas in a small way! We have 3 kids in a pretty small house and I have always hit road blocks in my head thinking, for example, an art area requires more space than I have available. You have shown in a beautiful way that is not necessarily the case.

    • Reply Erin Boyle September 20, 2016 at 4:22 pm

      Thanks so much for such kind words! Agreed—just have to take the scale down a bit, but lots of things are still possible in a small space!

  • Reply Liz September 21, 2016 at 2:18 am

    I love this post and we *try* to take a similar approach but find the influx from well meaning family and friends hard to handle in keeping things minimal. I definitely use the ‘similar things’ baskets approach- we have one for trains and train tracks, one for cars and trucks, one for animals and dinosaurs and one for dress ups. We also put away my older son’s most loved toys when he outgrew them and then regifted them to my younger son on his first birthday. I need to think about incorporating an art and kitchen space for my boys- they’d love them.

  • Reply Mark September 21, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    I really love the baskets and the colors you showcase. I believe that when you get a toy you give one away!

  • Reply MissEm September 22, 2016 at 9:42 am

    We also do the like with like in baskets, but I do wonder what to do in the “many small toys” stage now that my oldest is entering kidhood and leaving preschoolerhood behind. I especially wonder about multi-stage play (a toddler, a preschooler, and a kid all at once). That said, my girls play more with non toys and art supplies than with toys!

  • Reply Guro September 22, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    Beautiful! As my oldest hit 5,5 and the middle one 3,5, someting happened: suddenly their play included EVERYTHING, toys or not, in the room. It looks like an explosion hit our livingroom/kithchen-area. I think especially the youngest is a master of putting different kinds of objects and toys together. The imaginative one! And she really cherish her wands, dresses and little lego/duplo figures, which makes it hard to take something away. The oldest one is more tidy and interested in sports and crafts. Play silks souds like just the right kind of toy for my girls! Could you give some more details? How big are they? How many?

  • Reply emily September 23, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    WHERE did you get those adorable little wooden animals? I picked some up from a toy store in Basel, Switzerland years ago but my dog made a snack of one of them, I’ve been looking to replace it ever since. Do tell!

    • Reply emily September 23, 2016 at 3:18 pm

      Ah I see you answered above. My bad!

  • Reply Devon October 11, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Boy, do I enjoy your site. Every time I visit I leave wanting to update or change something in my home and it always makes things better. I just went through our (few) toys yesterday and organized them more by type. I flip through and read your book often too. All of this is to say, I am a big fan of all you do and thank you for the inspiration!

    p.s. would you mind sharing where you got that beautiful blanket on your daughter’s bed? I’m sure it’s in your archive somewhere, but I couldn’t find it. With winter approaching, I’d love to get something similar for my daughter. Last year she was still in the bare-bed-baby-phase, so I’m looking forward to tucking her in with a snugly, warm blanket this time around. Thank you in advance!

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 11, 2016 at 3:02 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind words! The beautiful blanket in that shot was a gift to our family from Misha & Puff. It’s the coziest little thing and will no get lots of snuggles from the new baby. That said, it is more of a lovey size than a full crib size! You can learn more about the blanket and the women who made it here! They do have larger blankets too, like this one.

      • Reply Erin Boyle October 11, 2016 at 3:04 pm

        Whoops! Scratch that! Replied on the backend and thought you were commenting on a different post! This blanket was handknit by Faye by a family friend!

        • Reply Devon October 11, 2016 at 7:23 pm

          Thank you so much! How lucky for her, it’s beautiful and looks cozy. The other one is nice too.


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