Monday, August 16, 2010

Tackle the toy box

Today I received this email:

Dear Simplified by Sarah:
My toddler's toybox is always a mess. It's hard keeping toys organized within one big box. I would like to find assorted-sized mesh bags in which I could grouped his toys by type. This should make it easier to find various items within the toybox. Sounds like a good idea, right?

Unfortunately, in doing a quick search on Amazon, I come up empty-handed; I'd rather not spend more than a dollar or two per bag. I suppose we could do zip lock bags, but he won't have much chance of opening and closing those on his own.

Do you have any tips on where we might find sheer/mesh organizing bags on the cheap?

Thank you!
A Loyal Reader

This is a great question and I would love for you parents out there to offer your own solutions in the comments.

In the meantime, I'll give it a stab. 

To recap, the reader is looking for some sort of storage containers that are:
  • cheap ($1-2 each) 
  • preferably mesh bags of assorted sizes
  • easy for a toddler to open and close 
  • transparent (I added this! Clearly the parent and child would want to see the contents of each storage container.) 
My first thought: mesh wash bags.  These come in various sizes and are typically used to launder delicate clothing. The example to the left comes from Anna's Linens and includes two bags for $3.99.

I then did a Google search for "mesh storage bags" and got several neat (but expensive) results:
Intended for use by coaches, these bags are color-coded and tabbed for each player on a team. However, this would be a great way to keep like toys organized. Unfortunately, they cost $5.46 each.

Although mesh bags seem like a great and easy idea, I could not find inexpensive bags, nor do I like the thought of having to order multiple unmatched bags from various websites. 

Instead of mesh bags, I'd recommend purchasing various sizes of big Ziploc bags. They're cheap, durable, and come in L, XL and XXL. Purchase gallon sizes and under with the easy zip feature for smaller toy groupings.

If bags are not your speed, I'd go for plastic totes with a hinged lid. The ones I found on Amazon cost $20.80 for a dozen. 

Ideally, though, you'd find plastic boxes that stand vertically and have a lid on top, which would allow for easy access to the toys inside. Kind of like this but bigger:

Or how about clear stacking bins that fit snugly inside of the toy box?
Perhaps I could interest you in not-terribly-cheap IRIS storage bins of assorted sizes intended for pet food? (Casters can be removed.)

Although there's no one solution, I hope some of the above leads help. And I might even suggest placing smaller Ziploc bags into plastic storage containers to further organize items as needed; this is a step beyond the simple notion to keep like things together.



  1. Well, my husband claims he should have purchased stock in rubbermaid when our daughter came along. So organizing toys, let's just say been there, done that. Here are some points I would add to the above:

    Keep it simple enough for the child to (sooner than later) do this his or herself.

    The 'futzier' your system for toy storage, and the fussier you are about it, the longer you doom yourself to being the one responsible for cleaning up the toys. Toybox = pen and pencil drawer. Close it, and look away. Having said that, it's also a balance between not being the one who has to put all the toys away, and not being the one who has to constantly find the missing piece at the bottom of the toy box!

    Things with many small pieces don't belong in the toybox.

    Puzzles, board games, etc do well back in their original boxes and kept on bookshelves. Blocks, legos, matchbox cars, doll clothes and shoes, train tracks, all do well in open bin storage. They can get heavy, so you may wish to go low and wide rather than tall and cool-looking. Plus you don't want to be the one who has to take things off and put them on the shelves all the time.

    Make sure your chosen containers are up to the task.

    Plastic bags are not toys and should be kept away from small children. I think I read that somewhere, once.... Don't put ziploc bags in a toybox for a toddler. They are great for the toys you store away, and will be great for the polly pockets, playmobil, and other tiny little plastic things that your child will play with when they are older. Yes, you are supervising your toddler, I know that. But you want them to play and put away these toys independently, even if only for a couple minutes. So don't put plastic bags in there.

    Mesh bags are awesome for toddler toys for oh so many reasons. Among these, air circulation and washability. Trust me, sticky fingers on a plastic toy that gets sealed away in a ziploc bag = eeew. But for toys that are in and out of mouth, and dishwasher safe, the entire mesh bag can go top rack! I got mine at Target, and there are many choices out there. Keep in mind that they are often intended for laundering delicates, so the zippered ones have zippers that are tiny and break easily. The drawstring ones will be less frustrating, but come with their own safety concerns and do tangle. Both problems easily solved by scissors.

    Not all plastic bins/boxes/shelves are sturdy enough for kids' use.

    You want laundry basket plastic, not inbox plastic. Clear plastic cracks and/or shatters when hit just the right way by a tossed matchbox car (or little people train, or whatever other toy you insert here). It's just too brittle for this kind of daily abuse. Because face it, they aren't always going to place the toy, they are going to toss it.

    Lids pose another difficulty - make sure your child can open and close them her or himself, without pinching anything. Ikea carries a bunch of plastic containers in a wide variety of sizes that we have used with great success. Tiny ones with flip top lids, larger ones with lids that nest on top rather than snap on, and they are stackable as long as they aren't overstuffed.

    But if you can avoid it, don't run out and buy a lot of stuff to store toys. Look around your home, there may be lots of things you can repurpose.

    Wipe boxes. My favorite thing to store toys in, the perfect size for crayons and markers, puzzles whose boxes have fallen apart, etc....

    String bags. Like for going to the market in Paris. Do you have any of those hanging around? Also breathable and washable.

    Reusable shopping bags, canvas totes, all can be used as open bin storage.

  2. FANTASTIC tips, Jen! Thank you!

  3. I believe that the simplest solution is often the best one, so I feel compelled to say one more thing related to this post. Last night, my friend (a mom) pointed out a very fundamental notion: If the toybox isn't working, get rid of it. Use smaller soft/cloth bins that children can easily reach into, dump out and pick up on their own. Just some additional food for thought!

  4. Hi Sarah. Great blog! Just wanted to leave a tip that I bought mesh laundry bags last week at the Dollar Tree...for a dollar of course! I'm sure they could be repurposed for kids' toys storage. They had multiple sizes available.


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