We’ve all been there. You leave your kids alone in the playroom (or their bedrooms) for a while. Or you’re unable to supervise pick up for a few days. Or they have a friend or two visit. It doesn’t always happen the same way twice. But it does happen to everybody at some point.

The toys are dumped, scattered, thrown to the wind. The mess is 4 feet deep and 10 feet wide. A completely insurmountable pile of cars, blocks, dolls, crayons and play food. Or maybe I’m just talking about my house. That picture above? I took it the morning I was inspired to write this.

Kids have been making messes and throwing toys from the dawn of time. My advice isn’t going to change that. But it will make the mess more manageable.

A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place

This is an old organizational rule but applies a thousand times to toy clutter. If each toy doesn’t have a home, then your room will never be organized or look neat. I also recommend culling to just the right number of toys to fit the storage you have. Adding more boxes and bins just creates more opportunity for messes. Too many toys can also overwhelm a small child making it more difficult to focus and play with just one thing at a time. Fewer toys that all have a place make it easier for children to play and clean.

Your House is Not a Toy Store

The toy industry is an amazing marketing machine, especially when it comes to baby toys. Unfortunately, we really bought into this during The Big One’s first year. I thought we were being smart about what she actually needed, but in retrospect we purchased a lot of extra stuff. It’s a mistake many first time parents make. Your child will grow and develop just fine without all of the latest and greatest toys in the store.

This problem was only exacerbated by the twins’ birth when we started getting double of some toys. With two babies, we need two of everything, right? Wrong. There are very few toys (or even gear) that I found we needed 2. Most of the time, they don’t play with their toys simultaneously, so one of each is plenty. There are a few exceptions (Magnadoodles come to mind) and there are fights over toys, but from what I’ve seen the fights happen no matter whether there is one or two of the toy.

One In, One Out

Whenever your child gets a new toy, donate a toy. This keeps things from getting too out of control. In theory, the donated toy would be similar to the new toy – doll for doll or truck for car. In reality, though, we tend to get rid of outgrown baby toys when a new toy comes into the house – it’s more like doll for rattle.

Monthly Rotations

Once you’ve culled your toys to what fits in your storage space, you don’t necessarily have to get rid of everything else. We keep boxes of toys in a separate room and change them out from time to time. For example, right now the Megablocks are out and available for play and the wooden alphabet blocks are in storage. Next month, I’ll switch them around. This keeps the kids from getting too bored with toys and allows a parent to provide “new” toys without actually spending more money or needing more space.

Experience Gifts

If you’re like me, you have friends and family who all love your children. Don’t get me wrong, this is great and I’m happy about it. But it does mean more stuff in the playroom. None of my kids received first birthday gifts from us because there was just so much coming in from other people. Ask for experience gifts instead of toys. We haven’t paid for our zoo membership for 3 years. We haven’t paid for a membership to our local children’s museum either. I think I’m going to ask for tickets to Yo Gabba Gabba Live for Christmas this year. Even a pack of movie tickets could be a good gift. When someone asks what your child wants for his birthday, focus on things to do rather than toys or books. Tickets take up virtually no space and memberships keep on giving all year long.