Caring for Kids’ Spaces: Rotating Books and Toys and Knowing When to Downsize

The following is by editor Kara Fleck.

In April, I have been sharing with you some ways that I care for my children’s things.  Today, I want to talk with you about books and toys: namely, our rotation system for both.

We rotate books and toys because I feel like rotating allows us to have  less toys but enjoy them more.

What This Looks Like at Our House

Rotating Books

We have books that we rotate seasonally.  We also have books that we rotate according to our homeschool themes.  We have books for specific holidays, too.

I keep these books in baskets and I rotate them on a frequent basis. The baskets are in our loft/playroom and on our living room coffee table and in a few other kid-accessible spots.

I also have a small basket that I use to rotate board books from our collection for Lucy, my two year old.  I put two or three books at a time in there for her and she knows that is her basket.

Photo by Kara Fleck

My kids each have a bookshelf in their bedrooms with books  that are age and interest appropriate. The rest of the books are on our family bookshelves in our office/dining room.  The books in their rooms are rotated less frequently than the book baskets, but I do go through the shelves a few times a year and make changes.

My goal is the keep the children’s bookshelves and our book baskets from getting so congested that we can’t enjoy the books that we own.

Right now the kids’ personal bookshelves look like this:

  • My nine year old has about 2 dozen books on her shelf, including a book series she is currently reading, her Bible, and a few classics like Charlotte’s Web, The Phantom Tollbooth, and My Friend Flicka, among others.
  • My four year old son has a variety of bug books on his shelf, as insects are his current obsession.
  • My toddler has about half a dozen board books on her self, face out so that she can see the covers.

Beloved favorites stay on their shelves, like my son Max’s copy of Where the Wild Things Are.

Photo by Kara Fleck

Rotating Toys

We also rotate some of our toys. I generally do this with smaller toys that have many pieces, because it helps to keep them from getting mixed together if we only have one type of toy set like this out at a time.

I keep these toys in canvas bins and we have a cubby hole shelf.  Once a week or so, I switch out the bins in the cubbies with of one type for another.  Bins that aren’t in use get stored on shelves in a closet.  Having these items in bins makes it easy to just switch them out without any sorting or hassle.

That top photo with Jillian and Max playing in the middle of a sea of play mobil?  It is manageable because it is one category of small items at a time and not a sea of play mobil and duplo and lego (which, trust me, in my house would all be dumped on the floor at the same time).

My kids can play and take up space and make a mess, and when they are done, all of the toys go right back into the bins.

(Note: that top photo was actually taken last year, before I was using canvas bins for rotating toy storage.  At the time, I was using plastic totes, which worked fairly well for the quantity we had.  Later, I downsized the amount of small toys we had and the bins became a more efficient way to store and rotate these items.)

In Steady Days, Jamie Martin (known to many of you as Steady Mom and also as the editor of Simple Homeschool) mentions that her family rotates toys like:

  • Legos/Duplos
  • Matchbox cars
  • musical instruments
  • blocks
  • different types of dress up clothes
  • Mr. Potato Head
  • stuffed animals

They then use these items as part of a structured play rotation during the week. In Jamie’s words, “We rotate through several activities each week so that we actually use all the toys we have, without becoming bored.”

Photo by Kara Fleck

Rotating Craft Activities

In my family, we also rotate certain craft activities, in part because they come with a “mess factor” that I prefer to deal with only once a week.  We have a watercolor painting day and also a set day for playdough, too.

Is It Time to Downsize?

Sometimes, even with these toy and book rotation systems in place, our play areas can feel chaotic. Then I know I need to reevaluate what we own and make some decisions.  I try to follow the “one in, one out” rule, but that doesn’t always happen.  We can accumulate too much, despite good intentions.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the books and toys your children have? Are they having a hard time keeping things picked up?

When this happens at my house, despite our toy and book rotating, I know that it might be time to downsize.

First, ask yourself a few questions about the items:

  • Are items currently being played with? Have they been outgrown?  Are there broken or missing pieces that make them unusable?
  • Is the way these items are stored/displayed visually appealing? Is this a peaceful space?  Or a chaotic and cluttered space?  This impacts a child’s play environment.
  • Would less be more? If so, downsize.

When it comes to the actual methods of storage and the space, ask yourself:

  • Is there adequate storage space for the items? Do you need a larger bookshelf? Toy box?
  • Is there a better way to store or display the toys, books, art supplies or collection? Are you making the best use of your space?
  • Do those items deserve the investment of time and space for bigger storage? Do they enrich your child’s play and your family environment? Are the worth making room for?

If you come to the conclusion that your child is ready for a larger bookshelf or her collections needs a bigger storage space, and it is worth the investment of money and space to you, then you can make some adjustments with how you are using the space and bring in some other storage options.

However, if it isn’t worth it to you to get a larger storage system, then perhaps it is time to downsize to a more manageable amount.

Photo by Kara Fleck

Stuffed animals are one category of toys that seem to multiply at our house. Art supplies are another thing we accumulate quite a lot of: if we’re using those supplies or playing with those stuffed animals on a regular basis, wonderful.

But if items are just gathering dust and taking up space, I know it is time to let them go to make room for the supplies we truly use and love.

And, if items are worth keeping but you don’t have much space for their display and your child’s access to them, then consider rotating the books and toys.

Do you have a rotation system for books and/or toys? How do you handle knowing when it is time to downsize those items? What works at your house to keep toy and book clutter to a minimum, and still allow your family to enjoy these things? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at

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  1. We are now at the point where my boys use their X Box more than the other toys. We also find ourselves with an unexpected move in the next 8 weeks. I’m going to have to make some choices. We currently have plastic bins with the same cubby hole book case. I do like the cloth squares- I might go that route as I purge. Growing children and unexpected move- trying to find zen here. Failing miserably. Thanks for the encouragement.
    Christy´s latest post: 365- Saturday- April 16

  2. This is PERFECT timing. I was recently told by my mom that my kids have too many toys and they don’t respect what they have. Instead of being upset by that statement, I decided to think and pray about it. Use it at constructive criticism and take a hard look at what we have. We current have a play nook witha repurposed shelf we got at an auction. On it we have a shelf of puzzles, a shelf of games, a shelf of larger toys that don’t fit in a bin, and a drawer of dress up clothes (mostly hats and purses). My kids each have one small bin (the canvas kind shown in your pic) in a 2 cubby shelf. We have another 2 cubby shelf in the kitchen area with legos, play dough, and coloring stuff (things played at the table) In my opinion, that’s not “too many”, but I might look at more rotation. I love the idea of having the bins already filled in a closet for rotation. I know I have extra unused canvas bins (because each kid used to have 2 bins of stuff). I’m not sure what else we would put in them right now but I may have to think about that a little more (or could reserve those for future growth).

    Now, downstairs my kids have too many toys. We never play down there and at least half of the stuff is scheduled for an upcoming garage sale. I think that’s where I need to focus some downsizing time.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about. I’ll be interested to see what others say & do.

    • You’re welcome 🙂

      I can see the point about too many toys leading to not respecting them. I think toys can also become “noise” for some kids, too, if that makes since. If there are too many in the play environment it is just another form of chaos.

      I know I have noticed with Max’s toy cars especially that if we have too many, he just tosses them on his floor and even kicks them around. But, when I scale them back he will actually set them up on his shelves in a type of display when he is done playing.

      That is also another reason why we went from totes to smaller bins for play mobil. I started to notice the “game” becoming “dump the tote” instead of playing with the actual toys. They just had SO many. Limiting the number and space has improved the play and lessened the “dump it all!” mentality we had going on for a while (well, okay, Lucy still dumps things for the joy of it, but that is perhaps a two year old thing? LOL)
      Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Caring for Kids’ Spaces- Rotating Books and Toys and Knowing When to Downsize

  3. Fortunately, I have a fantastic background with organization and systems along with wisdom from friends about toy rotation. This helps to balance my tendency to gather and store. After becoming a mother, I put these skills to work…. but my daughter has her own way (of course). When attempting toy rotation, she would ask about whatever it was that had been stored, no matter how infrequently it had been played with. I found myself spending more time retrieving items from storage than it took to organize it all! There is no “hiding” anything from this child!

    I am a fan of incorporating multiple toys in imaginative play – extending the “family” of characters and possibilities, so I understand and support that creative play. We have great storage and ample space for toys to be displayed, but I feel like there are too many. What is amazing to me is that she plays with everything! Any time I rotate books or toys out, they are missed. Since she is very good about cleaning up afterwards and putting everything away “in it’s home,” we have continued on with a plethora of playthings.

    Some things are becoming outgrown and she will happily pass those on to someone else or put them in a box for younger friends who come over. I feel myself balancing on a precipice, though, about to be overrun by way too much. We are having trouble paring down playsets and I wonder how to best address the “less is more” way of being with my child (3 years old). Since I can’t sneak anything away, we have to discuss it.

    I want to make sure that there is room for homeschooling materials and she still has space to play, play, play (and always in my mind the possibility of welcoming more children into the family). I will probably have her help develop a rotation system, especially so she knows that her toys are still in the house even if they are not on the shelves, and she can decide what is available each month. Perhaps this will help her to see which playthings can begin to find other homes. ???

    What a journey! Thank you for creating this space for us to share.
    julie´s latest post: S is for

    • Julie, I think a big help for my child who doesn’t like to let go of anything and notices, much like your daughter it sounds like, when anything is missing, was – just as you said – the knowledge that while these things we rotate are out of sight, they aren’t gone. We still own them, they just aren’t out right now.

      Yes, I see the benefits of multiple types of toys in creative play, too – mixing blocks, dolls, play silks, etc. for example. And, that kind of play happens on a regular basis here, as well.

      However, for those types of toys with small parts (like the lego) and with younger siblings and babies in the house, it is easier on me to have just one of that type of small object collection out and in play rotation at a time.

      Good luck with finding a balance that makes both of you happy 🙂
      Best wishes!
      Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Caring for Kids’ Spaces- Rotating Books and Toys and Knowing When to Downsize

  4. I appreciate the getting-down-to-brass-tacks approach here. I tried to start a toy rotation at the end of the summer–and those rotated-out rubbermaid bins are still in waiting in the very back corner of the basement. I’m going to put these tips into action, starting with the books in the kids’ rooms!
    Anne´s latest post: How to Cook Without a Book

  5. Thanks so much for this post. I have been feeling like I can’t keep up with Sammy’s toys and books in the last month or so. I did a big purge last year and re-organized how I did things. However, I have been feeling like things are taking over again!! I need to go through stuff again and get things ready for the yard-sale we are having. Then determine if I need more space or different containers to store the things I am keeping!
    Lindsay @ BytesOfMemory´s latest post: Steph Came for a Visit

    • Lindsay, I think toys are one of those areas where the job is never “done” if you know what I mean. Our kids grow and change and so do their preferences and readiness for different types of toys.

      And, yes, sometimes the key to keeping it all under control isn’t to let things go that are used and cherish, but to find a better way to store those things and to make sure their “home” has adequate space – whether that is a shelf, a toy box, or whatever the system is.

      Good luck!
      Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Caring for Kids’ Spaces- Rotating Books and Toys and Knowing When to Downsize

  6. Thanks so much for this timely post! We have a move coming up in the next couple of months and I’m really looking forward to a fresh start in a new home. I’d like to make the most use of our playspace as possible, and I think the key will be in keeping things organized, and I love the idea of toy rotation. Like a lot of kids, my two are more apt to play with something they haven’t seen in a while, and get overwhelmed if they have too many choices.

  7. I always like to see the way others handle the toy clutter. With 4 kids and another on the way, I’ve really, really cut back on what toys my kids have. Another thing that helps us is that when birthdays or Christmas comes around instead of buying a new toy we often just get something that goes with what we already have. More Legos or Playmobile, for instance, are a lot easier to just add to a collection than it is to find room for something totally new. I’d have mutiny on my hands, though if I tried to pack up my sons Legos 🙂 He really doesn’t play with anything else so that’s all he has in his room along with a table to display his creations. I will say he keeps them sorted in bins and doesn’t ever dump them out so they stay pretty neat. Same goes with my girl’s play food and dishes it’s played with daily and stays out. We do have one bin of toys that are rotated through and other things like my girl’s Legos, Playmobile, blocks, etc are put up in the closet (in bins similar to yours) I’ll get one thing at a time down for them to play with and that has to be picked up before any other thing is gotten down. This is working well for us right now.

  8. My ears weren’t burning (just saw your tweet when I came here!), but I’m so happy to see how toy rotation has worked out so well for you, Kara. Thank you for your glowing words.

    And yes, the Mr. Potato Heads were out in full force this morning. We also have Lincoln Logs and a cool marble run set of blocks that we rotate — you’re right, I find that I tend to rotate the sets with lots of smaller parts. When the kids were younger, I had a toy rotation list, but now I just pick something at random or the kids might ask for something specific.

    Make it work for you!

  9. When the kidlets were little, we rotated toys and books also. I know that if you have the kids help in cleaning out or downsizing, nothing will ever be tossed or donated so I would keep an eye what was actually played with. Periodically I would ask our kids if they still wanted something and if not maybe another child could love it. I just say Toy Story 3 and it may be helpful in letting go of some out played toys.
    Paula@Simply Sandwich´s latest post: Ear Plugs Plueeeze

  10. I really enjoyed this post. Thank you!

    We’re not super-organized about when and how our toys get rotated – it’s more of a seasonal thing for us. In the winter when we are playing indoors a lot I bring the train table and various accessories up from the basement and plop it all down in the middle of the living room.

    Once spring comes and we’re back outdoors every chance we can be, I tuck that baby and all the little buckets of tiny pieces right back downstairs.

    Tonight my kids are sleeping inside a wooden playhouse that we bought when they were toddlers. It has been in the basement for a couple of years now due to a lack of floor space so when I pulled it out of the basement this morning it was was totally new to them and building it together was the perfect way to start our school vacation!

    As for the Legos, blocks, Lincoln Logs etc. we have a “one-a-time shelf” for anything with multiple pieces, which works great. I wrote about it a couple of years back:

    Books are a challenge for us. Definitely have some work to do there.

  11. I had noticed how over the last week or so, the majority of the toys were remaining untouched and the preschooler and toddler were looking for other things to play with.

    I try to rotate the toys on a quarterly basis, so today’s rotation was a little over due. The main changes I made were to cater for the new interests of the children.

  12. I keep the kids stuffed animals stored in an under-the-bed clothing storage bag. Then, we rotate the animals that actually stay out on the bed. Each child is allowed no more than three on their bed at a time. It has worked great for us!

  13. These are very good tips. Kids don’t need to have access to everything that you own at their disposal. Having less stuff at their fingertips gives them opportunity to actually play with things and also not make a really big mess.
    I also like the idea of structured play times, we did this when we were homeschooling and I had my grandchildren living with us.
    Thanks for sharing !
    Living the Balanced Life´s latest post: Stop the Work-Spend-Accumulate Cycle

  14. Hi, Love this post. We have been working on downsizing toys for my 2.5 year old. And now I am working on the books. WHat I did…and I haven’t posted a picture is I took gallon and 2.5 galloon ziplock bags with the zipper…and put all of her individual toys in there. Then I hung up a 2nd rod from her clothing and hung the bags with kids hangers. It is working fantastically. Everything is organized and easy to find. I am planning on taking pictures of everything and creating a book. SO I remember what she has and she can look and tell me too. We will see if that happens. 🙂 I look forward to reading more of your posts as right now all of her books are spread out across our floor.

  15. At our house, we sometimes take toys to live over at Grandma & Grandpas house so that it will be like there are some new toys to play with if he hasn’t been there in awhile. Also, at least twice a year we go through the toys and decide which ones he’s outgrown and decide together to either give the toys away to Goodwill or to sell them at a garage sale where he will get the profits from the sale of his toys to save towards purchasing a new toy or something else that he may want.
    Kimberly´s latest post: Why Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution Doesn’t Always Work

  16. This post is very timely! 🙂 I just went through all of the toys in my daughter’s room and got rid of a bunch of them. Her room was constantly messy and she wasn’t playing with the toys she had because of all the mess. I went through her toys with her and we decided together what to get rid of. She did surprisingly well. It looks much better now! And its much easier for her to keep neat.

    For the rest of the kids toys, I have a “toy cabinet” (that I think is actually supposed to be for displaying dishes.) All the different “sets” or “categories” of toys are together in a basket. Then, the kiddos can choose which basket they want to play with. If they want to change toys, the first basket needs to be picked up and put up before another comes out. I think they play better with only a few things out.
    Also, am I the only mean mom who gets rid of toys with too many small pieces? I just got rid of the “Don’t Spill the Beans” game because I have been finding those blasted beans all over my house for weeks. It had to go. 🙂
    Kate from Kinda Crunchy Kate blog´s latest post: Adventures in Gardening- Planting!

  17. As the father of two young boys 20 months and 3yrs I really like the section about downsizing. My wife and I are always trying to decide what to take and what to leave in the boys rooms and toy boxes. And of course it never fails that when you start to get rid of something thats what they end up playing with for the next two I guess that is proof that we need to start rotating toys more. Thanks for the great article!

  18. I was thinking of leaving some of the toys behind, and taking with those those are still useful and has a bigger value, but my kids insist to bring everything, we are about to move to Australia and packing everything would mean an extra space on the apartment, I’m really confused about this, but I am sure to bring all their collectibles like the hotwheels, lego and barbie
    TODDLERS´s latest post: Toddler Links And Resources

  19. So many wonderful ideas!! Our problem is the annual influx of toys between September and January as we have 3 kid birthdays + Christmas within that time. I am quite ruthless about passing on my own books to others, less so about getting rid of the kids’ books. We do store our Christmas-related books til Advent, but have a 4×4 Expedit that is 3/4 full of kid books. I chuck the My Little Pony garbage and keep it filled with really good ones, and my girls are big readers, but still – time to purge, especially since some of these books are about me revisiting my childhood favorites.

    I feel like I need a tiered system of rotation: one for toys & crafts, and smaller bins for specific “quiet time” items for the non-nappers.


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