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6 Steps to Creating a Toy Rotation System that Works

In this post: discover why creating a toy rotation system is the secret to unlocking more creative play and reducing the toy overwhelm you feel in your home. 

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My kids (ages 5 & 2.5) can clean up their play area or bedrooms in less than 10 minutes.  

Yes, you read that right.  Under 10 minutes.  Start to finish.  

Sounds appealing, doesn’t it?  If you are overwhelmed with toy clutter, you are not alone!  Spend an afternoon with moms for a playdate or read in a social media family forum for a few minutes- the topic will always pop up!  

Spaces are being overrun with kid toys and clutter, and parents are constantly seeking ways to confine it!  The good news is that it is possible to develop an easy-to-implement toy rotation system that will tame the mess and improve the value of your child’s play.

little girl putting out toy rotation toys from drawer.

What is Toy Rotation?

Toy rotation is a system in which you divide the toys in your home into smaller, more manageable groups, and swap them out on a schedule.  Rotating toys is a no-cost way to increase novelty and interest when it comes to your kids and toys. 

Toy Rotation Benefits 

1. Less physical clutter

The obvious benefit of creating a toy rotation system is that it greatly reduces the amount of toys out at once. This allows clean up to be a lot more manageable.  Never spend your evenings trying to reset your spaces from a toy explosion again!

In my opinion, this might be the biggest benefit of toy rotation.  It is so nice not to have to spend loads of time cleaning up after my kids.  Less time picking up means more time spent on things that actually matter to me, like playing with them!

2. Higher quality play

Toy rotation is also a great way to organize toys for high-quality play.  Children learn as they experience a new toy or play with an old toy in a new way.  By creating a system where you rotate toys on a systematic basis, kids get exposure to a variety of toys more regularly.  

Since your children won’t see the same toys all the time, they are more likely to engage with their toys on a deeper level.  This is a sign of true play and is great for little, developing brains!

3. Reduces Overstimulation

Too many options can be overwhelming.  Ever notice how hard it is to narrow down a purchase as an adult when there are too many choices?  I’ve stared at the varieties in the tea aisle at the grocery store longer than I’d like to admit!  

That same feeling can happen to kiddos when faced with the option of too many toys to play with.  An overwhelmed kid is a disengaged kid. By reducing the variety provided at any one time, you reduce the chance of your children becoming overwhelmed by options.

4.  Less clean up frustrations

You get overwhelmed by a giant mess you have to clean at the end of the day. So do your kids.  If we want to encourage good habits for taking care of possessions, we have to teach our children how to do it.  Having a toy rotation system can help.  Since there are less toys out at any given time, there’s less overwhelm when it comes to cleaning up.  Children can quickly and easily tidy their own spaces and enjoy the feeling of a clean room that’s inviting for their next play session.

How to rotate toys

The good thing about toy rotation is that it isn’t incredibly scientific or specific.  Your goal is to simply provide a smaller grouping of toys for your children to engage with at a given time.  

To begin rotating toys, pull together all the toys in your home into one space. Scour the playroom, grab bins from the bedroom, and wrangle Lego from the living room. In order to create a rotation system, you need to see what types of toys you are working with and how many you have.  

If you become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of stuff you have just collected, go ahead and go through the process of decluttering and organizing your children’s toys as you sort.  Bring a trash bag to the toy rotation party and toss any toys that are broken, junky, or just not worth the energy to pass on to someone else.  I’m looking at you, Happy Meal toys!  

Note: Ensure your children are a part of this process.  You don’t want to throw out or donate their belongings without them being a part of the process.  I know that’s not exciting news to hear, but we’re trying to model and teach respect for our home by decluttering.  Throwing out their stuff while they are not looking will often teach the opposite lesson.

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How do you categorize toys for rotation?

Once you have decluttered and have your collection of toys together begin creating toy rotation categories by sorting into categories by similar style or function.  Stuffed animals here, building toys there, books in this stack, and so on.  

Creating categories helps you see which toys you have based on how they are played with. This way you can have a variety of toys represented in each rotation.  

Note: If you notice there are a lot of a particular item, consider keeping the favorites and donating the excess.  This rule is great for things like Hot Wheels, blocks, and games.

While groupings can vary, some toy rotation categories could be building, play figures, stuffed animals, puzzles, vehicles, games, or imaginative play. A great rotation system will have toys represented from each type of play group. 

How often should you rotate toys?

When it comes to how often you rotate toys, that is a personal preference.  Many people choose to rotate toys weekly, or twice a month, while some families rotate daily. The frequency of your toy rotation will be tied to how many rotation sets you create.  If you divide your toys into categories and you can create 7 distinct groupings, you might try daily rotation.  Or, if you have 4 sets of toys to rotate, you might try rotating weekly.  

A good rule of thumb is to leave the toys out long enough that your children have gotten a chance to immerse themselves in play with the selection, but not so long that they are bored of the choices in the group.  Observe how your kiddos interact with the collection and make adjustments as you see fit.

How many toys do you need for a toy rotation? 

There is no specific amount of toys needed to start a rotation system.  Have a goal to have at least one toy from each category present in each rotation (or one for each kiddo, if they’ll fight over the one toy dino or train).  So, if you can divide the toys into four distinct groupings, aim for that.  If you have more or less, adjust the groupings accordingly. 

How many toys should be out?

When determining how many toys to have out at once, a good goal is to ensure that the amount of toys out encourages imaginative play without also producing overwhelm.  Too many toys, kids get overwhelmed with choice and don’t engage deeply in play.  Too few toys, they struggle to have the tools they need to do the things they imagine.  

You’ll likely adjust things as you experiment, but a good goal is to have enough toys that children can engage easily in creative play, while simultaneously not causing overwhelm when it comes to cleaning up.  

For our boys, our rotation system is currently two bins, and we rotate toys twice a month.  However, this is a recent change, so time will tell if I will stick to this schedule, or break it down smaller into 4 toy groupings to swap.

bookcase of toys and books for toy rotation

What do I do with the toys that aren’t out?

It’s important to keep the rotation toys that are not being used out of sight and out of mind.  If you have a storage area you can place them in for easy access, that can be a great option.  If not, consider what types of containers you will store the toys in, and then swap out similar bins each time.  

For example, if you have a storage cabinet like this one, you can have the toys you are keeping out sorted into the cubes, and have another set of cubes waiting in the wings.  Then, swapping out is as simple as taking one cube out and putting another cube in. 

We have our rotation toys in a sealed, plastic container in the storage area of our basement.  Since our playroom is in the finished area, it’s a convenient, quick process to swap them out. We have two containers like this that we store our items in.  We also scored this fantastic play table from Pottery Barn on Facebook Marketplace, so the toys that are in use go in the drawers below the table.   

Whatever you choose, keep in mind that if it’s super inconvenient or a lot of work to manage, you won’t actually do it. Work to create a toy rotation system that is easy to store and swap.

When do I rotate toys?

With younger kids, it’s probably best not to pack up one set of toys and get out another when they are around.  Unless you like the cries of the overdramatic.  Instead, opt for switching out containers during nap time or after the kiddos have gone to bed.  

What do I do with large toys or favorite toys in a toy rotation system?

It never fails that as you are sorting toys for your rotation system that you’ll have to make some decisions about bigger toys or favorite items.  

If you have a few larger items that fit the same category (like riding toys), consider leaving one out and storing the other.  Larger, more open ended toys such as a a dollhouse, workbench, or play kitchen, can be left out in the play area.  As you rotate toys, those larger items will be foundational pieces for your children’s creativity. 

When deciding about favorite toys, think about how the toys are used.  Are they open-ended and used to support various other types of play? If so, consider leaving them out all the time (we do this with Lego at our house).  Otherwise, consider splitting them into rotation groups and see how it goes. You can always pull the items back out and keep them out full time if it doesn’t work well for your family.

Toy rotation age suggestions

Creating a toy rotation system has so many benefits for child development, it’s best to start sooner than later!  Whether you have a baby, toddlers, a five or six year old, or older, all kids can benefit from this system.

The younger the child is when you begin the process, the easier it is to implement and manage a toy rotation system.  They get used to the process of swapping out toys and it becomes part of their lives.

Have older kids? All is not lost.  The benefits are great for all developmental stages, so don’t shy away from giving it a try just because they are not babies or toddlers.

Give toy rotation a try!

It can feel overwhelming to tackle something new.  Creating a toy rotation system is no different.  However, following these tips will give you a guide to the process.  

The time it will take to create this system will change based upon how many toys you have to sort, so don’t be discouraged if it seems to take longer than you’d expect.  If you gather all the toys in one place and become completely overwhelmed, take a deep breath and begin analyzing what items you can declutter.

Change is a process.  Every step toward your goal is a step in the right direction.  So dig in, follow these suggestions, and know that a more restful- and less stressful- abode is waiting for you!

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