How to Teach Your Child to Clear Up Toys - What Works and What Doesn't
@ Pritika Nair · Saturday, Dec 19, 2020 · 12 minute read · Update at Dec 19, 2020

Boy lying in toy mess

House photo created by freepik -

They’re literally everywhere. In their bedroom and yours. In the hall, on the couch and under, behind the curtains. In the kitchen and even in the shower! Well, there’s no place in the house you wouldn’t find them.

Toys - your child’s best playmate - can be found everywhere but in their original home (the racks/shelves/storage boxes you so fondly created for them). Well, that’s what kids love to do and are best at - making a mess.

Unless all of the toys on the shelf/box are pulled out onto the floor, kids don’t seem to find what they’re looking for! And of course, once they do, who bothers about putting all of the stuff back? That’s mom’s job, they think.

Not anymore, little buddy, because your mom’s got a hell lot of other work in the house. So, it’s time for you to help her out. Make a small start by cleaning up your toy clutter after you’re done playing.

Every mom wants to say this to her li’l one but doesn’t know if they’d actually listen or whether they’ve even grown up enough to do this. Do you know you can train a 1-year-old to clean up toys after they’re done playing? I did and it works.

After writing my previous post on the amazing benefits of buying fewer toys for your kids, I thought of sharing some helpful tips on how stto get your child to take care of the toys they already own. So here I am. Let’s begin.

But First, Why is it All That Important to Get Your Child to Clean Up?

Well, there are a 101 reasons why you should. Most of them leaning in your favor, of course :) But several of them prove that instilling this essential discipline in your child at a young age is sure to take them far on the journey of becoming a responsible adult.

Here are some reasons I can share why this practice will help both you and your li’l one:

  1. It means lesser work for you in the day. You’re stressed and bogged down by the tons of things you gotta finish by the end of the day (which, by the way, never happens with us moms). Why add an extra chore which you’d end up doing several times a day?

  2. It’s a great idea to make your kid responsible for their belongings at an early age. Believe me, it’s never too early. The sooner, the better.

  3. Toy clutter in their room or anywhere in the house can often be unsafe for not just the child but even adults. There are chances of someone tripping over and getting hurt. You may not always be able to keep an eye out for the mess; better train your young one to do it soon after they’re done.

  4. Your child would love the cleared up, huge open space to run around and enjoy once there’s no toy clutter spread around. All the more reason for them to get started.

Kids are way smarter than you. You need to know exactly how to deal with them when training them to do something which doesn’t top their favorites list.

Tips and Tricks to Teach Kids to Clean Up Toys

Every mom has different experiences and some tips work for some while a few others may not. Precisely because every child’s different too. So here I detail both - the ones that worked for me and some others that didn’t - to help you out in the best way possible. Be assured, once you try these out, you will be able to reach a stage where your child would be cleaning up. And very soon, every single time they’re done playing!

Tricks that Work with Kids

Tip 1# Get into the cause-and-effect mode

Kids learn best through the cause-and-effect phenomenon. This is why you’d need to explain to them first just why this activity is so important for them and what would be its benefits.

Of course, a toddler may not be able to understand it as yet. But you can start getting them to doing it and then as they grow older, explain to them the benefits of the activity so it keeps them going later on.

Tip 2# Start early

Yes, as early as they’re 1 year old. Of course, at that stage, your child may just be able to place back one or two toys to their respective places upon you asking them to do so. But that’s a great start.

All you need to do is keep drilling this idea into their head every day (preferably by day end when it’s time for bed). Make sure your child understands and follows simple instructions from you. Once they can, they will oblige.

As the child grows older, you’d see them do this on an everyday basis on their own (without letting you know!) Encourage them to clear up on specific times of the day too, say, when they’re heading out to the park.

Tell them that before stepping out of the house, they should clean up the mess and then they can go. Most of the times, they’d oblige but you need to stay firm to make this work.

Tip 3# Keep separate storage areas

If you maintain a large box or bucket to pile away your kid’s toys, there’s bound to be a mess every single time. Why? Your child will never be able to find the toy they’re looking for from that pool. And, in order to locate it, they’d find it the easiest to drop everything else onto the floor. Thus the mess.

Instead, keep separate storage areas such as racks/shelves or perhaps different boxes to store different categories of their toys. Place all of their toys neatly onto the racks.

Do this activity with them. Ask them to place each toy onto the shelf themselves. Once done, praise them for the effort while also letting them know that this rack would stay neat every day if they did the same every single time after playing.

Storage racks and shelves work way better than boxes. Even if you separate toys into different boxes, kids find it hard to keep them organized.

Tip 4# Choose child-safe storage boxes and shelves

Ensure that the storage boxes are safe for kids to handle, particularly toddlers. You don’t want your child hurting their fingers getting stuck while opening or closing the boxes several times a day.

Tip 5# Avoid vague instructions

Be very specific on how you want the toys to be kept back and where. Else you’d soon notice that your child would simply throw away all the pile of toys into the rack just to finish the given task. You want to clear the mess outside, not to be clearing up another one inside the rack!

Tip 6# Buy less

I know it’s hard to say ‘no’ to a child every single time. I also know it’s difficult to abide by this rule because there will be multiple occasions in a year when you just have to buy toys for your kids.

But it’s not impossible to follow this as a practice and slowly move toward less-cluttered, more neat and organized play spaces. Sometimes a firm ‘no’ is needed if you know they already have several toys of the same variety.

Try to buy and keep age-specific toys for your child while letting go of the ones they’ve outgrown. This way, they’d have fewer, more relevant, options to play with and also find it easier to clear up later. The more toys in the room, the more mess it’d result in.

And anyway if your child has already outgrown a toy for their age, chances are they’re never going to touch them because they’ve lost interest in it. If you still want to retain those toys for another child (sibling/someone in need), just keep them away in a separate area.

Sometimes kids don’t play with some toys but find it hard to let go of them, promising you that they will play with it, thereby tricking you into keeping it. In this case, simply rotate the toys you know they don’t play much with and replace the shelf with the ones they love the most.

This way there will still be fewer (and more relevant) toys to play with while their other favorites can sit pretty elsewhere. Six months after, just rotate them again.

YOU MAY WANT TO READ: Less is More - Did You Know Fewer Toys are Actually Good for Your Child?

Tip 7# Offer an incentive or reward

This always works, for kids love the concept of prize. If you want your li’l one to listen to you and quickly wrap up the cleanup, offer them a prize. In some cases, giving them a reward at the end of the task is enough to lure them into doing it. But in some others, you might have to offer an early incentive before beginning the task itself.

Either way, what matters here is that you praise the child for their effort. Remember to do this every single time to keep them going without you having to nag behind. You can limit or even stop the reward system later on as they get used to the practice. But continue the praises. Your child would always appreciate you praising their effort in front of others.

Tip 8# Make it a routine

Kids learn better through repetition. Anything introduced to them repeatedly is sure to register with them at some point in time. Make sure they do this activity every day, preferably each time, like a daily routine. Also ensure that you don’t give in regularly to their demand of “Ma, you do it just this one time.” Include it as part of their daily play routine and let them follow this diligently.

Kids clearing up their stuff

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Tip 9# Break down big cleanups into smaller tasks

If the toys are spread out in all parts of the house, perhaps it’d be a better idea to break down the larger task into smaller ones. Ask one child to take care of one area and the others to clear up the remaining ones.

If there’s only one child, either you can help out in the beginning by sharing the load. Better still, ask them to clear up one area at a time and pick out toys from the other areas in the house later during the day.

Tip 10# Lead the trend

Kids learn through observation, and more often, they tend to copy any act they see around. This is why it’s extremely important that to teach your child to clear up toys on their own, you first lead them by setting a good example.

For the first few times, do the cleanup yourself but always make sure that they’re watching you keenly. It’d be best if you involve them in the act. Make it sound like a game. Start clearing up and call them out to join the game by helping out. Just after a few times of doing this consistently, kids would follow suit, sometimes even without you initiating it.

What Didn’t Work With Me

Kids are smart, actually smarter than you, nearly always. This is why you’d need to know exactly how to deal with them when training them to do something which isn’t on the top of their favorites list.

I have learned a few tricks along my journey of trying to raise independent and responsible kids, some of which worked sure shot and some didn’t (which made me tweak my ways to better deal with them).

1. Don’t command or order

I know it’s only natural to do so, especially when you see a whole mess before you and you’re already stressed out by day end. But believe it or not, your kids would start obeying you more and happily oblige to commands when you make the task sound like a fun thing to do.

Avoid saying “Clear this up right now!” and replace it with “Let’s put away all these toys before we go to bed. Your toys are also feeling sleepy and they need to go back to their home to sleep for the night.”

Make it like a game where the child feels that the toys live in their respective racks or shelves and they too need to sleep/rest there. If there is more than one child, let them get into a race where you check with a timer who does the cleanup faster! If your child likes songs, create a small song or pick one online which they all can sing during the activity each time.

2. Allow them to finish what they’re doing

If the child has made a mess and is now in the middle of another task, say doing their homework or eating or just playing something, let them. Avoid asking them to leave everything else that very moment and get to the cleanup. They either get irritable or wouldn’t really do the task happily.

If you want your child to make this a habit, they need to enjoy it. Asking them to leave what they’re doing would disturb them and they may even start detesting the practice altogether. It’s the same with us adults too, right? We don’t like interruptions or distractions in our work, then why should they?

Give your child a 5-minute notice, asking them to finish what they’re doing and then clear up the mess as soon as possible.

3. Avoid doing it when they’re cranky

Even if the child has to do it before bedtime, it should be ideally way before their actual sleep time. This is because they’d be tired and sleepy by then and asking them to clear up a whole clutter can sound a bit overwhelming.

The same applies to when they’re hungry or upset over something, basically all those times you know your child’s acting “cranky”. Ask them to clean up when they’re active, hale and hearty.

Final Words from Stay at Home Mummy

Children can be molded from a very tender age. And we all want to mold them into responsible and well-mannered young adults. Make a small but helpful start early on and reap its benefits forever.

How do you make your li’l one clean up after playing? I’d love to know so please leave a comment below. If you found these tips helpful, don’t forget to share the post with other parents in your network.

For more such helpful posts, you can follow me on various social media platforms. And if you subscribe to my blog, I’d be happy to mail my posts to your inbox so you’d never miss any new tip on enjoying motherhood. Happy parenting!


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Meet the S.A.H.M

Hi! I’m Pritika, the mom behind Stay At Home Mummy. I was inspired to choose this name for the blog because I’m a proud stay-at-home-mom to two lovely kids. Graduate In Journalism and professional writer for 16 years, I have experienced the bitter-sweet reality of placing kids over work commitments and pushing back your own dreams to realise theirs.

Yet, I didn’t let the passion for writing in me die out. Stay at Home Mummy is an attempt to make all those beautiful SAHMs out there feel proud of being one because motherhood isn’t an excuse to let your passion take a back seat.

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