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organizing the mad chaos of toys {a montessori set-up}

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Too many toys.  That is what my husband tells me {every day}.  I tend to agree with him, however,  I believe in quiet times and independent play!   (Almost) all of our toys are from garage sales, so I’m not spending a lot of money on their sometimes-throw-away-able play items, and I love switching out the toys so the children are engaged with different items.

The Montessori philosophy believes in giving a child freedom within limits and guidance without direction in learning. I couldn’t agree more.  I change our toys on our lower shelves in my son’s room about every week, sometimes every two if we are crazy busy and I don’t think of it, and the minute I put the “new toys” out, he is engaged with play for the next few days.  Check out  Living Montessori Now‘s post on How to Start Using Montessori at Home.


I always make sure that the toys I set out are very-baby-safe because baby girl May is playing alongside her brother most of the time these days.  Our bins are organized on my two wonderful Expedit shelves and they are all organized by toy-type.  He often wants a specific bin out too, which is fine with me, his favorites are the truck bin and the Little People bin — and his blocks and Lego Duplos set up in his closet.

I am still figuring out how to help my children understand the value of the toys.  We began a rock jar to help my son earn some new little truck machines that he had wanted (he saw something similar at Grandma’s and his cousin’s houses).  I don’t want to give them everything just because I want them to have it.  I have to reconcile not allowing my children feel “entitled” to every toy under the sun and a more minimalist life that I have strived for (like in my content closet).  I purged a bunch of big plastic toys that were taking up too much space in the basement, as well as others that I knew he wasn’t interested in.    But I also know that children need toys to learn and to be engaged when I have to do housework, etc.

Now that my son is three, we have decided that he has the “basics” (and beyond) and doesn’t need anything “new” except one or two gifts on birthdays and Christmas.  (Unless he earns something with his rock jar — I got this idea from See Vanessa Craft.)

Below are two examples of our current set-up in his bedroom.  You will notice that books will always remain a priority!  We are reading a lot and I am always switching up all of our book areas, too.  We keep the bigger toys like the kitchen set and his tool bench (and my craft and the majority of my school supplies) in the basement, but we are not down there too often.  We have a small house, but we try to keep it tidy, so our living room only has two small baskets of baby toys out right now.


(From left to right): On our shelves we have John’s Melissa & Doug tool box, a little Fisher Price radio (May loves this), Mr. Potato Head, books (always!), and his bin of wooden blocks.  And his fruits and veggies cutting tray, books, Eeboo stacking tower, stacking cups, and more books (!)


(From left to right): a plastic bowl with some squishy blocks, two tins (which are out most of the time with his Schleich animals and his matchbox cars), his Leapfrog writer, books!, his bin full of his Little People manger scene (it’s not just for Christmas!), an alphabet puzzle, books, a Melissa & Doug sorter, Fisher Price shape sorter, and more books.


And here is an example of one of our small baskets in our living room — I try to only keep a couple of items in it, so my baby girl will want to play with them.  However, lately, just like her big brother when he was her age, she is fine with just a stainless little bowl and a whisk or some measuring spoons.  I swap these items out regularly.  (I am not against electronic or musical or plastic toys.) : )


In his closet are the just-as-awesome Trofast shelves.  (May has a tall Trofast shelf in her room too.)  His blocks, Lego trains (he loves this, a gift from Grandma), Thomas trains (we got an amazing set for $10 at a garage sale!), Lego Duplos, Megablocks, etc are all organized in here.  He can always have a new bin out as long as the finished one is cleaned up and put away.


He always gets so excited when I change the toys out.  (He also gets upset when some toys are recycled into the basement: “I need that!”)  Our bins are from Bed, Bath, & Beyond — I don’t think they are selling navy anymore : ( but I bought all that I needed when they were on sale.

I hope this post has given you ideas for how to organize and set out toys.  I have learned so much from others.  Check out The Kavanaugh Report and Living Montessori Now for more ideas!  Please let me know if you have a post on toy organization, I’d love to see it!

Happy playing,

 photo Amy3_zps8e2e6a59.png

I am grateful to all of the wonderful linky party hosting mamas: check out my Link-Up page for where I may link this blog post!

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  1. Looks awesome and inviting Amy! Once we get back from vacation, our plan is to redo our space too. I love those shelves from Ikea. Here’s a question: If he needs it, do you bring it back out?

    1. Sarah, the Ikea shelves are wonderful — they take some time getting together (the Trofast are easier than the Expedit), but they are worth it! Yes, if he “needs” a certain toy, then that’s fine, he can play with it and we’ll just leave it on his shelf or on the floor too — it’s not always this clean :)

  2. Rachel Haggard says:

    He’s not three yet…! ;)

  3. Rachel Haggard says:

    BTW… I love this post because I love organizing! xoxo

      1. Rachel Haggard says:

        I’m serious… I love organizing. :) Don’t you remember what my apartment looks like!?!?! Love you! Andrew does too! A match made in heaven.

  4. I found you through the linky and am happy I did! I love how you make books a priority!

    1. Thank you for visiting, Rachel, I love your blog :) Yes, we are reading all the time — I have to remember my rule — if he wants me to read him a book, I drop everything and that takes priority!

  5. Thanks for mentioning me! I’m going to be doing a new toy link up on Friday, I would love fo you to join in!

    Seriously, I cannot say enough good things about rotating my toys this way. I’ve noticed that my son is so much more focused and interested when I rotate toys around. I’m kind of a softie though and leave toys out if he protests.

  6. I’m always looking for ways to store my Montessori activities when they are out of rotation. I love how you have all the boxes and the expedit shelves. Now, if I only had the space for more storage!!

    1. The trick to storage is to use all of the vertical space :) Thanks for visiting — excited to see your media-free ideas :)

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