straighten out your space

The Best Toy Storage, According to Organizing Pros and Design-Minded Parents

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

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We hate to be the ones to say it, but you’re going to have to put your swimsuits and sandals away for the season — plus the sand toys, beach umbrellas, and all the other summer stuff that’s in a big heap by the door. The whole process of returning to the real world in September can be a crazy-making puzzle, especially when you don’t have loads of closet space or a basement to toss everything into. So this week, we’re sharing home organizational essentials to make the transition a little easier. It’s Straighten Out Your Space Week on the Strategist.

Despite any parents’ best intentions not to have too much stuff, kids’ gear, particularly toys, accumulates at a rapid clip. Keeping Legos, blocks, stuffed animals, and Hot Wheels cars reined in — and finding a system that makes it easy for your kid to help clean up — is helpful for everyone’s sanity. As Kadi Dulude, owner of cleaning and organizing company Wizard of Homes, explains, “Teaching your kids the importance of being clean and organized is super important — not only because your home is nicer, but that is also how you bring up responsible adults who take care of their space and who respect their surroundings.”

Professional organizer Katy Winter, a mother of three, says kids as young as 2 years old can begin to pitch in. “Give them a small task, like putting all the blocks away,” she says. “Being specific gets them used to participating.” Another way to keep clutter in check is to “be intentional about cycling out toys that have been outgrown, broken, damaged, and not played with anymore — or ever,” according to organizer Tanisha Lyons-Porter, also a mom of three. Still, the toys they hang on to do have to go somewhere.

To find the best stuff for organizing kids’ toys, we spoke to over a dozen professional organizers and design-minded parents about the solutions they recommend. Their suggestions range from storage furniture and shelves to bins and baskets to rolling carts, so there’s something for most everyone — and every type of toy.

Best storage furniture for toys

Many of our experts turn to Ikea for its affordable line of storage units and shelving for organizing toys. Four of the organizers we spoke to — Winter; Boston-based professional organizer Corinne Morahan; Natalie Schrier, the founder of Cut the Clutter; and Tova Weinstock, owner of Tidy Tova — recommend the Kallax cube shelving unit for its versatility and basic (in a good way) look that they say will blend in with any existing décor. “I generally recommend the eight-cubby unit set up horizontally, so bigger toys can sit along the top. You can allocate a cubby or two to books, one to puzzles, and the rest for big toys,” says Weinstock, who also suggests putting bins on the bottom for corralling smaller items. “This system works great since everything is accessible for little kids and they can see what they have,” Weinstock added. To those who want baskets, Lyons-Porter likes the Kuggis containers; this size will fit snugly within the Kallax’s cubes.

Crate & Barrel offers a similarly versatile cube-style bookcase in three-, five-, six-, eight-, and 12-cube permutations, and in a range of stylish options for the shelves from natural wood to a midnight blue. Like the Kallax, the cube shelving can fit a wide range of baskets or bins and be used for anything from books to a box full of Legos. The Crate & Barrel unit has a sleeker look with a thinner profile to the shelves and an oak-wood base, but is notably sturdy and long-lasting.

Ikea’s Trofast toy-storage system is another popular choice: Both Lyons-Porter and Morahan recommend it for how adaptable it is. The Trofast is essentially an open dresser that you can fill with three different sizes of drawers — slim, double-height, and triple-height. Morahan says this gives you the ability to better store toys of various sizes in the same unit, because you could have a row of slim drawers that she says are ideal for Legos or other building toys above a row of deeper ones for stuffed animals. Lyons-Porter calls the storage drawers “perfect for categories of items that are ‘grab-n-go’” and notes they “can easily be labeled with a picture of the item or words.” The Trofast line also includes lots of other units, depending on what your space may require.

If you prefer keeping toy clutter behind closed doors, Mustard offers versatile and colorful locker-style options in four sizes and 11 hues, from a shorter console to a full-height cabinet that can function as a wardrobe. My kids have the Lowdown style in sage in their room, and we use it to store baskets full of dress-up clothes, boxes of beads, and miscellaneous toys that would otherwise get lost under their bunk bed. They like decorating the magnetic surface with funny phrases spelled out with alphabet magnets, and the top is a handy surface for stacking books. Mustard also offers its own basket, magnet, and hanger sets, which you can get in coordinating or contrasting colors.

Professional organizer Rolanda Lokey recommends these modular storage shelves that come in various sizes, starting from an eight-cube unit (shown here) to one with 25 cubes. As she explains, it’s a great option for “parents who do not have space for a separate playroom” because the unit comes with doors for each cubby that are detachable. This, Lokey says, “allows parents to combine function and design by designating certain spaces on the shelf for concealed storage and others for displaying vases, art pieces, or books by just removing the doors.”

Ikea also offers an array of wall-mounted systems that create efficient storage and display options and can be arranged in many permutations to fit the room. “We store books, photos, baskets, completed Lego sets, tchotchkes, everything! And we’ve used them in playrooms, bedrooms, offices, and hallways,” says Abby Clawson Low, a graphic designer and art director based in Dallas and a parent of three boys. “The wall-mounted shelving systems are great because they are secured to the wall, they don’t sit on the floor taking up floor space,” adds Low of why she leans toward this system over the cube shelves above. “Seeing that extra floor space underneath gives a real sense of openness to a room” — and can be used for baskets or other floor storage.

Lokey says it’s important for parents to consider their child’s emerging habits and organizing preferences when choosing toy storage. “Some kids are great at putting things away, while other children are often still developing the basic habit of tidying,” she explains. The latter group, she says, “may be less inclined to use storage products that require opening and closing boxes or returning items to labeled shelves.” She recommends this unit to anyone with very young children who are just learning the concept of organization or parents of kids with special needs. Its “color-coded, open bins in primary colors are great for teaching kids how to sort and categorize while using foundational skills they are likely learning as a part of their primary education,” Lokey says. For anyone looking for a bit of a twofer, she also likes this similar style that combines three open bins with a rolling chest.

Lokey also pointed us toward this organizer that has a bookstore-like display area on top, open shelving in the middle, and a pullout chest at the bottom, explaining that “combo bookshelf–toy storage solutions work very well for confined spaces.”

Patty Morrissey, an organizer certified in the KonMari method, likes this ten-drawer rolling cart for sorting Legos by color. “The long, shallow drawers make it easier for kids to find the exact pieces they’re looking for when building their own creations,” she explains.

Best hard-sided bins and baskets for toy storage

In addition to bins that pair with the larger storage units above, many experts told us about stand-alone options that folks who don’t need a full piece of furniture might prefer. Unsurprisingly, a lot of professional organizers love the Container Store and its in-house lines. Winter’s go-to products are the brand’s shoe box and sweater box: “I start every organizing project with these,” she says. “90 percent of all toys will fit in them.” Winter particularly loves how well they stack. “They have a lid, so you can use vertical space by stacking them,” she explains, adding that these will pretty much fit on any shelves you may already have in your home, too. For large spaces, the Container Store sells both boxes with bulk pricing, making them even more affordable.

Lyons-Porter’s favorite Container Store bins are multipurpose ones that come in four different sizes. “They’re translucent, easy to access, sturdy, reasonably priced, fit great in a cabinet or on an exposed shelf, and are perfect for little hands,” she says.

Hay Color Crates, which come in a rainbow of nice-looking colors, are a great option for toys with many small pieces. They’re “lightweight, recycled, stackable, nestable, and collapsible,” says Lexi Mainland, an editor, writer, and parent of two. In my own house, we keep extras of these in the closet and can also pull them out to contain the pieces of projects in progress. You can also buy lids and wheels for the medium and large sizes if you want to create a storage side table or rolling cart.

Like the Ikea Kallax system, the brand’s extensive collection of Kuggis bins has many fans among the organizers and parents I talked to. “We use these stackable bins for all our craft and art supplies. Affordable, low-maintenance, conceals the mess inside,” says Weinstock. In Low’s home, “We use them for storing tools, extra extension cords, my stamp collection, Lego, Lego, Lego, our stash of instant ramen noodles, party supplies, everything.” Their versatility and appealing shape make them a winner in every room in the house: “They have this perfect little round cutout on the front that I just love to look at. They just look so nice. Form and function!” enthused Low.

Best soft bins and baskets for toy storage

Muuto’s Restore Bins are a beautiful, modern storage container that can be used all over the house. “They’re soft but very sturdy,” says Liz Libre, co-founder of Lewis, a line of textiles for home and kids, of the pliable but structured baskets that are made of recycled plastic bottles. “We have used these for books and toys on shelves as well as the floor. We have three under our coffee table, one with Legos, another with wood blocks, and another with Magna-Tiles. They get pulled out when friends and neighbors are over and slide right back under after,” describes Libre.

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If you are putting multiple types of toys in a single basket or bin but want to keep them separated, Weinstock offered a pro organizing tip of getting “see-through reusable produce bags to keep inside the large bins.” They can help keep like with like while all living within the same larger basket. For example, described Weinstock, “a set of large animal toys, balls for a toy gumball machine, and soft baby blocks.”

While technically a laundry basket, this sturdy lidded bin from Connected Goods can serve double duty as toy storage. “We have had three in our living room for ten years, holding all sorts of toys and dress-up clothes,” says Libre. “The natural material looks great in any room and does the necessary job of concealing the mess.”

Another tall basket option that Schrier recommends for stuffed animals or large balls, the Bisgo Storage Bin can hold — or hide — a lot. Echoing Lokey, she says it’s great for younger kids who find that “drawers are not necessarily user-friendly” because the open top allows them “to drag and dump” their toys when it’s time to put them away.

Swoop Bags are a versatile storage option that can be used both indoors and out. A sturdy, weatherproof nylon-poly-blend cinchable bag, the solid-colored bags come in three sizes: mini, medium, and large. “When you’re ready to play, you just un-cinch the bag. When you’re ready to clean up, you cinch it back up,” says Mainland. The bags come with a strong cord, so you can also hang them up on wall hooks for an easy-to-grab option that keeps toys off the floor.

For another bin that parents won’t mind looking at, Sylvana Ward Durrett, a co-founder of Maisonette, recommends this pom-pom adorned one from Pehr. “When you’re done using them for your kids, they’re perfectly appropriate for your apartment as well,” she says, making them more worth the investment. Plus, the bins are foldable, so you can easily tuck them out of sight should you ever need to store your storage.

Weinstock recommends West Elm’s seagrass baskets, another natural material that offers structured storage. “Since my son has more cars than I know what to do with and I want to keep my living room/playroom looking nice, these are a great solution that can house a lot of toys,” she says.

My 7-year-old likes to keep books, trinkets, markers, and notebooks close at hand while up in her top bunk, so to keep detritus from collecting in her bed, we use this wall-mounted canvas organizer, which hangs behind the headboard. The pockets expand out enough that she can put a few chapter books in a single pocket, and she likes that she has private storage that’s inaccessible to her younger sibling. The organizer comes in multiple shades of canvas, and you can specify a number of pockets and horizontal or vertical orientation, depending on the space you have available.

[Editor’s note: The owner of this Etsy shop is currently catching up on orders and planning to reopen by September 10. You can sign up to receive a notification when they’re back.]

Little animal lovers will get a kick out of these toy chests and bins decorated with a menagerie of llamas, dragons, owls, pandas, and more. They’re favorites of both Nicole Abramovici of Genius Organizing and organizing expert Christina Giaquinto, who says, “I am a firm believer in storage being aesthetically pleasing but also functional, and this accomplishes that.” Giaquinto adds that the bins are “very sturdy, so they hold toys really well.” The critters are also a visual cue to remind kids these are where to keep toys like stuffed animals.

Organizer Mary Cornetta, the founder of Sort and Sweet, uses these nautical baskets at her own home to clean up when playtime is over. “Any toys that they dragged out to the main living area get thrown in,” she explains, so they can easily be returned to where they belong.

This hammock essentially functions as a shelf to keep favorite teddy bears and other stuffed animals off the floor and on display. It comes recommended by Abramovici, who says “kids can think of it as a game to toss toys into the hammock — motivating them to clean up.” Wall-mounted storage like this, she adds, gives “parents more control over which toys can be in play at any given time, since all the toys aren’t at kids’ reach.”

Best toy storage for arts and crafts supplies

Keeping arts-and-crafts supplies tidy can be its own special challenge. One of our favorite all-around options for corralling art stuff, recommended by Weinstock in our guide to organizing art supplies, is a rolling cart. Winter is also a proponent: “A lot of people do artwork in the kitchen or in a different area, and some parents don’t want their kids having access to the Play-Doh or to have art supplies everywhere,” she says. Her favorite rolling storage is the Container Store’s three-tier rolling cart. To organize it, Winter suggests using magazine holders or book bins for coloring pages and paper and Mason jars for crayons, markers, and colored pencils, though the Container Store sells different containers, pegboard attachments, and compartments for the cart, as well as an art-themed bundle, if you prefer stuff that matches. There’s also a “large” version of the three-tier cart and a taller four-tier model that you might consider if you are storing an extra-large stash of supplies or supplies for more than one kid.

If you want to match a specific color, need to fit a precise set of dimensions, or are looking for a different slate of cart-friendly accessories, you should also browse Ikea, Michael’s, and Target, which all make similar rolling carts as part of their own product lines. Strategist senior editor Jen Trolio uses the Lexington cart from Michael’s Simply Tidy brand for her kids’ art stuff, along with a matching lid that limits the height of what you can put in the top tier, but provides a neater look and a flat surface for stacking something else when the cart’s contents are not in use.

For keeping track of tinier items, professional organizer Daniel Loya says a box like this is “essential for keeping all of the small odds and ends off of the floor.” It consists of three layers that can be divided into ten compartments each, but the partitions used to divide the layers are removable and adjustable. The layers conveniently snap onto each other, making it easy to repurpose one elsewhere if you don’t need all three. A handle on the top makes it easy to transport.

One of Winter’s favorite ways to organize art supplies like markers, crayons, and colored pencils is to use a lazy Susan, like this one that she recommends. “Kids like it because they can just grab whenever they want and start coloring,” she says. It comes in two sizes: a nine-inch diameter with three sections and an 11.5-inch diameter with five sections and slightly taller sides.

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In my house, this larger caddy option is key to keeping markers, kid scissors, and Sharpies organized and accessible for my 5- and 7-year-olds. Though it lives on their art table, they often bring the entire caddy to the floor for projects that need more space. The dividers are removable, so depending on the supplies you’re holding, you can create larger and smaller compartments.

Photo: Courtesy of the Vendor

“For art supplies for a bigger kid, I love a pegboard over a desk,” says Weinstock. “This way, the most-used art supplies can be super accessible and you can create an inspiring work area.” Keeping a pegboard organized could be challenging and frustrating for a younger child, but the versatility allows older kids to arrange supplies and objects they want to display in their own way. Ikea’s modular Skådis line offers two sizes of wall-mounted boards in three colors, a freestanding model, a range of hooks, elastic cords, small containers, and a few premade bundles.

Best toy storage for bath toys

Bath time comes with its own set of toys, which is why you might want to get something for the bathroom. “This adjustable bath toy caddy fits most tubs and keeps toys and bath essentials contained and within reach while in use,” says Lokey. “When bath time is over, the organizer can be removed and stored in a closet or on a shelf, making it super-convenient for shared bathrooms.”

If your bath-toy collection leans more minimal, Lalo’s wall-suction bath-toy bin is a great smaller option to keep toys out of the tub and off the floor. The basket-weave sides allow water to drain from still-wet toys, and the bin is made of nontoxic plastic and available in two colors, white and sage green.

At my house, we keep our bath toys in a Tubtrugs bin, made of a flexible, rubbery material. “They’re indestructible and the round shape works well if you have a little corner or nook,” says Libre, who also recommends this style. “We also use their biggest ones for sports equipment,” she adds. The bins are easy to carry, and can be used inside the house and out — for anything from gardening to storing Legos.

Best toy storage for sports equipment

For older kids who play sports, ball bins and equipment organizers can make life easier, according to Lokey. She says storage like this open rack will make it easy to spot what you need, allowing parents “to quickly assess when it’s time to purge outgrown bats, damaged racquets, deflated balls, and other items kids no longer use.” Another benefit of a sports rack is that it can be used by adults for organizing their own gym gear, as Strategist contributor Alex Olivo pointed out.