{five minute friday} What It REALLY Looks Like to Live with Kids...And 10 Tips to Clean Up the Mess Faster

Things are getting real, today! I'm talking about what it REALLY looks like to live with kids and all their toys!

I hear from friends and readers alike that they don't believe that our house can really look like the pretty pictures on the blog all the time, because life with kids is messy. And you know what, that's absolutely true! My boys are just like all other kids...they leave a trail of toys and disaster everywhere they go.

But thanks to some simple organization, I can take any room in the house from toy disaster to photo ready in just five minutes {with help from the kids of course}.
Tips to Clean Up Toys Faster

A while back, after the boys had spent an entire day playing and doing what kids do best, I looked at the clock and realized that we had company coming over for dinner soon and I needed to get the toys picked up - in every room of the house. I knew that I could get things whipped into shape pretty quickly, but I decided to snap some before and after photo and keep track of how long it really took to clean up each room. I was thrilled to find that each clean up job clocked in at just about five minutes - that was thanks to help from my three year old, and in spite of the two year old who kept taking out more things as we cleaned.

So here's your behind the scenes look at what our life with kids really looks like, and a few tips to make it easier to reclaim any room in just five minutes. And since this is real life, people, you get the iPhone photo version of the house today...

Let's start in the basement, since this is where the biggest messes are always made.


I always start by putting away the biggest things first. I stacked up the plastic chairs, moved the slide back to its spot, and put the doll house back up on the shelf. Other large toys go on the open shelves across from the play table.

Toys stored on open shelves in family room


After all of the big toys were out of the way, I then put my three year old in charge of sorting all the different blocks. I laid out all of the empty plastic bins in a line, and put a couple of blocks in each so that he could easily see what belonged in each bin. Then I let him do the rest of the work while I cleaned up the remaining toys.

Organizing blocks in clear, lidded containers

While all of the large toys go on the open shelves, and the small blocks and toys in the clear, lidded containers, the remaining medium sized and misc toys wind up in the stacked toy bins at the far end of the room. 


I love for everything to have a specific place, but I have to resist the urge to over organize the stacked toy bins. Since I know the toys will just get pulled back out the next day, there is no benefit to me spending time specifically organizing the toys within each bin. Instead, I simply group like toys together, and then toss them them in. For example, big cars and trucks always go in the bottom left bin, small car related toys go in the bottom right, and balls go in the center bin. 

Toys stored in stacking toy bins

Of course, I could just toss the toys in the bins completely randomly, but on the occasion when I do this, I end up having a harder time getting everything to fit, and I wind up having to pull things back and out and rearrange. By grouping like items together in the same bins each time, I already know they will all fit and it saves me time in the long run.

By the time I was done putting toys away in the stacked bins, Beckett was done sorting all of his blocks and other toys into the clear containers. I snapped the lids on each and put them away in the toy cabinet.

Blocks in clear, stacking containers

And in just five minutes, the basement toy area went from disaster to clean!

Tips to Clean Up Toys Faster

Tips to clean up kids' toys faster

This corner of the basement is the kids' dedicated play space, but, of course, it's not the only place that they play! The living room {the first room you see when entering our house} also takes a hit!

Tips to clean up toys faster


We limit them number of toys in this room to those that fit in two stylish baskets, so this room actually only takes about a minute or two to clean up. Although we don't keep that many toys in this space, I still want to encourage the kids to play in here so that I can keep a closer eye on them while cooking and doing dishes. As a result, I switch out which toys we keep in the living room toys bins from time to time to keep the kids interested.


When it comes time to clean up the living room, I take one basket, and I put my three year old in charge of the other. We each fill our baskets as quickly as we can {making a game of it}. Since we don't keep that many toys in this room, there is no rhyme or reason as to what goes in each bin. So long as all the trucks and stuffed animals end up inside a basket, I call it a win.

Hide toys in plain sight with pretty baskets


Because the baskets match the style of the room, they seem to fit right in despite the toys spilling out of the top. I like to refer to it as hiding toys in plain sight.

The same principal applies to the kids' books in the living room. Before we had kids, the shelf of our coffee table used to be filled with my collection of art book, but since those coffee table books aren't really made for little hands, we swapped them out for kid friendly versions. The coffee table shelf is now filled with kids board books - but still all about art. This way I can share my love of art with my kids in a way that helps them learn their colors, numbers, and alphabet. The books, of course wind up all over the room, but it only takes a minute to stack them back on the shelf where they are hidden in plain sight. 

Kids books on coffee table shelf

After just a couple of minutes of stashing toys in baskets and stacking books on a shelf, the living room was ready for entertaining guests.

Tips to clean up kids' toys faster

And for the side by side comparison, here's the before and after:

Tips to Clean Up Kids' Toys Faster

Lastly, I needed to quickly pick up Beckett's room. The boys spend a lot of time playing together in here, so it can become a mess in a hurry, but luckily, it can be cleaned up just as fast. Here's what it looked like that day...

Tips to Clean Up Kids' Toys Faster


The mess was a combination of books and toys. Beckett loves his books, but he is still young enough that he has a hard time getting all of his books back on his shelf with the spines facing forward and without pushing some books off the back of the shelf. So when we clean up his room, I put away the books, and he puts away the toys.

Kids' bookshelf

Beckett's books don't go in any special order on his shelves, which makes it quick and easy to put them away. As much as I love to organize, it's important to be realistic about the level of organization that you can maintain. There is a part of me {the part my husband thinks is crazy} that wants to group his books by topic or color, but the fact is that I just don't have time to reorganize them in such a detailed manner every single time I put them away. Going back to tip 3 - I have to resist the urge to over organize!

Because we also make frequent trips to the library, we always keep the library books separated in to a basket on the top of Beckett's bookshelf. By returning books to the library book basket each time we clean up his room, we never have to search the shelves looking for the library books on the due date.

Library book basket


When we designed Beckett's bedroom, we added enough shelf space to accommodate both books and toys. He loves sorting and putting things back in place, so the DIY numbered bins have been perfect for us. When we first organized his room, I let Beckett decide what toys would go in each bin, so now he knows, for example, that his Sesame Street playhouse and all the parts and pieces go in bin number 3, while all of his small animals go into the number 4 bin. Because he made the decision about what to put in each bin at the outset, he feels more ownership over putting his toys back in the correct bins.

Numbered toy bins


When we are trying to clean up his room in a hurry, Beckett sometimes gets a bit overwhelmed running back and forth from bin to bin putting away one toy at a time. When this happens, I make things easier on him {and me} by putting all of the numbered bins back on the shelf and give him just one at a time. I'll hand him the number 4 bin, and tell him to fill it with all the animals. Once all of the animals are away, then I'll hand him a different bin to fill. This helps him focus, and makes the clean up process much faster.

Tips to clean up toys faster

Even if all the toys are out of their bins, and books are spread all over the table and floor, between the two of us, Beckett and I can always get his room picked up in about five minutes.

Tips to Clean Up Kids' Rooms Faster


This last tip is definitely the most important one for making clean up quick and easy. In our house, we have a rule that toys have to stay in the room that they came from. This means that if the boys are playing in their bedrooms and decide they want to play in the living room instead, they have to leave their toys upstairs and pick different things to play with from the living room toy baskets. By keeping small baskets and bins of toys in each room of the house, there is always something new to entertain the kids, and they actually wind up playing with more of their toys than they might otherwise. I also rotate toys on occasion, which helps keep the kids' interested!

This rule requires a lot of reminding, and, of course, sometimes results in whining, BUT it also makes life so much easier! There is no way that I could clean up all the toys in each room in just five minutes if half of the toys had to be carried up and down the stairs to reach the right rooms. As an added bonus, because toys always stay in the room that they came from, we lose far fewer!

Tips to Clean Up Toys Faster

I hope that these tips will help you to calm the toy chaos in your home, and allow you to spend more time PLAYING with your kids, and less time CLEANING up after them!

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  1. Angela, I loved reading this!! Such great tips and I totally agree with all of them. A mess isn't so bad if it can be picked up in 10 minutes. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Kathy! Having love playing with the kids and helping to create these messes, but living with a mess in every room can stress me out, so these tips definitely help me maintain my sanity! We play hard, then we clean fast! ;)