Child’s Play: The Art of Toy Rotation

Child's Play: The Art of Toy Rotation

An avalanche of toys invites emotional disconnect and a sense of overwhelm.

– Dr. Kim John Payne

To rotate: to replace, usually according to a schedule or plan.

Rotating is one of the easiest ways to deal with toy overload and is hands down my favorite. In my previous posts I mentioned it already, but today let’s take a closer look. You will see it’s no rocket science as we go through 8 easy steps.

Foremost, let me give you a list of the main reasons you will love it:

  1. Inventiveness and fantasy blooms
  2. Clean up time becomes a breeze
  3. Less toys out equals more and deeper engagement
  4. Siblings fight less
  5. Everyday objects are reinvented and turned into toys
  6. Overstimulation is easier to avoid
  7. Children learn to play on their own
  8. Toys are used in new ways
  9. Teaches independence
  10. You are better prepared for birthdays and holidays
Child's Play: The Art of Toy Rotation

One evening after my son’s second birthday I looked around the living room and felt slightly uncomfortable. The room is our main play area where he has a long shelf and two drawers for his toys. Nonetheless, trucks and trains were scattered everywhere, taking up more and more floor space. On opening a drawer, heaps of toys, untouched for weeks jumped up at me. I took a deep breath and instead of some well deserved “me time,” I immediately transported some of it to the basement.

Months passed and although we were still happy with this basic approach I realized that in order to fully enjoy all the amazing benefits I could take this to the next level.

Let me explain how it is both simple and effective:

To make it easier to understand, we will prepare 4 boxes of toys which you can rotate every 2 weeks. I encourage you to customize this method until it suits you and your family’s lifestyle. You can try with only 3 boxes, or you can rotate more frequently. If you have more children you can do mixed or different boxes per child.

Child's Play: The Art of Toy Rotation


The steps are as follows:


Step 1: Corral

Put all of the toys in one room If this sounds too overwhelming, go room by room through all the steps


Step 2: Decide

Decide what to keep and what to get rid of? No need to rotate that 3 legged horse or incomplete puzzle

What can be left out permanently (Lego, certain fave toys)?


Step 3: Divide

Divide all the “rotating” toys into 3 main categories:

  1. Thinking toys: they target cognitive development and fine motor development (puzzles, board games)
  2. Moving toys: they target gross motor movements (balls, cars)
  3. Pretending toys: they target social/emotional development and language development (dolls, Lego)

*You can find more great info on these categories here.


Step 4: Record

Record the name of each toy/or set by category. Preferably each category on a different piece of paper, leaving plenty of space for notes and ideas. As you wrap up a 2 week period you can jot down your remarks, which toys they played with and what they are into at the moment. Taking stock will not only provide you with valuable information for when you go shopping for presents, you will also have a wonderful notebook full of memories at the end of the year.


Step 5: Form

Form four groups in each category. Try to make each group equally engaging. This step will show you were there is lack or excess so don’t forget to jot down your insights.

Hint: you can even show it to grandparents/aunts to help them decide what is needed and what not. Xmas is not that far away…


Step 6: Prepare

Prepare four boxes and put one group of every category in them. This way you will have in each rotation some thinking toys, some moving toys and some pretending toys.


Step 7: Store

Store the three out of sight boxes. Be aware that easy access is key if you want to keep up the good habit—garage, playroom or under your bed doesn’t really matter as long as your little ones can’t reach them.


Step 7: Display

Display the toys from the left out box as welcoming and exciting as you can in baskets and on their shelves. Spice it up with their artwork and books and tad-ah(!) you are set for 2 weeks!


Step 8: Rotate

Change out toys every two weeks.

Child's Play: The Art of Toy Organization


If you’d like you can write down 5 toys that you noticed your children haven’t played with for a while in the comments below. Promise me, this evening when you clear away the toys, to put those five toys neatly out of reach. Remember this is exactly how I started!

Also, here are a few helpful links about toy rotation from around the web:


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Adrienn Csoknyay’s passion for interior design and stylish spaces guided her to figure out how to keep them clutter-free and, above all, easy to maintain. Now she’s on a mission to find out whether it’s possible to live in an organized and creative space with kids, keeping sustainability and green living a priority. She holds an MS in Economics and Social Sciences from Szent Istvan University in Godollo and is a certified Interior Designer. Adrienn lives in a little village just outside Budapest with her partner, three children and a little dog. Yoga and HIIT workouts keep her fit while writing, sewing, and painting keep her sane.



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  1. Thanks for this reminder and the helpful ideas for implementing it! I usually do rotate things around but I have gotten lazy and it seems a bit overwhelming to get back into it. Your post encouraged me to get on it!

    1. Yes, it can feel so overwhelming! But don’t worry, you can do it step by step, just work on it for 5 or 10 minutes each day and sooner or later you will have some boxes ready to rotate. Good luck! 🙂

  2. All I can say is Yeah! Thank you for this post. Our house has been overwhelmed with toys from generous well-meaning family members. I’ve tried rotating the toys before but I never had much success. This post gave me the insight to what I was missing. I can’t wait to try it!

  3. I love this idea and did it for a while, but found that it devolved into something even simpler: fewer toys. We are down to a few basic categories and I have noticed that the girls are much more deeply involved in their play and there are fewer arguments over random toys.

    Our favourites are: Playmobil with a wooden dollhouse, wood blocks, a basket of colourful silks, dolls, a well-equipped play kitchen. For the basement: a trunk of Thomas trains. For the bedroom: dress up, puzzles, and paper dolls.

    Along with the outdoors (with few toys, but lots of nature bits!), a well-stocked art table (that is key!), a good bookshelf selection, and a ‘personal treasure bin’ for each child’s more random items, this serves us so well.

    A benefit I love is that my five and three year old girls can clean up any given room on their own because there are few categories of items and it is obvious where things go. I don’t plan to ever go back… when one category becomes obsolete for their ages, I will replace it with another. For gifts, our family often expands categories (Playmobil, dress up, etc) or gives experiences.

    1. Ellen, I truly love your approach!
      Especially the “personal treasure bin”. I think my 3 year old son needs one asap, the things he can collect from our walks…unbelievable! 🙂

  4. This is such a great idea. I think my 5-year-old girl gets overwhelmed with everything she has to choose from! Decision overload on toys. I think it would also be cool to swap these smaller boxes with other families so not only does your child have fewer toys at any one time, but they also have a rotation of a variety of toys AND nothing’s sitting in a closet not being played with in the meantime.

  5. Thank you, I so need to do this for my 2 year old. Which category would you put musical instruments in? My son is into anything musical and we have quite a few instruments.

    1. Great question Jen! I would put it in the pretending category. You can of course take all the musical instruments out of rotation for a couple of days if your son is really into them at the moment and observe which ones are his faves. Leave those out to play with and store the others for the next round. As we don’t have such a huge collection and they all fit in one medium size sea grass bowl they are out at all times.
      Hmm, maybe time to expand my munchkin’s collection… 😉

      1. Great thanks, so far I’ve made my lists and done a lot of culling and already I have noticed that Mr 2 is playing better and longer with what’s there. Now I just need to sort into batches and we’ll all be a lot happier (I hope)

  6. Thank you for the wonderful ideas on toy rotation! Love the collective ideas and am planning to implement immediately with my 2 1/2 and 5 yr old boys. Looking forward to less clutter and less emotional stress!

  7. You are welcome Bonnie! Do tell us how it went! I love hearing your real life experiences, what worked and what not so much. And how you tailored it to your children’s style! 🙂

  8. Thank you for the wonderful tips and inspiration! I now have an action plan, jotted notes and will be implementing this today! It’s going to be fabulous to pull out a box of goodies every couple of weeks and know miss 1 will be excited to see it – Just like new toys! thank you for making this so simple and educational at the same time

    1. You are welcome Shannon! Congratulations on taking action right away! 🙂 The joy on their little faces is priceless when they see what’s all in there! Thank you for your kind words, I try to make it as simple as possible otherwise I just procrastinate forever! 😉

  9. I’ve been wanting to rotate out my daughter’s toys for awhile, but kept putting it off. Your post inspired me to just do it! What a difference! My daughter played with all her toys in her playroom today like they were brand new (I think she forgot she had a lot of them.) And it was easier to clean up. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. You are so welcome Tara! 🙂 Rotating seems like a big effort but it is oh so worth it. My mantra is “keep it simple”. Even taking some toys off the shelves can make a huge difference!

  10. Great post! I do this (in a less formal way) for my daycare. Rather than changing things out on a schedule, I watch for when certain toys begin to be ignored. That is a cue to me that it’s time for a change! I find it really helps keep kids interested and engaged. It also keeps clutter down, leaving more space for play and creativity.

  11. My four-year old has more trucks than our town owns. But, he does not use them. Every time I try to rotate them or suggest they move along, he freaks out. But, these are BIG Bruder trucks. I can’t seem to get him to let them be out of sight, yet they take up a lot of room. Any ideas for a kid old enough to remember the toys and fights change?

    1. Thank you for sharing your story M. Marold!
      Let me give you a couple of suggestions to make it easier:

      -Try to schedule it before his birthday or any other present giving date. Suggest that you will need the storage space to accommodate the new toys he will get.
      -You can do it when he is not around and when he asks for a certain truck you can just it give back to him.
      – If you already tried before and it didn’t work why not involve him in the whole process. Pick a time when he is calm and joyful and suggest that you will make a garage for some of his cars in the basement or closet or wherever you can store them. You can tell a story about cars needing regularly check-ups and his cars are no exception. Explain to him that monthly maintenance is critical to ensure the safety, reliability, comfort and longevity of a car. Try to tape some signs on the shelves indicating that this is a car repair shop.
      Then ask him which cars are due for their monthly repair. You can even tell him to pick an exact number.
      -Take some of his cars to grandparents if it’s possible so he can play with them there
      -Under bed storage solutions are also an option, he can keep everything in his room, but it won’t take up valuable space + it’s out of sight.

      Good luck! 🙂

  12. Thanks for this. We do this very haphazardly, good to be offered a bit more of a structured approach. We do notice that just after birthdays and Xmas when there are lots of new toys our son struggles to concentrate on any of them. I’d say the main things he doesn’t play with are:
    1)Some cuddly toys
    2)Wooden tool box
    3) Wooden puzzles that are too young for him now
    4) Xylophone
    5) Dressing up clothes.

    Will try and sort these out later.

    1. You are welcome Anna! 🙂
      Happy to hear that you have a system! Don’t worry about whether it’s haphazard or not as long as it works just fine for your family!
      Maybe you can set up a music box with other instruments so the xylophone can be used more often?

  13. That’s a lovely idea Adrienn. I think my kid’s toys are my biggest concern and I never thought about rotating things. Your post is lovely. Thanks a ton for sharing.

  14. Thank you so much for this wonderful post! I have a friend who also conducts a “Toy Amnesty Program” with his son’s toys. He basically puts a few toys into a box that is stored in the basement (out of sight, out of mind). This is usually done without the child’s input (but based on observation of what the child plays with and what is neglected). If the child remembers the toy and notices that it is missing, it is granted amnesty and my friend will retrieve the toy from the basement and put it back into rotation. However, his son rarely remembers any of the missing toys and every few months, my friend donates the box of forgotten toys to goodwill, accomplishing 2 tasks at once! We actually have an unplanned toy amnesty program in place at the moment due to a recent move. There are many unpacked boxes of toys in the garage that… dare I say it… may never get unpacked because my girls certainly haven’t missed the contents of those boxes! 😉

  15. Oh goodness, Adrienn! Here’s my toy story: After keeping things minimalist in a small apartment for several years, our two very young sons were happy with mostly just their favorite toys–cars. That all changed when we were finally able to buy a house AND both our preschoolers were diagnosed with autism. Every specialist seemed to have a new list of developmental toys we should invest in, at the same time trying to help us lure our boys away from their vehicle obsessions. I ended up abandoning all my minimalist ideals and setting aside a large toy room in our home, stocked for every developmental or sensory need!

    That worked for a while, but after a year of birthdays and Christmas and other random gifts from family members, I simply can’t keep up with the clutter! My older son keeps loosing his favorite toys, neither boy is fully engaging with the toys that would be of greatest benefit, and the stress level from toy overload does us no favors in a family already dealing with the unavoidable stress load that comes with special needs.

    Tonight, I put away most of the toys and set about starting our rotation. I was shocked that in all our abundance, we’re still somehow low on gross motor toys, which are particularly important as my kids struggle with vestibular sensitivities.

    So thank you! Going through this process has helped me not only make our home a little more peaceful, but also identify that little blind spot in meeting my kids special needs!

    Also, for other readers that might find themselves running low in a toy category, it was easy to find tons of inexpensive ideas by searching, “gross motor toys DIY” on Pinterest. I’m sure searching “fine motor” or “pretend play” would also give great results! Thanks!

  16. So what do you do when your kid asks for a toy that you put away? Do you just go find it? For example, my son really does play with all 12 or so of his cars. All at once. He treats them like people and stacks them like blocks. If I put one away he would know and I think his playing would suffer, since he uses them all together in his little scenes. He’s almost 2. I have put away a bunch of other things that haven’t been captivating him lately but that means he’s got about 12 cars, lots of books , and a puzzle out.

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