How Many Toys Do You Have In A Small Space? Feat. Mandalyn of @SidewalkClub

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Today I have a different sort of interview to share. Mandalyn of Sidewalkclub had the idea to write an article about toys in small spaces. So we both answered the same set of questions and I love seeing the similarities and differences between our answers. We live across the country from each other, Mandalyn in Chicago and us in Vancouver and have similarly aged children. I love Mandalyn and her famiy’s positive approach to city living with kids. She’s always inspiring me as she shares her everyday life on the subway with her boys or scooting around town. Funny how without meeting someone in real life you can feel less alone in your parenting choices by knowing them. Thanks for all you share Mandalyn!

How many children do you have and their ages?

I live in Chicago with my husband and 2 boys; Hugo is almost 6 and Toby is almost 2.

Where do you keep most of their playthings? Do you have a designated play space or playroom?

We don’t have enough space for a designated playroom, and even if we did I’d still keep some of their playthings in our main living space. I like being together, and I feel really strongly about having a home that feels warm, exciting, and beautiful to everyone who lives here—that includes the kids! We have toy crates on shelves in the main living room and keep the rest in their shared room: in the closet, under the bed, and some on display. 

Toy Storage and Organization in a Small Space. Mandalyn Renicker  @mandalynrael

Toy Storage and Organization in a Small Space. Mandalyn Renicker @mandalynrael

Do you have a limit on style or number of toys or do you give your children freedom in choosing and keeping their toys?

If I stop to think about it, I do have some ideals for our toy collection even though I don’t hold to it strictly. I prefer playthings that are durable and encourage imaginative play like wooden blocks, train tracks, cars, dress up clothes, and LEGO. The toys that only have one or two ways to be played with just don’t get as much love in our house! We regularly go through our toys and sort out the ones we’re ready to donate and I always let the boys have the final say on what to give away and what to keep. It’s a matter of respect for me; I wouldn’t want someone else rifling through my own things and deciding what I should purge!

Toy Storage and Organization in a Small Space. Mandalyn Renicker  @mandalynrael

Toy Storage and Organization in a Small Space. Mandalyn Renicker @mandalynrael

What’s one challenge in organization for your kids?

Living in a small space means even a small bit of clutter can make the whole space feel untidy. I try to keep things picked up and the biggest challenge is finding a way to organize toys that is both accessible for the boys and simple for them to help with cleanup. My mom used to say, “If there’s a place for everything, then we can put everything in it’s place,” and I think that’s such a good goal. If the kids know where the LEGOs belong, it’s no big deal to help put them away. We use bins or crates for "toy families” (blocks in one, cars in one, puzzles in one, etc.) and the bigger toys have a parking space in the cubby shelf in their room.

Toy Storage and Organization in a Small Space.  @mandalynrael

Toy Storage and Organization in a Small Space. @mandalynrael

What’s one victory or claim to fame in organization for your kids?

My oldest isn’t quite 6 yet but we already have a pretty good collection of LEGO (we like to build things together!). We store them in a shoe organizer that easily slides under the bed, and every time it shows up on Instagram people kind of freak out! It really is a good solution; we can keep the pieces organized by color and the zipper keeps the small pieces contained. My future claim to fame is turning a mid-size closet into an art nook so the kids can have a space to spread out with their supplies. But I’ll have to report back on that one!


Are there any toys in particular that have stood the test of time and earned a spot on your shelf?

Matchbox cars are so underrated. I always have one or two floating around in my bag for long bus rides, and they take so many forms of play at home too. We use masking tape to make roads on the wood floor, line them up by color on the couch or windowsill, and have regular downhill races. We were recently gifted a set of Magna-Tiles and they really do live up to the hype. It doesn’t take long before all of us are on the floor building skyscrapers!

Mandalyn and her boys in Chicago  @sidewalkclub_

Mandalyn and her boys in Chicago @sidewalkclub_

Check out Mandalyn’s beautiful photos on her page @mandalynrael and follow her inspiring project @sidewalkclub_ and https://sidewalkclub.com where she champions city living with kids.


For my answers….

How many children do you have and their ages?

We have two kids, Theo 5 .5 and Mae 2.5

Toy Storage and Organization in a Small space

Toy Storage and Organization in a Small space

Where do you keep most of their playthings? Do you have a designated play space or playroom?

We keep their play things in their shared bedroom. We have one tall shelving unit that holds some of their toys out in the open where they can see them along with some canvas and felt bins that corral toys. Of the 2 drawers in the shelving unit, one is for art supplies and the other holds pyjamas. We also have two large canvas bins on the floor of their room that hold the rest. Because our space is obviously small, their toys end up everywhere and anywhere. But at the end of the day the toys have a place to go back to.

Do you have a limit on style or number of toys or do you give your children freedom in choosing and keeping their toys?

We don’t limit the type of toys the kids have or want but we do limit the amount and sometimes the size. I am drawn to beautiful, minimal toys but I've come to understand that isn't what kids are drawn to. So I find having neutral pretty things to store their toys in is a good compromise for our shared space.

The kids are responsible for cleaning up their room (not to say it's not a battle many days). If they whine and complain or don't clean them up then I say that it must mean they have too many toys, if it's too difficult to clean them up. They know they need to clean up at least one area of the home before starting a new game or pulling out more toys.

What’s one challenge in organization for your kids?

Staying on top of the toy clutter in a small space can be overwhelming at times. I try to take note of when I’m feeling especially overwhelmed by toy clutter and then I know it’s time to review their toys and give away or donate some. In a small space it’s not hard to keep an eye out for what is played with and what is just dumped out and ignored.

Some just disappear for a while (a tote in the closet) and if they aren't asked after then I donate or give to friends. Others I just give away (without storing first) and deal with the potential consequences. Other times I involve the kids in the process. I think I have a good sense of what will be missed and what won’t. We haven’t had any major upsets about missing toys.

Toy Storage and Organization in a Small space

Toy Storage and Organization in a Small space

What’s one victory or claim to fame in organization for your kids?

Hmm I think that a victory we’ve had is that the kids, despite not having a playroom or even a large bedroom, have enough toys for imaginative play. Many of their toys fold away (like their playtent) or roll up (like the car mat) or store inside itself (like their dinosaur figurine volcano). They don’t have any big toys that you might see in typical playrooms but I think they have more than enough.

There’s also this funny little park a few blocks from our home where big plastic toys go to die. People from the neighborhood bring their old large and loud toys here and store them under the playground. The kids love playing with the slightly broken toys (push cars, doll strollers, tricycles) there and I don’t have to have them in our small space!

Another victory is that we keep the lego up high on a shelf and bring it down and use it on our leather gather mat. When it's time to clean up, we pool the lego in the middle of the mat and use it like a slide to send the lego back into the yellow boxes. Lego can be a bit of a nightmare in a small space so I'm happy that the kids can have the option to play but there are boundaries around it.

Toy Storage and Organization in a Small space

Toy Storage and Organization in a Small space

Are there any toys in particular that have stood the test of time and earned a spot on your shelf?

Magna Tiles or Tegu blocks
Play Tent
Lego
Dollhouse