A Case Against the Toy Chest

You might be wondering what anyone could have against a toy chest. Isn’t that an integral part of childhood? Well, my argument starts with the idea that there are only two things that ever happen with a toy chest: 1) Everything gets dumped out onto the floor, or 2) It is ignored. I guess there’s a third thing which happens, which is: 3) Mom or dad puts everything back in the toy chest at the end of the day and shuts the lid.

Instead of having a toy chest where everything gets hidden at the end of the day, my suggestion is to set up several play-areas in your house with little ‘scenes,’ where when everything is put away, it looks inviting and beautiful. Toys are displayed in a way that makes you think, “The only thing missing is the kid!”

Why Ditch the Toy Chest? Here’s why:

  • Young children, even as old as five, often only think of playing with a toy when they see it. Setting up little ‘scenes’ will promote a wider range of imaginative play. Additionally, more of your toys will be played with, if they can be seen when they are put away.
  • Having ‘scenes’ set up encourages independent play. If a scene is inviting, the toys themselves will help a child launch into play; they won’t need your help to get started. You can also capitalize on the child’s strong sense of imitation: set up a play-kitchen in sight of the real kitchen. When your child sees you cooking, he can look around and see something just his size to do the same things on. Set up the fire-station at the end of a long hallway. When your child goes to the potty, he will see this fire-station and it will suddenly occur to him that the fire trucks have gotten a call.
  • There will be less mess and clutter. Whether children are looking for a specific toy or just looking to see what’s inside, the tendency is for a toy chest to get dumped out. This ends up with an instant mess! Toys get stepped on and get in the way, discouraging children from getting deep into their imaginative play, and frustrating adults who are trying to keep their home tidy.
  • Having ‘scenes’ set up can help teach children to care for their toys. Each toy has its place and can be put away when a child is done playing with it: having periodic tidy-up times built into your daily routine will help with this, too. With a toy chest, things get thrown in together in a jumble, often leading to toys breaking. A sense of “a place for everything, and everything in its place” gives value to each thing.
  • When most toys can be seen even when they are put in their place, this has the added bonus of limiting the amount of toys you can have at any one time. Keep a box in the shed or the attic and rotate toys. Toys that haven’t been seen for a few months will generate renewed interest when they appear again.

So, in this after-Christmas time, take a look around your house. If you were a child, would you be excited to play there? Do you have so many toys that it’s hard to pick out something to play with? Get two boxes and go through your toys. In one box, put any toy that your child has out-grown, or that’s broken, or simply ugly or annoying. Give this box to goodwill. In the other box, put toys that your child hasn’t played with for a while, or that your child can’t play with constructively yet, or that get everywhere and drive you nuts. Put this box in the garage or a closet. Then take what’s left, and start arranging them into theme-areas. Make one corner of your family room a ‘cozy corner,’ with cushions and sheepskins, and a baby doll or two sleeping in their cradles. Put the doll clothes in a little drawer nearby. If Dad has a workbench, put a play workbench nearby, with pint-sized tools. Make sure that each item has its ‘place,’ so that when everything’s put away, there’s no clutter. Instead, it whets the appetite and invites your child in to come play.

Warmly, ~Miss Faith


  1. I love this idea and would love to see any links or pictures as well anyone can share with ideas about using and creating such spaces!

  2. I’ve always liked open shelving for toys. It was always interesting to see how the children chose to arrange toys on the shelves when it was time to pick up. Things with wheels here, soft things there. And they would change their sorting patterns as they grew. And sometimes they were in a hurry and it was just haphazard. Thanks for defending the keeping of toys in the open.

    The Creativity Institute

  3. I disliked putting my classroom to rights at the end of each day until I began to live into the potential scenes you mention in this article, Miss Faith. Once I had methodically put things back, in a loving almost reverent manner, the blessings I gave to each article through my acts made it much more fun & exciting to return the next morning, to watch the children meet the room anew, as if it were a clean palette on which to invent & play & reinvent…it became one of the most delightful parts of my long day knowing how the setting I created as I tidied, allowed the children to blossom & thrive. Something so simple is a powerful gift to the children, and can make parenting [ or teaching] quite satisfying. Again, well done, Miss Faith, well done.

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