How To Reign In The Playtime Mess

Are toddler tornadoes making Independent Playtime difficult? Find out how to deal with the playtime mess so it won’t get in the way of a successful playtime routine!

reign in the playtime mess | Play independently | solo play | toddlers | babywise | toddlerwise | preschoolwise | teach children to clean | clean up | messes

If you have children, then you know messes are inevitable. Sometimes those messes are manageable and other times they’re the stuff legends are made of.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with evidence of children at play. But today I want to talk about a special kind of playtime mess. The pull-EVERYTHING-out-of-every-container kind.

Toddler tornadoes are no joke. Even still, it’s good for your child to have some time to play alone each day.

So if you have a toddler or preschooler, you’re in the right place. Read on for some tips to prepare you for what might be coming, along with some advice on how to handle it.

And if you are currently experiencing these crazy playtime messes, hang tight sister. It gets better. I hope you can find some help and encouragement here so Independent Playtime can continue to be a successful part of your routine.


This is the 6th and final post in the Independent Playtime series – a series where you’ll learn all about Independent Playtime and how to use it.

I wanted to end this series by addressing a problem so many of us deal with: What do you do when discovery continually turns into an unmanageable playtime mess?

Is there any hope? Yes! Is it easy? Not always.

And it doesn’t mean that these types of messes won’t still happen occasionally. After all, kids are kids.

But it is possible to reign it in. Children are smarter than we sometimes give them credit for.

You can teach them what’s appropriate. And with a little coaching (and a lot of consistency), they’ll learn.

messy toys

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.


If you’re continually walking into huge mess after playtime, here are 10 helpful tips to try:


Simplify your play areas. Minimalism is on the rise, so why not bring it into the playroom?

Children can easily become overstimulated when there’s too much to look at. Too many options. Too many colors. Too much “stuff”.

Did you know children can actually focus more and play better with less?

Cut down on excess toys. (I know, that can be hard!) And simplify the play area, both in decor and visible toys.

Also, I’m a big fan of opaque boxes, baskets and bins. Less visual distraction.

These shelving units and these boxes are my absolute favorite combo. I love IKEA for organizing!


Independent Playtime is different than regular free play. And one of its purposes, according to Preschool Wise, is for children to learn to focus on what they can do with what they have.

So, one of your jobs as the parent is to pick out what your child can play with during playtime. As he gets older, he can definitely help choose. But make sure you still have a say.

Many parents have found success in a quiet time box. Their child can only play with what’s in that box for the day. And each day, they fill it with different things.

But even if you just set out the daily playtime toys on the ground, toy rotation is still a good idea. It keeps children from getting bored. And limiting the toy choices has many benefits.

It also lessens the temptation to go digging through every box to find something to play with – meaning: less mess!


Help your child out by making things easier to clean up.

My #1 tip when it comes to ANYTHING in the house is that everything needs a home. And this definitely includes all things toys!

Having one big toy box in the play area might seem easier. But, have you ever noticed that children always seem to want the one toy at the bottom of the box? (*Insert giant playtime mess here*)

Instead, grab a few boxes and a cube organizer. Or a few cute baskets and a shelf. Group things by category and, if you’re feeling extra creative, stick some fun labels on your containers.

Even if you’re tight on space, you can find some pretty clever toy storage options. Thanks, Pinterest!

However you do it, organizing the toys will make it easier to clean up. And the easier it is, the more likely she’ll form the habit of cleaning up after herself.


There have been times when I’ve gotten annoyed with my children for not doing things the way I thought they should be done. And most of the time, I’d realize it was because I hadn’t taught them how to do it!

As parents, we have so much we have to teach our children. And sometimes, things just fall through the cracks.

We expect them to pick up on things. And although kids are pretty capable and can pick up on a lot, there are some skills that require a little more formal teaching.

Start by cleaning up with your child. Make sure he knows where everything goes. And make sure he can actually do it on his own.

For example, can he actually find the containers needed to clean up? Can he reach them?

The Peaceful Parent Starter Guide | This Time Of Mine


Part of helping children learn a skill is consistency. This definitely is more work on your part at first. But it pays off.

So, no matter what, make sure your child picks up after playtime.

It might seem pointless, since the day isn’t over. But just remember that Independent Playtime is a distinct part of a daily routine. And not only will it set a consistent and reliable end to playtime, it will reinforce the skill of cleaning up.


Another part of teaching a skill is providing an example to follow.

Whenever you can, let your child see you clean up after yourself. Even if you don’t draw major attention to it, your child can start to learn that cleaning up is a necessary part of everyday life.


Cleaning up doesn’t have to be a punishment or a chore. Make it fun, keep it positive and be encouraging!

You’ll see that children love it when they’re little. So capitalize on it while you can! Teach the skill now while they’re eager and your future self will thank you.

And end each Independent Playtime with praise, especially if playtime messes have been an issue. When your child starts to get better, or has days where unreasonable messes don’t happen, praise him! This will help him to learn what is appropriate in playtime.


Practice makes perfect!

Ok, maybe that’s not always true. But practice can make things permanent. And that’s a good thing when teaching children to clean up after themselves!

So give your child plenty of opportunities to practice forming this habit throughout the day. Putting pajamas away. Clearing the table. Picking up in the evening…

After awhile, cleaning up can become second nature. And when this happens, your child will be less likely to make huge messes. (Most of the time…)


If unreasonable playtime messes continue to happen, be consistent in making your expectations known. Let her know what’s appropriate and what’s not.

For example, tell her she can’t pull every wipe out of the container because they’ll dry out. And then there won’t be any wipes to use. (Speaking from experience.)

Or help her realize that big messes aren’t fun to clean up. Small messes are much easier.

Whatever it is you need to address, help your child understand the why behind it. And when you can, stay matter-of-fact rather than getting emotional or angry.

This will help make your expectations crystal-clear as your child learns what’s acceptable.

mess during playtime


Sure, it’s nice to walk into a tidy play space. But just remember that sometimes every item of clothing will end up on the ground. And other times you’ll realize you didn’t hide something well enough. But that’s life with a kid.

Of course we try our best to teach our children how to play without tearing a room apart. But kids are still kids.

And part of creativity is discovery. So sometimes we have to just roll with the mess.

When a toddler tornado strikes, we can use it as a teaching opportunity. But also know that it’s ok to give a little grace.

As long as the room is safe, don’t stress too much about the playtime mess. With a little guidance and a LOT of patience, take comfort in the fact that it’s a phase that will pass. At least until the teenage years.


Independent Playtime is one of the most useful parenting tools I have. It’s been key to my sanity and ability to get things done. But it’s also an incredibly beneficial part of my children’s routine. We all benefit from it!

I hope you’re able to find success in implementing it into your routine too – messes and all. You’ll be so glad you stuck it out.

This concludes the Independent Playtime series. If you’d like any more information on this amazing parenting tool, check out the other posts in this series:

Also, I’d love to hear about how you handle toddler tornadoes! Leave a comment and let me know what’s worked for you!

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reign in the playtime mess | Play independently | solo play | toddlers | babywise | toddlerwise | preschoolwise | teach children to clean | clean up | messes

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