The Life-Changing Magic of Toy Jail
Words Lisa Milbrand
Tired of the clutter—and stepping on one too many toys in the middle of the night? Toy jail could be the answer for you.
Your kids’ toys may spark joy for them, but when you’re dodging a minefield of sharp-edged blocks strewn across your living room floor, joy may not be the emotion that comes to mind.
You could always attempt to convince your kids that cleaning up is fun. But if your toddler doesn’t turn into the next Marie Kondo just because you’re putting stickers on star charts when he straightens up, we have a better way to get him to organize his toys—and help keep your home a little more Zen: toy jail.
How Toy Jail Works
If you haven’t already seen it blowing up social media, toy jail is exactly what it sounds like. Your kid has until a certain agreed-upon time (usually bedtime, or the end of a playdate) to clean up her toys. After that, any toys that are still left out and about get scooped up into a container and put where your child can’t get to them—for a while, anyway.
To make the scooping-up process easy, all you do is grab some designated containers and dump the toys in there. POP Containers with lids are great for stashing tiny items like those infernal blocks, a laundry basket makes a great home for larger toys, and the Bath Toy Bin can help clear the clutter from your bathtub.
What Kids Learn From Toy Jail
The toy jail system really works because it’s a true cause-and-effect setup—if your kid leaves a toy out, it gets sentenced to toy jail, and she says sayonara to it until she earns it back. The punishment fits the crime: Toy jail is a straightforward way for kids to see the consequences of not cleaning up their toys. Provided they care about those particular toys, they have a built-in incentive to earn them back.
Parents have different systems set up to allow their kids to bail out their prized possessions. Some parents give the toys back to their kids after a few days, if their little ones are better about putting the rest of their things away. Other parents require kids to do extra chores around the house in order to earn their toys’ freedom. (Even two-year-olds can help put away clothes and clear the table after dinner.) Some families have a rewards system, where kids have to earn enough points to retrieve a jailed item.
Parents who get really fed up with the clutter make their kids forfeit toys that have stayed in toy jail too long. If that system appeals to you, it could be a perfect way to do some spring cleaning in the kids’ room, get rid of any toys that aren’t sparking joy—and help keep the toy proliferation under control.
The Life-Changing Benefits for You
Unlike star charts and other teach-them-to-clean systems, toy jail is perfect for a busy family. Stashing toys into a catch-all container takes almost no time, and the system can keep growing with your family—even beyond the toy years.
When your kids become tweens or teens and start leaving sneakers or gaming controllers in the middle of the living room floor, you can snatch up their stuff and put them to work in order to recover it. That’s when they’re old enough to really start to take on chores, like doing the dishes, washing the floors or even cooking dinner for you. And if putting your feet up while your child vacuums the rug isn’t life-changing magic, we’re not sure what is.
Want to get your kids even more involved around the house? Read how one mom is getting her kids to help with chores.