While working at the Montessori school in California, I avidly took notes on all sorts of things dealing with children and parenting. Each year the teachers would put together a set of parenting seminars. As a staff member I would go to these, and I avidly took notes on all these ideas that seemed absolutely brilliant to me (many of which came from How To Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, a fabulous book). One such idea was that of organizing and storing toys.
It is an essential Montessori principle to make your environment as simple, neat, and organized as possible. Materials are displayed on the shelf in a way that is pleasing to the eye, each with its own specific place. One can then take this principle and apply it at home by selecting a limited number of toys to have out on a shelf (as opposed to jumbled up in a toy box), where they will be easier to see, to keep organized and uncluttered, and be better cared for. Other toys can be kept in boxes in a closet, to be rotated out from time to time. I loved this system and vowed to use it for my own kids one day.
I am proud to say that so far I've done pretty ok with this. I've made a conscious effort not to go crazy buying toys for D-- something that's been made easier thanks to my aversion to cheap plastic toys that make noise, meaning the toys I do buy tend to be wood and thus more expensive. We bought a low, long shelf from Ikea for D's room (which I think is actually meant as an entertainment center, whatevs) and I keep his books and some toys displayed on it.
The rest of his toys are in containers in a closet, and I switch out at least some toys about once every week or couple of weeks. I also keep some toys in our living room downstairs, it's been a bit tougher keeping that number limited but I try to have only as many toys and books as will fit in the basket where I keep them. After our move and once we're setting up our new place, I'd love to get another shelf for our living area where we can keep a few toys for playing with.
D has started being able to scoot himself over to the shelves and grab toys off the bottom shelf. This means that we quickly end up with all sorts of stuff all over the floor, which is great for him playing-- he loves scooting from one toy over to another to play with, then remembering the first toy and going back to it, and on and on. But I am also trying to start the habit already of putting everything back on the shelves when we finish playing. I'll do it while D is looking, talking to him about how I'm putting X and Y back on the shelf. I have no idea if this will make getting him in the habit of cleaning up easier, but I figure it's worth a shot, right? ; )
I'm hoping if we get into these habits early, it'll be less of a struggle later on. And I mean that not just for him but also for myself, as I know I have trouble staying organized. I'm trying to work towards living a simpler life and not having so much stuff because it soon gets overwhelming trying to deal with it all (something that's most noticeable when you're in the process of moving it) and so I'm trying to practice this for D, and learn how to model it in myself and our home.