Buy some of those clear plastic boxes with snap-on lids available at variety stores and online. The shoe box size is realy ideal for the majority of things you'll want to organize in this way, and is particularly good for all those small things (like that 100-piece set of tiny plastic people your Aunt Martha bought for your kids at the dollar store, your daughter's collection of Barbie clothes and accessories, and so on). You can use a larger size for larger items, or for those there are simply too many of. Of course, we'll be talking later about simplifying and how we can use it to reduce the sheer volume of stuff we have to deal with both as parents and as kids, but for now, go for the plastic boxes. Sanity is terrible thing to waste.
Sterlite Plastic Container - Medium (3)
This medium-size plastic container provides unique solutions for storing, organizing and carrying items around the home, office, garage or classroom. Sold in a set of 3, the lid features a durable, locking latch and a comfortable handle for secure one-handed carrying. The see-through bottom allows contents to be easily identified, and multiple units of the same size are stackable. Interior Dimensions: 12 7/8"W x 7 7/8"D x 5 1/4"H.This item ships directly from Stacks and Stacks. Product usually arrives in 2-8 business days, depending on destination, including order processing and shipping.
Sort the toys by type and put each type in its own bin. Lego, building blocks, Lincoln Logs, Barbie clothes, Matchbox and Hotwheels cars, and so on all each get their own box. One of the great things about these boxes is that they stack! They also fit well on most bookshelves and in most shelving units and cubes (you know, the kind you might be considering for your kids' rooms?). If you don't have shelves for them, find a good place out of the way of traffic and stack them up (not too high!). You can have a few stacks, right next to each other. Put the larger-sized boxes on the bottom (these would be the ones you need when your son has a Lego collection the size of my son's--you know, the kind that wouldn't fit into ten shoe boxs).
Now, the best part. Use a sticky label (available at variety or office stores--or online) or simply use a computer printer label (they come in various sizes; the address label sizes work great) and label each plastic bin with one or two words that describe its contents. Write in block letters for the best effect. If you're inclined to, printing them on the computer is a great idea! You can use nice block-style fonts (remember, these are for kids to read and use, so make the font simple and appealing to them), interesting colors, and even a tiny graphic or two.
When you stack the boxes, always stack them with the label side facing out. Now, when it's time to get out something to play with, encourage your child to get it him or herself, selecting the proper box according to its label. Okay, so they can see through the plastic if they can't read all that well, but the association of the item and the written words describing it is a great learning tool. Use playtime to help teach reading and writing and to make it fun! When it's time to put things away, have your child put things back in the proper box (again, if they're young, help them determine which is which, but encourage them to learn it themselves) and to stack the boxes once again.
This not only accomplishes those organizational and simplification goals--and helps your kids learn to think in a more logical and organized fashion and even learn to read--but also gives playtime (and cleanup time) a new twist. Kids can really learn a lot from, and can really enjoy, organizing their toys with these plastic boxes and bins. In a way, this system is a variation on a game or toy itself and it also provides a sense of accomplishment when things are successfully put away.