Thursday, August 23, 2012

Create a Tiered Multi-Bin Toy Storage Organizer

Multi-bin Storage Organizer and cover now
As I picked up LEGOS and tossed them in the multi-bin organizer this morning,  I was reminded of twelve years ago, when we used to toss toddler toys in the same bins.
Multi-Bin Storage Organizer back in the day
Twelve short years ago, my daughter was beginning to crawl.  At the end of each day, our family room floor was an obstacle course of stuffed animals, books, puppets and blocks.  We needed somewhere to keep all the stuff contained, organized and safely accessible.  We had been tossing toys in the pack-n-play and a large, hinged toy box.  But toddlers crawl and climb, which meant I needed a new solution.  I did not want a determined toddler hurting herself while trying to get to something.
Even back then, children's stores and catalogs offered a dizzying array of multi-bin organizers.  Today, there are even more options, including 12-bin Kids Storage Organizers, Plastic Toy Organizers and  Multi-Bin Toy Organizers.  These items are all advertised as having bins of different sizes for storing things neatly.  Most are designed at toddler-height.  They are either white or light-wood; either un-decorated or emblazened with the popular animated character du jour.

As I researched, I became frustrated with the following features:
  • Scale:  The organizers appeared small for the amount of stuff we needed to stash.    Most were 30" high and 36" wide.  
  • Color schemes:  My choice seemed to be either a girl or boy (pastels or primary).  No neutral color scheme existed.  We wanted more kids, but did not want to have to buy a new organizer just because kid #2 was a boy. 
  • Bin dimensions: Although there were 12 bins, they were shallow - large toys hung off the sides and fell out.
  • Cost:  They were expensive, like all toddler gear. 
We wanted something functional and appropriate for both our first-born (a girl) and unborn second-born child.  We wanted a solution that blended into our family room decor, not one that screamed "toddler and preschool kids have taken over our house!"  So we abandoned child-centric stores and researched standard furniture stores and catalogs.  Here, the options for multi-bin organizers or bulk bins were more stylish, though considerably more expensive.  We quickly added affordable to the list of must-haves.  Kids are cute, but destructive.  I was not looking to spend a lot of money on something that would become 'distressed' very quickly.

Ultimately, we decided to make a multi-bin organizer ourselves.   We designed one that stands four-foot (48-inches) high, one-foot (12-inches) deep, and four-foot (48-inches) wide.  It can accommodate twelve 12-quart bins or even more 6-quart bins (shoe boxes).  We also designed and created a no-sew cover for the organizer, which we could use to cover the visual clutter of the toys in the evenings.  Keep reading to see how we did it:

How to build a Tiered Toy Storage Organizer:

First, a word about shelving material:
When we built our organizer twelve years ago, we used two prefinished stair treads with a light wood, thermally-fused finish, similar to melamine.  This specific material is no longer available in the home improvement stores.  Below are three comparable materials to consider:

Stair Treads:  Sounds crazy, right?  However, a stair tread measures 11 1/2" x 48".  This happens to be almost exactly the same as a standard 12" x 48" shelf.  And, when I checked, the stair tread was slightly cheaper than the pre-cut shelf!  Stair treads feature a smooth, rounded outside edge - no square edges to pose a danger to little ones.
Pine Stair Tread  - 11 1/2" x 48"
Note:  If you want to stain or paint the organizer and dowels a specific color, a pine stair tread is an excellent material choice - it's already sanded to a smooth finish and accepts stain or paint very well.

Pre-finished Shelves:  Most retailers offer 12" x 48" precut shelves that have been pre finished in a thermally fused malemine coating.  Our local home improvement store offers white, black, light-wood and dark-wood finish.
Pre-finished Melamine-coated shelves - 12' x 48"
Note:  If you choose this option, you will need to paint or stain the dowels to match.

Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF):  MDF, comes in various pre-cut sizes.  Similar to the prefinsihed shelves, MDF is sold with square edges.
3/4-inch thick MDF Planks - 12" x 48" 
Note:  MDF accepts paint and stain really well and is widely used in home improvement projects.  To get a rounded edge, you can easily round off the edges using a router.

General How To:
  • Stand one shelf or stair tread on end or lay on its side.
    Note:  If using a stair tread, the rounded edge should be the front edge.
  • Measure and mark the following:
    A.  10.5 inches down from the top edge; 1 1/2 inches in from the front edge.
    B.  8 inches down from the top edge; 1/2 inch in from the back edge.
    C.  10.5 inches down from the top edge; 3 inches in from the back edge.
Mark and Measure the spots for dowel placement.
  • Measure 11-inches down from each spot and mark for the second row of shelves.
    Note:  Repeat this for row three and four respectively.
Vertical distance between each dowel is 11 inches.
  • Repeat this process with the second stair tread or shelf.
    Note:  If using a stair tread, the rounded edge should be the front edge.
    Result:  You have marked for the dowels.  The marks on each stair tread or shelf should match.
  • Drill a pilot hole at each spot marked.
    Note:  You can drill from either side of the stair tread or shelf.  From the inside, the hole will be covered by the dowel.  From the outside, the hole will be covered by a hole cover cap.
  • Drill pilot holes in both ends of each dowel.
    Note:  Make sure to exactly center the drill bit on the dowel. 
  • Center a dowel over one of the marks so the holes match up.  Attach the dowel to the stair tread or shelf from the outside.
    Note:  Slightly counter sink the screw.
Close-up of counter-sunk screw.
  • Repeat this process for all dowels.
    Result:  One side of the organizer is complete.
  • Center the second stair tread or shelf over each of the dowels so the holes match up.  Attach the second side of each dowel from the outside.
    Note:  Slightly counter sink the screws.
  • Stand the organizer up and verify that each dowel is level.
    Note:  If you measured correctly, it should all be level.
Completed storage organizer - ready for bins.
  • Use the plastic screw cover caps to cover the screw holes on the outside of the organizer.
    Note:  Look for these at the home improvement store. 
Screw cap covers applied.
  • Place plastic bins on the organizer tiers and load in the toys, books, etc.
    Result:  It's time to play  .
The toy storage organizer (wall o toys) got lots of use.

How to Make a No-Sew Toy Organizer Cover:
Remember when I said I wanted  a solution that blended into our family room decor, not one that screamed "toddler and preschool kids have taken over our house!"   This multi-bin organizer, while very functional and capable of holding lots of stuff (books, puzzles, puppets, toys, etc), was visually distracting when we were relaxing or entertaining in the evenings.  We needed a cover.
Pack-n-play did not really hide the toddler toy clutter from sight.
So, I bought some fabric yardage - in a color to match our walls - and a few more items at the home improvement store and created my solution.  Keep reading to see how we made a simple no-sew toy organizer cover that you can quickly place on, and remove, as need be:

  • Fabric of your choice
    Note:  The fabric should be sized to cover the width of the organizer, drape across the top shelf and down the entire front, wrap around a dowel and leave room for 1/2 inch seam allowance.  I used a piece of fabric approximately 50" x 64".
  • Two 1/2" x 48" dowels
    Note:  you could also use round tension rods.
  • Four plastic l-brackets to hold the dowels in place (if using dowels)
    Note:  We used small white, plastic shelf supports flipped over so the cupped side was exposed.  It ended up being the perfect size for the dowel.
  • Fusible bonding web, such as Stitch Witchery
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Screws
  • Screwdriver
  • Tape measure
  • Pen or pencil
General How To:
  • Measure and cut your fabric for the cover panel.
    Note:  I cut a piece of fabric 50" x 64." 
  • Using Stitch Witchery, or other fusible web, iron a seam around two long sides and one short side of the fabric panel.
Iron on fusible webbing to hem the fabric panel.
  • On the remaining short side, measure and mark a line approximately three inches in from the edge.  
  • Apply Stitch Witchery, or other fusible web, along this side so that you create a channel (or rod pocket) large enough room to slide the dowel through.
The fourth side hem allows the dowel to slide through.

  •   Insert one of the dowels into the channel.
Dowel inserted into the fabric panel.
  • Attach the small, white plastic l-bracket to each upper, inside corner of the toy bin organizer.
    Note:  I wasn't sure what this piece of hardware was specifically called.  My husband reminded me that it was actually a shelf support bracket flipped over to use the bottom.  We found it in the general hardware department - in a bulk bin of shelving parts.  Use a level to verify that you installed the four l-brackets level.
    Note:  A curtain tension rod would work just as well - no brackets required.
The white, plastic l-bracket was the perfect size for 1/2 inch dowel rods.
  • Place one dowel on the front l-brackets.
One dowel rests on the front brackets.
  • Place the dowel end of the fabric panel on the back l-brackets.  Drape the fabric over the front dowel and let it hang down the front of the organizer.
    Result:  Toy bin organizer is officially covered.  The mess has been disguised!
Toy bin covered.  No visual distractions.
When Not in use, roll the fabric and dowel together and stow.
Store the organizer cover behind furniture or in a closet when not in use.
When we moved houses, we used the bin organizer in our upper level bonus room.   The kids were growing up, so we filled the bins with trains, Pokemon cards and cartridges, Power Rangers / Rescue Heroes, Matchbox Cars and LeapFrog books.
Stage Two use of the Tiered Toy Storage Organizer 
By then, several of the bins were cracked (from climbing on them) or missing.  No bin?  No problem.  Board games and puzzle boxes slide onto the lower dowels perfectly.
The bin organizer isn't just for bins.
Covering up the organizer was not a big issue - us adults did not have to stare at it every evening.  SO, the cover was stashed away in a closet.

Nowadays, the organizer has found a home in the "LEGO Room" / guest room.  The bins are full of LEGO.  The rest of the open shelves are for the larger boxes, etc.
Our multi-bin organizer is currently used to store all things LEGO
We again need to  hide the clutter from time to time because the LEGO room is also our guest room.  So, when we need to convert from playing well to hosting well, we pull down the Murphy Bed and pull out the organizer cover.  Works like a charm!
Multi-bin organizer covering up LEGO Bricks when guests stay over.
This is such a useful, cost-effective project!  We were able to design an organizer quite a bit larger than those offered onsite and in stores for about the same cost.  It's been twelve years since we built the organizer and I can honestly say it has stood the test of time.  Rather than donating or selling a toddler-specific organizer when the kids left pre-school and outgrew the design, we've been able to continue using the organizer, merely changing what is stored in the bins as the kids grew.     And, now that I make my own lined storage bins, I can easily replace any of the remaining plastic bins that break!  That's a bonus :) 


  1. I had bought one of these YEARS ago. Cheap! I am shocked at the price I am finding! I have a girlfriend who has Chondrasarcoma, and unfortunately, she isn't going to be here much longer and she has a young daughter and I wanted to do this for her to help her with organizing. I am feeling blessed to have found this because I simply cannot afford what everyone is asking. My warmest thank you to you for sharing this. As I sit here tearing up, I am looking forward to getting this page to her husband so that he and I can tackle this project and surprise both my friend Liz and her little girl Gemma. Thank you.

  2. I only have 36"x36" space available. Do you think if I made the side boards 16" wide, I could turn (3) 12qt bins (16"Lx11"W) lengthwise and they would fit? Also, is the a detriment to shortening the 11" space between shelves to accomdate (2) 12qt rows and (2) 6qt rows in my 36" space? Thanks very much. My son and I will enjoy this project.

  3. Update. We did use 16" side boards and it worked out well. We used two lower rows of (3) 14qt containers and two upper rows of (4) 6.25 at containers. The clear containers were made by Bella. All materials were purchased at Menards. It feels like we have the same storage capacity with a much smaller unit.