On any given day as I mindlessly scroll TikTok during nap time, my For You Page is filled with Taylor Swift concert footage, Vanderpump Rules drama, and anything and everything to do with cleaning and organization.
“CleanTok” has become something of a phenomenon on social media, and there are endless tips, tricks, and hacks from content creators swearing that they have the best way to ensure a clean, organized, and aesthetically pleasing home. And, without fail, I buy into every single one.
But after scrolling through hundreds of TikTok organization tips, tricks and hacks — and trying so many of them, too — I realized something: All those ideas are good in theory, but it turns out I’m more of big f*cking bucket kind of mom.
I have a three-year-old who has more toys than any of us know what to do with. My first step in attempting to control the chaos was toy rotation, basically setting out a fraction of a child’s overall toy collection at one time and allowing them only those toys as play options. That makes them more exciting and engaging.
And it worked: With an abundance of choices, my daughter got overwhelmed trying to figure out what to play with. Toy rotation has allowed her to really hone in a couple toys or activities (we’re super into matching games lately), and ever since I started, she’s done way more independent play.
You’re probably wondering what in the hell I do with all the other toys that are not in rotation. Well, frankly, I wondered, too.
That’s when I turned to TikTok for advice on how to best sort, organize, and keep track of all my daughter’s toys to help reduce clutter and ease my ADHD brain. Enter: IKEA organization hacks.
There are so, so many. DIY masters have hacked the basic, iconic Billy bookcase into gorgeous built-in bookcases; moms have taken IKEA shelving units, added some 2x4s, and turned them into homework desks for their kids with space for every school supply. One TikTok hack that worked wonders for us was taking IKEA spice shelves and turning them into bookshelves for my daughter, and we love the Flisat table for sensory activities.
But there was one major playroom organization hack that truly had me dreaming big. And I went all out.
I bought two sets of the IKEA Trofast shelving units, the corresponding bins, and a label maker. I assembled them all by myself with just one flimsy Allen wrench and a dream. I sorted out all of her toys into categories like “blocks,” “imaginary play,” and “sensory toys,” and then I stuck them into the matching bin. It would be toy rotation heaven.
I had a system. It was perfect. Each toy had a place. Every bin had a label. I was ready for my own organization show on Netflix.
That is, until it was time to rotate on a late Friday night after I looked over at my daughter’s toy shelf, bleary-eyed, noticing that she hadn’t touched a single thing the entire day.
That was just the beginning of a cycle of ever-more-aggressive toy rotation over the days and weeks that followed. More and more often, I found myself walking over to the shelf, removing a few toys, moving them over to our guest room and throwing them on the bed because I was way too lazy to put them back where they “belonged.” Then I’d run over to the closet where I kept the Trofast shelves and pick out a couple other things that she hadn’t played with in awhile.
Trying to find the “right” toys for her became a guessing game where I typically set myself up for failure. The morning after a new rotation, she’d squeal with glee at the sight of some new item she hadn’t seen in awhile, play with it for maybe 30 minutes, and then turn to me and ask: “Mom, can I switch this out for something else?”
The weekly requests became daily requests. Eventually, I gave up and just let her go into the closet herself and pick something out… without having her put something else back in its place.
She’s three and a half years old, so if you think anything ended up in it’s labeled bin, you’re kidding yourself.
Three months into my toy organization journey, the guest bedroom was a mess, the labels had fallen off the bins, and s—t was everywhere. I had every intention of becoming an organized, tidy mom where every toy had its right place, but deep in my soul, I’m a “big f*cking bucket” mom.
What’s a “big f*cking bucket mom,” you ask?
That’s a mom who respects the concept of a perfectly organized toy system where every piece of every toy is in a bag with a label (in a bin with a label) in a closet in a room that looks so put together it would immediately be on her Pinterest board. But she just can’t make it happen for herself.
She puts all the toys her kid owns in some big f*cking buckets and lets the universe handle the rest.
I still change out her toys from time to time (our house literally is not big enough to keep them all out at once, or else we might as well charge entry and open an indoor playground), but I’ve let go of the unnecessary pressure to keep everything organized.
Before I embraced the bucket life, it had gotten to the point where I’d literally freeze up in a panic when my daughter received a new toy, and I couldn’t think of the “right bin” to put it in. Now, I keep the TikTok tips that work for us, and ditch the rest.
One tip I adopted was from popular TikToker KC Davis (@domesticblisters). She practices toy rotation and also has the damn IKEA Trofast shelves, but she uses the same bins for storage and toy display. So when she wants to put out a set of blocks for her kid, she simply grabs that bin and sets it out. Meanwhile I was attempting to transfer 100 Magnatiles from an IKEA bin to an acrylic bin from Target (because, again, I truly wanted that “Cleantok” look) until I eventually gave up and threw it all on the floor of the guest bedroom and shut the door pretending they weren’t there. I’d opted for an overly aesthetic approach that just wasn’t attainable for me.
A bunch of big buckets? Completely attainable and a weight lifted off my shoulders. Free yourselves!
Katie Garrity is a contributing Scary Mommy writer covering news pertaining to parenting, celebrity, and viral moments. She has written news content for Distractify and Cuteness as well as personal essays for Thought Catalog and Clean Plates. She has a degree in English from North Central College. In her free time, she’s hanging with her 3-year-old and husband, planning their next family trip, and watching restocking videos on TikTok.