As a designer I was often asked what I thought a client's room "needed". More often than not I wanted to talk about what to take away. A room can suffer from too many ideas, too much stuff, and when you throw kids into the mix - chaos. It doesn't matter how nicely decorated your nursery, bedroom or playroom are if they're messy and disorganized. Parenting can be overwhelming enough - your space should be calm, reassuring and inspiring.
When our kids where small, my husband and I would find ourselves at the end of a long, sometimes stressful day, in our den - which doubled as the playroom - trying to unwind. The little angels would be happily sleeping in their beds but for some reason - even with a glass of wine and our favorite show - we couldn't shake off the day or reconnect. Was it the pirate ship on the coffee table, the action figures buried into the sofa cushions or the orgy of Kens and Barbies that had collapsed upon each other that made us feel overwhelmed? The toys had taken over.
Our time cleaning up seemed endless and the space no longer belonged to us, not even for a couple of hours at the end of the day when we needed it most. I'd had enough. Stepping on Lego hurts!
Here's what I did and continue to do, and it works.
You need to set aside most of a day and dig in - and dig in deep. You will love the result and wonder how you ever lived any other way.
1. All Together Now
Gather up all similar things into piles. ie. All the "people". Then you can subcategorize them into "Action Figures", "Baby Dolls", "Barbies", etc. Quickly sort through each pile. Don't be afraid to make a mess. It's going to get worse before it gets better.
2. Elimination Isn't Just For Babies
Get rid of the crap. Be merciless. All puzzles with a missing piece, ponies with three legs, headless superheros, a single doll shoe, must go. Also eliminate gifts that you received but never liked and things that you think are cool, but the kids never played with. You should have filled some garbage bags by now. Donate or trash - your choice but don't hang on to it.
Stuffed animals can be a problem. I swear they breed. I let the kids chose some to give away regularly to keep the population down.
3. Contain Yourself
Only after you've sorted should you purchase storage containers. I like stackable containers that have drawers. Look at what you have. You'll be surprised that you have less or more of something than you thought. If you have a lot of, say, dolls and their accessories, sub categorize - dolls in one bin, their clothes in another, hats and shoes in yet another. This way children can find things without dumping out storage bins and with some support, put things away in the right place.
Chose neutral colored storage containers. Avoid overly decorated or cute bins, you'll tire of them or the kids will grow older and think that, "they're for babies". Keep it simple. You can find other ways to make the room interesting and your own. No need to draw attention to toy storage.
4. "L" is For Label
This part should be fun and rewarding. Take your time and make this aesthetically pleasing to you.
Your labeling should be age appropriate for your kids.
* At younger ages I suggest taking a photo of what is contained in the storage bin ie: a photo of small cars.
* Next have the child draw a picture of the contents on an index card and then you clearly write a simple description ie: "small cars".
* Only when your child is a confident reader (make this easy for them) can they write the label themselves.
* Finally, the label maker. If you're like me, this can get out of hand. Keep it simple.
5. An Apple a Day...Maintain.
Please, please, keep it this way. Try not to let it get out of hand. Many parents have a policy about putting the game/toy away before getting out a new one. This is a good idea. A trashed room can look daunting but it's amazing what you can accomplish in a few minutes. I tell my kids, "It might look difficult but you can do difficult things."
When you're done you are really going to feel good about the way your household functions but I also hope you feel calm and centered when you see your newly organized space. Your eye will now rest on the picture you love or the pattern on a pillow, not dart frantically around the room at the chaos that is kid mess.
Don't expect that your kids will clean up and put everything away perfectly. Cleaning up should be a "we" thing. I suggest doing it together ie. "Let's be detectives. Help me find all the blocks."
Lead by example. Model the good behavior by sharing with your kids the way you respect your things and put them where they belong. ie: "I hang my keys here so that I know where to find them." or, "I'm donating these books because I no longer need them."
Don't separate them by what you presume their gender dictates. Your son should feel free to look at princess books and your daughter might want to learn about trucks. Try to group them by subject or size, fiction and non fiction. I like these shallow book shelves for display of current favorites.
Tip: Kids Art Work
Instead of hanging kids art work all over your home create one or more gallery areas. My kids curate their own closet doors rotating art work to make room for newer ones. We wall papered one of my sons walls with Graham & Brown's, "Frames Black/White" to show off his drawings and photographs.
I also recommend having books printed of their work. Plum Print is easy because they do all the work for you.
Having art supplies available to kids scaffolds their autonomy and reduces the amount of times that you hear, "I'm bored... what can I do...?" I keep paint, glitter and anything that needs supervision out of reach but other art supplies are kept in a centrally located cabinet. When the doors are closed it looks "adult" again.
I like these lucite caddies for supplies (available at The Container Store).
A happy home is one where everyone's needs are addressed. Loving your children doesn't mean neglecting yourself or your personal space. Honor the things you've chosen to accumulate by giving them their own place in your home.
Congratulate yourself for organizing and tidying up by getting some fresh flowers. Put your feet up and enjoy a deep satisfying breath. The air will be fresher and life will be sweeter. Maybe your child/children will be playing with their toys or drawing peacefully in a room where belongings and people are respected and well cared for. This is the stuff of life.