By Stephanie Morgan- Modern Parents Messy Kids
Parents are always asking for more posts on storage and organization, particularly pertaining to toys. Just for you, I'm going out of my comfort zone a bit here and exposing what is decidedly one of the less stylish spots in my house in order to share what's been working for our family.
Before we get started, I just want to point out that I do have intentions of completely re-doing this room in the (hopefully) not-so-distant future. I've got a little plan hatching in my head about how to make it function as both a playroom and a space for dining when we have company. The problem with future plans is they sometimes stop progress. I'd kinda written off this room until I could properly make it over - it quickly got out of hand while I wasn't looking.
To start, here are three photos of the before. They were taken last summer but the room hasn't changed much since then. Our creativity center and the couch (our first official furniture purchase for something like $400 in grad school) take up most of the back wall. There's also a sliding glass door to the backyard on another wall.
That means we basically have two walls that can be utilized for storage (the creativity center not withstanding). I should also tell you that the kids' rooms are upstairs so another integral part of this space is a pajama station, laundry hamper, and changing table. That way we don't have to go upstairs to change diapers or clothes (more on this later).
Step one of the process was to empty out all the shelves and cupboards to make one big, scary pile of everything currently being stored in the room. I also added a few toys that I no longer wanted taking up residence in the living room. Sadly, this isn't even my big pile - this is the result of step two.
Step two consisted of dividing that pile into three subpiles: keep, throw out, donate. You could also add a "sell" pile (gently used kid items go like hotcakes on Craigslist), we just didn't have anything to sell this time around.
Once the "throw out" and "donate" piles were removed, step three was to divide our new scary pile into three even less frightening piles: items staying in the play room, items going to long term storage, and items going to short term storage. Long term storage items are those that are out of season (e.g. golf clubs for outside) or that the kids haven't even touched in months (art easel ever since the arrival of the creativity center). Some of these may make it back into the rotation eventually but not for at least a few months.
As for the short term storage, I subscribe to the philosophy that it's best to only have some of our toys out and available for play at a given time. The rest are stored away and then rotated in every few weeks or so.
This is beneficial for two reasons:
- Clutter is massively reduced and it's possible to give each toy a special place so the kids can see it. I've found that if a toy is buried in a pile or at the bottom of a basket, it rarely sees the light of day.
- The kids don't get bored with their toys as easily. Bringing out an old toy that's been stored for a few weeks is very similar to bringing home a brand new toy. The kids haven't forgotten that it's an old toy but not having played with it for a while seems to restore a lot of the novelty.
Step four is more fun than steps one through three - time to put stuff back on the shelves! I'm going to walk you through the before and after of each shelf and you'll see that, at first glance, the "before"s aren't really that bad. The issue with this room was less about clutter and more about a lot of missed opportunities to maximize storage.
Above is the right of the two bookcases that flank the fireplace. The basket on top was full of magazines from years past (I have no idea why) and probably hadn't been removed from that shelf in S's lifetime. Below that is a printer we haven't used since switching the location of our wireless modem several months ago and a TV with no cable hookup and no DVD or Blu-Ray player.
These are the kind of items I (obviously) have a really hard time getting rid of. We really have no use for them but they're in great shape and worth some money so I let them take up space "just in case" we need them in the future. But no more - the TV and printer went to the Good Will and the magazines, which I must have been hallucinating that I'd get around to actually reading someday, were recycled.
Finally, note the row of items on the floor next to this shelf. Pushed up against the wall like that, these things weren't really in the way but they were virtually invisible to the kids who never touched them.
Here's the after. The things up really high are actually mostly short term storage items. The basket is full of larger toys and the trucks are those I don't expect C to want to play with daily. The nice thing about storing them where they're visible is that C can still play with them whenever he wants (although so far he hasn't really noticed them much) and I see them daily so I'm much more likely to actually remember to rotate them in.
The middle shelf has C's new collection of games, the 2/3 of our discovery bottle collection that aren't out for daily play (those are on a low shelf in the kitchen) and C's jigsaw puzzles. Unlike the trucks, C does notice and ask for all of these items regularly. I love that they are visible and enticing to him but not available for random dumping at any given moment.
Last is the kids' wooden play kitchen and accompanying wooden food. Both kids have gone through phases where they loved playing with this stuff but neither has touched it in months. Since moving it up off the floor, they once again play with it daily. They can both reach the food and will ask (or gesture) for me to take the kitchen down. Behind the closed doors are a few more toys, two or three on each of the two shelves.
Next up is the fireplace. This, I'll admit, is not a very dramatic transformation. What you can't see in the photos is that hiding behind the easel in the "before" shot is a pile of racing cars and a track. Also that easel was just taking up space, it was never played with. In the "after" shot, you can see I've moved the box that had been lined up on the floor into the fireplace and filled it with out-of-rotation books. (Yes, we rotate our books too - there are two "in rotation" baskets in the living room along with a tiered book sling in C's room and another box in S's room.)
The storage capacity of this bookshelf was also being underutilized. To my surprise, the basket was nearly empty and everything else was purely decorative (although I do intend to actually hang the IKEA coat hooks soon). Now the shelves are setup similar to a store display.
In the past, a setup like this would have made me thought it was staged for the photo. Who really stores their books this way? But then I realized, as was the case with the puzzles and games, putting C's activity books up high on display (instead of down low in a pile as in the photo below) actually makes them more visible to him. I know this approach isn't very Montessori-friendly, but I'm finding it works best for us. The next shelf is full of wooden puzzles.
Behind the doors on this side is the aforementioned pajama station. This is where we store extra wipes, diapers, pull ups and both the kids pajamas (they use the bathroom and get ready for bed downstairs every night).
Last but not least is the changing table. Because of the precarious stacks of books and puzzles that used to reside here, this spot was kind of a danger zone and often caused a big mess. It's still the first place the kids hit up when they enter the play room but now things run much more smoothly.
I'm keeping only one activity book and one puzzle on the top shelf so they'll really draw S's attention. And since the rest are stored on the shelf just a few feet away, it's very easy to change them out every few days. The bottom shelf has C's current favorite vehicles and bristo-type blocks in a container without a lid, again to draw interest.
To recap, here's a shot of the finished fireplace wall...
...and the changing table wall...
...and, in case you missed it's debut, here's our creativity center in the opposite corner. I'm happy to say it's done a great job of keeping all of our art supplies in check over the last several months.
So that's where we're at with the playroom. I hope this was helpful. Please leave a comment if you have any organizational tips of your own to share.
Stephanie Morgan is mom to a 3 year old son and 1 year old daughter and the founder of Modern Parents Messy Kids (MPMK for short). MPMK provides parents with products, information, activities and design to engage their kids, organize their life, and add a little style to their homes. Stop by for daily bits of inspiration as well as a large collection of activities in The Make & Play Vaultand reading resources in The Book Nook.