A short internet search will bring up literally thousands of ideas, tips and tricks for organizing children’s rooms, clothing and toys – many of which involve designer budgets. In this article I take a step back and cover the basic principles of success. Kids are definitely the litmus test of an organizing solution. If it doesn’t work, you will know almost right away.
So to quote the Original Organizer, Mary Poppins, spit-spot! Let’s get going!
Make it really, really easy to put things away
Think about how many different steps your child may have to make to put things away, and try to pare those steps down – to just one, maximum two steps. The principle to follow here is Drop and Go. You will have much more success if your little one only needs to pull a lidless basket off a shelf and throw items in, than you would if he or she has to open a cupboard, pull out a box, take off the lid, put the items into the box, put the lid back on the box… you get the picture. The less steps, the more success!
Have very dedicated spaces for things
Messes happen when there is a “fog” about what goes where. For example, some of the most challenging items are the tiny ones. And there are always so many tiny ones… marbles, collectibles, playing card, toy soldiers, hair clips, lego, etc. If these items are always in a muddle, this is telling you that there are too many types of items grouped in one space, even if that space is a small box. Think of a dedicated rack of tiny caddies, rather than big boxes. Consider clear fishing tackle boxes. Or put a peg-board on the wall and hang a caddy for each type of item. You can use pictograms to show what is in each caddy, or glue-gun an example of the items on the front of each caddy.
Create dedicated spaces for different activities
Imagine for instance a reading area with cushions on the floor or a few low footstools, and a bookshelf where everything is within easy reach. Perhaps in a different corner of the room you might have a small table for doing homework and creating art.
Use the walls
Paint all or part of a wall with chalk paint and keep a bucket of crayons handy. String wire and use clips or pegs to hang pictures and photos – proudly show off an ever ever-rotating display of art. Create a “toy hammock” out of a piece of fabric, net or mesh, and string it across a corner to store soft toys, which are often so space-intensive. Go vertical with shelves if floor space is very limited. Use the upper shelves for showing off attractive items that are not used, but have sentimental value. Use the lower shelves for books, art supplies and bins for toys.
Choose useful displays over hiding in boxes
I am not a big fan of lidded boxes in general, except if they are used for out-of-sight, protective storage. Boxes hide things and often become junk collectors and space-wasters themselves. Boxes get stacked, making the lower ones hard to get to. A more successful approach is to imagine a homework and crafts area in which everything is displayed attractively for use. Think narrow open shelves next to a table, with an array of of brushes, pens, pencils and crayons stored in jam jars or mini buckets. This invites and inspires creativity – yet everything can be put away in just a few minutes. Displays have their own beauty, much as you might arrange jars of spices or grains in your kitchen. The more you store crafts items in an attractive, open and easily usable format, the easier it will be to keep the space Creatively Tidy. If you need to store paper, or other horizontally-friendly items, have the drawers be as low in height as possible, to avoid the need for digging, and make sure they are easy to open and close.
From chore to game
The more specific you can make the storage, the easier and faster it is to tidy up. This creates clarity and no dithering about where to put things. “Please tidy your room” can be replaced by “Let’s see who can put the most marbles in this pot”. Or “Let’s find all the books and put them on this shelf”.
And last… but not least…
Less is more. Every six months, put aside an hour or two and go through toys, clothes and craft items with a view to reducing what is no longer used or precious. I know moms who experiment by hiding toys or clothes for a couple of months in the garage, to see if they will be missed. Once time has passed, you can make the call to keep or donate.
Children manage to accumulate vast quantities of stuff. But deep down, you will always know what the truly precious items are.