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     Conquering Kids' Clutter

Spring is almost here, and with it comes the urge to clean, DECLUTTER, and toss out -- until the next year, when we start all over again. For some reason in the springtime, I find myself drawn to minimalistic decorating. You know the style: no knick-knacks, a few things hung on the walls, throw out all the kids' toys... Okay, that is a bit drastic. But with a preschooler's Hot Wheels taking over my living room, I'm getting ready to regroup. Perhaps a few of these organizing tips will help you in your quest to CONQUER clutter in kids' rooms.

Blocks, doll clothes, small toy cars, tinkertoys, playdough, and all the other loose items floating around the house belong together. I strongly recommend using shelves with TUBS of different sizes as opposed to toy boxes. Toys last longer when they're stored gently and not stacked, and the kids can find things easier. Reduces boredom and makes for fewer trips to the toy store as well.
  • Small plastic SHOE-SIZED boxes are perfect for Legos, Barbie clothes and accessories, and hot wheels.

  • Find the totes a size larger with HANDLES on the top for easy carrying to and from the playarea. Larger tubs hold blocks, play food and dishes, and other pieces that just seem to multiply in the night.

  • Then save the extra large tubs for big GROUPINGS of items that need to be stored together -- train sets, car tracks, doll accessories, and sports gear.

Flat UNDER-THE-BED boxes are wonderful for out of season clothes and toys. Most closets are not large enough for toys and clothes, so why not store unused toys as you would clothing: kites, beach gear, and baseball gear is stashed during winter months; football, hockey stick, and ice skates are stored during the summer. Also Try to buy CLEAR tubs for easy viewing, or LABEL with words or pictures for younger children. If they can't see what's inside, chances are they won't use the toys within the nicely organized containers. Kind of defeats the purpose, don't you think? Get creative, and let the kids help you label the boxes with photos or magazine clippings of the items. Good rainy day project, and promotes reading skills for the little ones.

One of the key rules in organizing and decorating is to utilize VERTICAL space. Often we place furniture around the room with nothing above it, forming a nice horizontal line. There is a ton of unclaimed storage and visually appealing space right above the furniture line!
  • Hat racks, expandable or pegged, make wonderful HOOKS for stuffed animals, dress up clothes, hats (I just had to state the obvious here!), jackets, back packs, and book bags.

  • Smaller items can be hung to organize them by FUNCTION: sports gear (baseball hat, glove, cleats), or fashion (jewelry, belts, scarves, hats).

  • More is better? I once saw an entire wall of a kids' room lined with pegged hat racks, creating a chair RAIL. The pegs were at eye level for the little ones, who hung stuffed animals from ribbons, hats, totes filled with blocks, and various light-weight kiddie treasures. Very creative.

In the lower grades of elementary school, the classrooms are set up in learning CENTERS. And to contain the clutter in the classroom, Miss Crabtree has a strict rule of putting a toy AWAY before taking out another one. This may seem strict in your own home and does not work with every child. With my own son, I have the "three toy rule": he may play with three toys, then it's time to put them away before dragging out another one. It works well with puzzles, books, and other like items. If you start young, they may continue this "clean as you go" rule throughout life.

Be sure to provide ample shelving, simple containers, and practical solutions for this rule. And make sure your storage choices are APPROPRIATE for the items being stored in them. I found when my son was an infant that board books fell right through the slatted bookcase in his room, so I found stacking bins in primary colors for the smaller books. We use the bookcase for large toys instead. Bend the rules, and create new ones.

How many times have you heard that back door open and close during a warm summer day? In Texas where we live, the flies come in and the air conditioned air rushes out. Not a good thing! Toys in the hands of an active child follow the same rule, and INVENTORY has to be taken at the day's end to make sure baseball mitts are not left outside, and bubble mowers are not dripping on the carpet. Assign rules to the toys and try to stick to them: inside toys, outside toys, upstairs toys, downstair toys. Often this is a safety factor, such as all toys that can be thrown are OUTDOOR toys (balls, bats, frisbees). All paper items are INDOOR toys (books, kites).

If you have a two-story home, set a rule that upstairs toys are NOT to be dragged downstairs, they stay in the bedroom or playroom. Keep a few toys on a small shelf, in a wicker basket or toy bin downstairs in the family room. These must be cleaned up each night before bedtime. Downstairs push or riding toys must STAY downstairs and off the steps.

To further utilize vertical space, install SHELVES and paint them to match the wall. Hang toy hammocks for stuffed animals. Spray paint a long shower tension rod, wrap with Velcro strips, and stick up stuffed animals. And old soda crates found at flea markets can be cleaned up, painted, stacked, and will house treasures of all kinds: collections (shells, rocks, key rings, kids meal toys). Smaller versions can be purchased at craft and discount stores.

Encourage your child's CREATIVITY by enlisting their help for novel solutions for storage. Give them a budget, make a list of things to contain, and see what they come up with. Perhaps they'll surprise you and suggest taking a box full to their favorite children's charity, or have a garage sale to raise money for newer toys. INVOLVING your kids in the planning, prioritizing, sorting, and containing stages ensures better (not perfect) participating in the maintenance of clutter. And who knows? You may actually nurture a minimalist of your own in the process. Or a packrat with incredibly organized closets.


Debbie Williams is a professional organizer, syndicated columnist, and speaker. Debbie has over 15 years of administrative and training experience, holds a bachelors degree in education, and works as a freelance writer for various entrepreneurial and parenting publications. You may contact her at .

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