If you visit my home for more than a minute, you’ll know kids live here. There are very often random items strewn about the entryway and living spaces — plastic balls, wooden spatulas, tangible exhibits of the toddler’s current, mysterious obsession with cookware. (I cannot tell you how often I have fished my favorite oven mitt from the depths of that boy’s room.)
Still, I don’t believe in sequestering toys to a playroom, and while we’re going there, I don’t believe in toys. When you’re not yet tall enough to reach the kitchen counter, everything is a toy. It’s a lovely thing (creativity abounds!) until it’s not (why is my bundt pan in the bathtub?). And so, for our home, the question is less about what the littles are allowed to dig out and tinker with and more about how we can ensure the debris doesn’t swallow the house whole.
I suppose it’s less Babyproofing and more Mother’s Sanity Insurance. Shall we?
First, a few ground rules:
Use what you’ve got.
Our solution to Scout’s growing admiration for saucepans is simply a few rubber bands around the cabinet handles. No outlet covers? Grab the duct tape. When Bee’s favorite place to explore used to be the utility room toilet, Ken installed the room’s door lever upside down in lieu of safety locks. (Still confuses guests, but alas, ’tis a season.) The truth is: there’s almost always a creative solution around the bend, and 9 times out of 10, it doesn’t require a new purchase.
After realizing Scout preferred to play in the kitchen rather than other areas of the home, we moved a small kids’ dresser into the dining room as a catchall for activities. The bottom drawer houses stuff that’s Scout-approved for playing (pans, kitchen towels, mixing bowls, whisks) and adequately hides whatever else makes it in there at the end of the day (golf balls, puzzles, remnants of a rogue Halloween costume). He’s forever digging treasures out from “his kitchen” while I’m roasting sweet potatoes or flipping a banana pancake just a few steps away.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: closed storage, closed storage, closed storage. Yes, the open shelving thing looks pretty on Instagram. Yes, it’s fun to practice your #shelfie. Yes, it makes the room feel light and airy when styled well. No, children are not prone to styling well. Instead, try creating built-in solutions to catch (and hide) the clutter in every room. With a bit of repurposing, you can get away with creating playful zones in each space (without having to look at the onslaught of clutter).
A few favorites in our home:
LARGE STORAGE SOLUTIONS
Toy Chest ($399)
This toy box doubles as a bench for extra guest seating, so we keep two in the sunroom where I’m most likely to host girlfriends for playdates. The toy trains, tracks, blocks and balls all get thrown into the same simple spot, so when it’s time to clean up, there’s no need to walk your kids’ friends through an elaborate organizational system, and even the littlest hands can do their part in the clean-up process.
Storage Ottomans ($69)
We have similar ottomans that were a game-changer in replacing our former (verrrry sharp-edged) coffee table. We line up two as footstools for our living room sofa, and they can easily be pushed to the side of the room for floor time with babies or fort-building with kids. Plus, they’re perfect for storing the little toys that tend to gather all over the living room: blocks, board books, blankets, animal figurines and, apparently, in our home, yesterday’s Larabar wrapper.
Kids’ Desk ($649)
This kids’ desk offers a two-compartment storage unit and lid in the middle, so you can hide various craft and art supplies while keeping them away from smaller hands/mouths (shout out to the og choking hazard, pom poms). Plus, it comes in a beautiful walnut finish so it can serve a dual purpose as an incognito coffee table – once the glitter glue dries, of course.
Toy Box ($399)
We use this toy box (in walnut) as an entryway bench to gather hats/gloves/shoes/scarves (and inevitably, that excessive leaf collection Bee just snuck through the door). The drawers are light enough to prevent serious finger-smashing and low enough to ensure your kids can find and (reluctantly) return their own shoes to their proper place.
Industrial Hamper ($108)
We have a similar industrial hamper we use for firewood in the winter, but this one often serves its purpose as a blanket-and-stuffed animal catchall near our sofa. (Bonus: it makes a great impromptu dog/baby carriage should the make-believe plot call for such.)
SMALL STORAGE SOLUTIONS
Paper Suitcases, set of 3 ($20)
Bee decorated three of these to keep in her room for tiny treasures and to foster frequent pretend packing of trips. They’ve stood the test of time so far (from what I hear, they’ve only been left behind in the Nile River twice).
Nesting Baskets, set of 3 ($136)
My uncle is a basket weaver, so our favorites have been gifted by him over the years. Still, for the most part: baskets are baskets are baskets, and these are a good set – sturdy and sustainable. We keep large and medium-sized baskets of books in every room, and these hold their shape well despite (near-constant) battering from younger brothers.
Felt Bin ($15)
We line up a few of these in Bee’s closet for sorting through out-of-season clothing or hand-me-downs. Each bin is fully collapsible when not in use, so for those of you short on closet space, it’s a smart design well worth considering.
Pouches, set of 4 ($18)
We reach for these pouches to organize Bee’s clips/hair ties/sunglasses or Scout’s diaper creams and spare pacifiers – they’re simple, water-resistant and sturdy enough for the pint-sized carrying crowd. (Yes, they’re made for tools. No, you needn’t find your favorite solution in the kids department.)
Bee keeps this tote in the car with her Chinese homework and a few toys – it’s lightweight and large enough to corral (almost) everything that ends up on the van floor. Plus, it doubles as a grocery sack if we need to make a quick run to the market.
All of this to say: in a perfect world, with a perfect family, everything would have a proper place and everything would be in its proper place. And yet, our family’s far from perfect, and I’m guessing yours is, too.
And so, our rules remain simple. Put your stuff away. Whenever. However. Just get it done. May every room boast its junk drawer; may every corner offer a catchall.
Go forth and play anyway.
Tell me: what are your go-to storage and decluttering solutions for the littles? I’d love to hear!