organizing and storing kids stuff, toys, clothes, and everything else

I somehow made it through life not understanding how to keep things tidy. I'm pretty good at the actual act of cleaning (vacuuming, cleaning the toilet, dusting--however rarely that might happen), but in spite of having an compulsively tidy, uncluttering type of mother (love you mom!) I had no idea until fairly recently that to keep everything neat you simply have to have a place to put it. Saying that now I realize how completely ridiculous that sounds, since the whole "a place for everything and everything in its place" idea seems so obvious, but I just never got it (which was obvious by the stuff I had sitting around or 'stored' under the bed, etc. That said, I wouldn't say that everything is magically picked up all of the time since I had this life-changing revelation, but it's better. For one thing, the children know where to find their things and, better yet, where to put them away. Yes, they can pick up their toys, shovel them into a designated basket and return it to the shelf. When I do a big pick-up, I can just walk around the house with a laundry basket, filling it with misplaced things that I put away later on my route. So what did it take to get to this point?
  • I'm a converted believer in containerization. Daddio pokes fun at me for having so many plastic bins, but once everything has a place to be it's easy to manage. Sets of toys fit into one of a few sizes of Sterilite containers (shoebox, double shoebox, or underbed boxes for the train set, or these) which fit on shelves or into a set of cabinets we have in the hallway. In our basement storeroom everything is stored in similar 28 gallon totes that fit onto shelves. Each is labeled with a sharpie. Craft supplies are in baskets and containers in a steelcase cabinet. (Let me tell you, it used to be that you could not find ANYTHING in our storeroom, so I feel awesome writing this out).
  • The toy containers and baskets we have are all pretty much identical so that they can be swapped around the house or put into storage very easily. In our play/craft room we have a very long set of library shelves that holds all of our old little people playsets (with the small pieces in a basket), containers of individual sets of toys (e.g. one holds matchbox cars, another holds a set of building toys), and games, plus a small cabinet that holds a sorter full of different types of paper and small containers with pompoms, pipecleaners, markers, etc. Upstairs we have some cabinets that hold trucks and other containers. It's easy to take something upstairs, shift another toy downstairs, and exchange others with toys that are out of the rotation.
  • Daddio and I are accumulators. We collect things and then can't let them go. Part of it, I think, is our thrifty nature--we're afraid that if we get rid of it then we'll need it at some point in the future and we'll have to spend money to buy it again--while another part is that having stuff makes us feel secure. Some of these things are collections (vintage radios, 50s dishes), some are craft supplies (fabric and yarn being a considerable portion of this), but some of it consists of stuff that we fundamentally don't need (tacky garage saled Christmas ornaments, toys that were never really liked, notebooks from graduate school). We had to purge. We kept things that would likely find use, containerized them, and stored them. Even if we don't use them they don't get in the way (it's sort of a compromise between our competing urges to accumulate and purge--I'd sort of like to get rid of everything and live in a sort of zen house, but I just don't think that it could work for our personalities).
  • The living room is essentially a toy-free zone. We have a set of blocks that we play with in there and that's usually it. Very easy to clean up if someone's dropping by, and never gets that messy anyway.
  • Finally, we don't really have that many 'toys'. We very rarely buy anything ourselves and have been very fortunate to have grandparents who are on-board with buying a few really nice toys rather than gobs of cheap stuff. There are a lot of open-ended toys (like dress-up clothes or the play kitchen) and craft supplies, but their imaginations seem to be most of what keeps them occupied.
Poking around online, I found a number of really great ideas for keeping kids' things tidy. I'm thinking that I'm on the right track, since a lot of other parents seem to have the same containerization idea, but honestly, theirs look better than mine.
  • Good + Happy Day posted some pictures of her daughter Sabrina's storage system. I loved the decor in her bedroom, and the way the cutouts in each door turned the toys inside into bits of art. I also found her comments on Sabrina's use of the space really interesting.
  • Mayaluna at maya*made came up with a cool idea for storing her daughter's hair and clothing accessories. This is something I've so struggled with since I had no idea that having a girl brought so many ponytail holders, necklaces, little purses, and hair clips!
  • Laura at Organizing Junkie found a shelving unit for her playroom and labeled the bins with pictures.
  • Finally, the posts that really made me think about how hard this can really be, Jen at Amazing Trips had a pair of posts outlining how she manages the chaos that her three-year old triplets and infant son wreak on her little house. I wondered how she did it all....
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