Admit it. You don't think it's possible to keep your kids organized. No matter how many toy bins, bookshelves, or baskets you buy, it's just not going to happen, right?
I have a confession. My kids aren't organized, either.
I know. It shocks me, too.
I've come to terms my house will never stay perfectly clean and organized until the last child moves out. But until the day our sons pack their bags and we shove, I mean, help them out the door, I've come up with a few tricks to keep the clutter to a minimum.
1. Rotate the toys.
When I was a kid, there was a family down the street who managed to keep their home clean despite having young children. It wasn't until I babysat for them that I learned one of their tricks. Every single toy was sorted and organized into bins or baskets. Those baskets were stored on the top shelf in the bedroom closet. When the kids wanted to play with something, their mom would take a bin down for them. If the kids wanted a new bin of toys, the previous bin had to be picked up and put away before their mom would get a new one.
A few years ago, I tried doing that for my oldest son. Lincoln Logs went in one box, blocks in another. Hot Wheels in a bin, trains in another. It worked fine, but I found it too restricting. Multiple bins would be opened at a time and it took forever to sort it out and put it all away. It just didn't work for us.
Tired of the increasing clutter and stress, I tried something new. Instead of dozens of smaller bins, each with a specific kind of toy, I purchased six larger ones and labeled each of them with a toy category - Big Legos, Small Legos, Cars and Trains, Blocks and Wooden Toys, Learning Toys, Pretend Play. All indoor toys were sorted into the bins, outdoor toys in a large bucket on our patio. Anything that didn't fit into those categories was discreetly donated when my children weren't paying attention. Stuffed animals were the only exception. Treasured 'friends' were given a home in a bucket in the family room - easily accessible for impromptu snuggle time.
The bins are stored in our basement and only one is allowed out at a time. When my boys tire of the toys they've been playing with, they have to pick them up and put them away in the bin before we'll pull out more. I still have toys strewn about my family room, but it's not nearly as many and it only takes a couple of minutes to clean them all up.
The most beautiful thing about this system is my boys actually play with their toys. Not just for a few minutes - hours. Pure bliss!
2. Banish the bookshelf.
Kids don't use bookshelves. Except for climbing. Not that I know that from experience...no, not me...
Most preschool and elementary-age children identify their favorite stories by the picture on the front. In order to find the book they want, they'll pull out every single book and throw them on the floor. It doesn't matter how well you sort them or how prettily they're displayed, if you store your children's books in a bookshelf, you're just asking for them to be tossed.
Don't despair! You can keep that custom-painted color-coordinated bookshelf you upcycled from a garage-sale find. The solution is as simple as a dishpan.
Dishpans are extremely affordable. I've found small ones at Walmart for as cheap as a dollar. Board books and small paperback children's books fit beautifully. You simply stack them like this...
And set them on the shelf like this...
Kids can flip through the books to find the one they want. You can also sort them into categories and rotate them out. They're easily transported from one room to another. Or even to Grandma's house for a sleepover. Or for road trips.
You don't have to use dishpans, either. Decorative baskets or boxes work just as well and can be customized to coordinate with your decor.
3. Contain the games and puzzles.
My children love puzzles and games. So much that I have to lock my office door to keep my youngest from pulling out every single board game we have. There are a lot of options here.
Store them in plain sight.
Store them in the original packaging and hope for the best.
Or invest in a lot of packing tape. Some of our boxes are more tape than box now. Since we have shelf space and the boxes still stack fairly well, this is how we store most of our games. I try not to stack the younger kids' games more than four high or we end up with a game avalanche.
While most of our board games are in their original packaging, most of our puzzles are not. Instead, we store them in gallon- or quart-sized bags with the top of the puzzle box that includes a picture of the finished product. All bagged puzzles are kept in a basket. This method takes up much less space.
Contain the small stuff.
My husband and I enjoy playing Scrabble. Early in our marriage, we played it a lot, but having to turn over those darn tiles to start playing took forever. So I made a small fabric bag so we could blindly draw tiles from it. Not only did it speed up game play, but it helps keep the tiles contained even though our box is disintegrating.
4. Clothes, clothes, and more clothes.
The only solution I have for this one is hampers, hampers, and more hampers. One in every bedroom and bathroom. Keep them simple and out in the open. If your kids have to open a lid, it's too much work. If the closet door is closed, it's too much work. If they have to go into another room, it's way too much work.
5. Be the example.
|My 14yo's shelf after I 'helped' him get organized.|
My crazy organizational ways are rubbing off on them, too. Don't get me wrong, they're still walking tornadoes. But when I see my 14yo carefully displaying his precious chess set on his dresser or my 5yo lining up his Magic Treehouse books in order, I smile and know my efforts are paying off.
And maybe one day, my future daughters-in-law will finish up where I left off.
My husband is still a work in progress, after all.