Reining in Kid Chaos: Organization Tips for the Busy Family

I have no problem admitting that I am a neat freak.  While having three boys has, shall we say, lowered my tidiness standards, I still love nothing more than a functional organizational system or a good purge.  Working from home means that If the house is in chaos I spend my entire day  cringing as I walk through, around, or over the mess, not to mention the challenges that come along with trying to keep our main floor, where my photography studio is located, tidy and clean for clients.  At the end of the day all I’m trying to do is save my sanity by coming up with solutions to manage our clothes, toys, and “life” so that I can spend more time with my family rather than cleaning up after them.

After 11 years of motherhood I’ve tried many different ways to reign in the kid chaos and I’m happy to share six of my favourites with you!

Storage bags

We have tried plastic bins, plastic drawers, small containers, big containers, and after all of those attempts I finally broke down and invested in several large canvas bags to store our thousands of pieces of Lego.  Our attempts to keep the Lego separated into categories or types was futile: with three kids and friends rummaging through our collection it ended up being more work trying to get the Lego back into it’s separate bins.  What I like about the canvas drawstring bags is that they spread out flat on the floor, which means there’s room for everyone to access the pile of Lego and they can rummage to their heart's content without tripping over bins.  I invested in Swoop bags and have been impressed with their durability.  Similar designs are also available on Etsy and via local businesses.  

Toy storage in a bag

Repurposed shoe storage

Shelves that are 12 inches deep are a haven for dust and beanie boos.  My son absolutely adores his stuffed animal collection but I struggled to find a way to store all his little friends.  He was forever misplacing his stuffed toys or pulling out shelves worth of them to find one particular animal.  I ended up hanging a fabric shoe organizer on the front and back of his bedroom door to house all his stuffed animals.  I love that it keeps his toys off the floor and that he can see all of them at a glance.   

Shoe storage repurposed for toys

Art supplies

Our kitchen table is inevitably littered with scraps of paper, markers, and crayons.  For several years I had a separate bag or plastic container for each type of art supply (markers, crayons, pencil crayons, pencils) but was tired of putting them away at dinner time when I needed to clean off the table.  I recently bought a caddy that matches the colours of our kitchen and purged their collection of dried out markers down so that all the drawing supplies fit into the one container.  Now that the supplies are readily accessible I find that they are using them more often but it’s also easier for them to put them away since there is only one place to storage their drawing tools.  

art supplies storage


One of our sons is a self-identified crow.  He loves to collect treasures, which means a washing machine full of surprises and a bedroom floor that will fell the toughest of souls who dare try to cross it in the dark.  After several attempts to reign in his collection of bottle caps, acorns, marbles, paper clips, earrings, corks (the list goes on and on), I bought a storage drawer with drawers.  Now he can see his treasures in the clear plastic drawers and we can direct him where to stash his latest find.  It means we’re not always on the hunt for missing items and I haven’t stepped on a bottle cap in months!

Toy storage for small toys

Works of art

I have no problem admitting that I don’t want dozens of pieces of paper taped to my kitchen fridge and office walls.  Three creative kids means piles and piles of artwork is produced at home and school and I’ve managed to contain it to their bedrooms, which felt like a parenting coup d’etat.  We purchased magnetic kitchen storage (the kind that holds knives and utensils) for all three boys rooms.  All their artwork is displayed proudly in their rooms and with several rows of magnets, they have plenty of room to show off their creations.  

How to store your child's artwork

Photo clues

After hearing my preschool son complain “but I don’t know where it goes” in reference to toys he was asked to tidy up, I started printing photos for the fronts of all our toy bins.  Not only can they see which bin they want from our shelves but when it’s time for them to clean up they know where toys belong.

Unique toy storage ideas

Sara McConnell is the mom to three boys and an award winning professional photographer specializing in maternity, newborn and family photography. When she's not behind her camera, drinking too much tea, in the pool or at the beach you can find her on Facebook, Instagram and on her website.

Sponsor Giveaway: O.R.E. Hamper Tote {CLOSED}

I can't tell you how happy I get to see my little guy learn new things. From the time he smiled for the first time to recently when we gifted him with his first bike, he's kept up a steady stream of learning that's keeping us on our toes. When Heather at Smart Space Organizing first showed me this hamper tote by O.R.E., I thought it was brilliant! What a fantastic visual way to start teaching your young child how to separate their clothes into the proper place.

And children love helping mom and dad do chores around the house.

Smart Space is one of our generous sponsors here on Kids in the Capital. Heather and Karen often contribute excellent posts with tips and ideas for parents to try when organizing their family lives. Today, we're happy to be able to give away one of these hamper totes so you can start teaching your child how to separate their clothes.


  • Just leave us a comment on this post telling us the one room or place in your house you'd love to get organized. (Mine is my office - it's like the bottomless pit!)
  • You have until 6:00pm Monday, May 21st to enter.
  • We'll  announce the winner in next Tuesday's post.

Be sure to follow @smart_spaces on Twitter and like their Facebook page  to get tons of great tips for organizing and simplifying your life!

Fast Food: Make grocery shopping a little easier

By Heather

I am a firm believer that a good grocery shop begins at home with just a bit of preparation. A little planning saves you time and money because you don’t have to take extra trips to the store and you aren’t as tempted to just order in when the day gets away from you!

Ask any organizer and they likely have different ways of setting up their kitchen, their grocery lists and doing their shopping, but don’t worry — there is no one right way. It’s about what works for each of us. And here is what works for me:

Know what you want. Meal planning makes grocery shopping — and five o’clock on a busy Wednesday afternoon — so much easier! Before you shop, make up a menu of dinners for the week by flipping through your cookbooks and/or online recipes for inspiration, and then note down what you need to buy. By writing out your menu for the week you have a clear plan. I find this helps keep me on the straight and narrow. If I see “Tuesday: Thai Chicken with side salad” and I know I have done my shopping accordingly, I am way more likely to have Thai Chicken and a side salad on my plate than any type of fast or frozen food.

Know what’s there. Let me warn you that you will be in for some ribbing from family and friends but this step will be worth it, honestly…label your fridge. I know, I know, it sounds a little over-the-top but it will change your life as a foodie! A few years ago I separated the sections on my fridge door into categories like “sweet stuff”, “dressings”, “condiments” and the shelves into “meats”, “fruits and veggies”, and “dairy”, etc., and it has made a huge difference in the amount of food I shop for and throw out. By having clearly marked sections (choose labels that have a laminate surface for better durability), I can quickly figure out what I need for my menu planning week — and when I really don’t need yet another bottle of salad dressing! Another bonus to labelling is that I don’t end up losing items in the back of my fridge when I know what I have purchased has a purpose and a place. Even better, my husband and kids can also easily locate and relocate food because every shelf is clearly marked.

Know what you need. Have you ever come home from the grocery store and realized you forgot to buy a particular item yet again?! Don’t leave your shopping to memory — write down what you need as soon as you realize you are running out of it. I keep a 4-by-6-inch pad of paper and a pen mounted on the side of my fridge with a magnetic clip. When I see I am getting low on something, I add it to my ongoing grocery list. It saves me riffling through the fridge right before I head out shopping or counting on my memory recall when in the meat aisle — and my family also knows that if they want more of their favourite cereal, they have to add it to the list. When I sit down to do my meal planning, I use this ongoing list and my recipe requirements to re-write my list according to my grocery store’s layout — so fruit and veg go at the top of the page, followed by bread, then cleaning products, etc. I find it is worth the few extra minutes to re-write the list so I am not criss-crossing the store.

These ideas are what works for me, but be sure to tailor your shopping experiences to what works for you. Maybe it is a pre-printed checklist of often-purchased ingredients, maybe it is making your meals on the weekend and popping them in the freezer — whatever it is, find out what works for you and stick to your plan. It will make Wednesday dinners (and all the others) so much easier

Heather Cameron is a mom of two and a professional home organizer and decorator with Edited Interiors. She believes that being organized isn't about being perfect but about finding what works perfectly for you.

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Organizing for kids

by Heather I organized several day cares and junior kindergarten rooms this past summer and had lot of fun doing the spaces.

In case you haven’t been in a kindergarten room or day care lately, the area is divided into zones (see Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside Out) or like mini department stores (as described by Janice Russell).

Each zone in the classroom can be mirrored in your child’s bedroom.

The Reading Zone is where books are stored. Make sure you have enough bookshelf space to put away all books - you might need to add a bookcase. For the younger set, put books in bins that can be placed on a bookshelf, so all the books don’t come tumbling out when just one book is pulled out or put away.

The Rest Area or bed has only what is needed for sleeping or resting.

The Clothing Area would be organized similar to your mudroom or front hall, where children hang their coats on hooks and put their outdoor shoes and backpacks in a bin. Easy-to-reach hooks, bins, and baskets make it easy for your child to put away clothing so it doesn’t end up on the floor. When children share a room, label each bin with the child’s name or photo so each child knows where to put their belongings.

toy bins

Label toy bins with photos for non-readers, and when the child begins to read, use photos and names (in two or three languages if you wish). This helps associate visual cues with words and letters.

toy bintoy bin

Or, as one of my nine-year-old clients did all on her own:

toy bintoy bin

The easier it is for a child to use an organizing system, the more likely they are to use it and learn to apply organizing skills later in life.

Heather Burke Smarts Spaces Organizing follow me on twitter @Smart_Spaces find me on facebook