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

Treasures

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.

Simplicity in a Toy Library

Parenting from a place of simplicity is a wonderful philosophy in which to root ourselves and our family. Implementing simplicity into a life that at times feels anything but is a big goal.  To reach our big goals it is best to start with the smallest of steps. Enter the toy library.

What parent of young children doesn’t look around their home from time to time and think their children’s toys and books have taken over? A toy library is a simple organization system that can minimize those mountains of unused and unappreciated toys and books. 

Here are some toy library strategies and tips to get you started:

1) The best place to keep a toy library is in a large bin on a shelf in an out of the way place (closet, basement, garage, etc). It needs to be large enough that it can hold toys and books you have identified as currently unloved and/or neglected by your children. 

2) Types of toys the library will hold will be things such as a gift from grandparents, or a book you feel your child will come back to in time, or maybe a toy that isn’t age appropriate yet.  

3) Toy library items should be those that can quietly disappear without being missed, but are items that you aren’t quite ready to place in the donation pile.

Now, the identification of appropriate toys for the toy library requires a bit of focused attention from us parents. At my house I keep an eye out for what toys are currently fascinating my two children and which ones are collecting dust. Which story books are in rotation at bedtime and which ones are lost under the bed. At the end of each month I rotate those forgotten toys and books into the toy library. 

Attention and practice has honed my skill for identifying toys and books that won’t be missed, so be patient with yourself as you start out.  I feel I’ve been successful when I identify and store away items without my little ones wondering where they went. 

The other huge benefit of the toy library is you get to decide when those out of sight toys re-emerge back into your child’s life. I have pulled toys and books from my children’s library for:

-    long plane rides and car trips;
-    extended waits in doctor’s waiting rooms; and
-    when I need them to play independently so I can get things done. 

Toy library items are usually greeted like beloved old friends when they reappear. The trick to remember is once those library toys re-emerge, another toy that you have identified as falling out of favor with your child goes away. And so the cycle continues. 

Too many toys have potential to cause overwhelm in young children, and too many toy choices may result in them not learning to value what they own. A toy library can move you toward not only stimulating play spaces for your children, but inch you closer to the value of simplicity. A winning combination !

Julianne is the mother of a toddler and a preschooler, a Masters educated Social Worker, and a Certified Positive Parent Educator. Read more about her work at www.parentingcalmlivingconnected.ca 

Organizing tip: Keeping kids toys organized

by Karen Don’t be fooled into buying a big toy box for your little ones…smaller, manageable containers are so much easier for children to handle.  Large toy boxes are just a dumping ground for all things large and small and make it impossible to find anything.

Invest in some small, medium and larger Canvas or Rubbermaid type bins to house all those toys that seem to accumulate over time.  Find containers that are opaque  and have manageable lids for little ones to be able to pry off.  Categorize your toys into bins, mark the bins for what belongs inside, or paste pictures on the container for the non-readers, and cleanup will be easy for both the child and parent.

Although I have teenagers now, I still have those see-through containers filled with the better quality toys that stood the test of time (such as Lego) and they are easily accessible for when small children visit!

Karen is the mother of a large and busy family with  2 sons in their twenties, 2 teenage daughters and a 17 year old foster child!  As the wife of a retired RCMP officer, she has moved this family 8 times! She recently joined the team of Smart Space Organizing as a professional Organizer because she loves helping others tackle their organizing challenges!

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