Organizing Kids’ Spaces

Think back to your child’s last birthday party. Did you think about begging the guests not to buy toys? Parents don’t want their kids to be spoiled. They also worry about the expectations set by mountains of presents. But most of all they may wonder, “Where will all the stuff go?”

Local parents and organizers weigh in with tips on how to handle an overdose of kid stuff.

Organizational furniture

Look for a variety of solutions to find what will work for your home, recommends professional organizer Marsha Stayer of Apex, and individualize your storage solutions. “I feel that if something works for the client, it’s fine,” she says.

One of her favorite ideas is to start with a main item and work around it. Stayer says, “I like the bookcases with canvas boxes because the boxes are easier for kids to use. I also like clear containers.” She adds, “Have the kids draw a picture or take a photo with a digital camera and stick it to the front of the container so they know exactly where to find something and where to put it away.”

Stayer also encourages parents to choose bright colors rather than babyish pastels for colored bins so that the storage solution will work beyond infancy.

According to Clayton mother of two Gretchen Shierlock, “The best thing we did for our first child was to install a closet organizer system. I made it a must for the second child. Now, our first child uses the dresser/changing table as toy storage. The marketplace today has great baskets and organizing tools for ‘fashionable’ organized living spaces.”

Many parents like the look of a toy chest, but don’t find it useful when it comes to organization. Stayer says, “It’s a problem because everything gets thrown in and then kids have to dig to find what they want.” So be sure to consider how you will use the big ticket items before you buy.

When purchasing furniture that you will stack, such as bookshelves and cubbies, considering the safety of these items in your home is key. Stayer advises, “I highly recommend bolting bookcases or TVs to walls so that if kids climb up, things don’t fall.”

All about location

Apex mom Michelle Fleer finds that creating a specific location and organizational plan for each kind of item is the best technique for keeping her house tidy.

For small toys, she uses a 12-bin rack. “In that go miscellaneous toys that are small and otherwise would be impossible to keep up with,” Fleer says.

Each storage solution gets a label, and Fleer routes the would-be clutter to its own space. “Clothes that are too small for [her son], yet I can’t bear to get rid of yet, are contained in very large plastic tubs and organized by size and season and stored in his closet,” she says. “Games, DVDs and puzzles are kept on a shelf by item category in the storage closet off the family room.” She stores artwork in a 12-by-12 scrapbook in which she keeps only the really outstanding craft items.

By figuring out solutions for each problem rather than trying to tackle everything with one solution, Fleer has found what works for her family.

Garner mom Jennifer McIntyre devised a creative solution for her child’s small items. “We use clear-pocket, shoe door hangers for stuffed animals, socks, gloves, hair ties, hair bows, hair brushes, dress up shoes,” she says.

For bulkier or bigger items, Stayer encourages assigning a space. “I always try to stage the area creating the grocery corner or the Barbie doll wall,” she says.

What’s old is new

Putting away old toys and reintroducing them later can reduce the need for too many playthings. “After they have opened the [holiday or birthday] gifts, put a few up for a few months,” Stayer advises. “When you bring them out, they’ll feel they got new toys all over again.”

Durham mom Raewyn Sullivan follows that advice. “I rotate Matthew’s toys in and out of storage,” she says. “His absolute favorites never get put away, but ones he hasn’t played with in a while ‘disappear’ while others ‘reappear.’ It is like Christmas all over again for him!”

Some stuff must go

“The problem is too much stuff,” according to Chapel Hill mother Christine Galbreath Jernigan. “We monthly go through the playroom and kids’ rooms making a big black bag to take to Goodwill. The kids feel good about giving toys to children who do not have many of their own. Sometimes I pick up some extra things while the kids aren’t looking — toys they’d complain about giving away, but that they’ve outgrown or don’t use often.”

Stephanie Cain of Durham encourages her two kids to help weed out the clutter. “Each bin has a different purpose: one for balls, one for musical instruments, etc. If the kids want a new item, it must fit inside the appropriate bin. If it doesn’t, then they need to make room for it by getting rid of something in the bin,” she says.

Forcing the kids to examine their toys makes them realize what they really have. “Do they really need one more bouncy ball or are the 25 that we already have in every color imaginable enough?” Cain adds.

Be flexible

Keep in mind what works for your friends may not work for you. “You have to find solutions that work for the family and the child,” Stayer says. “Some families like to have a really organized space, and some just like a spot to throw things.” Finding a system you and your family can manage is key.

Being organized when your kids are young can create a lasting habit of organization. “Changing it [often] as they grow can be confusing,” Stayer says. “But if what you’re doing isn’t working, don’t be afraid to try something new.”

Robin Whitsell is a freelance writer and mother of three girls who lives in Chapel Hill. She can be reached at