Kids...We love them, but they're a hot mess!!
I was a Kindergarten teacher and then a Pre-K teacher for a combined 9 years. Prior to that, I was a nanny for 12 years. So let's just say, I've done my time with kids. And at this point, I believe that I have them down pat as far as how to get them to clean up quickly and effectively, without throwing a fit!
So let's talk about space. Each scenario is going to be different based on the amount of room we have, how much 'stuff' the kids have, and how much we have in our budget for organization supplies.
I've had many different scenarios that I've had to come up with different solutions for. During these blogs, I will show different sized areas with different budgets, different numbers of children therefore different quantities of toys & different end goals.
Let's start with a medium area (a bedroom sized room, specifically being used as a playroom) with a decent sized budget:
The question is "how do I go from this...
I will add links to the items shown on my Shopaholics page. When I say "Shopaholics doing it right" this is what I mean! Buying useful items to help you live in an organized world!
So, first things first, we sweep. Yes, you heard me right. You take that broom, and sweep every single item on the floor into a huge pile in the middle of the room. This is essential. The reason being, is that you can't organize ANY room, until you have your first cleared space to start putting things. So first, we need to set up the OUTSIDE of the room. Walls are your friends people. Use them! Every horizontal inch in a kids playroom, for sure, and as much vertical space as they can reach. The less nooks and crannies between furniture, the less Barbie shoes and puzzle pieces they will be able to stuff in there. Now, a minimalist would not agree with this technique. However, I feel that 20 years experience gives me the edge on this, even though I also lean more toward a minimalist type of lifestyle. A child is a child. A child will do what you consistently teach them to do. If you do not teach them, then they do not automatically know how you want them to clean up. And as long as you are willing to put them time into teaching your child what you would like them to do, then there is no reason for your child to have to be a minimalist. It's not natural for them, nor is it a fair expectation of them in MY opinion.
So, we shelf. We shelf the crap out of the room. First, you need to take all of the larger items that will be staying in the room, and house them. Barbie houses, Hot Wheel tracks etc. Place those along one wall. Then we know how much wall we have left for shelving. As you'll see in a lot of my rooms, I use cube shelving. I do this for several reasons. The first reason is, that it is one of the most economical ways to house small items in playrooms. It also helps create the rule "Only take one box out at a time, and fill it back up and put it away before you get the next box out". The words "Clean up" can be translated in a child's mind into a multitude of different things! "If I put away this ONE item then I have indeed cleaned up" or "Put anything that's on the floor, somewhere on any shelf and that is cleaned up". You never know what that phrase will mean to a child. And so we teach. We do it calmly, and make it fun, and potentially reward earning in the beginning until they have established an acceptable (to you) technique of cleaning up. Let's also be mindful of age appropriateness. Obviously your 8 year old will do a better job than your 3 year old, but that doesn't mean that your 3 year old can't be taught, and that your 8 year old should be responsible for cleaning up the whole playroom. Nope. If you want that 3 year old to be able to clean up after themselves when they're 8, then this is the best time to start. They are sponges at this age, and they are eager to please, so do it now!!
Alright, so we have the shelving situation sorted. Maybe a book shelf or 2 if you keep books in the room, or for larger objects that won't fit in a cube shelf. OK. Now let's talk about the containers themselves. Although the faux canvas cubes fit perfectly in the cube shelving, they absolutely CAN NOT handle heavier items like a full box of Matchbox cars. They cave in. It also makes it really hard for kids to clean up when the container has to be handled a certain way to get back in it's home. So, faux canvas totes for things like, Marble Mazes, Barbie clothes, Duplo, Magnatiles, train sets, play food, American Girl clothes, dollhouse furniture, plastic characters & square board game boxes etc., all fine, but Matchbox cars, more than 12 Barbies, baby dolls or anything that you would have to "encourage firmly" to fit in the box, skip the faux, and go with a plastic, rope, or faux wicker type container. I personally steer away from clear bins, as it doesn't take away the cluttered look since you can see the contents!
So now, here you sit on the floor in front of the massive pile of McDonalds happy meal toys, lost puzzle pieces, Barbie heads, a Monopoly piece or two, naked dolls, a Toy Story slinky, some rubber stamps and a multitude of items that you will look at with hatred in your soul, knowing that the next 2-3 hours of your life will consist of picking each individual thing out and sorting it into bins off to the side. But that's great, because in the next 2 hours, you will figure out just how willing you are to part with your childrens' toys, and let's just go ahead and start with those McDonalds toys lol! Minimalist life what?!? Yeah, you've got this! You're amped up. You're ready to go...and then your child walks into the room. Crap. Now what? You're a good Mom right? So let's ask this precious little Barbie head removing angel, if they would like to help. Let's ask them "is it ok if we get rid of some of your toys?" Let's ask them if each thing "Sparks Joy? (Insert face palm slap here🤦♀️) NO. STOP. FREEZE DEAD IN YOUR TRACKS! That child caused the catastrophe in front of you. Do you really think their decision making skills are up for THIS challenge and are the route you want to take? Are you under the impression that they will happily part with that broken dinosaur that they have loved into pieces? You are SO lacking sleep if you think the answer is "yes" to the aforementioned questions! Retreat. Now. Remove this little tyrant from the room A.S.A.P. Remember, YOU'VE got this....they however, do not. Not yet. That comes later. The teaching moment. But right now, you're in toy hell. Be a good Mom later.
Alright. You are surrounded, LITERALLY in all directions, by containers. Some categories you will use are;
-Dress up or dramatic play
-Baby only toys
...You get the idea. So, now you sort. You will become a machine, throwing items into containers left, right, behind you, in front of you, and across the room. And as you get closer to the bottom of the pile, and you can see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, this is when you become the purging QUEEN! You scoop those handfuls of Barbie shoes, one Lego piece, the tip of a crayon, a rubber band, a Tic-Tac, a fruit snack, and that deflated balloon from their birthday 2 years ago, and you pitch that stuff in the trash like it's your JOB. Like you were born for this moment. The satisfaction you feel is inTENSE. You're in beast mode. And at this point, you may or may not threaten your beloved child, that if they ever do this again, Santa is never coming again, or that you will sell them to the highest bidder (depending on the size of the catastrophe). It's fine. You just busted your butt, and you are currently full of adrenaline and joy that for the first time on over a year, you can see the playroom floor.
Here's the snap back to reality...You're not done. Now we label. If you have readers & non-readers in your posse, we need to take 2 actions. In this example, only 1 out of 4 kids was a reader, and they were in first grade, so not the strongest reader. So here's what you do;
Take 1-10 items out of each bin, display them nicely and visually appealingly on the carpet, and take a picture. Print each picture in wallet size, and make 2 copies of each picture. I prefer to use card stock, as it makes the labels firmer. If you only have non-readers, this is where the printing part is complete. Cut them out, and if you don't have a laminator, buy one. They can be super cheap at $20, but you WILL use it again after today I promise. If you have readers you're going to do this a little differently. Maybe you have some special label making app, but if you're technologically challenged like me, we'll go the old school route. open up a Word Doc. Take each picture and display them over the page making sure they are all the same size. Then using BOLD UPPERCASE letters, type under each picture what the contents are. This will later encourage the non readers to sound words out, and eventually you'll be able to lose the pictures and go solely with word labels, which will totally save you money on colored ink 😉 After you print and cut these labels out, laminate and then we're going to hole punch ONE of each set of pictures. Now. Because I like "tidy" I used to use 3M Velcro strips to stick the labels onto the containers, as you can see above. However, Velcro made them removeable, and therefore, cleaning up often involved the pictures ending up on the inside of the container, defeating the whole purpose, and eventually having to start again. So go with the hole punch. You will need enough 2" (NOT 1") binder rings to hang on each basket. Hang the labels on the baskets, then you are going to use contact paper to stick the other picture of the pair onto the shelf where you would like the basket to live. This is a Science if you will. Put the baskets that weigh the most on the bottom shelves. You can separate by individual gendered kids toys if you choose. Put the lightest baskets on the top row. Put baskets with TINY objects in it on the bottom row. it sounds crazy, but they tend not to dump the baskets out if they are already sitting on the floor just pulling the basket 1/2" onto the floor. Whatever you do, do NOT contact the pictures to the floor of the shelf. The basket going in and out so many times, will rip that contact paper right off. So stick the pictures on the side walls of the inside of the shelf.
Finish the room off, by placing larger items on the top of the shelves, (Such as remote control dinosaurs, firetrucks, board games that don't fit in a cube, then hanging some educational things on the wall like magnetic letters and numbers on a magnetic board, or a white board with a basket for the dry erase markers, a calendar, alphabet strip, whatever your happy little heart desires!
You're tired. It will literally take you a whole day. This is not a couple hours worth of work. I can do a playroom in a day, depending on size, and I do this for a living so I'm confident in what I'm doing. Allow yourself to feel overwhelmed and dubious, and then move past it and channel your inner beast Mom! Teach them tomorrow. Lock the door so they can't go in there before their first lesson if you need to! And then, just be the best Mom you can be, and teach your little humans what you need from them, what you expect from them, and let them know they are capable of anything! I have yet to run into a clients child that didn't stand with their mouth open when they came into a playroom that I've done for them. Kids LIKE to be able to find their stuff! And if you give them enough time (Usually 5-10 minutes after an organization) to clean up before transitioning to something else (going to bed, leaving for school, eating dinner etc.) they are completely capable of doing so. You've just got to do the legwork in the beginning.
And if you can't, then hire me instead lol!
Let's Simplify Your Life xoxo