Clutter-free and toddlers don't usually come together in the same sentence, much less in the same room. But it doesn't have to be this way. Whenever family or friends come to visit I often hear them say, "Do your kids have toys?" and "Do kids even live here?". The answer to these is: yes and yes. Yes, my kids have plenty of toys. And, yes, they live here. But the fact that we have small children doesn't have to be self-evident in every space of our home. Here are my tips for keeping "kid clutter" under control.
1. Keep Toys Hidden in Plain Sight
I'm going to start with the cleverest clutter-busting tip on this list, the one that has saved our home from looking like one giant play zoo: invest in furniture that serves a dual purpose, its hidden function being storage. All of our "toy boxes" have both an adult function and a child function. For instance, we don't own a coffee table in our home. Instead, we use a large faux leather storage ottoman as our "coffee table." It also doubles as a foot rest or extra seating when we have lots of guests over. But perhaps the best kept secret is that our ottoman is home to my toddler's larger ticket toys like her dollhouse, cars, trucks (yes, girls can play with trucks!) and a number of stuffed animals. And since it's made of a wipeable faux leather material, it also functions as our downstairs diaper changing station. Three functions in one.
We swiped up this ottoman at Home Goods for under $100 when we were furnishing our honeymooners' apartment way back in our newlywed days. Back then, it was primarily used as our "Netflix and Chill" foot rest or seating for when my husband and I used to do some gaming after dinner, you know, before children happened. Little did we know 6 years later we'd be finding so many new uses for it!
Another example of the functionality of a dual-purpose storage piece is this tufted bench I picked up at Walmart for a little over $50 when we first moved into our house. I've seen similar benches at Home Goods and Target at reasonable price ranges. I chose to style this little bench with a few coordinating throw pillows to make it more "hygge." I've also accented it with a framed reproduction of my favorite Klimpt, a tapestry that my husband and I picked up at a busy Florentine market years ago on our Italian honeymoon. This sentimental artwork aggrandizes the tiny bench that would otherwise get lost in the long, empty vertical space above it (we have 11 foot ceilings downstairs). For adults, this is a cozy little spot to page through a book from our nearby bookcase. For our children, this is the place where major playtime decisions are made. The space blends so seamlessly with the rest of the house that there is no way you'd ever guess that this is my daughter's primary toy box!
Within the bench, I've sorted out my kids' smaller toys by type and placed them in clear plastic bins that are easy to grab and put back. As a rule of thumb, I don't let my daughter play with with more than two boxes at the same time. She would have to put everything back in the boxes and deposit them back into the "toy chest" before grabbing a new box. These bins have been a major play time game-changer. Before we got them, picking out all these Peppa Pig figurines and Fisher Price Little People from the bottom of the bench was a dreadful undertaking! She'd literally have to empty the whole bench just to find the "Happy Birthday" Peppa or "Skye" from Paw Patrol. The bins have seen to that. All that's left to do is label them.
If you don't have storage furniture you can always find creative uses for furniture that you already own. The lower drawers in your TV cabinet or a beautiful basket at the bottom of your end table can serve as good places to store toys away.
Aside from toys, another source of "kid clutter" that I like to keep out of sight when not in use is the diaper caddy. Containing diapers, burp cloths, toiletries and clothes in one place such as a caddy or basket is a good idea but an even better idea is to keep it somewhere accessible when needed but hidden in plain sight when not in use.
I like to "hide" our diaper caddy on the bottom shelf of an end table in our living room, where I spend most of the day with my kids. The end table is also very close to the storage ottoman that I love to use as a makeshift changing station.
2. Invest in Quality Play Furniture
I know it may be tempting for a frugal minimalist to want to purchase a budget-friendly plastic play table in loud colors that may or may not have popular preschool characters on it. And a more extreme minimalist mother may forgo the play table altogether and that's cool. If you're either of these types of mommas, do you, girl! You know your family's needs best. As for for me, I find that I'm somewhere in between. I want my kids to have a play station where I can "contain the chaos" and keep the clutter off of the floor. But I also want it to be aesthetically pleasing because, quite frankly, I'm a home decor brat. I'm the reason companies like Pottery Barn Kids and The Land of Nod exist! I'm selfish, like pretty things, and can't bear to let Disney and Sesame Street furnish my home.
The play table I chose to give my daughter for Christmas is the Pottery Barn Kids Carolina Grow With You Activity Table. Yes, a pricey choice, I know. But I was very intentional about this purchase. I wanted to invest in a table that is not only beautiful, blending seamlessly enough with our home that we wouldn't need to hide it or "tolerate" it, but also one that would grow with our children. The Carolina table has been a wonderful choice because of its height and upgradable features. The height of the table and chairs is comfortable enough for my daughter and I to play for hours. The wood is definitely sturdy enough to support an adult. I can attest to this as my daughter enthusiastically seats every grandparent, aunt, and uncle that visits at her table. Perhaps the best part is that when my kids outgrow the pretend play phase, we have the option to evolve it into a homework/study station.
You certainly don't have to go the pricey Pottery Barn route. Companies like Target, Ikea, and Melissa & Doug offer beautiful, high quality play tables at much lower price points. But if you do decide to go through Pottery Barn Kids, make sure you wait for a 20-25% coupon with free shipping to get the most bang for your buck. It certainly reduced the price of our table significantly!
The take-home message of this tip is to look around for play furniture that doesn't make you cringe, that fits into your space without creating visual clutter (like a brightly colored character themed table might), and blends seamlessly with your decor. We chose to go with a white table because our home has a lot of white accents. But if your home is furnished with natural wood-grain textures, an unpainted wood table might be a better option for you. Find what makes you happy so that you don't feel like you need to wince every time you look at it, especially when you're trying to soak in you home's ambiance. Your kids honestly won't care what it looks like so long as they have a little place in your family room to claim as their own.
3. Create Simple and Elegant Play Nooks throughout your Home
Once you've invested in some quality play furniture and identified hidden storage solutions around your home, it's time to create play nooks in the main areas of your home. Simplicity is key here because in order to keep clutter under control, the play nook needs to be sensibly styled so that it is easy to tidy. We live in a bilevel home and spend most of our day in the family room so logically, this is the best location for our downstairs play nook. The play table currently sits by a corner window of the family room, a short distance from the storage ottoman and the tufted bench (from Tip #1) so all my daughter has to do is walk over to either of these, choose the toys she wants to play with, and take them to her table. Here she plays with her dollhouse, has tea parties, reads books, and colors. The possibilities are endless! However, the playtime chaos is confined, for the most part, to this corner of the family room, which makes tidying up at the end of the day fast and easy.
Upstairs, I'm currently creating another play nook in the office, where my husband or I spend a good portion of our evenings, writing, working, grading papers, lesson planning, etc. In our current home, a modest 3 bed/2 bath, we don't have a spare room to designate as the "playroom" nor do we want one because it is a better use of space to combine the play space with the office so that the kids are under constant supervision while we work. Since this particular play nook is completely separate from the more formal areas of the home, such as the family room and dining room, I've chosen to go with more color here while still keeping it simple, elegant and minimal. In the current image, the play nook is still missing a few finishing touches. There will be a future post on how the office play nook turns out so stay tuned!
4. Donate and Declutter Regularly
Finally, it's always a good idea to regularly assess what we've accumulated, what gets used regularly and what has fallen out of use, that way, we don't have to worry about clutter overcoming our carefully planned storage systems and play nooks. I often hear parents complain about how the toys are always out in the open because there simply isn't enough room in the toy box or playroom anymore. If this is happening to you and the kid clutter is robbing you of your inner domestic peace, it's time to assess how many toys there are in total, which ones get played with and which ones are played out.
My children are two and under so I am presently in direct control of which toys we keep and which ones we donate. Regular decluttering prevents the quantity of toys from building up. As a rule of thumb, any occasion in which toys are received, such as Christmas and birthdays, are used as opportunities to declutter. Whenever our children receive a gift, we go through the toys they already own and see what can be donated to make room for this new toy. Kids grow so fast at this stage that there's always at least one toy they've outgrown. Same goes for clothing but wardrobe management is a topic for another day.
If your children are old enough to make responsible decisions about their belongings, get them involved in the process of going through each toy or game, deciding how often each one gets played with and determining if it holds any sentimental value. Some things may not be played with often but may trigger a strong emotional response, such as a fond memory of the person that gave it to them. It's important to be able to distinguish between honoring the sentimental value of a certain toy and justifying the hoarding of toys that no longer "spark joy," as organization guru, Marie Kondo, would say. The decluttering process is a lesson in mindfulness. It's a lesson in gratitude, in acknowledging the good fortune of simply having objects that bring us joy. It's also a lesson in giving up some of what you have for the happiness of others and not holding onto more than what you need to be happy. It's a lesson I wish I'd had more hands-on opportunities to learn as a child but that I hope to share with my own children when they are old enough to understand.
It is my sincere hope that even one of these tips has been helpful to anyone struggling with reclaiming their inner domestic peace amid the wonderful chaos that is "kid clutter." Thanks for your readership.
About la maestra:
Bienvenidos! Bem-vindos! I'm Ali, a World Language maestra from Miami who went from hard-core maximalist to soft-core minimalist upon becoming a mother. The flexible form of minimalism that I practice, domestic minimalism, allows me to run my household efficiently and foster a home free of clutter and full of joy for my whole family. This is where I record my experiences as a wife, working mother of two, and homemaker. Thanks for stopping by.