Step into your home’s playroom and there are two wildly different perspectives.
Your child sees trucks, dolls and puzzles. You see mess, chaos and another Lego piece just waiting to be stepped on. You see a bookcase, five shelves high — your child sees it as a ladder just begging to be scaled.
How do you keep that colorful clutter organized, while ensuring the space is safe? How do you make that playroom grow right along with your child? And — how do you prepare for the upcoming holiday season and its incoming round of new toys? Take a break from the holiday shopping to secure, simplify and save your sanity by creating a playroom you and your family will enjoy for years to come.
Bookcases and wall shelves help organize the clutter by keeping stuff off the floor. Utilize small baskets to store toys or card sets — a bookshelf doesn’t have to be for just books. Keep your child’s favorite playthings on shelves they can reach without climbing. Rotate toys when your child gets bored.
Tom Connelly, owner and operator of Safe Solutions of New England, stresses the importance of furniture safety.
“If [children] want a toy that a parent has put up high,” he said, “they will try to climb things, like bookcases, dressers, anything that has shelves that they can use as a ladder.”
Furniture should always be anchored to the wall to prevent it from tipping over, especially when storing toys that are tempting to a child. Everything should be secured, and Connelly reminds parents not to forget to anchor all TVs, as well.
Room to grow tip: As the space ages and children grow, they will be able to reach and store things on higher shelves. When your child outgrows the playroom, bookcases and shelving are also versatile — repaint them to match the room if it’s converted to an office or living space later.
Cube compartment shelving — sometimes known as “cubbies” — is versatile, comes in many different sizes and has the option of those flexible cube containers that can hold a lot of toys. For younger children, lay the shelf on its side for easier access.
Room to grow tip: When the child gets bigger, stand the shelves upright. The shelf will take up less floor space, and children will be able to reach the top rows to put their stuff away. Like any large piece of furniture, remember to secure it to the wall.
Noreen Lennon, a product placement specialist at IKEA, emphasizes the value of being able to buy something once, and adjust it to fit your changing needs. Choosing storage that’s accessible to children will encourage them to clean up on their own.
“When the storage is sized just right and hangers and knobs can be hung where kids can reach,” she says, “it makes it easy for parents to teach and encourage them to put away their own things.”
Double up your sitting area as a storage area. A long bench with drawers or cubbies can be made comfortable with some cushions and throw pillows where your child can read, and keep their books or puzzles stowed away below.
Be aware of any sharp edges or corners. Robert Dane, the owner of Child Senior Safety in Florida, cautions parents to ensure that there is padding to protect from any injuries on edges of benches, shelves and tables.
Room to grow tip: You don’t have to repaint the bench, or buy a whole new one with your changing tastes. Instead, simply change out the fabrics for the cushions and throw pillows when redecorating.
One person’s shoe organizer is another person’s storage hack. Two different styles for these organizers are flat, hung on the back of a door; and deep, to hang from a closet rod. Either one of these can be multi-purposed to sort and store dolls or stuffed animals behind the door, or board games or puzzles in the closet.
Remember to store items at the children’s level. If the taller shoe holder would keep items out of a child’s reach, consider storage options that work on the floor. Lennon recommends certain IKEA collections that are designed for that, with safety features like breathable mesh or easy-open fasten closures. This, she says, “helps kids to stay safe as they stay organized.”
Room to grow tip: Will the space be a playroom forever? If it becomes a guest room, you can use the organizers to store linens or towels in the closet, or bring it to the bedroom for its actual purpose: your shoe collection.
Another multi-purpose tip is to store small pieces or toys in plastic, snap-lid containers you can find at your grocery store. These are an inexpensive, handy way to keep small items, such as board game pieces, Legos or doll clothes, from getting separated or lost. The clear container is convenient as it allows you to see contents at a glance.
Keep in mind that with children at different stages, these containers may have to be kept out of reach or locked away, especially if they contain items a younger child could choke on.
Connelly warns against this: “Just because you have a product for one stage doesn’t mean it works well for the next stage,” he said.
Room to grow tip: Plastic containers will last forever. If the toys don’t last, or you donate them, you can still use the containers for a teenager’s art supplies or your office supplies.
Sorting and color coding
This decluttering tip has several advantages. Sorting toys by color can make cleaning up a learning experience by teaching kids organization and other skills: blue toys go in blue bins, square Lego pieces go in the box with the square on it. Or, use it to sort siblings’ toys to prevent arguments — one child’s toys can go in the orange box, the other child’s toys can go in the green.
Room to grow tip: Colored bins can be used outside the playroom, too. Use them to hold movies in a living room or store video games and gaming devices in a media room.
Keep, donate, throw away
It’s always a good idea to go through the playroom every few months and perform a purge, but right before the holidays is an especially good time. Choose which toys your children can’t part with, and actually play with, that they can keep. Any items that are in acceptable condition can be donated or stored for future hand-me-downs. Finally, any toys or games that are broken or missing pieces should be thrown away.
Be sure to remove any batteries from toys before storing as dead batteries may leak, posing a health hazard for users and potentially ruining the item.
Room to grow tip: This isn’t a chore that can be done in the playroom — adults can do some decluttering of their own, too. Clear some space in your closet by getting rid of clothes that you no longer wear or don’t fit, or go through the ever-messy food container cabinet in the kitchen and get rid of lids that lost their mates or any bowls that are stained or cracked.