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Spring Cleaning: Organizing a Few Problem Areas

March 22, 2018

One of the most irritating categories of stuff in any mom’s home is kid toys. What to do with all of those loose bits and pieces that children collect, bring home from birthday parties, and receive as well-meaning gifts? The bad news is that open shelving is the only real option for children’s toys. If kids can’t see their stuff, they forget about it and never play with it. That doesn’t mean there can’t be a method to the madness. Here is a tiny selection of tried and tested storage options to help tame the mess:









  • Aside from making all the toys visible, good toy storage should utilize the space well (not squeeze every square centimeter out of a space, but fit all the toys neatly with breathing room).

  • Reduce visual clutter by reducing contrasting colors. Consider painting brightly colored kid furniture to match the rest of the room.

  • Try putting some toys away in the garage, attic, or the top of a closet, and rotating toys in and out periodically. Then all the old toys are new again, there are fewer toys to pick up at the end of playtime, and kids usually play more creatively when there are fewer toys out.


The good news is that children are often less attached to their trinkets than we think. Once your child is old enough to need to participate in cleaning their room (usually seven years old or so, depending on the maturity of the child), they need to be present to help make decisions about their belongings.


Here’s how (and this works for you, too!):

Step one: Pick a small, specific area, like one bin, or one pile on the floor.

Step two: Ask your child to pick out everything important from the pile—our tendency is to pick out garbage first, but this is backwards as it leaves a pile of stuff that is mixed “yes” and “maybe” and “I feel obligated to keep this.” If you only chose the “YES” items, then everything that is left can leave the space.

Step three: You look through the pile and see if it contains anything important like kitchen implements, DVDs, dirty clothes, tomorrow’s homework, etc.

Step four: Get rid of the leftovers immediately. Sweep it into a garbage bag. You can sort it yourself later into garbage/donation/etc. You may be surprised at what ends up in this bag, but don’t shoot yourself in the foot by suggesting that they keep more than they want to. If you really must rescue something, do it later.


Do not suggest that your child should keep an item just because it was a gift. Remember that the physical object is not a reflection of the giver’s/receiver’s relationship.


Another area that creates chaos is children’s clothing. It’s both easier and more time consuming to rotate out clothes for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Generally you have more control about what stays and what goes, but finding the time and staying organized in the face of rapid size changes are the real keys. Simply sort pre-washed clothes into bins labeled by size (newborn, 3 months, etc.), and switch out the clothes as baby grows.


Tips for dealing with children’s clothing:


  • Consider reducing the number of outfits your child has access to. This reduces laundry and makes getting dressed more streamlined for the kids and you!

  • If your child is reluctant to part with an outgrown favorite outfit, try to alter it so it can last a little longer and maintain it’s usefulness. Add ruffles or cuffs to the bottoms of too-short pants, sleeves, or skirts. Add crazy patches to ripped knees.  Once they are completely worn out, have a quilt or doll clothes made with the fabric from the most beloved items.

  • Get creative on how clothing is stored in your child’s room. Preschoolers (and, let’s face it, teenagers) have a hard time folding and putting away clothing. How about hooks and baskets labeled “shirts,” “pants,” etc? For pre-readers, draw a picture of what goes in each bin. This encourages independence and self-discipline.


There are so many creative ways to help your kids get and stay organized. Teaching children to organize and care for their belongings is an important skill, and eventually it will free up your time as well. It’s important to involve kids in the decisions about what items are important and what items are okay to let go.


It’s not all about kids, though. Sometimes Mom and Dad need help in their closets, too. Start with purging first.

Toss or donate:

  • Anything that hasn’t seen the light of day in over a year (that would be a complete change of seasons)

  • Anything showing wear or stains

  • Anything that is outside of your normal weight fluctuations (pre-pregnancy clothes, I’m looking at you- these items just make us feel bad about our current bodies and if you do manage to lose a bunch of weight, won’t you want to go shopping to celebrate?! Another note about too-small clothes: if you are currently working on losing weight, give yourself a deadline on those too-small clothes, whatever is reasonable for you, six months, twelve months. Put those clothes in a box with that date and if that date comes and you still can’t wear those clothes, out they go.)

  • Any business/work clothes that are out of date, including old suits


Step two: What’s left? For some people, most of the closet is still there. For others, they tossed almost everything in step one. Evaluate the volume of what is left. Decide what is a truly “reasonable” amount of clothing to have. Generally, this will be determined by (1) the amount of space you have and (2) the number of different roles you fill requiring different clothes. For example, if you can fulfill your daily responsibilities in yoga pants and hoodies, you probably don’t need to hang on to your business casual clothes from your corporate job; you can probably get away with just keeping a few special items, and a few separates that you can throw together when you need to look professional. Or, if you need to wear business casual most days, but you change into sweats at home, and your social life requires cocktail dresses and ski wear, you’ll require a lot more closet space for all those different wardrobes.

If you need help determining what is “reasonable,” there are many guides online with solid numbers- how many pairs of slacks you need, how many casual shirts, etc. Search for “capsule wardrobe” for a good jumping off point.

It’s important not to completely pack your closet to the gills. That makes it hard to get items in and out, and your hanging clothing will be wrinkled or stretched. If you find that you must have more closet space, consider storing less-used clothing, such as seasonal, vacation, or formal clothes elsewhere in your home, maybe where you have those hand me down kid clothes. Outdoor-wear can go in the garage next to the sports equipment. Fancy dresses can be stored using a simple garment rack (get one with a fabric cover), but this should be a last resort. A garment rack takes up a large footprint and those dresses aren’t paying rent.

Many people collect branded tee shirts and jackets from former employers. I would strongly suggest evaluating those items for actual usefulness. Are you actively wearing the company picnic tee shirt from 2012? If not, toss it. I’m sure you have other more meaningful mementos from your tenure. If you really can’t get rid of clothes with memories attached, consider making a quilt out of the old shirts. A local seamstress can help, or try an online service like At a bare minimum, store those items somewhere else, not in your valuable closet/dresser space.

Shoes are another category that creates chaos. Consider storing most of your shoes in over-the-door shoe hangers or in under-bed boxes. Most people have a pile of shoes in the foyer, but there are many great shoe storage options available. Generally, open shoe storage works best for families with children. Bins or baskets labeled with each child’s name (or photo for non-readers) seem to be a good solution for kids. If you are saving kids’ shoes for hand-me-downs, use the same method for clothing I describe above. The simpler the shoe solution you choose for kids, the better and more successful.

Mom and Dad’s shoes would rather be stored with a little more care. Here are some different options, some more suited for garages, some more suited for mudrooms or foyers:






Container Store 24-Pocket Over the Door Shoe Organizer




Ikea Hemnes shoe cabinet


Custom shelving can also be great for shoes, especially in an awkwardly shaped or cramped entrance to the home, like a garage. They can be as simple as unfinished boards with brackets or a custom built-in cabinetry piece. You can also include a closet bar for hanging boots.

Entry areas set the tone of your time at home, so it’s important that they are welcoming and tidy. As long as everything has a place where it belongs, cleaning up is a snap. 

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