By Kimberly Isburg

We’ve all seen living rooms so packed with toys and books that they look as if the adults fled for higher ground. It’s no secret that kids require an enormous amount of entertainment, which can lead to piles of games and other gear that overtake family spaces.

A disorganized, cluttered living area is often a source of stress for parents and children. “If one person—say, mom—is stressed because of disorder, it is difficult to create the calm and centered environment that most of us [conjure up] when we think of home,” says Luci Gutman, professional organizer for What’s Organized? in Northbrook, Ill.

An organized, functional and stylish room where children can color at their crafts table in the corner while mom and dad relax on the couch doesn’t have to remain only a dream. With the help and advice of organization mavens (and mothers), we have compiled a few steps to help you keep your family spaces under control.

Define the space

To make any space functional, you must first know how you intend to use it. “Define the activities that will take place in the room, making certain to include favorite toys, comfortable blankets and good lighting,” says Nancy Heller, professional organizer and founder of Goodbye Clutter in New York City. Will it be used for reading, board games, arts and crafts, watching TV? Or all of the above? Once you know how you will use the space, you can start organizing it for those tasks.


Make it kid-friendly

When creating a family space, it’s vital to make sure the room is safe and kid-friendly. “Crawl around on all fours to see things from a child’s perspective,” suggests Debbie Williams, parent educator, organizing strategist and coauthor of Organized Kidz: EZ Solutions for Clutter-Free Living. Move fragile items to high shelves and secure furniture to walls so it won’t topple over if kids crawl on it. Choose furnishings with rounded edges, which will be slightly less dangerous if kids crash into them. If you already have square tables, buy high-quality edge guards. Keep toys and games on low shelves for easy access.

Small children often have difficulty with lids and drawers, which can jam or pinch, so opt for open-top bins and baskets instead. “Drawers that stick and shelves that are too high can sabotage a child’s efforts to keep the room tidy,” says Heller. When it comes to fabric and carpeting, “durability is key,” according to interior designer Gretchen G. Edwards, owner of Gilstrap Edwards Interior Design in Atlanta, Ga. Consider a washable slipcover to protect your sofa. Since kids use the floor a lot, choose washable rugs and stain-resistant carpet.

Aesthetics are important, too. “Whether it’s primary or pastel, anything is more exciting than neutrals when it comes to fun family areas,” says Edwards. To make tots feel at home, include toddler-size furniture and accents that can be used as learning tools like numbers, letters or animals.

Stash away

Once you’ve thought about function and form, it’s time to get organized. Many great organizational products are available, so don’t settle for just anything. Buy things you love. “If you love it, you’re more inclined to use it,” Heller says. Choose storage containers that fit your style and color scheme. Magazine files, which can be turned around when company is on the way, can be used to hold children’s books.


“Find ways to make your home decor do double duty,” says Williams. “Wicker hampers, crates and bins hold all sorts of goodies and store easily away on a bookshelf or the bottom of a coffee table when not in use.” A storage ottoman is another great double-duty item. It can hold blankets or toys while looking stylish.

Maintenance is key

Tidying up doesn’t have to be a chore for mom alone. Help is contingent on having a system that others can decipher. “Labeling is critical,” says Gutman. “Choose containers that can be labeled for items that you would like others to be able to help keep in order.” A labeled organization system means babysitters and visitors can help put items away without explanation.

The success of an organization system is also contingent upon ease of use. “I encourage design that allows the child to be as independent as possible in her play,” says Gutman. Limit children to one or two bins in the living room and help them learn to eliminate things they’re not using or no longer want. While it may seem like a lot of work to keep family spaces under control, Edwards reminds us, “If the space works functionally, you’ll naturally want to spend time there.”

Kimberly Isburg is a writer in Des Moines, Iowa, who specializes in decor and other necessities designed with children in mind.


Organize your play area with these useful tips.

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