Organizing for Others

Toys.

 Before picture

Before picture

Oh dear toys.

 Before picture

Before picture

If you have kids, or grandkids, or ever near or around kids, you know about the toys. They scatter everywhere, hide in corners, and somehow reproduce. Everyone has their own way to deal with this problem from restricting them to a few building blocks and a couple stuffed animals to letting their homes resemble a well stocked toy section of a big box home goods store. Both extremes are valid, but they’re extremes.

Now for me, I really like an “everything in its place” vibe you get in most daycares. It’s clever, it’s easy, and it looks really nice. My children, however? My 5 year old would be fine with that, and it’s about how it was organized before. But the Little is, well, very little and just isn’t cognitively ready for that sort of system just yet. But he’s more than capable of “throw everything in one bin.”

And that’s the thing when you’re designing systems for other people, not just children. I have a very specific idea on how I like things. “Particular” is the polite term. And it’s totally fine to be particular in your own space! But so many of us share our homes with other people, too. And part of the joy of living with other people is to realize we are all different, often very different, from each other. The trick is figuring out just how to work around those difference so that everyone is satisfied. For me, it was more important for the room to be easy to clean and the toddler being able to help with that cleaning to help build good habits. I can hold off on rows of neatly categorized bins for a few years.

This project also lined up with another goal I had which was to repaint the playroom. Since everything was going to be taken out anyway, I took the opportunity to sort through and purge a bunch of stuff. And purge I did! Nine boxes plus several big toys. Most of it was stuff even the toddler grew out of. The rest were things I had to be honest about in what they actually played with. Of what remained, about 20% went to the Big’s bedroom because they really weren’t safe for the Little to be around mostly unsupervised.

 This isn't even everything we donated!

This isn't even everything we donated!

Next I did the main wall painting which was a purple-gray that matches the rest of the basement. And with that out of the way I knew I could do much of the rest of the painting even with the toys in the room, so off to IKEA I went! The couch we have in there is an IKEA couch from a decade ago (no longer sold) and I had an inkling that we’d find something that would fit from that same store since they use the same measurements for everything. Finally I saw these Malm under bed boxes and it was almost like they were made for the couch AND looked nice. They are wide and shallow enough that the kids can easily find what they are looking for without having to dump everything out. Of the toys that I kept, I picked out a few to put on a small bookshelf we already had and put the rest in those boxes. The key, in this room, isn’t fancy organization, but paring down what we had to fit well in the space.

I know I have a tendency to rail against minimalism on this blog and elsewhere on the internet. As it’s advertised, I feel like it’s a lifestyle that really is only applicable to those of a certain level of income. However some of the underlying principles of getting rid of excess and really thinking critically about what you need and use is essential to any home organization system. In my playroom we had almost all the elements of a workable system. It just needed a small tweak and a ton of purging and now it’s 100% better. And after I finished painting, it’s one of my favorite rooms to hang out in, and my kids love it, too.

So look at some of the bigger pain points in your home. Where does clutter accumulate? What rooms can’t stay clean for very long? And think, really think, about why that may be. In our case, the system we had before was too complicated for the ones who were using it most, and only about a third of the stuff was even played with at all. Now, well, the room still gets messy, but it takes less than 5 minutes to tidy it up. That’s a win in my book, even if it didn’t align with my original vision.

Finished!