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Taming the Playroom

Child playing in messy playroom

With summer in full swing, it’s a great time to partner with your children to un-earth the playroom.

If you can’t see the floor of your children’s recreation space, and if it is hazardous to carve a path through the room, it may be time to “restore order”! When the playroom is a dumping ground, it is impossible to put things away, it’s confusing, and it can be dangerous!

Perhaps the task seems overwhelming to you. Maybe you’re convinced it’s a lost cause because the space always returns to chaos after you take the time to put it in order. If you could use a little convincing to take on this juvenile jungle, here are some benefits to taking on this project:

The benefits of organizing the playroom include:

  • Having more time to play
  • Making it easy and fast to put things away in their appropriate “destination”
  • Helping children take responsibility for their own belongings
  • Teaching children organizing skills
  • Eliminating the waste of toys that are lost or neglected
  • Reducing the damage to toys

Here is an 8 step process to reclaim the play space:

  1. Assess. Assess ALL the activities that are currently taking place in the room (example: music, toys, arts and crafts, computer games). Then, ask your children which are their favorite activities they enjoy in that space. I prefer to ask these questions when you are NOT in the room, otherwise their eyes will wander over to the games and they will announce “playing games”! If your children say that reading books and playing with cars are their favorites, you’ll want to dedicate enough space to those activities in Step 6.
  1. Empty. Remove everything from the space (this will allow you to clean the space and re-arrange or purchase furniture). Use a nearby room as a staging area so you can spread out and see what is coming out of the room.
  1. Macro-sort. As you are taking items out of the room, group the contents by activity (all music materials, all arts and crafts, all dress up clothes, all games and puzzles, etc.).  I label a big sign to denote each category so that everyone can carry the items to the proper pile. Categories should never be discovered as you go through the process.
  1. Micro-sort. Continue sorting each category of items even further where necessary. Large categories can be broken down further (for example: the “miniature toys” category could be divided further into “animals, action figures, transportation,” or whatever other type of small toys you find, etc.
  1. Evaluate.  Go through each category of items with your children and discuss what is there and how often it is used and how much it is enjoyed. Perhaps they’ve outgrown some of the stuffed animals, board games, or arts and crafts. Maybe by simply seeing books that had been buried beneath other things, they will get excited about them again. This is a great time to get some bags and donate items. Talk to your children about passing along things they don’t need or use to children who are less fortunate. Organizing can help instill a charitable spirit in your family; as you witness your own abundance it is easier (and even compelling) to share the wealth.
  1. Subdivide. Dedicate special real estate to each key activity. Determine the amount of space needed for each activity (drawing a floor plan and eyeballing the quantity of items accrued in that category will help). Common activities are reading, building, make-believe, etc.

    Create “neighborhoods” by creating a distinct area for different kinds of activities. Focus on the categories your children identified as their favorites. (For example, if doing arts and crafts is popular, create an “art district” within the playroom for an easel, table, and wall space to display their masterpieces.)

  1. Outfit. Purchase or assemble the appropriate furniture in each activity zone. Bear in mind your priorities, budget, quantity of each category to be stored, ease of access, safety (if your kids are climbers, rickety open shelving won’t work), and aesthetic preferences (closed versus open cabinets, matching, quality, color, etc.)

    A built-in system will look the most seamless, and it will allow you to customize your storage to the types of items you have, but it can be more expensive. On the other hand, buying a lot of inexpensive shelving and rolling carts can create the appearance of mis-matched clutter.

  1. Re-load. Place the items in their appropriate activity area. This is the time to contain like items in smaller containers like bins, baskets, buckets, etc. Measure before you buy! Consider cost, ease of access (clear shoebox sized containers might be on sale, but lids limit access), style, durability, weight, etc.

    Note that this is number 8 in a 10 step process. Many people mistakenly buy products prematurely in the organizing process because they are attracted by the adorable containers promising instant order. I strongly caution against giving into this urge or you will waste your money. Wait until you know exactly what you have to organize, and the shelf, cabinet, or space it is intended for, measure, and then purchase the right product at the right time in the process.

  1. Label. After you’ve stowed the items in the appropriate zone (neighborhood) and storage unit (furniture or container), it’s time to label the items.
  1. Maintain. Now that you’ve tackled the backlog and established new systems, review the revitalized room with your delighted children, and vest them with the responsibility of putting things away at the end of each day! Immediately establish a protocol for how the room will be maintained (ie: everything picked up and put away at the end of each day, or before naptime, etc.).

Not every home has a playroom. If you need a play place for your children, consider converting an infrequently used spare bedroom or a wide hallway space. If you simply don’t have extra real estate, you’ll have to carve out space in the children’s bedrooms or another room (like the family room) for their belongings.

If playthings must live in a public space (like a family or living room) avoid creeping clutter by establishing boundaries—where playthings can be stored and played with and a maintenance expectation as well. These boundaries honor a special space for your kids while preventing toys from taking over.


Adapted from: Restoring Order™ copyright © 2006 by Vicki Norris (available now at www.RestoringOrder.com and in July 2007as Reclaim Your Life™.  Copyright © 2007).  Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. Used by permission.

About the Author: Vicki Norris is an expert organizer, business owner, speaker, television personality, and author who inspires people to live out their priorities. Norris is a regular on HGTV’s nationally syndicated Mission: Organization, and is a recurrent source and contributor to national lifestyle publications including Quick & Simple magazine, Better Homes & Gardens, and Real Simple magazine. Norris is also author of Restoring Order™ to Your Home, a room-by-room household organizing guide.

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