Keeping the toy clutter at bay

I received a few questions in email and in comments as to how I deal with the toy clutter in our very small  living room that is also the only common play room for the kids.

As most of you know, I have boy/girl twins. They turned 5 years old at the end of October.

They mostly play in the living room as we don’t have a separate play room. They do now each have their own room, but they are not all that much into playing separately for any length of time and at their age, I think that is just fine! I WANT them to play together and somewhere where I can see and hear them!


However, this means that the bulk of the every growing mountain of toys resides in the living room! And since it’s the only living room/ communal family space we have, it is also supposed to be a space for us adults to relax in the evenings. Ha!


So when we moved to this place, I had to make sure that the room functions both ways. For the kids during the day, for the adults the rest of the time! I don’t much like climbing over mountains of toys and to be honest, I don’t really like looking at them, even when they are sort of “tidy” and confined to one place. If too much of them is visible, I don’t feel it is an adult space! It’s a fine line for sure!


I think you can basically go two ways when you’re designing/furnishing a space you share almost 24/7 with small children. You either go for the indestructible kind of design that is usually more high end and costs quite a bit more, but it is meant to last for years and years, despite the considerable wear.

Or you go with the cheaper option, well knowing that it just isn’t going to last beyond the first few years of your kid’s life as it won’t wear nearly as well. But it gives you the chance to redo that living space once the children are older. And if you are a DIYer and amateur decorator like me, that’s always an appealing solution! Wink

Since we had just moved into the house and where financially somewhat tapped out, we chose the second option – especially as we were planning on using as much as possible of what we already had. I also really wanted to live in the space for a few years before I committed to a definite way to furnish it. So, most of our furnishings in there are either from IKEA or Wal-Mart.

I tried to find the most inexpensive but stylish ways to make this living room work for us at the time. Inexpensive because I am well aware that in a couple or so more years, the children’s toy and play needs will change and this space will get another major overhaul then!


So, how do we keep the toy clutter at bay?

Well I started out with some Billy shelves (IKEA) we already had. Of course we could put some doors on them to banish the toys, but when we did, it looked really closed in, since the space we have isn’t very large! The solution could have been to have closed storage at the bottom and open on top which would have worked fine for our very young toddlers, but in the last two years our guys have become very adept with a step stool! Eye-rolling

And at the time we didn’t want to buy the shelves all over again … as IKEA in their ultimate wisdom decided to discontinue the finish we have *argh*


Leaving the shelves open with two then 3-year-olds just meant that every book, basket or whatever else you decided to put in there ended up on the floor on a daily basis. So we mounted some glass doors. They came with a backing on which you could insert paper or fabric, but for now, we’re using them as glass doors. It gives the openness necessary for the small room and it keeps little hands away from the things inside … with a well placed child safety latch on top :) It also allowed me to use glass shelves on the inside, which gave everything a much lighter feeling than the wooden shelves the Billy system comes with!


Of course, visually they were still open shelves and had to be treated as such. So a variety of baskets, boxes and containers tame the smaller clutter there, without looking nearly as cluttered! And let’s face it, if you can’t hide it, you need to display it in a manner that says “living room (with kids)” rather than daycare! However, the decorating choices will always be different with kids on a tight budget than it would be in an adult household! But with neutrals and a few chosen colors you can make it look a little less psychodelic even in completely open toy storage!

 PC306473[1]PC306474[1] PC306475[1] PC306477[1] PC306478[1]

I generally place items behind those doors that I want the children to ask for. Like puzzles. My son LOVES to do puzzles and he has moved to rather involved puzzles at a pretty young age (100+ pieces) He is however not very good at keeping track of his pieces once he made the puzzle, so one of our rules is that in order to get a new puzzle, the old one must be back in the box and go back into the cupboard before a new one comes out.

It has made a lot of difference in the “I lost my piece” drama that used to ensue AND to the floor strewn with puzzle pieces dilemma every evening!


By far the best purchase I made were these two Ottomans. They are worth their weight in gold as far as I’m concerned. They look pretty good and were quite inexpensive!

And they hold a LOT of toys, especially all the small stuff that forever gets in the way! We started with one and once we realized just how great it was, we went and got a second one.

PC306470[1] Ugghh!! Looks familiar, right? But then you close it and you have this:PC306466[1]Ahhhhh!!

They are also moved quite easily even when full, serve as seating when we have guests or as coffee tables for kids an adults alike! And the kids have an easy time tidying up by themselves with these too!

Next, I stacked 3 Expedit (Ikea) on top of each other. We constructed them so that they are not only fixed to each other, but also to the wall, so there is no danger of anything moving or falling. It enabled me to go all the way to the ceiling (unlike the taller ones that come ready made,) making the most of storage on that side of the wall!


As you can see I employ a variety of methods for that area. Baskets are always great for the toy clutter, and they look so nice and neat when put away.



The little mirror doors are great too, not only for taming the clutter, but for little princesses that need to look at themselves frequently during their dress up games etc And from a room design standpoint they provide the illusion of light and depth, which this small space definitely needs. The disadvantage is that little finger prints are very easily visible, but oh well Wink


And the kids love to open and close their “secret” compartments to “hide” their stuff.

I also leave some open cubbies as a daily catch all … it’s easier to tidy it away from there than to go fishing under the sofa or cupboards! I also put the silk pillows in one of them during the day, since my boy has the habit of having pillows on the floor or builds fords with pillows and the couch etc and the silk ones are just not that suitable for that. I leave the hard wearing ones out though!

P2234060[1] This photo was prior to construction and with the old color scheme in that room, but you see what I mean!

Basically as much as possible, I have everything have it’s separate box, as well as place throughout the room. It just makes it easier to keep things (like legos, tiny doll clothing items etc) together and easier for the kids to remember where they live and hopefully eventually learn how to put them back there themselves!


One of the first things I also did when we moved here was to put up the magnet board for the kids. Not only is it great for all the magnetic letters and numbers, it keeps all that off the fridge, enabling you to either have a clutter free fridge exterior, or to have a few select pieces on there, not everything magnetic! And the kids can hang their art work themselves there too, even the bigger pieces as we have room to the floor!

PC306461[1]I basically just few this one as a piece of art lol It sure beats ALL these things on the floor though! Or on my refrigerator and then it slides of every time I open the fridge! Arrgghh!


We also have a lot of very large cardboard building blocks.

P1263658[1] The photo is from a year ago, prior to construction and prior to changing the colors in that room!

We could have filled both ottomans just with those, or several cupboards, but obviously that wasn’t going to work out. I found these sturdy, relatively inexpensive and neutral “laundry” bins that house the bricks just fine. And they have a lid, which means that once they are in there, they are truly out of sight! And they could easily be painted too, which is what I initially had in mind when I purchased them, but so far I left them as they are since they work with the room’s color scheme.


And lastly, the book storage. Many a book ends up on the floor in this house. Mostly because often it gets read on the floor, but that also means that it gets stepped on. I’ve tried to instill in my children that books are treasures. Special companions that are to be treated well, so obviously we needed book storage in abundance, since we have a LOT.

My solution to the book “clutter” problem was to have book storage in almost every room. We have book shelves in all the bedrooms and we have this one in the living room. It leaves the books visible and at times a little chaotic looking, but they stay in. The problem with open shelves was and sometimes still is, that they are shoved in rather haphazardly and they begin to slide out again. So the sling shelf works really well for those often read and well-loved books that reside in the common space! It was worth every penny and I love the neutral colors on it that fit almost any decor and doesn’t draw attention to itself with it’s primary colors that these type of sling shelves often come in!

This is what it looks like on a daily basis. I tend to straighten it up and “neutralize” it a bit more when we have company, but for the most part, this is it!


On a side note – see all the little dog eared papers in there? Those are Anna’s “books”! Anna draws and “writes” very elaborate story books which she then tapes together page by page to create her own books! Of course they need to be on the book shelf too! Smile


So, that is my system for taming the toy clutter! Of course the most important part about that is keeping up with putting it all away regularly! It requires discipline no doubt, for me as well as the kids but we are working on it every day!


The other discipline I adopt is to declutter and get rid of all the toys they haven’t played with in a while on a regular basis. I also sometimes sort things away if it is worth keeping but the kids don’t seem interested and then bring it out again a while later and for them it’s like getting new toys. Granted I only do that with the higher quality stuff that is really worth keeping. :)


So, those are the finer details of our SMALL playroom/living room! It is by no means a formal living room or a Candice Olson style room, but it is a room where we can relax in the evening without feeling like we’re camping out in a daycare room!

The Candice Olson inspired living room will come later Open-mouthed


What is your tip for taming the toy clutter?

This entry was posted in Home Decor, My Kids, Wordy Posts, our house. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Keeping the toy clutter at bay

  1. radn says:

    Love the baskets! Keeps everything out of sight when you are not using it. I have used basket from Ikea in my daughter toy room too!

    for a chance to win 3 to do list printables from IHeartOrganizing etsy store check out my giveaway

  2. Leanne says:

    Love all your great toy storage ideas and the baskets look great. I love that ottoman. Thanks for linking to We're Organized Wednesday.

  3. Leanne says:

    I'm featuring this on my blog today.

  4. Christa says:

    Great job. I love it all. Where did you get those two ottomans? I could really use something like that. Thanks for sharing.

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