We have four children, and live in a quite small house. Until our neighbor started an electrical fire and destroyed the building, we lived in an even smaller apartment. But, we have four children, and they range in age from 13 years to almost 2, so we hit just about every developmental stage of childhood, all at once. And, with small spaces to work with, keeping a range of playthings can be a big challenge.
Making them all live naked, with only a painted rock for a toy, just didn’t seem workable.
Instead, we choose to simplify.
The basic rules:
- No Batteries. If it makes noise on its own (barring musical instruments), I really don’t want to deal with it.
- Limited Plastic. I prefer durable and natural. We don’t always end up with this, but it helps as a guideline.
- Homemade Works. Store-bought dress-ups, for instance, don’t last as long as home-sewn, cotton dress-ups. (Mine also have silk and wool, because that’s what I sew with, and it lasts forever.)
- Keep It Simple. The more streamlined play-things are, the more my kids seem to use them.
- Store It Distinctly. We use lidded totes for different toy categories, and labels! This makes it easy to sort things out, and also makes them very portable. (Big bonus during, say, a house fire… I was able to grab a precious thing for each child, and had we lost everything else, we’d have been fine.)
Today’s post is about the last point: storage.
We have a few categories of toys, and each category has fairly limited storage space. Over the years, we’ve handled storage in a few different ways, but here is how we have it right now:
The Big Kids have mostly settled into the categories of Books, Art Stuff, Dress-Up, Legos.
We give their books priority in the tall bookcases, to keep them out of the reach of the Little Girls. They also have personal shelves above their beds, as I love to read in bed when I’m supposed to be sleeping, and want them to have that opportunity, too.
In this house, we have basement space that cannot be used for living space (no windows–and I’m funny about trapping my children in a pit with no exits, just on the off chance there might be, oh, say–a fire?)
We’ve brightened that space with paint, added an inexpensive carpet, and mounted lovely long work decks to the walls around the room. With the addition of a “found” storage cabinet, it’s now art and lego space that’s safely gated and barred.
Bonus: I don’t step on legos upstairs. As a person with few masochistic tendancies, this is a really important bonus. The slight downside: it’s a huge draw for all the boys in the neighborhood, and three or four tween-age boys in a basement can create a sort of ferret-y stink after awhile. Hoorah for lavender essential oil, and those fragrance oil wand things.
The Big Kid dress-ups are Big Kid sizes, and are stored separately from the Little Girl things. This preserves them from jam smudges, and keeps the harmony in the household a bit better intact.
My oldest has one further category: her doll house. It is 7 feet tall, and is bolted to the studs. She has a collection of lidded totes to hold her extensive furnishings, accessories, and bits and oddments, and she is in charge of all organizing and cleaning and tending. Her doll house things do not come into the family living space, by her own choice, and the little girls are not allowed out to the doll house space without her invitation.
(Particularly when living in tight quarters, I’m a big supporter of children not having to share everything. Many things, yes–but everyone has a few special things that we don’t share, and it’s lovely that way.)
The Little Girls are only 4.5 and nearly 2, and they are not good at putting things away. They also like to play Right By Mama, so we’ve found the best place for their toys happens to be a little alcove between the living room and kitchen. The shelves hold their totes, and everything is within reach, but the mess is also visible, so I can keep on top of frequent tidy-ups, and it’s less likely to overwhelm them.
In cleaning up, I’m all about working the semantics. My children may balk at being told to “Clean this disaster or else!” but they jump right in when I tell them “Please don’t clean a thing… I only want you to sort stuff into the right bins. Don’t do anything further than the sorting, because we only have 30 minutes to work on this. Here… you can sort any trash into this bag, and here’s another bag to sort anything you don’t play with anymore.”
Sort, clean. It all gets tidy, and if they’re a bit mollified, I’m good.