How do you tidy and store kid stuff in a small home?
April 24, 2019 3:21 PM   Subscribe

How do you furnish a house with kids, without buying new stuff every six months? What are some storage solutions you've found that scale up with age, and also don't make your living room look like a daycare? How do you keep clutter to a minimum?

I rent a small apartment where we have a combined/open plan living/dining room. Space is tight and we've dedicated the bottom couple shelves of our bookshelves for kid stuff, but I find we need more space. Kid's room is upstairs and has some storage, but the living/dining room is also for daytime play and family time/play.

I often find a piece of furniture (like this) and think, oh, that'd be good for storing X toys or Y blankets, but then I realize the kid will probably grow out of that sort of furniture in a year or two. So I'd like to decrease clutter and make our living/eating/playing space more functional for the whole family.

I guess my more specific questions are:
- How do you organize and store the explosion of kid things, especially in a small space? (NB: Again, I rent so can't do any built-ins). I have a few soft baskets shoved into the bookshelves for stuffed animals and some blankets folded on a shelf, but what about more awkward shaped things like toy pianos, etc?
- Do you have any specific furniture or other storage recommendations? I am looking for things that will grow with kids/family--so the sort of push-along walker things that can hold a few blocks are not suitable, nor is a teeny tiny toy chest/bench for just a toddler. It would also be great if the item could accommodate some grownup stuff, too. (Or is that a bad idea?) We had one of those Ikea Kallax things but it didn't work for us. Budget is, say, the higher-end of Ikea furniture.
- Any other suggestions for reducing clutter and keeping tidy with kids? Our space is small and after laying out a couple of play mats and toys, you can barely see the floor. We pretty constantly pick up, but it feels like we're often just shuffling stuff from floor to kitchen/dining table and back again.

Thanks for any suggestions!
posted by stillmoving to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
We have a 1x4 Ikea Kallax thing laying on its side, with fabric boxes in the four holes. The fabric boxes hold a (loosely organized) assortment of random small toys/stuffies/etc. The top surface serves as a play table, and the dollhouse lives on top of it. It sits under the window next to the bookshelf and isn't that obtrusive.

Elsewhere in the living room we have a cheap shitty bookshelf with better-organized toys in plastic shoebox bins (magna tiles in one, playmobil in another, etc).

I'm not sure about not looking like a daycare, I've just made peace with things being in awkward annoying locations and then getting rid of them when we've outgrown them. (See: awkward walkers, playpen, etc.)
posted by telepanda at 3:40 PM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

What in particular didn't work about the Kallax?

We've had very good longevity with the IKEA Trofast in the plain wood finish paired with the white bins. I have found that combination to be as kid-friendly while also being easy on adult eyes as it gets. We have two of the stair-style ones and pushed them together to make an L-shape in a corner; the bins come in three sizes so we've got a couple big ones for the burgeoning toy food collection, mid-sized ones for the train set and Magna-Tiles, and lots of small ones that hold the Frozen dolls, puzzles, PJ Masks figures, farm animals, whatever. The bins are $2-5 so it's nothing to go get different sized bins that you can shuffle to re-fit the space as the toys change with age.

Stuffed animals live in a small basket in daughter's room and art supplies live in an IKEA Raskog cart. They've got a few bigger pieces like a dollhouse, a toy crib for babies, etc. which all live in bedrooms; they can come out to play in the living room but they do not get to live there.

Regardless of what and how they are stored, my biggest rule is that they have to be easily contained within the limits of the storage container. If they don't, then we have too much stuff and it's time to go through and see what might be outgrown, what's broken and can be tossed, what has lost interest and could maybe go into a closet for awhile, etc.
posted by anderjen at 3:55 PM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

What didn't you like about the Kallax? For me, the grid design was limiting, so we used the Hemnes bookcases in a similar manner. The Hemnes only has one fixed shelf, so you can set the others to be larger or more narrow. We use the lower shelves to hold open-top square fabric boxes that we can fill with balls and toys and plushies, etc. Bigger shelves are also good for picture books. Narrow shelves above that can hold puzzles and board games and board books. On some bookcases, we've kept the entire top half without shelves and used that open area for a lamp and a few select objects to look more designed. In any case, it's the open-top boxes that make cleanup and organization easier.

We've also got the Helmer file cabinets around for all the tiny kid things like Playmobil and plastic animals and crayons. I like that they can be used later for arts and crafts stuff, and even go to college and an apartment as the kid grows up. We use one in the kitchen for tea and spices. Cute file cabinets are so versatile!

We keep blocks, Lego, and Magnatiles in super low (~ 4" high) open-top boxes that slide under the couch, because that keeps them out of sight, and they are only ever played with on the floor. Plus cleanup is easy because they can just dump the objects inside and then slide it under.
posted by xo at 3:57 PM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

We live in a 1200sq ft, 3 bedroom home in the PNW with 4 people (myself, my husband, and two boys , 10 and 13). This is how we do storage:

-utilize baskets. Instead of getting "kid centric" cutesy bins, just get sturdy, but nice looking baskets that will hold up over time. Such as this basket or this basket. You can shove a bunch of stuff in them during clean up time (blankets, toys, crafts, children ;) and then put them under coffee tables, beds, shelves, etc. I'm not sure if you are located in the USA but if you are, you can look at stores like Ross, TJ Maxx and Marshall's in their homegoods department for good prices on nice, sturdy baskets as well.

-use vertical space. We utilize a lot of tall bookshelves (if the Kallax didn't work for you guys, maybe try the Billy bookshelf?) The top shelves were for adult things, such as books, picture frames, plants, etc. The bottom shelves were filled with baskets, which in turn were filled with kid toys. Look at under your bed for storage, on top of kitchen cabinets for storage, look at if you can put up some shelves. Vertical space is your friend.

-unwieldy things such as kid pianos and play kitchens, unfortunately, had to have their own space. We made a play space for our kids and tried to keep one big thing out and rotate out toys once a week.

-if you can, store it. Kids don't need ALL THE TOYS AND BOOKS out all the time. We took a cue from our preschool and stored stuff in giant totes in our garage and rotated it weekly into the house. That way, things weren't underfoot all the time.

-if you can, look into wheeling storage. We have something like this that stores LEGOs, that the boys can wheel room to room. that way, they don't have to carry baskets all the time.

-purge. We do a purge every 6 months, where we look at clothes/shoes, books, and toys. Especially for clothes for me and my husband, if it isn't something we haven't worn in a year, we donate it. For books and toys - same. It helps create room for in the house for buying new things.

I'm not sure how old your kiddo is, but if possible, look into a loft bed as well. If you want to, let me know and I can send you pictures of what our house and storage looks like. My husband is very handy so we have lots of bookshelves, two loft beds, and lots and lots of boxes. ;)
posted by alathia at 4:22 PM on April 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

We used to have a Trofast in our living room for kids stuff and it was pretty nice. It holds a decent amount of toys in the bins and you can put some kids books on top of its steps. We've had a pretty strong toys are out only while being played with rule for our kids so they could bring stuff from their room to play with in the living room but it had to be put away at the end of playtime. Now that our kids are older (4 and 7) they have half of the coffee table for library books but all of their other toys and books are permanently kept in their room. We encourage them to bring their things to the living room to play but they are only there for the duration of playtime.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:37 PM on April 24, 2019

We have trofast Ikea thing but use 2 of them (basically stapled) together so it can be a train table, dance stage (danger), etc... Bit bigger than average coffee table but good height for toddlers. Bins can stow toys. There are multiple sizes of bins also. It is wood, not particle board which seems sturdier (see dance stage)..

Good luck. I'll also be scoping out the thread for tips.

Edited to add - basically big square configuration
posted by PistachioRoux at 5:02 PM on April 24, 2019

The storage unit you linked to, with the angled-out bins on the bottom, will age up just fine, I would think. Sure for now the bottom bins will fill up with stuffed animals and plastic toys, but in a few years it can hold balls for various sports and buckets of art supplies, a while after that it can hold totes full of activity binders or awkwardly shaped purpose-specific equipment. They can also be used for stuff like seasonal clothes - boots and hats and scarves, flip flops and beach buckets, galoshes and raincoats, or to stuff backpacks into to get them off the floor. Really, it's a classic transitional style in a very utilitarian design. You should be able to find something similar in different scales, if that's what's bothering you. You might like the Nantucket bins from the container store.
posted by Mizu at 5:46 PM on April 24, 2019

You might also find something like a Box Seat helpful--it's basically a (surprisingly sturdy) fabric-covered crate with a modestly cushioned top. Put clutter inside, close it, and you have an extra seat or wee-person-sized "table" for playing on. It comes in a couple of different sizes.
posted by praemunire at 5:48 PM on April 24, 2019

If you're willing to throw money at the problem, the elfa shelves from The Container Store hold a ton of stuff. You can reconfigure the shelving sections, etc. As needed. We have them in our family room. There are a few deep shelves for board games and big legos, and photo albums. There are smaller shelves for DVDs and books and tchotchkes. There are mesh drawers for throw blankets and coloring books and random crap. And yes, baskets. We also have an ottoman with storage. Th he lids are reversible. Padded on one side and trays on the other. Great for extra seating, and the tray side is great for corralling stray crayons when the nieces and nephews come over.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 5:55 PM on April 24, 2019

I have a storage ottoman instead of a coffee table. Out of your budget at that price, but I bought mine 50% off at a local furniture outlet.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:01 PM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

We used Kallax everywhere (so they could rotate bins) so I too am curious about what didn't work.

But for larger things, I hated the look of them so I sacrificed a corner to the most monochromatic kids' pop up play tent I could find, and that became a parking lot for anything larger, and could be cleared out for playtime with all the toys going in afterwards. It definitely did not read adult, but it wasn't so visually chaotic.

We have one loft bed for my older son and my younger is in a bunk bed with drawers underneath. Playspace/toys on top (we put plywood down and some of those puzzle mats for a softer surface, do this only when they are old enough not to pitch themselves off the top), stuff in drawers on bottom.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:10 PM on April 24, 2019

We limit number of toys, but we also focus on certain TYPES of toys (Wooden trains, Lego & Duplo, Haba blocks), and we have a rule that only one "piecey" toy can be in the living room at a time -- those are things like blocks, Legos, etc. Toys live in baskets and bins, by type, and they rotate between the living room and the kids' room, and storage. If they want wooden trains in the living room, that's fine! But the Lego has to move out of the living room. That way your piece-y toy that's easy to step on is just one kind and can be rapidly thrown into bins. (Protip: buy a kid-sized snow shovel JUST TO CLEAN UP PIECEY TOYS.)

When relatives ask what kinds of toys they want for Christmas, we say Lego, wooden trains, etc., and everything stays in those limited categories. We don't also have tinker toys and lincoln logs and 5 billion other toys with a million pieces, which makes it a lot easier to consolidate and clean up. And when the toys outgrow the amount of space we have for them (LR + BR + storage), things get donated. RUTHLESSLY donated.

We use Trofast units from Ikea in the living room and bedroom, and also a lot of random baskets. (Target's plastic baskets were a PERFECT fit under my coffee table so I have several of those.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:24 PM on April 24, 2019

We use these box seats to hold kid detritus in public areas. It's nice they double as seats, but mostly they just hold a lot of toys of various sizes.
posted by kendrak at 6:52 PM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

We followed a lot of advice given upthread: Ikea Kallax, baskets, etc. But a friend had a great solution that I really liked. They had one large, wardrobe-type piece of furniture, something similar to an IKEA Galant. She kept all of the toys in there. It was the toy cabinet. The kids loved it. Sometimes she’d rotate what toys were in there.
Her house was bigger than mine, though.
posted by cleverevans at 9:19 PM on April 24, 2019

We also have the trofost linked to above! If I did it again I would get two, get extra bins for the closet to make swapping things in and out easier, and would not get any little half-sized trays (two slide in and the one in back gets forgotten about). It fits under our window like a window seat in the living room, but we've had it next to his bed with a lamp and a few books too.
posted by jrobin276 at 11:43 PM on April 24, 2019

Safety note: a tall bookcase or similar must be fastened to the wall or otherwise secured against falling over for the protection of kids with a ten to climb.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:29 AM on April 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yep, Trofast here too. Two of them. One is currently acting as the steps to an Ikea child's loft bed. The other is in the living room and is not actually an Ikea Trofast, but a very similar item from Target or something. The one in his bedroom had the plastic bins (labeled with a level maker for various category of toy). The one in the living room has shelves and baskets.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:43 AM on April 25, 2019

Vertical space is your friend. Look at this! Buy the tallest storage unit that you can afford (maybe an Ikea Pax wardrobe, but note that Paxes are a bit flimsy, so you'll need to reinforce every shelf by screwing in L-brackets. Don't skip this step, or the shelves will sag and fall down and the whole unit could collapse).

Fill the tall storage unit with things in big clear bins (Ikea sells big clear bins but they're overpriced- several other big box stores have them cheaper).

Out in the main part of the room, you can use something like a Kallax or a bin organizer to keep about 12 toy sets displayed nicely, like it's a toy shop or Montessori school. Supposedly this makes kids play in a more focussed way, also cuts visual clutter and makes nightly cleanup faster.

You might want to do a toy rotation every couple of weeks, so the kids don't have access to all their toys at the same time. If you choose to do that, keeping a few empty bins handy will make it much faster. You don't need to store all the bins in the same place- you could, for instance, separate the toys into three main sets, put each set into its own bin, and then store the bins separately around the house wherever you have space (under the bed? bottom of the closet?). Make sure each bin has a well-rounded assortment of toys- so divide things like puzzles, science, art, vehicles, stuffies, balls, puppets, building sets, etc- evenly into each box. And then you populate the shelves with one bin's worth of toys at a time.

Every week or so, dump all the display toys into an empty bin to hide away, and then restock the shelves from one of the full bins. This system is pretty quick and you can do it any time the kid seems extra bored with the toys, or when you need good behaviour the next day (like if a guest is coming- do a rotation the night before, so that the kid will play quietly with their "new" toys while the guest ooohs and ahhhs at their focussed play).
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:00 AM on April 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Thank you for the helpful responses. The Kallax didn’t work for us as it was jusy too bulky for our space, and somehow we couldn’t get good use out of the volume of each cube. We will make an IKEA trip soon to check out the Trofasts. Thank you for the many other helpful tips!
posted by stillmoving at 12:40 AM on May 1, 2019

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