Barbies, Legos & Crayons, Oh My!


Liz Jenkins


Attack of the Runaway Playroom!

Playrooms can be a fabulous part of your home, but for so many people, they can quickly become a nightmare. Kids aren’t naturally inclined to put things away, and most of the time when a playroom is set up – things either are just sort of set around for kids to play with or the furniture is bought for cuteness factor rather than practicality (not that the two can’t go hand in hand).

When setting up a playroom, here’s some tips:

  • Really evaluate your children and their playing preferences. Just because you think the dollhouse is adorable doesn’t mean that it actually gets played with. And if your child never touches the art easel – it’s probably not something that needs to be there.
  • Really evaluate your space – it really doesn’t matter how large or small it is – it depends on how it is set up and used.
  • Create zones for play and bring all items that belong in that zone to that space. For example if you have a play kitchen, all kitchen items should be in that zone.
  • Make items easy to access and easy to put away. In the kitchen zone, open stacking bins are great, as is a small table, and baskets for transporting “food” and dishes. In an art zone, set up the easel, bins for paper & supplies (tall plastic drawers are great for this), drawing table, etc. in one area that has some good light.
  • Label each bin, basket and zone. Use pictures if necessary. Kids “forget” really easily where things are supposed to – don’t give them any more excuses than they need!
  • Make sure the space is well lit (consider recessed lights), has an open space in the middle to play, and that each zone is not overloaded with stuff.
  • Do NOT be afraid to get rid of things. In my experience, most of the time, children only really play with 25-40% of their stuff. The rest? Unwanted gifts, broken things, inappropriate for their age level or interest, and those junky toys you get from birthday party goodie bags.
  • Say “NO” to the mother in law who continually brings over gobs of plastic stuff or age inappropriate toys, and restrain yourself from shopping the Dollar Rack at Target. Stop going to all of the consignment sales and getting games & puzzles because they are such a great deal. Are they really a great deal if they are ruined or not used because the kids can’t find them?
  • Look at the room from a kid’s perspective. Get down on the floor and see it from their eye level. Can you reach everything? Can you see clearly where it belongs? Remember, everything needs to have a home – and children really understand that when it is your playroom (and household) policy.
  • Be creative with storage – think outside the box. Use pop up laundry hampers to corral stuffed animals or balls, use chalkboard & magnet paint for creativity on the walls or furniture, use cubbies & shelving in closets for storage instead of the hanging bar. Don’t get locked into what it “should” look like – as Tim Gunn says on Project Runway “Make it work”.

The main goal when organizing a playroom is to make it a space where kids can find what they want, have an appropriate place to play with it, and be able to put it back where it belongs by themselves. Give thought to what is in the space, and more thought into how to store & access the ever evolving and expanding STUFF that can take over any room.

One final note: this is not a finished product. Children are ever changing, and so are their needs and wants. Evaluate regularly – and be ruthless! Save only the special items and ditch the rest. There are plenty of people out there that will get better use of these unwanted and unused items than you are now.

Visit my Organizing Photos page on A Fresh Space to see slideshows of two recent playrooms I organized.