Kids

Toy Organization Tips

We have two play areas in our home. A large gameroom upstairs that’s a free-for-all toy wise and a smaller play area in the corner of our living room downstairs. I generally try to keep toys assigned to a specific floor but it’s inevitable that over time the upstairs toys wander downstairs and vice versa.

I quickly learned that toy organization is a linchpin in our household, it holds several other things together. The state of the toys is very reflective of the state of our house.

When the toys are are a mess, our household is a mess. The kids get overwhelmed when there’s too many toys to choose from and frustrated when they can’t find something they’re looking for. The kid’s emotions are contagious so if they’re in a bad mood – I’m in a bad mood.

Picking up and putting away the toys is part of our evening routine. When the toy corner is disorganized this part of our routine is nasty. My brain is already quite tired from the day and the last thing I need to be doing is trying to find a place to stash a toy snake and a princess crown. Decision fatigue nightmare.

When our toys are organized our household is running smoothly. Both the kids and I are less stressed. It’s easy for them to see what they have to play with which means they’re happier. It’s easier and less overwhelming to pick up the toys at the end of the day when everything has a home.  There’s control and order. Everything is A-Okay.

To keep the toys under control, every few months I go through a massive toy purge and re-org because no matter how diligent I am about keeping the toys organized (and I am diligent) there’s no way to keep it perfect all the time.

I recently went through one of these purges and I took some pictures while I was doing it so I could help navigate you through your own toy organization project.

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Our downstairs toy area is actually an old bar that was put in when our house was built. I think at one point there was a cabinet here but one of the previous owners ripped the cabinet out and put in a small bench.

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I wasn’t disappointed that the bar functionality was removed because this little corner makes a great home for all our downstairs toys. It actually works out quite well because the pony wall that separates the former bar from the rest of the room does a great job at hiding any toy mess that’s in the corner.

I added a small, cheap shelf from an office supply store for vertical storage but other than that the corner remains much as it came.

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First I clear everything out of the corner. As I’m emptying the space out I sort toys into piles by category. My categories are: trash, donate, stuff to take upstairs, stuff with batteries, anything with four wheels, sports stuff, educational stuff and everything else.

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As I take out each toy I give it a once over. Does it still work or is it broken? Do the batteries need replacing? Do the kids still play with it? Can I donate it?

When the toy corner is empty I clean the floor, wipe down the walls (bye bye nasty hand prints!) and wipe down the shelf. Then I start tackling the piles.

First, I throw away the trash. Then, I put the stuff to be donated in a box and put the box in my car. Next, the upstairs toys go back upstairs. After all that, the only toys left are the ones that will remain in the corner.

I then put each category of toys into a larger container and each of those containers go on the shelf. As far as the type of container you can use, it really doesn’t matter. You can go all Pinterest on your own project if you want but I’m somewhat more minimalist (read: lazy & cheap) so I just grabbed whatever boxes and baskets I had lying around when I initially organized the corner.

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I have two old diaper boxes, a file box and two random baskets that have been assigned toy corner duty. Maybe one day I’ll label them but they’ve been like this a year and they’re still unlabeled so it’s obviously not high on my list.

Once the toys are in their containers I then add any larger stuff that doesn’t fit in a bin. We have several larger toys that just hang out in the corner on the floor and on the seat.

Regardless of what your own toy storage solution looks like keep a few things in mind:

Purge first. You can’t organize clutter. This is true for every aspect of organizing but is especially true for toys. Toys are like rabbits, they multiply quickly. If you don’t purge, they will take over.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Though we’re all drawn to Pinterest like a bug to a zapper, don’t feel like you have to go spend hundreds of dollars on shelves and bins to make your toy storage functional. Even if you’d like to make it look nicer down the road start with the organizational tools you already have available so you can figure out what works for you before you make an investment in a storage solution.

Don’t have high expectations. The second you finish putting the last label on your perfectly color coordinated bins you kid will show up and use his chocolate covered hand to dump the whole thing on the floor anyway. If you go through the trouble to make it pretty understand it won’t always be that way.

Maintain the space. You can’t spend two hours cleaning out the toys then forget about it for a month fully expecting it to stay organized. Organizing the space means maintaining the space. Prepare to spend just a little time every day putting everything back in its place.

A little toy organization can go a long way to keeping your entire household running smoothly; organized toys are more fun for kids to play with and easier for parents to put away. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long and doesn’t cost a lot of money to efficiently organize your toy storage space. All you need a little inspiration and a little motivation!

What tools do you use to organize toys? Favorite bins? Shelves?

 

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Dining Out with Kids

Over the summer I got invited out to lunch with our playgroup for hard of hearing children. We were a large group – 20 of us. The service at the restaurant is notoriously slow and with such a large group it was slower that usual. It took a full 20 minutes for our orders to be taken and another hour before our food hit the table. That’s right, almost an hour and a half of sitting still before any food was delivered. It was a nightmare for a parent of small children –  and we were a table full of parents and small children.

By the time lunch finally arrived me and my kids were the only ones still sitting at the table. All the other moms and children were pacing the restaurant floor or had gone outside because they just couldn’t sit still.

Several of the moms asked how I got my kids to behave so well and my answer was very simple, I was prepared and we dine out often (and there was some luck involved because they aren’t always that well behaved).

I know dining out is stressful and it’s tempting to avoid dining out as a family altogether but sometimes, like I found out this summer, it’s unavoidable – for example, when you’re traveling or when another family invites you out. When those situations arise you want to make sure you child has had plenty of experience, lest you suffer epic public humiliation.

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Dining out with kids will always be hard but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible and it may even be enjoyable if you’re organized and well prepared. Here’s a few tips:

Establish ground rules. It’s important to establish that dining out is a privilege. It’s something special that you do together as a family and it is to be respected. Before you go discuss behavior expectations with your spouse/partner/co-parent and use those expectations to establish some ground rules.

Our rules are as follows:

  1. Once we’re seated our kids aren’t allowed out of their chairs unless they’re moving to a lap. No running around the table, playing on the floor, etc. The only exception to this rule is if we’re dining at a restaurant with a sand box, play area, etc.
  2. No raising your voice at the table – this includes loud talking, screaming, crying or anything else that may disturb other diners.
  3. Toys that we bring can be played with before our dinner arrives but as soon as the food hits the table the toys are put away. If the kids finish eating before the adults the toys can make a re-appearance.

Be prepared to enforce the rules in a restaurant environment, just as you would at home. Time outs are an important piece of my dining out arsenal – I will take my child outside and sit them down on the sidewalk for a time out if they’re not behaving. If they continue to misbehave once they return to the table then they go back outside. Yes, I’ve spent entire meals sitting outside on the sidewalk but it always pays off the next time we go out.

Time outs are especially effective in a restaurant environment because they serve multiple purposes:

  1. They remove the child from the situation giving them a break from whatever was causing the misbehavior.
  2. They give them a chance to calm down.
  3. They keep the other diners from experiencing your child’s misbehavior.
  4. They reinforce the concept of sitting at the table together in a restaurant as being special, if the child don’t behave they don’t get to participate.

Practice restaurant manners at home. Sit down at the table to eat as a family and enforce your restaurant rules at home. That means sitting at the table until everyone is finished eating and asking to be excused before getting up.

Practice! Dine out often, once a week if you can. By dining out in restaurants they’re familiar with, it gives the kids a chance to practice their eating out skills and table manners in an environment they’re comfortable with but still outside the home.

Have good timing. If your child missed their nap or is overly tired from a long day at school, you can’t expect them to sit still and quiet for an hour at dinner. When you go out, make sure your child is well rested and if they’re overly hungry feed them a small snack before you go. Tired and hungry kids are cranky kids!

Use tools to help make the experience easier. Minimizing the number of things that can go wrong is always a good thing. I always take a spare strap for the high chair (because they always seem to be broken) and some bendy straws, which I keep in a travel toothbrush holder. If you child can’t handle a cup with a straw take a sippy cup. Climbing out of the highchair and drink spills are now two things you no longer have to worry about!

Reserve some toys only for trips to restaurants. I have a bag of toys that are reserved especially for going out to eat. I keep them by the back door in my diaper bag bin for quick and easy access. The novelty of having these special toys also reinforces the “special” aspect of going out to eat.

When choosing special restaurant toys look for things that are small, flat and easy to shove in a diaper bag or purse. Yes, a tablet or phone falls into this category and I often rely on a tablet for pre-food entertainment with a few rules – tablets and phones are to be used for games only, no streaming videos and they follow the same rules as other toys. When dinner is served they are put away.

Get food FAST. If you’re at a restaurant that serves bread or chips when you’re seated then you’re in luck. If not, then consider ordering an appetizer to get something on the table. If you’re familiar with the menu, plan on making your ordering decision soon after sitting down – if you place your food order at the same time as your drink order you get double parenting bonus points.

Order easy food. Though I am a stickler for trying everything on your plate at home, a restaurant isn’t the place I want to have a battle over eating green beans. To reinforce the concept of dining out being a special event, I let them eat things they wouldn’t normally be offered at home. Corn dog? YES. French Fries? YES! Chocolate milk? YES PLEASE!

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Manage your expectations. You can’t expect your two year old to sit and play quietly with their special toys for an hour while you enjoy your meal in relative peace and quiet. Plan on interacting with your kids to keep them distracted. One of my favorite things to do is to practice origami with with the paper kid’s menus. There’s a ton of online tutorials on how to make paper flowers, cranes, etc. It’s a fun, quiet activity, kills a lot of time and they can play with the end result.

No matter how well behaved your child is you will have meals that are failures and unfortunately they are impossible to predict but that doesn’t mean you can’t go out and enjoy some good food with some good company! It just takes a little organization and practice to get there.

 

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Displaying Kid’s Art

My little girl loves to draw and paint. When she draws and paints her little soul becomes very transparent – I get a little glimpse of how she views her world in each piece of artwork she produces…

…and she produces a lot of artwork, several pieces a day. Not all of it is worthy of home display but every now and then she shows me something that makes my mommy heart swell with pride.

I had been putting it all on the refrigerator but I don’t really like putting a bunch of stuff on the fridge – it looks cluttered and since our fridge hides in a corner I don’t get to see it much anyway.

Displaying kid’s art is quite the dilemma. How do you showcase their hard work without it adding clutter to the house?

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Solution: I created an art gallery in our breakfast room just for the kids. I went shopping for some large, simple black frames with backs that are easy to remove. I finally found what I was looking for at Target (big surprise).

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Their art gallery is in our breakfast room and I mixed in some art done by a professional artist in with the kids art.

When the kids produce a particularly good piece of art, I date it and put it in the frame for us to admire as long as we want. When it’s time in the frame is over, it goes into a pocket folder labeled by month (all of Evie’s preschool work is also going into the pocket folder).

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Sometime in the future I’ll go through it all and decide which pieces I should keep forever and which ones I can toss – not now though. For now, they’re all keepers.

 

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Diaper Bag Organization

When I was pregnant with my daughter I spent more time than I needed reading about things you should carry in your diaper bag. It seemed during pregnancy one of the few things I could plan so I went with it. I read list after list about diapers, pacifiers, wipes, extra clothes, food, bottles, personal items and found everyone was equally terrified at being caught without something important

My research paid off because when the time came to take her out I knew exactly what I needed to take with me.

Everything.

I lovingly packed my bag and took my girl on our first real adventure (out to lunch with a friend so I could show her off) and the first time I needed to find something it all turned into a jumbled mess.

Here I am, a brand new mom, with a three week old baby, in a crowded downtown restaurant and she just won’t. stop. crying. Where is that pacifier?!?!

That day I learned a very important lesson.  It doesn’t do you any good to have it if you can’t find it!

Four years, and another baby, later I’m going to talk about organizing techniques and tricks to keep your diaper bag stocked and ready to go.500X750

CHOOSING A BAG

When it comes to diaper bag organization, choosing a good bag is half the battle. A good bag should work for you, not against you. Think of it as your own personal assistant, ready to hand over that burp cloth at a moment’s notice.

When choosing a bag look for the following features:

POCKETS! Look for a bag with interior pockets. It does’t matter what size the pockets are but make sure you get them. Any bag meant to be a diaper bag will have plenty of pockets  but a lot of large purses have them too so be sure to think outside the box. Keep in mind that pockets with elastic closures at the top are great but if you stuff them too full when you pull out one diaper all the other diapers come out with it.

STRUCTURE! Look for a bag with stiff outer fabric and will stand up on its own. There’s nothing more annoying that putting your bag down so you can dig for your wallet and having the sides collapse down on top of it so you can’t see anything inside. Just say no to floppy bags!

HANDS FREE OPERATION! If you’ve got a baby or even a toddler you will need both your hands and most likely additional hands. The best bags offer a cross body strap (removable if possible) so you can have both hands free to chase a toddler or hold a wiggly baby.  Note: backpacks are awesome for day trips when you need to carry your supplies all day but not ideal for shorter trips like running errands. Getting the bag off and on your back every time you need something gets old fast.

VERSATILITY! If you’re the type to care about how your bag looks with your outfit choose something neutral. Don’t pick something with pink bunnies or airplanes. Bonus if you choose something that you can use again later after the need for a diaper bag is gone.

TOP CLOSURE! Nothing sucks more than having your bag fall over and all the stuff roll out of the top. Find something with a zipper or snaps. Velcro is no good. It’s noisy, will catch on clothing and doesn’t stay closed very well. Also, avoid the flap style messenger bag. Negotiating the baby and the flap at the same time almost always leads to disaster.

BALANCE! Avoid bags that look like they might be off-kilter.  Nothing is more annoying than a bag that falls over every time you put it down. I have one of those…it has a permanent home in the bottom of my closet.

MY BAG

I have a four year old and a two year old. Up until a couple of months ago I was carrying an actual diaper bag but I recently graduated to a nice large purse. As graduation present to myself I decided to buy something nice and new that I could enjoy carrying, looked good and could be used after the diaper phase ended. After many, many months of shopping (and a lot of feeling guilty for dropping $250 on a purse) I settled on a Michael Kors Jet Set Zip Top Tote.

IMG_5754It’s big enough to put all my kid stuff in but small enough for me to carry around even when I don’t have the kids with me (which is happening more and more lately, yeah!). It fits almost all the above criteria with the exception of a cross-body option but the handles are long enough that I can tuck it behind my arm as I walk, still leaving my hands free. The leather is very durable, wipes down easily with a damp cloth and stays surprisingly clean despite it being white.

It has 5 pockets inside, four flat and one zipper. Inside the flat pockets I put my wallet, sunglasses, cell phone, pens, tissues and one of those green Starbucks lid stopper thingies (they always seem to be out at my Starbucks so I keep one in my purse) – everything I need to access often.

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It’s big enough to have plenty of room for my changing supplies (pink pouch), first aid supplies and other random stuff (white pouch) and my personal items (Vera Bradley pouch).

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When I don’t have the kids with me, it’s also big enough for me to take my planner, tablet, notebook and a magazine but it’s not so big that I would consider switching it out for something else.

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It’s a awesome bag, well constructed and absolutely beautiful. Though I still feel guilty for the triple digit price tag I know I will get to use it long after the last diaper has left the bag.

ORGANIZING TIPS

Once you’ve chosen a good bag the next step is to keep all the odds and ends inside easy to find and ready to go – because let’s be honest…when you need it – you need it NOW.

Only carry the minimum in your bag and keep the rest in your car. I have a bin in my car for seldom used items and extra supplies. I keep extra diapers, wipes, sunscreen, bug spray, hats and an extra changes of clothes for each kid. I use SugarSnap Files inside the bin so I can easily find things when I’m in a hurry or wresting a poopy diaper in the trunk of my car.
IMG_5766If you’re one of the awesome people who lives in a walking/mass transit city this isn’t going to work for you very well. I’m sorry (and slightly jealous).

Use smaller pouches to contain items by category.  Though the SugarSnap files are great for my car they’re a little too big for my purse. Instead, I use some random pouches that fit my bag better. For the diapers I use a zipper pouch I found at Wal-Mart (it was $3 and comes in a zillion colors), for my personal items I carry a Vera Bradley cosmetic case (outlet mall WIN!) and this small white bag I got from Target (in the luggage section, it’s a reusable quart size zipper pouch meant air travel).IMG_5742Clean out/restock your bag regularly. Once a week take everything out and throw away the food pouch lids, straw wrappers and receipts that inevitably accumulate in the bottom. I try to do this every time I return from a trip but since I know showering isn’t even an option for some busy moms I won’t judge if you don’t.

Have refills for your bag ready to go by the door. For us that’s a bin in our laundry room. I keep extra diapers, diaper rash cream, coloring books, etc there so it’s easy to swap stuff in and out and I don’t have to trek upstairs to get extra diapers when I am restocking my bag.IMG_5789IMG_5799

If you take it out of the bag always put it back in it’s place immediately! Never, EVER just toss it back in. It will fall to the bottom and it will get lost and when you need it you won’t be able to find it. Save yourself the stress and put that passy back in it’s place before you find yourself in a emergency situation.

By picking a good bag and following a few basic rules a disorganized diaper bag should be a thing of the past – because taking kids out of the house is hard enough without having to wrestle with your bag.

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