Before redecorating any kid space, parents usually face an even more daunting task: organizing all the stuff that children accumulate.
The gewgaws from birthday party goodie bags. The teensy-weensy toy pieces. The expanding pile of arts and crafts projects. It's enough to make you send the small fry off to summer camp and hold an "everything must go" garage sale in their absence.
Instead of resorting to such extremes, take the advice of professional organizers, who contend that having kids and neat closets aren't mutually exclusive. Here are their 10 tips for bringing order to your children's things - and with it, peace of mind to your family.
1. Store or discard anything that your child has outgrown - and not just clothes. According to Julie Bestry, a Western New York native and president of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, Tenn., kids' surroundings are often cluttered with toys and memorabilia parents can't part with. "Just as you wouldn't make your child wear a 6x when she's ready for an 8 or 9, there has to be room for a child to grow and change."
2. Buy storage containers that are appropriate for your child's age and abilities. Although a compartmentalized suitcase for your son's Matchbox cars may look great to you, he may lack the fine-motor skills, or the inclination, to put them back in it. If that's the case, opt for a bin.
3. Make sure closets and other storage nooks are kid-friendly. "Keep children's scale in mind when planning kids' spaces so they can reach and put away things for themselves," says Linda Birkinbine, president of Keep it Organized in Getzville.
4. If you're not already, get organized. "Parents can model the behavior they want from their kids," says Linda Groat, president of Simply Back to Basics in Williamsville. "Kids are much more likely to do what you do than do what you say."
5. When you involve a child in an organizing project, keep it short and sweet. "Encourage family team work," Birkinbine says. "Play or sing a song while organizing and cleaning up, and it becomes a game - a fun chore."
6. If you purge with a cause, even the resident pack rat may be motivated to add to the discard pile. "Some people have a yard sale, with the proceeds to benefit a larger-priced family item, such as a computer upgrade or a family trip," Groat points out. "Some people donate to charity."
7. Follow the rules of proximity and utility. The more often your child uses something, the closer it should be. "If you have a dress-up drawer in her room, but the kid plays dress-up in the family room, it makes sense that there's a bin or box right there, or in the nearby laundry room," says Bestry. "Otherwise you're going to have twice as many places to clean up."
8. Label all storage containers, even for young children. "Instead of words, use visual triggers for labels," Bestry says. "A 2-year-old can't read, but a 2-year-old can look at a picture of a Barbie doll."
9. When organizing a toy room, emulate the structure in your child's classroom. "Observe how kids play and group toys that they use together - for example, blocks, animals and cars - in zones," Groat says. This tactic helps kids keep track of their toys while fueling creativity and imagination.
10. Want to spend less time organizing? Spend less time accumulating. "Stop buying so many toys, crafts and souvenirs for your children," says Birkinbine. "Every party or outing does not merit a new 'something.'"
- Nicole Peradotto