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Designer offers 5 ways to help tame kids’ clutter

Even in the neatest of homes, children's bedrooms are magnets for clutter. Parents battle the constant influx of stuff — everything from school art projects to gifts from grandparents, hand-me-downs from friends and the plastic freebies that come with fast-food meals.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Even in the neatest of homes, children’s bedrooms are magnets for clutter. Parents battle the constant influx of stuff — everything from school art projects to gifts from grandparents, hand-me-downs from friends and the plastic freebies that come with fast-food meals.

These rooms also tend to be the smallest in the house, so managing clutter can be tough. Toys and clothing must be organized and out of the way, but still visible and accessible.

“Kids grow out of things every ten minutes,” says interior designer Christina Murphy, “so the more stuff can be out in open, the better.” Under-bed storage bins on wheels can be great, but they’re best for things not easily forgotten, such as favorite toys.

Here are five ideas for taming kids’ clutter from Murphy and two other designers, Fawn Galli and Katie Stassi, all named to domino magazine’s “Ten Decorators on the Verge” list this year:

Think transparent
Clear, stackable plastic bins in all sizes are great for toys and clothing, says Stassi. Kids can see inside, so they won’t need to dump out several bins to find a favorite toy. Large bins can be stacked in closets, small ones kept on bookshelves.

If you prefer baskets or bins that aren’t transparent, but still want to be clear on what’s inside, Galli suggests labeling them with the name and picture of the contents (blocks, Barbies, etc.). Kids will “learn through image and spelling where to put things,” she says.

Another transparent option few parents consider: Stassi orders commercial display cases from Web sites like There’s a huge range of styles combining wood with acrylic or plastic, she says, and prices begin around $200.

Go vertical
“Hooks are great with kids,” says Murphy, “because they can reach them to hang towels or their own coat, and you’ll get them in the habit of picking stuff up off the floor.” Higher up the wall, use hooks to store backpacks, baseball hats and other things used only occasionally.

Wall shelves keep fragile items and keepsakes visible but safe, says Stassi. They’re also good for storing tiny toys out of reach of younger siblings (small, clear bins come in handy here). Walls can also help control paper clutter: Galli suggests wrapping a large square of corkboard with colorful fabric and mounting it on a wall. It can display a rotating selection of the child’s artwork, birthday or holiday cards and party invites.

Find furniture that does double duty
“A trunk at the foot of the bed is a great one,” Murphy says, because it offers storage and seating. “You can get a plain white trunk at Ikea and then decorate it. Depending on the kids’ ages, they can get involved, just putting stickers on it or maybe using stencils if they’re older.” Kids can reach the trunk or bench, so they can easily take objects out or help put them away. “You just need the rubber stoppers,” she says, “so they don’t slam their fingers.”

Think outside the drawer
Go tropical with a hammock, says Murphy. “There are varying degrees of hammocks, cheap ones without the big bar across, just big enough to be holding toys and maybe one kid. It can vary based on the space you have.” At end of each day, stray toys on the floor can be gathered up and tossed on the hammock.

For a smaller, modified version: Drape a large length of colorful fabric diagonally between two walls at one corner of the room, knotting the ends and securing them on hooks. Use it to pile up plush toys or other bulky-but-light things. Hung several feet above the floor, it serves as a canopy for the play space underneath.

Another creative choice: Stassi likes large, brightly colored canvas tote bags, such as the monogrammed ones sold by L.L. Bean. Keep one on a hook or the back of a doorknob, she says, filled with the child’s favorite smaller toys. (When car trips come around, you can easily grab it to take with you.) Keep a second bag in the kitchen to collect any toys that migrate there during the week. Each weekend, use that bag to cart stray toys back to the child’s room.

Eliminate the extras
All three designers mentioned the importance of removing clothes and toys as kids outgrow them. “Eliminate in a millimeter of a second, because it just causes confusion and chaos,” to keep unwanted things around, Galli says. Every six to eight weeks, search the room for items to donate or store in a garage or basement for younger siblings to use later.

Talk to your kids about the importance of donating outgrown or rarely used things to a local children’s hospital or shelter, says Stassi, and get them involved in the process. “You’re eliminating,” she says, “but you’re also giving. And the kids are learning about giving.”

Of course, clutter can reach critical mass when kids don’t want to part with anything. “It can get so out of control,” says Murphy. “Parents have to sometimes sneak stuff out if you can. ... If they don’t see it leave, they may never miss it.”