Kid’s Room Makeover

It’s been a few years since I’ve been out of school, but I haven’t stopped feeling like I’m running on a school schedule. After I graduated, my husband and I moved to a college town in New Jersey, so the years still felt regimented by fall and spring semesters. Now my son is starting kindergarten, and it really feels like school is back in session. I love September for the new beginning it represents: a chance to get back into old routines and an opportunity to start new ones.

October marks one year since we left that college town apartment and moved to this new apartment in New York. We just renewed our lease for another year, so we know we’ll be here for a little while longer.

The first year after moving is survival mode. There’s so many changes, new things to acclimate to. It’s impossible to make a new space feel like home overnight, but until you do, you yearn for it.

While I’ve found some great organizing solutions for our small space over the past couple of month, Quentin’s room has been a bit of a disaster for the past year. I had a great system for his room in our old apartment, but his last room was double the size of this one! Of course I had a place for everything.

Now that we’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the move, and with the new school year looming, I thought it time to overhaul his toys, clothes and organization system as a whole. The greatest challenge is that his room needs to play double duty as a bedroom and a playroom. Toys quickly overtake every nook and cranny, especially since he’s an only child and a bit spoiled toys-wise.

We have two IKEA STUVA dressers in his room, and while they’re built for kids, the top drawers are still tough to reach for a five year old. I wanted to make sure the things he needed accessible to him were lower down, while also making better use of his storage space in general.

As he’s gotten bigger his clothes have gotten bigger. Keeping his clothes in the shallow drawers wasn’t working anymore, and laundry day often means shoving folded clothes down, wrinkling them in the process, and squeezing the drawer shut. The deeper drawers also presented their own problems. While I had tried to contain things in baskets in the drawers, they still ended up as a toy cemetery, overflowing the baskets and ending up as one symbiotic pile.

Without further ado, here is Quentin’s Room before:

When I’m taking on a whole-room reorganization, I like to map everything out on paper first. I create a “before” so that I can inventory everything and think of solutions before the mess of organization begins. It helps me think critically about the space in the planning phase, and when the project is underway, I have a roadmap if I feel overwhelmed. I like to think of a few things when coming up with my organization plan:

LIKE WITH LIKE

The most important thing you can do when you’re trying to create user-friendly, maintainable storage is to keep like items with like items. “Miscellaneous” is a dirty word. There should ideally be no miscellaneous storage. For example, we don’t have a “junk drawer” in our apartment. The goal (while not always realized perfectly) is for everything to have a home.

The cabinet of the right dresser was stuffed with all different sorts of things: bed linens, sweaters and sweatshirts, a stroller rain protector, old book bag, etc. When things that don’t belong together are put together, it leads to more random things thrown in when you’re trying to tidy up and don’t know where to put something.

ACCESS

Storage space that is easier to access should be for high-traffic things that you use just about every day; storage space that is more difficult to access should be for low-traffic items, things that you use maybe once a week or less.

In the case of the dressers, the top drawer of the left dresser only my husband and I can access, so it’s useless for toy storage. Bed linens were perfect for that drawer, because we are the ones changing his sheets. The top shelf of the cabinet in the right dresser is also tough for Quentin to get to, so I decided to put baskets close to the edge so that he could easily grab them himself.

MINIMALISM

Because I’m an artsy craftsy person at heart, I’ll never achieve a “true” minimalist aesthetic in my home. However, I really appreciate a good purge. It’s important to comb through things on a frequent basis, and let go of things that are no longer serving you. Or you could do what I did, and not take my own advice. Just wait eleven months and do it all in one shot.

I believe that my home should only have things that we need and love. Everything else creates clutter and detracts from the things we need and love. When you can’t find your favorite sweater under the pile of sweaters that you never seem to wear but still hold on to, those other sweaters are a misuse of the time and energy that it takes to maintain them or live around them.

This is especially true for toys. Kids outgrow things, more quickly than we’d like, and the train set that use to provide hours upon hours of entertainment one day collects dust. I’m very lucky that my parent’s home has a basement playroom that Quentin uses when he is visiting them. I give his forgotten toys to my parents so that they can choose what they’d like to keep, he can see them in a new light in a new environment, and I can free up some space.

THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH

When you’re doing a big re-organization, it’s going to be darkest before the dawn. There’s going to be a point where you consider giving up. You’re going to want to put everything back in the boxes they came from, and put those boxes back on the shelf. Close the cabinet, walk away. Go back to whatever it was you were blissfully doing before you had the crazy idea to turn a room upside down.

Don’t do that! Resist the urge to give up! While you’re at it, don’t take shortcuts. Those last, niggling items that don’t seem to fit into any of the homes you’ve already created? Don’t place them in a home they’re not fit for just to be done with it.

Also, I’m a firm believer in dumping. It’s always best to just dump everything out onto the floor to see exactly what you have. It’s easier to work through with everything spread out. That way, you get a visual on the things you can give away, and you can create new storage spaces that will fit those things properly.

Finally, work quickly. Taking too much time to consider every item and the emotional, spiritual and psychological ramifications of giving it away will make this process go on FOREVER. You’ll be drained and exhausted and lose steam. Only allow a few seconds to the “do I need this?” and “do I love this?” questions. Use the “maybe” pile sparingly.

The under-bed storage was my darkest hour of Quentin’s room reorganization:

Note the winter hat and construction paper in with the train tracks and LEGOs bin. Also, a Kalimba song book that was buried beneath a pile of STEM toy parts. What was Santa thinking when he gave Quentin all those STEM toys last Christmas?

I eventually came out on the other side of the dump, and I had six big garbage bags full of toys, outgrown clothes, etc., to prove it. They’re off to my parent’s home now for them to figure out what the hell to do with it all!

LABELS

The last piece of the organizing puzzle is labeling. Labels are important because it’s much quicker to read a word on a label than it is to visually take stock of what’s in a drawer or cabinet or inside a jar, and determine what should go where. That takes too much thinking.

It also give space for a re-writing of the rules of that particular storage space. Hmm… that empty space between the silverware organizer and the side of the drawer? I don’t know what goes in here, so I’ll just put this stack of extra napkins I got from our last Seamless delivery! While I’m at it, mason jar lids. A star-shaped cookie cutter. Icebreakers mints. A package of 100 wooden skewers I bought so that I could use two skewers as support for a cocktail garnish that one time. What am I doing with the other 98 skewers? Not sure.

Anyway, while labels won’t necessarily solve the problem of skewer storage, they, at the very least, make you feel guilty when you knowingly put something where it doesn’t belong. That’s enough motivation for me.

I really should do something about that silverware organizer black hole…

The labels for Quentin’s room have icons on them because Quentin is still learning how to read. He can still follow the system by just looking at the pictures. It’s important for us to have Quentin tidy up his room on his own, without us having to monitor the whole process. Or just giving up monitoring altogether and doing it ourselves after he asks, “Wait a second, are mummies real?” in hope we forget why we’ve met in his room in the first place.

Aren’t these labels just so cute? I created the icons using Adobe Illustrator, printed them and laminated them before sticking them on his dresser and under-bed storage.

After a few late nights, Quentin’s room was complete! Clothes file-folded! Under-bed storage taken from three bins to four, less packed-to-the-gills bins! A walkable path around his bed! Drawer dividers!! An “electronics” basket reachable only by adults to monitor screen time!!! It was a journey, but his new and improved room is truly a thing of beauty.

Quentin’s New Room! Note the labels posted on the outside of the dressers and the neat under-bed storage.

I try to keep surfaces mostly clear; clutter begets clutter. However, I think a few curated items add charm to a home.

No one needs more file folding content, but look at this file-folded drawer!! Shirts on the left, pants on the right. Rainbow order forecasted to last the total of one laundry cycle.

While I was organizing I gave a lot of thought to maintenance. Now that Quentin is five it was time for him to start doing some chores. We picks chores that we knew he’d be able to do without getting frustrated, and assigned each chore a monetary value. He can use his earnings on whatever he wants. This chore chart is laminated and we’re using dry erase markers to mark off what he completes.

Inside the dresser cabinet that was once a no man’s land we set up two additional baskets for smaller toys that he can access on the top shelf, as well as a space for him to put his backpack and shoes every day when he gets home from school. The pouch attached to his new backpack is, what looks to me an iPad sleeve, which Quentin is calling his “briefcase”. He said he’ll need to bring his iPad to school so that he can do math and science. Makes sense.

The two bottom drawers of that dresser have been converted to arts and crafts storage. We previously had all of his art stuff in a shoe box and a basket that was difficult for him to reach and not contained properly, so it was just a big pile of crayons, markers and colored pencils all hanging out together. Now everything is separated using a bamboo utensil holder I purchased for our previous apartment that doesn’t fit in the drawer of our new apartment.

His new under-bed storage is my proudest achievement of this room makeover. Remember the pile of death that I dumped out onto the floor? This is what it looks like properly separated by category of toy: building/STEM toys, his marble tower thing, LEGOs and Hess truck collection.

While reorganizing a whole room can seem daunting at first, the payoff of the finished product is truly like nothing else. His room feels so calm now. There’s a new energy in the space that feels lighter and full of creativity. Seeing the smile on his face when he saw his toys in a new light was worth the hours that it took to put everything together for him.

What are your tips for organizing children’s rooms?

Do you let things get out of hand before tackling the whole room like me, or are you a one-drawer-at-a-time sort of person?

Let me know in the comment section below!

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