How to Contain Your Children’s Clutter

Any home can feel claustrophobic during a pandemic. But those with young children may feel especially hemmed in, if their living space is covered with toys, games and school supplies.

If that’s your reality, there is a way to hold back the deluge of clutter, or at least make cleanup easier at the end of the day — with a well-considered combination of cabinets, shelves and containers.

Without a storage plan, you don’t stand much of a chance of maintaining a serene, ordered space.

“Quite often, I go to people’s houses and they haven’t thought through where things are going,” whether it’s toys, sports equipment, art supplies or even children’s clothing, said Lisa Mettis, the founder of the family-focused interior design firm Born & Bred Studio, in London. “They don’t section things off, which leads to chaos.”

For tips on controlling the clutter that inevitably comes with children, we asked interior designers for advice.

Start with an honest assessment of each child’s storage needs. Some children have more toys than others, some play team sports and some might be budding artists or bookworms.

Then consider the approximate volume of goods each activity requires and try to designate a specific area for each cluster of goods, whether it’s a mountain of Legos or a bag of hockey equipment.

“It’s about giving everything its place,” said Kevin Isbell, a Los Angeles designer. “You designate a space for everything, in the hopes that kids will actually follow through” with cleanup at the end of the day.

“Usually, we think about it as three key areas: rest, study and play,” Ms. Mettis said.

Books, for instance, could be placed in a quiet reading corner, while arts and crafts supplies could be organized around a desk or table and various toys stowed in designated drawers.

Children’s interests evolve rapidly, so try to leave some flexibility in the storage plan.

“We usually approach it as, ‘How can they grow into this space?’” said Jay Jeffers, a San Francisco-based interior designer.

Specifically, Mr. Jeffers said, he cautions clients about designing children’s rooms that are too juvenile or cutesy. “New moms might be excited to do a whole nursery in pink for a baby girl,” he said. “But then they’re redoing it in four years,” as the child outgrows the style.

Containers with simple designs and colors — rather than ones that resemble animals or are in pastel shades — more easily make the transition from plush toys to sports equipment when the time comes.

Mr. Jeffers also tries to anticipate future needs. “We always want a desk” — specifically, a desk with drawers — he said, even for young children, as they will eventually need a study space.

Big closets are wonderful for containing clutter, but even without them, some pieces of furniture can help. When renovating homes, many designers try to shoehorn as much storage space into built-in furniture as possible, with integrated drawers and cubbies beneath beds, benches and window seats.

The New York-based design firm Studio DB, for instance, frequently creates custom beds for children’s rooms with big drawers below the mattress and cubbies at the head of the bed.

For a young family in Brooklyn, Studio DB also designed a living room with a toy-concealing window seat, a coffee table with hidden storage under a swiveling top and a long cabinet along one wall. “That cabinet is a good mix of adult and kid storage. It’s a bar as well as toy storage,” said Damian Zunino, a principal of the firm.

The result is a room where children can play (and parents can drink) — and a place that can be cleaned up in a hurry when it’s time for a videoconference.

Purchased furniture pieces can offer just as much storage as custom designs. Furniture brands like Pottery Barn Kids, Lulu and Georgia, and Ikea offer platform or captain’s beds with integrated drawers, storage benches with flip-up tops or cubbies, and free-standing cupboards.

And there’s no rule that says credenzas and chests of drawers can hold only glassware and clothing — they can just as easily be used to store dolls and action figures.

Don’t rely on drawers, cubbies and shelves alone to contain the clutter — adding bins or baskets will make them far more useful. Containers can keep various types of toys separated, while making it easier for children to find their things and put them away later.

“We use baskets all the time. They’re great because you can move them around, they look good, they’re sturdy, and they don’t need to be organized like an open shelf does,” said Shannon Wollack, a partner at the West Hollywood-based interior design firm Studio Life/Style. “They still look clean and organized, but when you’re cleaning up with kids, you can just throw stuff in really quickly and move on.”

Mr. Jeffers said he especially likes stackable bins from RH Baby & Child and Crate & Kids.

Regan Baker, an interior designer in San Francisco, encourages her clients to reserve an extra bin or two for toys and clothing that children have outgrown, so they can be collected for donation to free up space elsewhere. “It’s just a spot so everyone knows where to put the donations,” she said.

If the bins will be concealed in a closet or storage unit, Britt Zunino, a principal at Studio DB, recommended using clear containers, so children can easily see what’s inside. “You can see that it’s the Lego bin, the block bin or the plastic horses bin,” she said.

If your bins are opaque, Ms. Zunino suggested taking pictures of the contents of each one and taping them to the outside, an idea she borrowed from her children’s preschool.

Another advantage of bins is that they can easily be carried from room to room. “In our house, right now, we’ve been using oversized clear shoe bins for the kids’ schoolwork,” she said. “It fits a laptop, all their school paperwork and a cup of crayons and pencils, so the kids can carry it around.”

An empty wall is another opportunity to add storage space, including shelves where a collection of books or toys can double as decoration.

Ms. Mettis often installs shallow wall shelves to hold favorite toys and books with their covers facing out. “A lot of kids’ things are really fun and made for display,” she said. In one project, she also used shallow wall-mounted baskets to hold art supplies above a craft table.

In an arts-and-crafts room for a client, Ms. Baker installed an Ikea pegboard storage system to hold beads, ribbons, paintbrushes, glue and pompoms in separate containers across one wall, and horizontal wires with clips on another wall, so the children could display their artwork.

Storage containers and shelves should be within easy reach of the children who will use them. If your children are very young, shelves close to the floor will be far more useful than those mounted high on the wall.

When you’re fitting out closets, Ms. Baker said, make sure to install adjustable shelves and rods for the same reason. As children grow, they can expand their usable storage space by moving the fixtures higher.

And as their interests change, don’t forget to empty out old bins to make room for new possessions.

In the end, the goal isn’t pick up your children’s clutter every day, Ms. Baker said — it’s to encourage children to do it on their own.

“My kids are proof that it can happen,” she said. “It is possible.”

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