If it's kid clutter that concerns you, learn how to deal with the small stuff.
When people swooningly say "It's the little things in life ...," they're not talking about the endless blocks, crayons, hair scrunchies, and folded notes that spill out of kids' spaces and into every other room of the house. Resolve to fight this messy domino effect at its source. Invest in a generic piece of furniture, such as a computer armoire, and customize it to suit your child's possessions, habits, and style.
Kids love color, so why should you paint a storage armoire basic white? Because these days it's so easy to find containers in eye-popping brights. Keeping color to the portable storage and bulletin boards means the same armoire is just as useful through several room redecorations -- or several kids.
Give a teenager's armoire personality and practicality by filling the largest space in back with a cork board covered in a funky fabric. Cut cork from the roll, staple fabric around the cork, and pop the board into place. Choose colorful bins that coordinate with the fabric to pull the look together. Bins placed on the top shelf are a great place to store less-used or off-season items, such as swimsuits.
This is also a handy spot to stash a stereo. Use painted wooden boxes to hold CDs in the mid-section, and label them to organize music alphabetically or by style. On lower shelves, stack boxes to organize photos and insert a multipurpose bin to hold trash, laundry, or clothes borrowed from friends. A magnetic bulletin board, attached to the door with double-sided foam tape, is home to tickets, photos, and sports schedules.
Inexpensive wooden box sets can be painted any color and are perfect for holding hair doodads, CDs, and notes from friends. Using labels that insert into metal holders means labels can change as storage needs evolve. The top surface of the stacked boxes also serves as display space for trophies or collectibles.
Keep track of necklaces and other hanging items on unfinished peg racks that you can paint. They simply screw into the armoire. And where there's jewelry storage, there's a girl looking in a mirror, so be sure to outfit the armoire with a gazing glass.
Keyboard, shmeeboard. The handy pullout drawer made to hold a computer keyboard easily converts to a storage drawer fitted with two sets of compartmentalized containers. Using clear plastic instead of opaque allows you to see small earrings, rings, and barrettes at the bottom of the pile.
Youngsters are all about toys, games, and art supplies. An armoire command central keeps pieces in place while vertical surfaces provide display space. Hot-glue painted cork board to the inside back and inside one door to create a gallery for your child's masterpieces. Painting the cork the same color as the walls provides a calm, coordinated backdrop for colorful artwork.
Keep the paintings coming with easy-to-reach roller paper. Install eye-hooks beneath the top shelf; hold paper on a dowel cut about 4 inches longer than the roll. Use plastic containers to hold pencils, paintbrushes, and chalk, and include a clear bin for glue, scissors, and paint. Reserve the top shelf for toys used less often, and make the bottom bins home to daily favorites.
Kids looking for things tend to reach back, pull out, and throw on the floor until the correct item is found. Stop bad habits. Translucent bins on pull-out platforms allow little guys to get a good look before grabbing. Be thoughtful when buying bins: Inventory toys, then get bins that fit the toys.
Built-in drawers hold the biggest items, such as trucks, stuffed animals, robots, and dinosaurs. Label each drawer with letter stencils; for kids who are too young to read, paint pictures of the items that go inside (use paint pens for detail).
An armoire door coated with chalkboard paint serves double duty. We covered the panel areas of the door -- if your door is flat, simply mark off the borders with painter's tape before painting. Be sure chalk has a home right next to the board.
Originally published in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, May 2004.