This Unorganized Children's Bookshelf Went From Scary to Storage-Friendly

Organizing a wall of bookshelves in this multifunctional family room ensures kids can easily access toys, books, and more. Cleanup is a snap too!

Before: Playtime Pile-ups

Before this kids' playroom was transformed, it had some organizational kinks to work out. Toys were piled in a jumble, with like items scattered among the shelves. The children couldn't reach all of their books and toys, so Mom and Dad had to get them down and put them away. Valuable space was given to things that were no longer needed or used. Plus, there was no space for overflow supplies from the crafts/sewing area adjacent to the shelving unit.

After: Orderly Fashion

The organized shelves function for the whole family and add to the aesthetics of the room where they spend most of their time together. A small table and chairs provide a designated place for the kids to color, do crafts, or eat a snack. A combination of open and closed bins and baskets (each with its own colorful label) was selected once the homeowners identified the items to be stored. The kids' belongings now fill the lower shelves, allowing their mother to store fabric and family games on the upper shelves. Puzzles fit nicely in zippered mesh bags. 

Sorting items and weeding out unused toys was the first order of business in this busy play area. With the help of Certified Professional Organizer Kathy Jenkins, homeowners Rachael and Scott, and their three children, began removing things that didn't belong or were no longer needed. That gave Jenkins the green light to take stock of the items the family wanted to store on a 15-foot wall of shelves.

After considering size, shape, and quantities, Jenkins devised a plan to organize the books and toys by category and accessibility. "Because the kids are little, we wanted all their stuff down low so they can be self-sufficient in both locating toys and putting them away," Jenkins says.

The reachable shelves along the bottom feature see-through wire bins for stuffed animals, balls, and larger toys. "If you have open storage for kids, it is so much easier to pull things out and throw them back in," Jenkins advises. She hung a repurposed wall organizer at the lowest level, filling it with books that are easy to see and put away.  "Before you turn off the lights, do a quick pass through the room and put everything away. You will feel so much better the next time you come into the room," says Jenkins.

Jenkins devised picture labels for storage bins that the youngest child can follow. "The labels work great because everything has a home, and the children are in the habit of putting things away now," Rachael says. Use inexpensive luggage tags to display labels on baskets and totes.

The shelf design and size and shape of the toys dictated what type of storage bins to use. "We needed closed storage that stacked to make the best use of space, and lidded plastic bins were perfect to corral small building pieces and toys," Jenkins says. Big fabric buckets on higher shelves hold chunky blocks and less frequently used items. Stackable, closed bins work great for small toys. Picture labels clearly tell the kids where, for example, the toy dinosaurs go. 

To break down a big job, pick just one category of item to organize at a time. Pull out all the items in that category and bring them together. "When you spread things out, each item seems important, but when you pile them all together, it's easier to figure out what is worth keeping and how much storage space you are willing to give it," professional organizer Kathy Jenkins says. A wall-mounted organizer encourages kids to reach for picture books. The organizer can be put to use elsewhere after they have grown. "As life changes, you need to reevaluate the space and ask if it is still working," Jenkins says. 

Plastic zipper bags ensure that puzzle pieces don't get lost, a strategy that mom Rachael calls "genius." A file holder keeps them grouped together on one shelf. Family members now have a calmer, more functional gathering space where they can watch TV, play, and craft without the specter of disorganization hanging over them. And thanks to clever storage strategies, the room is designed to stay that way.

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