A few weekends ago, I just about had it with my son's toys being strewn everywhere around the house. Our dog, Sadie, couldn't even run through the living room. When I saw her slowly navigating her way through the maze of toys, I knew it was bad. It was mad chaos, and my son was acting like it was mad chaos. (Picture the kid from Home Alone aimlessly running through his house with his hands up in the air screaming, "Ahhhhhhhhh!")
Proverbs 31:12 says regarding the wife of noble character's husband, "She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life." Well, I also think this can be applied to the Proverbs 31 Woman's entire family as well, not just her husband. The mad chaos of complete disorganization in our house was definitely not bringing good to our family. Instead of bringing peace to our home, it was bringing a sense of chaos, stress, and anxiety--to everyone, even the dog for goodness sake! I knew that if I was going to tackle this project of organizing the chaos, then I was going to need to do it well, with a grateful heart, and finish. Proverbs 31:17 says about the wife of noble character, "She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks." As a stay-at-home mom, maintaining a peaceful home IS my job.
So, I set out to tackle the chaos with vigor and strength! I started an organization project, and I finished it. The result? A much happier little boy who has lots of different places to play in the house, a more creative little boy, a much calmer little boy while he's playing inside, a little boy who plays with a wider variety of toys because he can actually see what he has, a little boy who takes care of his toys better, and a house that doesn't look like a tornado went through it, which naturally leads to a MUCH happier and more sane mommy.
When I taught first grade, I had containers and organization boxes galore due to my obsession with having organized, neat, and functional learning centers for all my kiddos. It was so much easier for them to learn and explore in functional and organized centers, and they seemed to enjoy learning when the learning centers were set up this way. At the end of the 2008-2009 school year, which was my last year before becoming a stay-at-home mom, I packed up all my teaching stuff and just chunked it into the attic. Well, the old saying is true: out of sight, out of mind. I started reading blogs about toy organization ideas, but I became easily frustrated because I didn't have the extra money to spend on organization tools. Then I remembered I had organizational tools from my classroom already just sitting in my attic collecting dust! They are all different colors, and they don't go with my house decor, but who cares. The toys are organized now, clean-up time is going much better, my son plays better inside now, I got my house back, there is less stress in our house, and I have regained my sanity as a mom.
This is just a small glimpse of what my house looked like before Operation Regaining My Sanity began. Oh, I meant to say Operation Toy Organization:
First I organized the toys that I wanted him to be able to get to on his own without permission into piles on the floor according to the following groups:
cars/trucks/air plane (smaller versions)
big cars/trucks/air plane (big enough to put action figures inside)
grocery store pretend play (cash register, play money, play groceries)
tools and toolbox
stacking train & parts
big train track items (signal house, bridges, etc.)
Mr. & Mrs. Potato Heads and parts
magna doodles/leapfrog tablets
play technology (play computer/phone/flash light)
books that make noise or music
board games (memory cards, matching games, etc.)
tiny random toys (tops, small squishy baseballs, bouncy balls, etc.)
mega blocks and trio-blocks
math manipulatives (dominoes, counters, sorting items, dice)
literacy manipulatives (letter tiles, magnetic letters/cookie sheet)
empty containers and boxes to play with (my son loves to put things in and out of things)
race car ramps
Then I organized them into organization boxes/buckets/containers/bins, etc. that I got down from the attic. For most of the bins, I took pictures of the toys that go inside in front of a white poster board. I may print them out and tape them to the bins with clear packing tape. I haven't decided yet. My son already knows where the toys go, but this will help when we have other kids playing at our house, when we have a babysitter, or when any of the grandparents are here helping with clean-up time and my husband and I aren't around. We'll see.
I put some bins on the shelves in our living room. There is a bin for: books that make noise or music, cars, pretend grocery store stuff, action figures, stacking train and parts, and musical instruments overflow (the other instruments are in the big drum in front of the shelves). His tool box is also on these shelves. I put the bigger vehicles on their own shelf above those. He can reach them all by himself. My son calls this shelf "the parking lot".
I put some bins on the shelves in the sun room that is connected to our living room like this. There are bins for math manipulatives, jenga blocks, legos, magnetic letters, and trio blocks. His bag of megs blocks and his cookie sheet for playing with magnetic letters are also on these shelves. I organized other toys in the sun room like this so that he can pull them in and out so that they are not in the walk way:
His play tent is also in the sunroom.
I put some toys in the dining room area as well. Our dining room is not separate from our living room. It's open, but there are definite areas. The teacher in me just couldn't resist making a reading center or reading nook here. My son always has had books in the living room and books in his room. He loves, loves, loves to read (looking at the pictures and calling out the letters and sounds that he identifies, and saying the words by memory--not actually reading yet). He has two book baskets by his dresser in his room that are full. And he has always had the bottom bookshelf in the living room full of books. But, the shelf in the living room was always a mess because it was hard for him to put the books back in the shelf once he got them off. For example, this is what it used to look like when the books were on the shelf and before I put the books in baskets:
Books lined up on
the bottom shelf =
Since the book baskets work so well for him in his room, I found two old plastic crates that I used in my classroom to serve as book baskets for the dining room area to make it easier for him. They're not attractive by any means, but they get the job done. I moved the books to the backside of the couch (which is the divider to the living room and dining room area) and put his anywhere chair in between them (that he can pull out by himself and move to other places for other functions such as movie nights if he wants). When he sits in the chair, he faces the big glass storm door to the front door and the windows in the dining room, so he gets lots of natural light. He sits here and just reads and reads. He loves it. This is the reading center:
I made a puzzle center in the entry way near the dining room by the glass storm door. Before organizing, we used to keep the puzzles stacked on the shelves in the living room, but they were not deep enough to hold them. They fell a lot, and the pieces were always in different places because of this. The result was that he just never played with his puzzles. What a waste!
When giving Operation Toy Organization a go, I first had the puzzles on their sides in a long wicker basket. This did not work for us because every time my son tried to get a puzzle out of the basket, the pieces would tumble out. Then he would have to take out every single puzzle to get to the pieces in the bottom of the basket, which meant even more pieces were tumbling out. I decided he needed to be able to slide the puzzles in and out easily so that the pieces would stay in tact while getting to the puzzle that he wanted. This has worked beautifully. It has also made clean up time much easier since tiny puzzle pieces aren't all over the floor or loose in a basket. Next to the puzzle center is a small drawer unit that holds small balls, spinning tops, garanimal chain links, and the pieces to a plastic puzzle. Here's the puzzle center and small drawer unit for tiny things:
In February I visited my old college roommate, Sara, for the weekend. I got the idea of an activity table from her. She's also an elementary school teacher turned stay-at-home mom, so I'm always looking to her to see how she's organizing her home. She told me that she got hers at IKEA, and I was able to find one with her at IKEA just like it for only $7.99! It's actually called a side table, but it works great as a kid's activity table. It's the perfect size and height. I have a couple of folding camp chairs that are kid-sized from my reading center in my old classroom, and I keep one at the activity table. When we have friends over to play, we pull out the second chair and put it at the table.
Operation Toy Organization complete! AND it only cost me $7.99!