Functional Playroom Organization. Is that even a thing?
Having a clean, functional, and organized home is an ambitious goal for most people and but then you throw kids into the mix and it seems like an impossibility. Functional Playroom Organization can be done though, and it’s not as hard as you might think!
Kids just seem to come with stuff. Lots and Lots of stuff. Play is a huge part of child development and learning so I would never suggest that you eliminate toys completely. I would also never suggest you create such organized perfection that it’s impossible for your children to actually use their space to play.
However, children and their things are part of a home that everyone lives in. Everyone should be able to feel safe, comfortable, and calm when they are home.
I don’t know about you but out-of-order chaos is not an environment in which I feel anyone in my family can thrive.
So, YES, having a playroom that is functional and organized is really a thing. Having function and organization in your playroom will most likely lead to more play and learning with really not too much effort on your part. Win-Win!
How Toys and Playrooms Become Areas of Overwhelm
Your kids Do Not need to have all the stuff. It’s contradictory to what society tells us today but I can promise you it’s true.
Too many things can lead to overwhelm and anxiety in kids too. They may not be able to express it the way adults do but too many toys are overwhelming your kids.
This is not to say that parents have been doing something wrong by accumulating more and more in an attempt to create a happy childhood for their children. It’s more like we’ve been doing too much of the right thing. We all want what’s best for our children. The message we’ve been receiving about what is best, well, it just isn’t the truth.
Quantity over Quality
A great portion of the population has been focused on quantity over quality which leads to several problems.
First, buying more of a lower quality item inherently means your items are going to last for less time because they are probably made of inferior materials.
Say you are in the market for a mermaid toy. The doll you get at dollar store might make it through the day and one purchased at a big box store might make it through a year (but those million little accessories it came with probably won’t make it through the weekend).
For me, neither of these would be an option.
I have three little girls and if a toy cannot withstand play from each of them for an extended period of time then it’s just not worth it to me. A better option for me would be maybe making or buying some mermaid clothes to fit a doll we already own. Or if the scale doesn’t matter we would try and find a wooden doll, small heirloom-quality piece, or something I know can withstand time and play. This way we’ve only purchased ONE toy. Not one every year, one to replace a broken one, or a second one just to be able to replace those little accessories.
Second, parents have become accustomed to buying “themed” toys AND everything that goes with them.
Here is a real-life example. My oldest is really into horses and picked up a magazine in the grocery store one day and it was all about Spirit, this horse from a cartoon show by the same name. She actually used to have a plastic Spirit when she was younger and we were still into buying toys from the big box stores. It only lasted about four months.
Since getting this magazine she has asked and asked for a Spirit. Here’s the problem with Spirit though. She can only ever be Spirit.
Instead, we waited for a special occasion, her dance recital, and let her pick out a wooden horse from a manufacturer we know and trust to be of exceptional quality. Now she will be able to use her imagination to play Spirit, or farm, or knights or whatever she wants. Our other girls will have the ability to do the same since we’ve purchased a non-branded toy. As crazy as it sounds, I know these toys will be played with by my grandkids one day too.
Third, buying singular age toys that cannot be used by multiple aged children or will not grow with your child. Going with this mindset will constantly bring an influx of toys into your home as your children age. You will also have various toys for each of your children. Functional playroom organization is based around a totally different mindset.
Now I do believe if your child is showing specific interest in certain types of play you should totally foster that interest and see where it takes you. Going back to the example above my older child loves figures but doesn’t have much interest in baby dolls or play kitchens. My middle child is the exact opposite. While we do have all three options in our home we also have open-ended toys that are great for all of our kids.
These would be things like building blocks, magnetic blocks, and play silks. With each of these toys, we have had children from infancy to pre-teen playing with them. Imagine having purchased a toy that your child played with their entire childhood!
Function and Organization – Where to Start in Your Play Space
Now that we’ve figured out where the overwhelm comes from we need to do two things.
Stop contributing to your overwhelm by buying more toys. Instead, make smart purchases in the future. Chose quality, unbranded toys, and bonus points if they can grow with your children.
The second thing you need to do is simplify what you already have. If you’ve not done this check out the post on How to Get Rid of The Toys.
Think about how overwhelming it is to attempt cleaning your house after a week ignoring your to-do list. You struggle with overwhelm because there is so much to do. You cant figure out where to start and you cant decide where to direct your attention.
Your kids feel the exact same when they have an overabundance of toys and activities to choose from. This step is so important.
Once you created a clean slate we can move forward with creating a functional and organized playroom.
The organization of toys in a purposeful and functional manner will give your children a comfortable area for play without overwhelming them with choices.
Creating themed play areas can add structure and function
I first started creating specific play areas after I noticed how several of the children’s museums we had visited were set up. Each area had a theme but had enough space and specific items for the kids to be able to play for extended periods of time without getting bored.
Doctors offices, veterinary offices, mailrooms, kitchens, markets, orange groves, grocery stores… the themes are endless.
In our home, we have several different themed areas. We have a kitchen and dining area, a sensory area, and a “home” space. There is also have a large open space to spread out when we need to.
We occasionally create temporary spaces (like a baby care center for example) to mix things up.
Because we have unbranded and open-ended toys we can create multiple themes with the same items.
One of the benefits of having fewer toys is the ability to create these spaces, simply because we have more room.
You must have the right furniture for your space
We have lived in our home for almost five years. One of the main selling features was a large multi-use room which we intended on using as a playroom.
For two years I arranged and rearranged constantly with furniture and organizing things we already owned. I was never satisfied and wouldn’t be until I found solutions that fit our space.
If using something you already own ends up working for you, wonderful!
If not, get an idea of what you really want to accomplish and then find something that fits.
We ended up purchasing an 8 cube storage tower. We also have a few shelves for some of our collections and our books.
We also have a sensory table, a sofa and a playhouse. That’s it!
We have plenty of room to cram more toys in there but since the goal is a FUNCTIONAL organization that would defeat the purpose. We are creating an environment for our children to play, not to feel overwhelmed.
Functional Organization Should be Practical
A playroom is a room for children, not adults. Yes, it can be pretty and visually appealing but we have to remember that this room is for children. Creating solutions that do not work for children or are impractical for children is not okay.
I am blown away by the play spaces I see that include glass jars or things with complicated lids. What kids are actually using these on their own? Play should be something your children can do without your help.
So, please use wood, cloth or plastic when you are storing things.
Keep in mind, not everything needs to be hidden in order to look organized
Remember when we got rid of a bunch of those random toys? Well, now that we have less we might actually be able to put some of our toys on display.
Form and function meet when your kids can reach right out and grab their toys instead of digging through a bin to find something.
*When I originally wrote this post we were using these great little plastic bins to store some of our smaller little plastic toys. They have held up really well and while we no longer use these in our playroom I think they are still a great product to recommend.*
At about a dollar each, they are pretty good quality and are the perfect size for little toy collections. Not only are these great for keeping sets together but its also really easy for the kids to see what they have to play with.
The rule is that you can only play with one bin at a time. Such a great way to teach your kids to pick up after themselves.
Currently, we are using cloth collapsible baskets with handles. They are great for moving items from one area to another and makes cleanup super easy for the kids.
Create groups of like items to get the most function from your organization
Not too difficult here, but just try keeping items together in collections or in groups of similar things.
Keep all dress-up things together. Sort all cars, animals, musical toys together and so on.
Using Organization to Hide Toys is Not Functional
Like I’ve said above feel free to use bins, baskets, containers in your playroom. The caveat here is you should be using them to contain toys, not hide them.
Hiding toys in a room meant for play is counter-productive to what you are working to achieve.
Make use of your space, if you have drawers or cabinets feel free to use them. Just remember who is going to be using them and make sure they are accessible (and safe!)
Purposeful organization will allow you to notice clutter before it gets out of control
If you have a system to account for all your toys, you should notice when your system becomes unbalanced.
For example, if your storage area for dolls allows for 5 and you try to add another doll there will be no where for this addition to go. To address this problem you will either need to allocate more space OR reduce the number for dolls.
There won’t be a time when more items can sneak up on you and allow clutter to take hold again. If it does, its simply because you are allowing it to happen.
You Must Maintain The Organization of your Playroom to Retain its Function
The key here is not having too much STUFF. You can get as many organizing tools as you want but if you have too many things your organization will never work.
When you bring something new in you must make sure it has somewhere to go.
If it is a new type of item make sure you create a place for it.
If it fits within an existing group make sure there is room for it.
When there is no room you should either adjust your furniture or space to accommodate the new item OR you have got to eliminate something else.
Functionality can not survive without organization, and organization cannot be maintained without paying attention to what is flowing in and out of your space.
Lets Recap on How to Achieve Functional Playroom Organization:
Focus on quality over quantity when making purcahses. Go for open-ended toys when possible.
If your toy situation has not been analyzed and decluttered do that before you start trying to organizse.
Make sure your furniture and storage solutions fit your space.
Create themed areas when possible.
Playrooms should always have practical solutions over pretty solutions.
Group like items.
Hiding items in a playroom for the sake of organization is not functional for your children.
Take stock of your playroom regularly to avoid clutter becoming a problem.
Once you have a system in place, it will be so easy to maintain. Seeing your children thrive in a room created for play and learning truly is amazing!