4 Kids Clutter Traps at Home and How to Fix Them

Here's what the experts say about how to get your house in order, from the immediate fix to a long-term storage plan.

children sitting on floor in playroom
In the living room, opt for grown-up-looking storage to contain kids’ stuff. Photo: Catherine Gailloud/Photofoyer

You've got stuff. We've got solutions. Whether it's your son's PAW Patrol collection forever parked in front of the TV or the mountain of Crocs and backpacks blocking the entryway, our experts—including the super duo from the show Get Organized With The Home Edit—have realistic advice for clearing the way.

The living room seems to double as a playroom.

The Fix

When toys take over, it's usually because you don't have a clear home for them, which makes it harder to clean up. "But that doesn't mean your living room has to look like a day-care center," says Nikki Boyd, a South Carolina–based decluttering pro and author of Beautifully Organized. "Choose furniture that reduces clutter, like a storage ottoman or a coffee table with an opening at the bottom for a basket." A bookcase with bins—lidless, so kids can reach in and put stuff back later—is another smart move, according to Rachel Rosenthal, a professional organizer in Washington, D.C.

Long-Term Plan

When it seems like the entire contents of your kid's playroom have been gradually migrating to the living room, take inventory and start paring down. Pull out all the toys and sort them into categories: cars, Barbie dolls, and such, Rosenthal says. "That allows you to see if there are broken items, or if you've got 15 dolls and your kid plays with only two, you can make decisions about tossing or giving them away." Once you've narrowed it down to a manageable stash, determine with your kids which items should stay in the living room. Use your living-room storage vessels as a visual cue, too, says Clea Shearer, cofounder of The Home Edit organizing service, in Nashville, and costar of the Netflix show. "Once you have more than can fit in the container, it's time to purge again.

Clever Stowaways

clever stowaway quote box
maypex tufted round storage trunk cocktail ottoman
Courtesy of Home Depot

Comfy and luxe-looking, the Maypex Tufted Round Storage Trunk Cocktail Ottoman has about 4 cubic feet of empty space inside. Can you imagine how many Marvel action figures that can fit?

upholstered round storage ottoman
Courtesy of West Elm

Toss toys into the Upholstered Round Storage Ottoman when your in-laws come over. Then let them rest their drinks on the wooden top, completely unsuspecting of what lies beneath.

threshold fabric cube storage bin
Courtesy of Target

Boyd is a fan of the 13-inch Threshold Fabric Cube Storage Bin. "It holds a good bit without taking up a lot of space and folds flat when you don't need it."

boy going through toy bin in closet
Brie Williams

Your kids' clothes are outgrowing their closet space.

The Fix

Unearthing more room in a closet takes some creativity. "We are like CSI, hunting for negative space," Shearer says. "Look under the clothing rod, for example. That blank spot is where you can put baskets for shoes or accessories." Since kids' clothes are smaller, mount another clothing rod underneath or add shelves or drawers for folded garments. And don't assume all your kids' clothes belong in the bedroom, says Shearer, who recommends moving weather-specific items like sweaters or shorts to the attic or a hall closet in the off-season. "If drawers are too overstuffed and you have to struggle to squeeze things in," she says, "you're less likely to keep them neat."

block quote storage tip

Long-Term Plan

Kids grow quickly, so stem the flow at checkpoints like holidays and birthdays. "I know my kids will be getting clothing from Grandma then, so I make a conscious effort to clear out first," Shearer says. Joanna Teplin, the other half of The Home Edit, conditions her kids to think this way too. "My daughter will be like, 'I want a new sweatshirt,' and I'll say, 'All right, but we have to go through this other stuff first because your drawer is overcrowded,' " she says. "Telling your kids how important it is to donate clothes can keep them from feeling like their belongings are too special to purge." Most of the pros hang clothes by category—shirts, pants, dresses—and then within those, by color, making it easy to declutter at a glance. "I'll be like, 'Wait, why does Jimmy have four blue shirts? Let me get rid of two,' " Boyd says.

Adjustable Organizers

adjustable organizer quote box
six-shelf bamboo sweater organizer
Courtesy of West Elm

The Six-Shelf Bamboo Sweater Organizer has Velcro straps that attach to the rod, providing a column of cubbies for folded items or accessories.

command large timeless hook
Courtesy of Command

"Stick on an adhesive Command Large Timeless Hook to that little side nook in the closet where nothing hung or folded can fit," Rosenthal recommends. "It's a perfect spot to park a robe."

elfa closet 4-foot white closet kit
Courtesy of Elfa

The Elfa Closet 4-foot White Closet Kit is customizable, so as your kid grows, you can raise and lower the heights of the shelves and hanging clothes, and even add drawers.

kitchen with cork board wall
Clear countertops are possible with a few tweaks. Kate Mathis

You dream of wrangling all the food containers, especially your kids' lunchbox stuff.

The Fix

Countertops can easily get overrun with all the little items, especially if your kids use them as a dumping ground for their lunch boxes at the end of the day. Teplin suggests these simple rules to curb the chaos: Everything goes in a drawer or a cabinet and never exceeds that space; once it's full, pare down. If your kids' food containers are stored in deep drawers, add dividers or clear bins with labels (words or images, depending on kids' ages) to prompt everyone in the family to put things back in the right place, Rosenthal suggests. (Or try these clever hacks: Dedicate a dish-draining rack to containing plates and cups, or install a tension rod or two in a drawer or a cabinet as makeshift dividers.) You could even set up a lunch-making cart, stocked with snacks and drinks as well as bento boxes and thermoses, that can be wheeled out of the way when not needed.

Long-Term Plan

The kitchen is a communal space, so this is a good opportunity to involve the kids in decluttering and get the whole family to create some organizing habits. Weed out the easy throwaways first, like anything stained or melted by the dishwasher. For the rest, think about what your kids reach for a lot. "Most of our clients' children have their favorites, like the one sippy cup they must have their milk out of, so go ahead and discard the others they won't touch," Atlanta-based organizer Brittani Allen says. Rosenthal's approach is to turn decluttering into a challenge. "For example, fill all the cups with juice and have kids do a 'taste test' to decide which ones to keep," she suggests.

Strategic Dividers

idesign plastic storage bin
Courtesy of iDesign

The iDesign Plastic Storage Bin is clear, so kids can find just what they need, and it's easy to pull out and set on the counter.

4dps series peg drawer system
Courtesy of Rev-A-Shelf

Maximize space with the 4DPS Series Peg Drawer System, which allows you to divvy up food storage containers to their dimensions.

upspace water bottle and travel mug organizer
Courtesy of YouCopia

Drink containers are like bowling pins—they're always getting knocked over. The UpSpace Water Bottle and Travel Mug Organizer stably stacks bottles, thermoses, or sippy cups.

green front door and entryway organized with cubbies
Hack your entry with just a few feet of space. Carson Downing

It's officially time to rein in the shoes, coats, and book bags by the front door.

The Fix

A good tactic is to set up the foyer so that each person has designated stowaway spots, just like the kids are used to in their classrooms at school: their own bin for gloves, hats, and shoes, or their own hook or color-coded hangers for coats. "Not everyone has a mudroom or an entry with cabinets, but there are plenty of ways to put together a setup like this," Teplin says. "You could do a bench with cubbies or a grouping of floor baskets with hooks on the wall above them." Take cues from how your family operates, too, Boyd says. "If your husband drops his keys on the table or the kids pile shoes on the floor in a corner, add a basket in that spot or mount a shelf above it, and you won't have the frustration of having to see it."

Long-Term Plan

Be deliberate about what gets stored in this limited area (only things you're currently using regularly), and switch it up every season, Boyd says. Next, take a look at bulky stuff like sports gear and ask, "Could that lacrosse bag go in the garage or even the car trunk?" Realize, of course, that once your organizing system is in place, the upkeep will require repeated reminders to the kids (or "drilling it into their heads," according to Shearer). "Nothing makes me crazier than when my kids take off their shoes and put them next to the shoe bins," she says. "I will literally haul them down from upstairs and tell them, 'Please put those away. We all live in this house together, and we need to be respectful and keep it neat for everyone.' "

Functional Foyers

ada hall tree and shoe storage
Courtesy of Wayfair

The Ada Hall Tree and Shoe Storage is an all-in-one unit complete with coat hooks and ample shelves for footwear, bags, and hats.

eby solid wood shoe storage bench
Courtesy of Eby

Sort belongings by family member behind the cubby doors of the Eby Solid Wood Shoe Storage Bench. The cushioned seat makes tying laces or pulling off boots easier.

marie kondo stacking slatted wood shoe shelf
Courtesy of the Container Store

Add one or up to three. Either way, the sleek Marie Kondo Stacking Slatted Wood Shoe Shelf has a minimal footprint.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's May 2021 issue as "Live in Peace With Kid Clutter." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles