Home organization has become a big business -- indeed, something of a national obsession -- with a flood of products that promise to eliminate clutter. At a time when parents feel a lack of control in so many areas of life, there's something comforting about the thought of getting your home in spic-and-span shape. Of course, once you have kids, time for home maintenance shrinks as the volume of toys, papers, and paraphernalia increases. The key, say a pair of moms naturally gifted at organization, is to establish easy-to-maintain storage systems that help family life run smoothly.
"Having everything in its place saves a lot of time when you're getting kids out the door in the morning," says Amy Frumkes of Chappaqua, NY, a self-described "organization freak" and mother of Max, 9, Sam, 7, and Jack, 5. When Amy and her husband, Robert, built their home four years ago, she indulged her passion for order by making sure the plans included an array of closets, drawers, and cabinets for clothing, outerwear, toys, crafts, and even cleaning supplies and snacks (a narrow pantry that her sons' friends refer to as "the treat room").
Amy got expert design help from Lyn Peterson, the president of Motif Designs in New Rochelle, NY, and a mother of four who views home organization in practical terms. "The process becomes more palatable in bite-size portions," she says. "Instead of saying, 'I'm going to reorganize the playroom today,' tackle a single aspect such as putting all the Legos in a big bin."
On a visit to the Frumkes home, Child took note of Amy's smart storage strategies and collected extra tips for space-challenged families from Lyn.
1. Find a home for everything. Tired of looking for car keys, birthday party invitations, and sports gear? Take a few minutes to set aside storage spots for frequently used items. "My clients obsess about a place for their waffle maker and their wok, and yet the things they use daily get short shrift," says Lyn, who deposits her mail in a kitchen drawer where each family member can sort through it. Amy tacks invitations and school schedules on a bulletin board above her kitchen desk. To get started, make a room-by-room assessment of your storage needs and consider which products suit you best: baskets, clear plastic bins, fabric boxes, snap-in dividers for kitchen drawers, pegboards for basement or garage, and so forth. Browse stores like Hold Everything, The Container Store, Lowe's, Home Depot, and Target.
2. Eliminate wasted space. Amy's under-the-staircase cubby drawers demonstrate her determination to use every square inch of her house. She explains, "It made sense to build in drawers near the side door for each person's gloves and hats, with hooks for coats and backpacks. We can be ready to leave for school in five minutes." Lyn advises adding hooks to every nook and cranny. "I use them in my closet for bags and belts, under my kitchen sink, in my shower for loofahs and washcloths, and in my bathroom for wet towels," she says. Consider double-duty furniture pieces such as storage ottomans, benches with removable tops, and coffee tables with drawers or shelves underneath; store out-of-season clothing in boxes that fit under the bed.
3. Get creative with closets. Amy used a professional closet-design service, which she considered essential for organizing her kids' clothing so they can reach everyday items without help. But Lyn stresses you don't need a pro to make your closets more efficient, just a good eye for how the space could be used. "Most poles are mounted unnecessarily high," she points out. "In my own bedroom, I lowered the pole and moved it back six inches to create more room in front, then added hooks and an additional shelf above the pole." To expand the area for hanging clothes, consider combining a single high pole for dresses and high and low poles for shirts, pants, and skirts. Armed with precise measurements, you can get free closet-design help at many retailers, plus ready-made items such as cloth hanging organizers for shoes and sweaters, stackable drawer units, and more.
4. Create no-fuss toy storage. Blessed with a huge toy closet in their basement playroom, Amy's boys toss their playthings into colorful oversized plastic bins and place stackable items on a wall of floor-to-ceiling shelves. Art supplies are arranged in locker-like storage drawers near a play table; electronic equipment is stowed in cabinets under the TV. Lyn adds that setting up broad categories -- arts and crafts, dolls, blocks, board games, Legos, sports gear -- in roomy containers makes cleanup easier.
5. Enlist your kids' help. When children understand organizational systems, they'll maintain them with less fuss. (Even preschoolers can help if you label drawers with pictures of what goes inside.) As with adults, bite-size assignments work best. "Telling children 'Go clean your room' is like asking a college student to write a thesis," Lyn quips. "Instead, ask them to put away their clothes today, straighten their desk tomorrow, and clean up their toys the next day. Help them the first few times, then insist that they do it. Your future daughter- or son-in-law will thank you."
Although getting organized may seem like a labor-intensive chore, the ultimate goal is to free up more time for enjoying life at home and "creating an oasis for ourselves and our families," as Lyn puts it. Her final tip: "Never clean or organize without a garbage bag in one hand and a giveaway bag in the other. Because when in doubt, get it out!"