Monday, February 3, 2014

48 Organizing With Kids

This post has been a long time coming and has been a hot topic since I began blogging over four years ago.  Organizing with those super sweet, spunky and loved little ones in our lives; our kiddos.

I always preface these posts by reminding folks that I am no parenting expert, I am just sharing what has worked {and not always worked} for us personally.  Being an organizing lovin' mom with three charming little guys always keeping me on my toes, has given me quite a few situations to problem solve around.  However, I always have been a believer that every mom knows what is best for their kids and family and what works for me may not work for someone else.

I have shared a lot of these tips and tricks for organizing with children over the years, but thought it would be good to have a one-stop spot compiling my favorites in one place.

Ask The Experts

My first tips when it comes to organizing with kids, is to ask the experts.  The experts being the kids themselves.  Since I haven't been a kid in years {although I still love to act like one at times}, I tend to think with my grown-up mom brain.  What makes perfect logical sense to me, probably seems way off base to my boys.  So, I tackle organizing solutions in three ways with the kids:
  1. I ask them to propose a solution to a specific problem
  2. I suggest a solution to a specific problem and let them add input and give me the thumbs up/down
  3. I implement a solution and ask them to test it out for awhile and give me feedback
There are many ways to get the kids involved with organizing their belongings around the house.  Sometimes when I ask them what they think, they look at me like I have three heads and like they really don't care what I do.  And other times they really get passionate about the answer and the problem solving part of the process.

For example, when it came time to organize their Lego collection, I had my own idea of how it would go down, and they had another.  So, we went with their suggestion and years later it is still working.  They opted to organize their pieces by color, while I would have thought that by piece type or collection would be easier.  For them, the ability to quickly associate colors for searching and pick-up, made this a very simple solution for them to maintain.


Speaking of maintaining, I get asked a lot about if the system is still holding up.  For the most part, absolutely.  There are times when we pick up in a hurry and the kids toss all of their extra pieces into their build buckets or an empty bin and sort them back down later when they have more time.  I really let them own this system and don't police it, as it was intended to make their lives easier and to allow them to better enjoy the building process.  Whenever I ask if they still like the system, I get a great big thumbs up.

Get Them Involved

When our boys assist in sorting down toys, selecting items to donate, problem solving the systems, etc... I find they take more pride in maintaining it and understanding it.  They contribute to the decision making of purging everything from toys to clothes along with the process of sorting/putting away the remainder of the items.  I really strive for them to understand the importance of only keeping what we use and need, and that items that no longer longer make sense can live on for someone else to use through donating.

Keep it Simple

I would say that our Lego system, is by far the most intricate of all of our systems.  My goal is to always keep things as simple as possible for our kiddos to maintain.  Typically, this means that using bins and baskets and allowing them to simply "toss" their items where they belong, is a win for us all.  The more steps that a system requires, the quicker it fails.

  • Toys:  Majority of our toys are kept within durable baskets that are low to the ground.  During pick-up time, the kids can just scoop up their toys and place them back into the baskets.  It is extremely quick and everything is sorted down in a really simple to understand way.  

  • Clothing:  Our boys use canvas bins within their closet to hold many of the items they don't hang; such as shorts, pajamas, bedding and undergarments.  Each of those bins is a bit of a jumbled mess on the inside as items are typically just piled in quickly, but at least the items are sorted and the bins conceal the chaos.  

  • Shoes:  We have a shoe storage system right inside our door in which the kids can easily access to place their shoes inside.  It flips open, they toss them in, and it flips shut.  Easy peasy.

  • School Gear:  We don't have a large fancy entry with individual cubbies for managing coats, backpacks and personal items for each member of the family, therefore, we used a credenza to gain the same effect.  The cabinets are low to the ground, making it easy for the boys to place their boots in the plastic basket with their snow-pants/hats/mittens, and place their backpack right beside it.  They can put everything away without needing me to "reach" hangers and hooks. 

Storing their belongings in a way that they can easily access them is hugely important in the success of gaining their approval and willingness to help.

Although I have been known to be a bit of a perfectionist, I don't want that for my boys.  I want them to appreciate an orderly home, but not for it to become something that exhausts them or frustrates them.  I don't want them to fight systems because they are too challenging to maintain.  At the end of the day, I appreciate their helping hands, so letting go of everything needing to be folded perfectly or done in a specific way has been key for me.  If they can get away with just tossing something in a concealed bin and moving on quickly, then I can appreciate that they are making an effort and things are tucked away until next time.  I leave the perfectly stacked books and over-the-top orderly drawers to my personal spaces instead.

Love The Labels

I have been using pictures to label things all around the house since my boys were itty bitty.  This of course was most helpful when they were younger and couldn't read words and just played the matching game instead.  Even though my boys are now older and all are reading, there are times when I still use pictures just because they are visual and quick/easy to understand.



Less is More

Reverting back to getting them involved in the purging and simplifying process, as with organizing anything, less really is more.  By having less "types" of toys, we have less sorting down to do at pick-up time, less intricate systems to maintain and less bins to organize and purchase.  We have always been proponents of expanding on the toys that the boys love and use regularly {building blocks, train tracks, cars, etc...}, vs. growing their collections to multiple mis-matched sets and the newest and "coolest" gadgets.  Holidays are always the most challenging of course, so when folks ask, we share their favorite types of toys to expand upon.  And once the kids receive their gifts, we assess together what they want to keep and what will head to the donate pile.  It may seem awful to some that we have donated newly received gifts, but if they don't have a place to store the new items in our allotted space, the boys are then given the option to swap out the new toys with an existing item or donate it.  If we were to keep everything we received without removing something at the same time, our home would be bursting and I would have to continuously invest in more and more storage solutions.


Chore Charts?

So many moms love chore charts and with good reason.  It allows kids to simply see at a glance what is expected of them each day and to celebrate their successes.  I have done chore charts on and off over the years, and in the end I found that with or without a chart, consistency is the key.

Just like for myself, it is the repetition and doing things over and over that allows things to become natural and routine.  I found the same goes for the kids.  After a few days of simple reminders of where their shoes and backpacks go when they come home from school, they were just doing it on their own.  Having the same expectation over and over allows the kids to slip into a routine of putting things away where they belong, vs. fighting with them each time it needs to be done.  Let me say, my kids are not perfect glowing angels that love to pick up and organize with permanent grins of delight.  They have their moments and good and bad days and we go through periods of adjustment and struggle.  Having routines in place, however, eliminates that element of surprise when they are asked to complete a specific task.  I also find I have much less resistance when they are asked to help with things they do consistently and frequently, over something that is new and unknown.

I created a couple of easy to understand routine charts to help us all stay on the same page; they are also very helpful if someone were to take over and watch the kiddos while hubby and I are away.


We do have a collective cleaning chart that we use together as a family, vs. individual charts for each child.  For the most part, our routine doesn't require us to even look at the chart any longer, but it was a really good way to establish the cleaning routine from the beginning, and is a good place to reference when we fall off track.



Positive Reinforcement

My kids now have a basic understanding that we all live together in our home, which we are extremely grateful for, and need to maintain it together as a family.  I try to show my kids that it is a group effort, and often times we do our chores together to reinforce that we all take ownership.  I also try to be mindful of the monkey see, monkey do effect.  I have had many moments in the past where I have expected my kiddos to keep a clean playroom or make sure their laundry is always put away, but then I would look at my own disastrous studio or bed piled with laundry and remind myself that I should be leading by example.   

There are so many ways to positively reinforce organizing and cleaning with kiddos, everything from allowance to treasures to high-fives.  When our kids were little, we made games out of pick-up time by matching toys to pictures and dancing, singing and getting really excited with them.  Now that they are older, I make sure to thank them when I see their efforts, and when they receive privileges or a new piece of sports equipment, I reinforce that they earn those things because of their help.


Storage Solutions IHeart

When it comes to products and items I use when organizing with kids, it is always a thought out process.  As sad as it is to say, kids are only kids for a short period of time.  As they grow, what they need to store and organize changes year after year.

  • Bins and baskets:  I try and select baskets and bins I know I can use in another area of my home once they are no longer being used for toys.  The green baskets in our playroom can easily be moved to the garage, storage room, laundry room or a linen closet down the road. 
  • Cheap solutions:  If I am unsure that I can reuse an item down the line, why invest too much money in it?  That is why I scour thrift stores, Craigslist or shop at IKEA for many of the items we use to store our kid's belongings.  I am sorry Pottery Barn Kids, this mama can't pay hundreds of dollars on an amazing kid sized play table.  But this one from the Habitat ReStore?  Absolutely.
  • Furniture for the future:  There are many pieces of furniture that function big, no matter what they are storing.  Bookcases, deep cabinets, entertainment centers, dressers and credenzas are all versatile examples of furniture that can store toys and belongings for children now, and then continue to function in other ways as they grow.  
  • Storage ottomans:  By far one of my most "go to" storage item, especially when rooms need to function for living and play.  Storage ottomans look pretty and provide a place to rest your drink or feet, yet have oodles of concealed storage inside.  When our kids were little, they were always filled with their favorite toys in our living room, and once they grew older, we started using them for storing their growing collection of craft supplies.
  • Oversized baskets:  These were our favorite solution when we had crawling and newly walking babies.  Keeping baskets filled with a variety of plush and favorite toys was a great way to keep the attention of exploring kiddos who loved to tip and dump things out, and also a way to keep items stored in each room in a convenient to pick-up yet stylish way.  We now use many of those same baskets for holding blankets and pillows in our living areas and bedrooms.


For links and references to many of the items I talked about above, you can find my favorite organizing with kids posts below.






Organizing with kids will be a bit different for everyone, and every child.  Even things that work well for one of my kids, do not always work for another.  It is always a good idea to assess your solutions and make adjustments as necessary.  I have found that the most important piece of the entire puzzle is being flexible, understanding and open to change. 

Now that I have shared my favorite tips and solutions, I would love to keep the discussion going and hear what is working best for you.  How about more tips for organizing with really teeny tiny toddlers or older high school kids?  Maybe moms of little girls can weigh in as well as I only have boys roaming our home.  Any time saving sanity solutions that will help other moms out?



48 comments:

  1. I just love the idea of sorting lego by colour! I have to ask my own (experts) kids how they feel about that. And I would love to have a closer look at your cleaning checklist. I've made my own one for our house. Two actually - one for the even weeks and one for the uneven weeks. And naturally I'm very interested in seeing other cleaning chart solutions... You don't happen to have a link somewhere?

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    1. Yep, you can find a breakdown of our entire routine here: http://iheartorganizing.blogspot.com/2013/05/may-mini-challenge-you-asked-we-heart.html

      xo!

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  2. It is so funny that you posted this today! I posted about toy storage ideas we use in our living room! Some things that work well for us are open access, but covered from view a bit (like nice bins and baskets), labeling for ease in finding and picking up the toys and we also use your Lego system and LOVE it!
    http://countingwillows.com/?p=299

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  3. Great tips Jen! My new favorite way to help kids with organization is my discovery of coat racks. The free standing styles. I have one from Ikea that has lower hooks for my kids to hang their backpacks on. I'm thinking of adding another one to my son's room for his extra bags, sweatshirts and hats. They take up a small amount of space and add a lot of storage.

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    1. Love that tip! I agree, anything they can reach easily is a huge win!

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  4. I'm a high schooler, and in the blink of an eye your kids will be too, so I'll give my top tips to you now so that you can enjoy those years.

    1. Have patience. Obviously y-chromosomes are not the most focused on keeping things pretty and neat like us women. Having patience is soooo key because the more you nit-pick, the more the will not want to do it.

    2. (You've already done this) START YOUNG. When my own mother abruptly brings picking this or that thing up or doing x chore it annoys the heck out of me. If she started asking me to do that stuff when I was younger, I feel like I would be used to it.

    3. Pick your battles. If they are fighting you about picking up the floor in their bedroom, relax and compromise. It really isn't the end of the world. Just let it go.

    Well, good luck Jen!

    Sarah

    www.thesimplehomeblog.blogspot.com

    ps- can you make any more YouTube videos? I loved them!

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    1. Love these So great that you took time to chime in and share. I appreciate your tips Sarah!

      xo!

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  5. Thank you! I actually came to your site the other day looking for a similar post. My daughter is 4 and I'm trying to corral her toys now that I have a 3 month old. My goal is to be organized before he starts crawling. She definitely helps me go through most of her things to keep or donate (some I just choose on my own). I definitely try to keep her "types" to a minimum. There are too many toys out there! Thanks again! Now to find some more cheap storage options. PB Kids is great but way too expensive!

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  6. I love this post and it was very timely given the state of my daughter's room at the moment! I find like you that the simpler the better when it comes to keeping her bedroom and playroom tidy. We use an IKEA Expedit unit with storage baskets as items can be thrown in easily and 'matching' toys are kept together so her lovely gifts and toys from us aren't going to waste because they're strewn all over the house.

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    1. Expedits seriously win every time! One of my favorite pieces of storage furniture for sure!

      xo!

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  7. This is on our to-do list this year. We are really feeling the need to get rid of some of their stuff. We have all girls and it is crazy the strange tiny treasures they collect. The spread between the ages is three years so we are finding it difficult to know what to keep. Thanks for all of the great tips.

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  8. I have two girls, now 25 and almost 16, and one little boy who turned 7 in December. It is amazing how different they are, and the toys they played with while lot were handed down, there were a lot of new ones totally different being in a different time/decade. I had bins and baskets for their toys, still do for the littlest. The oldest and I would battle when she was a teen about keeping order. No matter the system, she would buck it. Now, now that she is out on her own, she is implementing what I tried to years ago. :) My middle is a lot more tidy than her older sister. She has her own system. For the most part, I leave her be. There are certain things, we discuss and work out a system we both agree on. She is really good about removing clothes that no longer fit. She has bins and buckets for all of her nail things, hair accessories, etc. She is good about going through her room and pulling things she no longer uses. Now, the little boy, no matter what, he is a pig pen. He is a bit lazy. He loves pulling out toys to play with, but when it comes to picking up, instead of putting them in their designated basket/bin, he just dumps them wherever. Then, I go through his room and he gets lectured/reprimanded and made to put it away properly. He has a small walk in closet in his room. Rule is if it doesn't fit in there, something has to go. I should take a photo being I just cleaned it yesterday! LOL We did borrow Jen's lego storage idea, but with 13x13, 3-drawer sterlite containers, 3 sets. He doesn't have near the amount of legos, so this works well. They are sorted by color like Jen's boys. I keep things under control, like the amount of things. Like Jen said, it would get out of control otherwise. I have to reign in my middle on the shoes and certain clothes items. It is true, you really need to consult them and find out how they work/think and find a system that works for you both. I think some kids, it takes more work than others, as some are naturally neat nicks.

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  9. Now I kinda want Legos just so I can sort them by color. Love that idea! And I really like your playroom colors. My son is only 10 months but I appreciate this post so much! I really like your ideas of keeping only so much and only if you have space. So important to keep in mind!

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  10. It has been such a struggle to keep my little man's room organized and tidy. I can't figure out if the room is too small or if he has too many things. Ack!

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    1. Could be both? They always say clutter happens when you have too many things in too small of a space. In small bedrooms think of walls you can use tall narrow shelves or bookshelves to maximize vertical space, and under the bed to maximize floor space. Best of luck to you Heather!

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  11. I love this one-stop shopping organizing post! Our kiddos are 3, 4, & 6....we recently moved across country and since the home is still in a state of half unpacked moving boxes, we focused on setting up their bedrooms first. In our last house, our 6 year old daughter was completely overwhelmed with the amount of stuff (toys/clothes/etc) in her room and she simply could not maintain it. We really pared down the items we kept in their bedrooms this time to a basket of books and a few of their favorite activities for quiet play, as we want these areas to be where they can rest and recharge. We keep the rest of the games and toys in our family room where they usually play together. Bins and baskets help keep everything sorted and pick up easy!

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    1. I love that and I am such a believer in doing that whenever you have the room to do so. We do the same with our boys, their rooms are their quiet areas and there are not too many "things" or distractions in those spaces, games and fun things are out in family areas.

      Congrats on the new home! So much fun to have all new spaces to play with!

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  12. Thank you so much for this post! My boys are 2 & 5 and keeping them organized is a challenge. I have also been wracking my brain about how to label their toys we store in canvas bins-- I love your boys' labels in their closet! Are they iron on? And cut with a Silhouette, I'm assuming? Thanks as always for your brilliant insight and ideas! Hope you have a wonderful week!

    ~Abby =)

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    1. Hi Abby!

      That is correct, I used a heat transfer iron-on material, which I purchased through the Silhouette online store and cut with the Silhouette as well. You may be able to find similar pre-cut options on Etsy?

      xo!

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    2. Good to know-- thank you!! I am actually purchasing my first Silhouette this week and I. can. not. WAIT!!! Looks like I've found one of my first projects! Thanks, Jen!

      ~Abby =)

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  13. So many awesome ideas here! I need to save these for when my little one gets older!

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  14. I love the idea of donating anything that doesn't fit! My kids have waaaaaaaaaay to much stuff, and so many pieces! My creative crafty girl has so many doo-dads and hair stuff its out of control. I gave almost a truckload of stuff (literally!) to the last church yard sale - its hard to donate toys around here. Salvation Army and Goodwill won't take them (?)
    I have used many of your kids-organizing tips....thanks so much! :-)

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    1. Ask friends with younger children if they want your unwanted clothes/toys. And hope that people with older children pass things onto you. Saves so much money and resources. That way you are passing things onto people who can actually use your things. Or have a swap/exchange party where everyone brings the things they no longer want.

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    2. What about women's shelters. I donate all of my sons clothes, shoes, toys, kitchen items...anything really. The women leave with nothing really but their kids so whatever you donate they appreciate. Just a thought. :)

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    3. Really great suggestions! I have never heard of donation centers turning away toys? I agree with Anna, we are fortunate enough to be able to pass a lot of our items to friends and family members, and never have an issue donating the rest. And the idea of finding a women's shelter is extremely wonderful, I am absolutely keeping that in mind next time.

      xo!

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  15. Less is definitely more!!!! I colour code everything as it's the only way I can actually keep track of what is where! Great post as always x

    http://www.cleverlittlebuttons.co.uk/

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  16. Fantastic!
    I love your blog, is an inspiration not only in my home but also in my life!
    Here's how I organized them, yet few, legos my daughter.
    http://veludarte.blogspot.pt/2014/01/organizar-lego.html
    Kiss.

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  17. Love this post. I love organizing with kids. They create the most creative organizing systems. It helps me look outside the box to find solutions to an organizing issue. Thanks for sharing.

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  18. I think I am most jealous of how your house seems so junk-free. I am sure you have areas (drawers, cupboards, etc) but it just looks so organized and junk-free. That is what I'm striving for at our new house. =) It's a constant struggle though.

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    1. Oh, it is not entirely junk-free! I still have to purge frequently and have a couple of spaces still calling for my attention.

      I always try to learn from the items I am donating and purging. There are definitely some things that you can't control, like outgrowing items or things wearing down or no longer being necessary based on certain living situations, but the items that are new and just were never used/appreciated always sting. The more I have donated, the more I have really tried to become much more conscious of where are dollars are being spent.

      xoxo!

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  19. This is a great round up of ideas! One thing we did was take a simple show box (it was for my son's winter boots, actually), cover it in contact paper, and my son stores his rainbow loom, the box it came in, and all the bands in it. The bands are just in ziploc bags by color. He has a little bowl in there to hold some of his created treasures. He loves it, and shares it with his sister too. Simple, basically free, storage. I'm not sure how long the loom phase will last, but this works for now instead of those pricey bins you can buy in the store.

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    1. Free storage is always something to celebrate! Sounds like you have the perfect solution to the loom phenomenon!

      xo!

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  20. Still a huge fan of you playroom system, it is inspirational. Where can I find that shoe storage cabinet? That may just change my life!

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    1. Hi Kesha!

      The shoe cabinet is from IKEA: http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/20169559/?query=201.695.59

      They have a few options at their store. I have also been seeing them pop up around online at places like Wayfair.com and even Target.com.

      xo!

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  21. Thank you so much for sharing this post. I think helping to make organization easy for your kids is so important--and it is every changing. As they grow older and become more independent systems change--and you really seem to plan for that or are pretty willing to adjust when needed. Thank you so much for sharing!
    I have a few tips on how I help my daughter organize over at www.mysemiorganizedlife.wordpress.com

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  22. Thank you for sharing this post! It is great to look back at some of these projects that helped inspire our organization systems. I think finding easy ways to help our kids stay organized is so important--and something that changes with time. As kids grow older and more independent, systems change. I really appreciated hearing about how these systems are working for you now--a few months or years down the line.
    For some tips and ideas I use with my daughter, pop on over to www.mysemiorganizedlife.wordpress.com Just click on the kids link under categories on the right.

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  23. Such seriously amazing ideas!!! I am working on a take on your bench with underneath baskets for storage right now!!!

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  24. I am considering the Ikea Besta storage cubbies in our playroom. I like the idea of being able to close the doors and hide all the toys. The expedit is too wide for the nook I have in mind if I lay it on it's side, and too tall if I stand it up (blocks a window). Where did you get the hardware corners and handles for it? It definitely pretties it up!

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    1. Hi Amy!

      I love the BESTA size options, so great! The brass corners and pulls were both found at Home Depot. :)

      xoxo!
      Jen

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  25. Hi Jen, this is just what I needed to give me the newfound energy to tackle the toys! I have tried so many different and nothing seems to work. After seeing this, I've decided to make one room a playroom! I even went to Staples today to buy my supplies for labeling! Thank you!

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  26. Just another one of your GREAT and SO HELPFUL posts. Thanks!

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  27. This is a reallyt great post. So funny that you talked about those routine charts you made because I printed them ages ago from pinterest and could not remember where I got them, but I thought they had your " look" HA We love them and they have helped us SO much lately ! So thank you!

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  28. So many great tips all in one post. Since we've moved I've itching to re-organize my kids' space. With so many other projects I may not get to it until later this year.

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  29. I adore the look of the Ikea shoe cabinets, and would love them for our entry way. My husband however, is concerned that they will not hold up well. Has your shoe cabinet stood the test of time? Thanks so much!

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    1. Ours still looks and works as well as it did the day we brought it home. What I love most is that the finish is great for easy cleaning {it is a glossier finish so any smudges wipe right up}. The kids aren't always gentle with it, so it gets a thumbs up from me!

      xo!

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  30. Oh my goodness, where is that stunning carpet from?? <3

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  31. Just wanted to ask - where did you get those green baskets you used with expedit?

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    1. They were originally from Target a few years ago now. They are called the Y Weave baskets (http://www.target.com/p/Room-Essentials-Yweave-XL-Square-Storage-Baskets-Green-Set-of-4/-/A-13946300). You can find out more here as well: http://www.iheartorganizing.com/2012/05/playroom-progress-bunch-of-baskets.html

      xoxo!

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