...because home doesn't happen overnight.
01.26.16 / Living With Toys

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If you have kids then you have kid stuff. Chances are you’re constantly trying to strike a balance between their stuff and your sanity. I’m a tidy person by nature. Clutter – whether messy or overly decorated – makes me a little twitchy. I live, work and sleep better in uncluttered spaces. With three kids, it’s challenging but not impossible. When people visit our home virtually or in real life, they want to know where all the toys are. I thought I’d share a behind-the-scenes look at the kid stuff in our home along with my thoughts on toys. I snapped some pics last week when the kids were at school and the house was tidy, but they are not styled shots. This is what our home looks like when everything is in its place…and the kids aren’t around ;)

Honestly, it would make my life so much easier if people would just stop giving my kids stuff (no more stickers at the grocery store! no more party favors! no more things just because the calendar says it’s a holiday and the stores say buy something to celebrate!) but that’s not my decision to make. Preserving my sanity is my decision though. Here’s how I do it…

Less is more. Honestly, we don’t have many toys to begin with and what we do have is mostly corralled out of plain sight in a bin or basket. But it’s here! We don’t have a ton of room for toys but even if we had more space it’s likely we wouldn’t fill it with toys. As a parent, I don’t believe it’s my job to buy all. the. toys. We maybe buy each kid 2-3 toys annually and that includes birthdays and holidays. There are no impulse buys at Target or the grocery store and the kids know it. If they ask for a toy at the store my response is, “Sorry, that’s not on our list today. Why don’t you put it on your wish list?”

I don’t think my kids need a bunch of toys to keep them entertained. In fact, they focus better with fewer toys. When they tell me they’re bored my response is, “That’s your fault, not mine.” I usually follow up with a verbal list of things they could do. The next few minutes are sometimes dicey as they whine, but eventually they always find something to do.

Having minimal toys keeps our house mostly clutter-free, saves us money and makes it easier to pick up at the end of each day.

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Quality > quantity. We would rather own a few quality toys that can be used long-term, passed on to siblings or other relatives or even sold, than a slew of meh stuff. Think wood > plastic, non-themed > themed and gender neutral. Hape is one of my favorite toy brands.

I think the biggest misconception is that buying quality toys equates to spending more money. But it’s quite the opposite. Sure, one single quality toy might cost more than one single plastic toy, but if that quality toy is the only toy you buy for 6-12 months, you aren’t spending as much in the long run. The grandparents are slowly catching on to this as well. They like knowing a toy they gifted made it past the one month mark unscathed.

Inevitably, toys will be seen and strewn about the house but they look less obnoxious when they aren’t all primary-colored plastic.

Toys are stored within reach and in areas where they are used most. Making toys accessible encourages independence. My height isn’t required to pull something down from a shelf or to put it back later.

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Three baskets on a low shelf in our living room hold a train set, Perplexus mazes and kitchen/grocery toys.

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Mabrey’s play kitchen sits out in the open because she likes to pretend she’s serving people in the living room.

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The fridge was a Santa gift after Mabrey requested it several times over the past year. I, um, I mean those nice elves used leftover paint, wood putty and two new handles to tweak it to match the sink cabinet. The mini ice dispenser drops wooden “ice cubes” and is Mabrey’s favorite feature.

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Board games are kept in one of the fauxdenza cabinets near the dining table where family game nights take place.

Give grandparents specific gift ideas. I think we can all agree that grandparents mean well, but their gifting can be excessive at times. Over the years, Steve’s parents and my parents have realized that we really don’t want a bunch of toys in the house. They’ve gradually cut back on buying toys which we’re extremely happy about, but when they insist on getting something, we’ve learned that it helps to be specific. Instead of saying general things like, “Mabrey likes playing grocery store” and ending up with all kinds of toy grocery paraphernalia, we specifically tell them we think she would really enjoy a cash register and, per their request, send a quick email containing a link to a specific item. That’s exactly how this wooden toy register came to be hers. She loves it!

Experience-based gifts, please! If given a choice, most of the time our kids will choose a fun activity over a thing. For their birthdays, we’ll often ask if they want that toy or if they would like to choose dining out, watching a movie, going to an indoor trampoline park, playing laser tag, visiting a museum, etc. If they do choose a thing, we encourage them to think about how they will use it and for how long.

Recently, Layne asked for a mandolin and Everett asked for a scooter to replace his wrecked one. While these are things, they provide experiences and learning opportunities that the kids will remember for years to come. At least, that’s my hope.

We also give experience-based gift ideas to family when asked. Over the last year, grandparents have gifted our kids tennis lessons, a trampoline, gymnastics classes, movie tickets, online music lessons (seriously, the best gift ever – no driving involved!), ballet classes, these awesome electronic snap circuits (the kids LOVE them) and tickets to see The Art of the Brick. My sister gave Layne airline tickets to visit her in Washington DC as a combo Christmas/birthday gift. He goes in a few weeks and is stoked. (I’ll probably be a hot mess watching his plane take off.) These gifts are so appreciated! The best part is that family members are able to experience the gifts with the kids if they want, watching them play an instrument or master a plié and greeting them after their first solo plane ride.

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Layne’s mandolin bag hangs on a hook in his bedroom closet (along with a Swoop bag full of Legos). He practices in his room so it makes sense to keep it in there.

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All the books! One area where we’re a little more lenient on quantity is books. My kids love to read and I want to fuel that fire as much as possible. We visit our local library almost weekly and the kids have many books of their own, too. I will periodically buy them books throughout the year. They read and reread them and share them with each other. I recently had to replace our eleven-year-old copy of Goodnight Moon because it had literally fallen apart and was illegible.

Get creative. We always have markers, crayons, pencils, watercolor paints and paper on hand to feed their creativity. Everett is in his happy place when he’s drawing. (In fact, I’ll often encourage him to draw when he’s having meltdowns. It helps him calm down.) Layne is on an origami kick so we have origami paper and a few origami books. He’ll also watch origami tutorial videos on You Tube for ideas. All these supplies are kept in cabinets in the office area of the kitchen so the kids can spread out on the island and make creative messes.

Frequent purging. Besides not bringing many toys into our home, we’re also adamant about getting rid of things that are broken or unused or things the kids have simply outgrown or lost interest in. I keep a laundry basket in Mabrey’s closet just for these items. As we go about normal daily life, we toss said items (toys and clothing) in the basket. Oh, look, there’s a hole in this shirt. Put it in the basket. Hey, this costume is way too small for you. Put it in the basket. This car is missing three wheels. Put it in the basket. When’s the last time you played with this? Put it in the basket. You get the idea…put it in the basket!

When the basket is full, I sort the items and deal with them accordingly. Items to be donated are put in the car right away so I have no excuse for not dropping them off the next time I pass Goodwill. (Also, the kids can’t suddenly decide they need that toy they haven’t played with in months.) Currently, I have three bags of kid stuff in the back of my car waiting to be donated. This is an ongoing process that will continue as long as my kids keep acquiring stuff. I find this method to be more efficient than big purges that consume an entire day or weekend, although I do make an effort to do a quick toy inventory check just before the holidays to make room for new stuff.

How do you keep toys in check at your house? Do you have any good non-toy gift ideas for kids? How do you handle overzealous grandparents?

P.S. – A dollhouse for Mabrey. Some toy favorites.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

IKEA studio organization 14

After building a dry bar in the studio to store items you would normally find in a break room or desk drawer, I was still in need of closed storage for craft and DIY supplies, basic tools, fabric samples and paint swatches. Essentially, I needed a freestanding closet. I spent a few weeks searching Craigslist for large armoires. I was looking for something solid and sturdy with clean lines and a cheap price tag that I could tweak with paint and new hardware.

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Enter this beast. I scored it for $100. It’s difficult to visualize the scale in photos, but, believe me, it’s BIG. And heavy. When Steve and I unloaded it, Mabrey promptly claimed it as her “room.” She fits inside easily. Tiny house living? Kidding.

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In its previous life the armoire was used as an entertainment cabinet, but the solid wood construction, cavernous interior and adjustable shelving made it a perfect candidate for storage, too.

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The wood finish wasn’t all that bad but in the context of the space (there were so many different wood tones in the studio already) I knew I would like it better painted. I imagined it as a tall, dark and handsome cabinet. So I removed the hardware, doors and shelves, scuffed the surface with a medium grit sanding block, wiped it clean and gave it a few coats of Valspar Reserve latex primer + paint color-matched to Sherwin-Williams tricorn black. (We used this paint color on the front door of our previous home. It’s moody with blue undertones.) I used a 6″ foam roller and angled trim brush to apply the paint. I opted not to paint the adjustable shelves because I figured they would get scratched up anyway. Plus, I really like when warm wood and dark paint play together.

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I reassembled everything and replaced the original scroll-like knobs with these sexy leather pulls. I probably could have DIY’d something similar with a belt, but I’m so glad I splurged on the pre-made version. The pulls are thick and robust and I really like the simple stainless steel hardware. The honey leather looks so rich and dreamy against the black paint. I did have to trim the length of the included screws for a proper fit but that was the only real work involved. It’s pretty much guaranteed that anything I would’ve whipped up would have been waaaaaaaay subpar compared to these.

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As you can see, I left the brass hinges as is. Mixing metal finishes is okay! Even on the same piece of furniture! The paint is semi-gloss which makes it easy to wipe down and ideal for furniture.

I’ll be sharing photos of the armoire’s interior in an organization post later this week. In the meantime, let’s talk more about Mr. Tall, Dark & Handsome. I would gladly put him in my house if I had room. Have I mentioned how sexy those leather pulls are? They remind me of this kitchen.

People! There are so many entertainment armoires out there waiting to be repurposed. As flat screen TVs become more and more mainstream and boxy tube TVs fall by the wayside, large secondhand media cabinets like this one are in high supply. Instead of using them to hide media components, I could totally see them housing toys, books, craft/office supplies and clothing in nurseries, playrooms, craft rooms, offices, dens, family rooms and bedrooms. Get creative with interior organization: hanging rods for clothes, baskets for toys/diapers, labeled clear plastic bins for craft supplies, a pull-out shelf for a printer or laptop, etc. The possibilities are endless. #savetheentertainmentarmoire

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

*THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.*

Congrats to Taylor who has the perfect spot for the “Torched” print!

Myra contacted me about adding function and style to her family’s foyer. Even though the entry is spacious, the family is having a difficult time making it work for their lifestyle. With two young boys in the mix, the entry needs to provide organization for shoes, outerwear, a diaper bag, pumpkin seat, mail, keys and other miscellaneous.

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As is, the walls are only primed and the space is broken up by french doors that lead to a living room, an open staircase, a doorway and a coat closet. There isn’t enough storage near the front door so discarded shoes and hats turn into tripping hazards. A clunky bench blocks the french doors. The dresser was originally meant to hold small outerwear items but instead it has become a catchall for odds and ends, like board games and items left behind by guests. Myra isn’t sure it’s the best fit for the space. She and her husband recently spruced up the stairs with new paint and stain. They would love for the open staircase to be more of a focal point as it’s one of their favorite things about their home. And Myra wants the foyer to feel more inviting – both for her family and for guests – as it’s the main point of entrance. She leans towards neutrals, natural textures and hits of black and gold.

Here are my ideas for Myra’s foyer…

inviting + family-friendly entry

1 – First up, I would keep the wall color light. Benjamin Moore super white would look bright and clean. If white walls aren’t practical for Myra’s family, a light gray (i.e., Benjamin Moore gray owl or stonington gray) could be great. I think the front door would look more substantial with a few coats of black paint. Try Benjamin Moore onyx. Hanging two rows of hooks (one at kid height, one at adult height) on the sliver of wall just to the left of the front door as you enter would provide immediate storage for everything from jackets to backpacks to the diaper bag. These leather and peg hook racks are so handsome. A more affordable option would be to DIY similar racks using stained wood boards and black hooks from a local home improvement store.

2 – Since the staircase wall is the view that greets the homeowners and guests upon entrance, it should feel welcoming and act as a focal point. This is the place to hang art and add a few accessories. I would repurpose or sell the current dresser and bring in a narrower one with straighter lines so as not to compete with the staircase. A small teardrop lamp on top of the dresser lends warm ambience and makes the large space feel more intimate. The “Torched” art print has an organic vibe that helps to soften all the sharp angles in the entry. I would frame it and hang it a few inches above the dresser then lean the bird art (currently near the front door) in front of it for a casual, layered effect. A gold leaf-like bowl can corral everything from Hot Wheels to keys to the baby’s pacifier. Because it’s metal, it’s virtually indestructible. Greenery is always a good thing! Keep a large floor basket next to the dresser for miscellaneous items such as random toys, stray socks or a bike helmet.

3 – Textured rug squares in putty or taupe are perfect for high traffic areas. They’re so good at upping the cozy factor while simultaneously hiding dirt. The antique bench is too bulky and completely crowds another great feature of the foyer – those glass doors! I would like to see a simpler bench used elsewhere in the space. (More on that in a minute.) For immediate hidden storage near the front door, I would hang a slim shoe cabinet on the wall where the bird art currently resides. The cabinet is meant to hold shoes but it’s also great for smaller items like gloves and hats that don’t always make it into the closet or dresser. The plastic material is family-friendly (just wipe it down!) and inexpensive but could be dressed up by wrapping the sides and top in plywood. The top horizontal surface is a great spot for dropping keys or mail. Hanging a small round mirror above the shoe cabinet allows for quick once-overs. I love the leather detail on this one!

4 – Between the coat closet and staircase (on the window wall) I would provide seating with a bench. I like the simple design and natural materials of this one. The cork looks really organic and should be crazy durable, not to mention a little more forgiving to lil’ ones than the hard corners and arms on the current bench. A sturdy basket, shoes and/or the infant pumpkin seat can be slid underneath the bench and out of the way. I always think it’s a good idea to have a basket at the bottom of a staircase to corral items that need to be taken upstairs. Just grab the basket on your way up and go! A kilim pillow lends color and pattern. (Every room needs a pillow. Duh.)

5 – To finish off the space, I’d switch out the traditional chandelier with something more modern. I absolutely LOVE the lines and black finish of this blacksmith chandelier. The finish ties in to the metal legs on the bench, the black ink in the artwork and the leather loops on the hook rack.

Lastly, I would also encourage Myra and her family to utilize the backside of the closet door. A clear hanging organizer can keep extra pairs of shoes in check along with other small items like scarves, hats, gloves, etc. I know keeping an entryway (no matter how large or small) tidy with kids present can feel like a losing battle most days, but I’ve found that having a system in place is essential. It doesn’t take much to quickly throw hats in baskets and shoes in cabinets and hang bags and coats on hooks before walking away. When there’s a place for everything, it’s a cinch. I hope this gives Myra and her family – and maybe even you – some ideas for injecting function and style into one of the busiest spaces of a home.

After making it through all that, I’m excited to announce today’s giveaway! Minted is offering up some art for the taking. (I seriously can’t stop thinking about that dreamy print above.) See entry details below.

PRIZE: one $200 credit to Minted

RULES: You must be at least 18 years old and have a physical shipping address. (No P.O. boxes please.) One entry per email address. This giveaway is open to international readers!

TO ENTER: Leave a comment on this post proclaiming “MINT ME!”

DEADLINE: Enter before 9:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, November 15th. One random winner will be announced Monday, November 16th.

*BONUS* I’m throwing in a signed copy of Lovable Livable Home to the winner! John & Sherry were nice enough to send me an early copy but I had already preordered one. I met up with them when they were in town last month and asked if they wouldn’t mind signing my preordered copy for a giveaway. They were game so it’s up for grabs! Shipping is on me.

Good luck!

Do you have a space in need of help? You can email me at housetweaking (at) gmail (dot) com with photos and a description of your space for consideration for a complimentary mood board and blog feature. I’m not able to help everyone but I will do my best to select spaces with the best potential. Thanks for reading!