5 Kid-Friendly Ways to Organize the Family Room

Christine Pafumi
March 12, 2013

One mom shares how she keeps high traffic areas organized as part of the Care.com Interview Series

Who hasn't stepped on or vacuumed up a LEGO? Julie Marsh has done both, but has also learned a few lessons along the way about how to clean a house full of kids. Blogger Julie Marsh (of Julie Marsh) shared some of her best-kept organization secrets -- including how to keep the family room clean with all of that foot traffic! Find out what she does with all of those little pieces, how she avoids daily clutter chaos and what happens when a waffle mix cleanup attempt goes awry. Spoiler: waffle batter is a lot like cement!

Here are Julie's top 5 tips for keeping your family room clean and organized:

1. Keep a Kids Catch-All Bin
If your family room is like Marsh's, chances are that LEGO pieces, cars, and little plastic toys are all over the place. Marsh suggests one designated area for everything: "We have a large plastic tub that perfectly fits on the shelf of a sturdy side table, and most of the smaller items go in there. We also have a specific container for LEGOs (I hate vacuuming them up almost as much as I hate stepping on them), and it's large enough for my son to "save" prized creations."

2. Conduct a Toy Pickup Every Day
Marsh suggests spending a few minutes every day picking up toys. Note the toys your kids play with the most. "I vacuum frequently (hence my concern about vacuuming up LEGOs), and insist that toys are picked up nightly," Marsh says. "I also keep an eye on what he plays with and what he ignores, and I store/donate accordingly."

3. Let Kids Help
You might be surprised that your kids are actually good at putting stuff away! "I haven't been very good about insisting that the kids put away one item before starting to play with another, which leads to chaos more quickly," Marsh says, "But then, they're good at picking up when the time comes. My son is surprisingly awesome at putting away his toys."

4. Set Firm Rules About Food
Keep food in the kitchen - it seems it's easier to make a mess when food is in the family room! In Marsh's house, nobody eats in the family room except adults.

5. Don't Leave Everything for Spring Cleaning
Set a schedule and try to stick to it. "I clean in-depth all year long -- steaming the carpet, cleaning out/reorganizing drawers, donating items -- but some tasks are better suited to warmer weather," Marsh says. Assign different tasks to different seasons to help break up the workload.

Read more about Julie's cleaning habits in our full interview below.

Tell us about your family and your blog.

My name is Julie Marsh (which is also the title of my blog), and I've been writing online since 2005. I live in Colorado with my husband and three kids (11, 8, and 5), and I'm admittedly obsessively tidy.

What is the golden rule of cleaning and organizing in your home?

I subscribe to the broken window theory. I know that sounds harsh, like I'm comparing clutter to criminal activity, but if I let the place go, it gives license to the rest of my family to let it go too. Therefore, I strive to keep a minimum standard of cleanliness in place. Of course, my family argues that my minimum is stricter than many people's mother-in-law standard.

Do you ever incentivize your children to help out? How do you get your kids involved in home organization?

I'm sure they wish I would pay them more often; however, most of what I ask them to do is what I believe they ought to be responsible for anyway: keeping their rooms tidy, folding and putting away their laundry, cleaning their bathroom. My son is already responsible for cleaning the toilet (should be pretty obvious why), and he sings while he does it, stopping only to gasp, "I missed a spot!" before wiping it clean.

I do occasionally assign them chores for which I offer compensation, like raking and bagging leaves, cleaning out the car, and vacuuming and dusting. But my primary focus is on teaching them responsibility for themselves first, without incentive.

For more on how to get your kids to help with cleaning, check out 5 Tips for Getting Your Kids to Do Chores »

Has there ever been a time when your kids were trying to help and it ended up being anything BUT helpful?

My son loves eating waffles for breakfast. Sometimes, to facilitate the process, he'll get out the waffle iron, waffle mix, measuring cup, and Pam. One morning, he spilled the waffle mix. So he climbed the counter to get a paper towel, doused it with water, and tried to wipe up the dry mix. By the time he informed me of the spill and his clean-up attempt, the batter had hardened in the cracks of the wood trim of our kitchen island and in the grout of the kitchen tile. That stuff's like concrete; I'm still working on getting all of it dislodged.

If you could give other parents one tip about getting your kids to help out, what would it be?

Start early. Take advantage of their enthusiasm for helping. Yes, chores get done faster and more thoroughly when you do them yourself, but how will kids learn if they never get a chance to practice? Explain that helping out is what it means to be part of a family. I believe that if chores are presented as an expectation -- and they are age-appropriate and allocated equitably among kids -- it goes a long way toward obtaining cooperation, even more so than incentives.

For more cleaning tips, check out the Care.com Interview Series: How to Clean and Organize Your Home from Top to Bottom »

Julie Marsh started her current blog, Julie Marsh, to get back to writing about things that interest her. She is the VP of Operations at Cool Mom picks and has written for numerous blogs, is a founding member of Blog With Integrity and was named a Must Read Mom by Parenting magazine. She lives in Colorado with her husband and three children. You can also find Julie on Twitter and Facebook.

Photo used with permission from Julie Marsh.

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