Friday, January 1, 2016

Minimize Toys and Inspire Creative play

Over the last few months I've had the pleasure of having a friend and professional organizer, who specializes in educational play, come into my home and help me organize and manage our ever growing mess of toys and craft supplies.  

Kate McCandless is the owner of Family Space by Kate, a small business devoted to creating some foundations in the family home that set everyone up for success. Kate helps you simplify, so you can easily re-set when things get off center.

It started with a an initial visit where Kate came over to assess our living situation, storage situations and the things that are working and aren't working in our current family space. Kate asked a lot of questions that got my mind thinking a lot about how our space could be used more efficiently. She was a great listener and took plenty of notes. She was incredibly thorough and open minded in her suggestions which were never forceful or pushy but rather gentle and gave me the sense that with her help I could easily have a manageable space, despite my two incredibly destructively playful children. By the end of her first visit, Kate showed me a small mock up of what our play space could look like with her help and a little bit of homework on my part.

Kate's idea for our space involved an overhaul of the clutter in our playrooms and craft area and creating a separate toy storage area where the toys could rotate in and out. So, after her initial visit I set to work making room from a storage center and started considering what we could live without.

Possibly the biggest change we made was making the decision to get rid of Gunnar's large cumbersome train table in his room. In our consultation with Kate I realized how little the table actually gets used and was surprised when I mentioned getting rid of it Gunnar (age 5) hardly batted an eye...especially when I brought up the idea that we could replace it with something fun like bean bag chairs! Instantly his eyes widened and was followed immediately by a "YES! YES! YES! CAN WE GET THEM TODAY?"  So we picked out a few trains and tracks to save and we sold the train table along with most of the the other trains within the next few days. The bean bag chairs were a big hit, even with our 16 month old...and suddenly his room became a more inviting sanctuary for reading and big boy playing. 


On Kate's next visit (which happened deliberately while Gunnar was at school) we got down to business moving large play objects into deliberate spaces and putting toys into categories. In doing so we learned how many toys we owned that served the same purpose...and that's when the purging really started. It felt amazing to purge so much while Kate worked corner by corner creating a system that would help both Gunnar and I know how to restore our space to zen after a day of hard play.  One of my favorite rules that Kate helped us put into place was simplifying our cubbies so that only one item might belong in each cubby. She also gave us a great tip to put down placemats on flat surfaces which becomes a reminder of where a toy might live. Before the day was done I took more than 3 large bags of toys out to the car to be donated. The entire space had transformed to an inspiring play space. I was a little nervous about what Gunnar would think when I brought him home from school so I prepared him for the change on the drive home. He was apprehensive about the changes when we spoke about them, but as soon as he saw the space in person he was beyond happy.  "Thank you mommy! Thank you for my new play room! I love it!"...were his exact words. 


Placemats serve as a visual for where the toy belongs
Putting like toys together creates harmony
Very few toys live out in our play space today. The rest live in toy storage (which for now, is in Margot's excess closet space) where I will go to rotate toys, whenever I feel like it. Toy rotation is an incredible tool. Toy rotation makes toys feel new whenever they emerge from the closet. The first time I rotated toys I literally heard squeals in the morning from both children when they found the new toys I had put out overnight. 


Toy Storage. 
Kate came by a few weeks later to help us tackle our craft area, which she tackled on her own while the kids and I went shopping. I was absolutely thrilled with the results when I came home and found a detailed list of notes on how to maintain the space. My favorite concepts for the craft area are similar to the system Kate put in place for our toy area; by using garage sale dots Kate placed a dot under each craft container which helps Gunnar and Margot know where to put each item back. She also helped us move excess crafts to storage so that only the basics are available for everyday use and the rest live in toy storage (by only having 36 crayons out at a time, I've learned that we may never need to buy crayons ever again considering there is a gallon size bag filled waiting to be replacements in storage). I also love that she created a shelf in our craft station for each child with appropriate crafting tools for each. This little nook used to be an eyesore and my least favorite part of our house...and now it's our most tidy part of our house, and therefore my new favorite!
Craft Station.
Note the very bottom shelf is Margot's and the shelf above it belongs to Gunnar.
Each child has a magazine holder for their coloring books. 

I deliberately waited to write this blog until we had lived with the system for a few months and I can say with full confidence that the system Kate has helped us put in place has been a lifesaver.  Our play space, which used to be mass chaos and a nightmare to clean-up, now takes us mere minutes to pick up at the end of every day. And better yet, my children know how to clean up because everything has its place. Beyond the sanctuary that Kate helped us create, we have found that in minimizing the amount of toys available to our children, their play has become more deliberate, more creative and imaginative.  Instead of being overwhelmed by the toys, they now see how the toys can interact with one another.  I can't recommend her services more highly. I'm forever grateful for her calming, helpful and humorous advice. Now if I could convince her to help us figure out a system for our ever disaster of a car situation. ;)

 If you'd like to have Kate organize your space you can find contact her through her facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Family-Space-by-Kate-471500706306380/