Friday, September 16, 2011

The things that hold our things

In a bunch of posts, I've written about the anguish my kids go through cleaning up their room.  The rooms have gotten a lot better lately.  A huge part of the improvement is due to getting rid of things the boys don't care about (using "toy purgatory").  Another help is that I've been getting storage space that works better for them (including the trash-picked plastic shelves I described a week ago).

Generally, I've been trying to find the best long-term storage system for them using a technique you might describe as picky-but-patient.  The "patient" aspect means I'm not just going to go and buy something right now -- I want to do this right.  Thinking is more important than purchasing.  But the "patient" part also means that I have to be willing to live with imperfection (a bit of mess, and less-than-aesthetic solutions) in the meanwhile.

Here are some of my "picky" criteria.

It has to be easy to put things away.
How often do you NOT put something away because it belongs on a high shelf or in the back of the closet?  Difficulty can vary from person to person.  One of my sons has developmental issues with his right hand, making a lot of two-handed activity inconvenient (but not impossible).  Holding something in one hand and opening a drawer with the other hand is easy for most people, but he's often inclined just to dump something on the floor near the drawer instead.  Clothes hangars might as well be rocket science.  We use hooks, not hangars, in his closet.

Anything my kids put away has to be easily retrievable.
This large trunk holds only wooden railroad track pieces.
Toy chests are usually miserable for this.  It's easy to throw everything in one box, but if you have to root around under all the stuffed animals to find the matchbox car, you're not going to want to put the matchbox car back in the toy box again.  In fact, any storage container that contains lots of unrelated items (whether it's the junk drawer, or a poorly labeled filing cabinet, or the garage) can be hard to get things out of if they're so jumbled you can't find things.  So my storage containers have to be big enough to hold what they're supposed to, but they shouldn't require the kids to mix several things together.

The one toy chest I am happy with is the one in our living room that holds our vast collection of wooden train tracks.  It works because it's single-purpose.  (When I drilled holes in the side and added rope handles, I became even happier with it).

The storage system has to be cheap.
'Nuff said.

The storage system has to be environmentally kind.
The plastic shelves I trash-picked are -- it is true -- plastic.  On the one hand, I saved them from going straight into the landfill.  But on the other hand, they're not very easy for my son to use, and for environmental reasons I don't want to rely on plastic when I expand the boys' shelves further.

The storage system has to be versatile.
Speaking of expanding, I want to be able to add to the storage space as the boys become responsible enough to keep and maintain more stuff.  And since they like to change rooms, I want to be able to move/combine shelves if necessary.

I've hit upon a solution that I think really like; I'm going to write about it tomorrow.  (Today is the why; tomorrow is the how).

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