Yes, our house really does look like this. And we manage this, despite three active energetic boys with zillions of toys spread all over the house, because I happen to be incredibly OCD with regards to organization. Organizing things is my hobby.
First of all, we are in a constant state of purging things. I hate visual clutter, I hate having too much stuff. And with a family of five, there is a lot of stuff constantly coming into the house. So I make an effort to keep a constant cycle of stuff going back out, as well. But the real key to a clutter-free home is deciding what belongs where and determining the best way to keep it accessible without being in the way.
Our living room, for instance, is where we watch movies, play video games, and play board games - the big brown leather bench opens up and holds all the kids' movies and video games and remotes. The end table next to the sofa has a big open shelf where the tabletop foosball table lives. And the two large brown sueded boxes on the bottom shelf of the reading corner house all the family board games. There's another one of those boxes in the corner of the room filled with a selection of Baby's books and foam puzzles and soft toys.
So when we're in the midst of playing, the room most definitely does not look this neat and tidy. It looks like a toy store exploded in the middle of our home. But as soon as we're done playing or if guests are coming over it takes all of about three minutes for everything to find its way back to its proper place. And this is thanks to organization and planning and clever storage solutions (not my cleverness - the people at HomeSense and Ikea who make these clever storage solutions.)
The kids' bedrooms do, in fact, look this neat and tidy all the time. Again, thanks to fantastic storage pieces like those bins under the boys' dressers; but also because their bedrooms are not really for playing.
The boys' bedroom is where they sleep or read - they each have a treasure box full of their special favourites and treasures and there's a large dresser in one corner full of big-boy toys that are too small or dangerous for Baby to have access to, but for the most part their toys don't live in their bedroom.
Baby has his own stash in his bedroom of really baby toys for late at night when the house is asleep and he and I are hanging out playing (well, he plays, I desperately try to coerce him to sleep), but again, most of the toys are not kept in the bedroom.
In our house, everything is shared; everything belongs to everyone. Of course the toy one boy got for a birthday present belongs to him, but there is no such thing in this house as having to ask permission to use anything. In order to make that work, all of our toys need to be kept together in one location.
Our playroom is, quite literally, a masterpiece of organization. Again, because it would half kill me if it wasn't. First of all, our kids have more toys than I have ever seen - anywhere, ever. There are entire sections of Toys r Us that we walk into and have nothing to look at because we already have every single toy at home. Ridiculous. But as a result, organization of the playroom has become not just a fun hobby for Mommy but an absolute necessity.
One of the biggest challenges with organizing a space like a playroom is that everything has to be visible and accessible. If toys are packed away and unseen, they go un-played-with. Rendering them pointless. The playroom is for the kids. It's meant to be a fun space where they can do anything they like. But if it's not organized properly, it becomes one great big mess of stuff and the toys end up unseen and un-played-with then, too. It's a fine line.
I found my solution in lots of open floor-to-ceiling shelves and those big clear Rubbermaid drawer units (they have to be clear so that the kids can see what's in them). Everything has its place, but everything is out where the boys can see it and reach it and play with it.
Each drawer has a category - animals, dinosaurs, action figures, Transformers, dinky cars, building toys, Thomas trains, Cars the Movie toys. Hot Wheels tracks are stored in two enormous drawers under the TV unit. Little People playsets have their own little area, as do Thomas playsets, Cars playsets, Handy Manny playsets, and Diego toys. There's a whole area around the tool bench dedicated to construction toys. We have two whole shelves full of puzzles and two shelves full of games (everything that doesn't fall into the board game category - those live upstairs in the living room). The rest of the biggest shelving unit is devoted to crafty-type toys - Play-Doh, Moon Dough, Moon Sand, Martian Matter, Lite-Brite, Glow Station, Mega Blocks and Lego.
Ah, the Lego. We do have a big box of regular Lego building blocks, but plain old building blocks are not the real point of Lego anymore. Now it's the building sets - the Star Wars ships, the Lego City vehicles and playsets, army tanks and airplanes and helicopters and boats and firetrucks and police cars and construction vehicles and all the Kre-O Transformers. We have a entire floor-to-ceiling shelving unit devoted to the boys' completed Lego sets, which they hardly ever play with once assembled. (Approximate retail value: more than our car.) At least if it's out and visible the kids can still enjoy it, even if they don't often play with it.
Over in the corner is the craft table - another set of Rubbermaid drawers filled with construction paper, crayons, markers, paint, stickers, glitter, glue, sparkles, sequins, craft foam, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, play clay, and assorted other crafty items. The table also doubles as a puzzle or board game surface, and underneath is the enormous dress-up trunk filled with dozens of costumes and masks and light sabres and Nerf guns. It's all about using space efficiently.
The playroom. It may not be the most attractive room in the house with so much open shelving and the visual clutter of a zillion toys all out at once. But it's definitely the most fun! It's where we keep the chaos in our house, but because it's organized so that everything has a place, it's very easy to tidy up every evening after the kids go to sleep.
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Art from the heart
Living room before & after
Dining room before & after