Cleaning and Organizing

Today, I wanted to talk a little about toy rotation & storage … and share what’s been working for us.

After Haley had her first birthday, followed just a few months later by Christmas, I knew it was time to do something different about the toy situation.  I know we have far fewer toys than a lot of families, but they seemed to all be multiplying and taking over our house … and, while I love her toys, love buying her new ones, and want her to have plenty of fun things to keep her stimulated and engaged, I didn’t like how the piles were growing in the family room or how Haley’s room was totally cluttered and overflowing.

About half of the toys Haley got for Christmas.

About half of the toys Haley got for Christmas.

When I was growing up, the solution to this problem was a basement play room with lots of shelves for storing all of the toys – and it worked well for us.  But when I started to think about making a playroom for Haley in our house, it just didn’t seem like the right fit.  For one, she’s only 17 months old, so I still like to have her in earshot all the time and keep a close eye on her while she plays, which would mean I would need to be in the playroom with her all the time.  And, second, we don’t really have a room in our house that would be a clear choice for converting to a playroom.  So, I started looking online for creative storage solutions for toys, hoping to find something ingenious that would help make a mountain of toys seem more manageable …and there are tons of great ideas like that (baskets, shelves, other organizing tools, etc.), but what really appealed to me was implementing a system for toy rotation.

As I started reading about toy rotation, I found a lot of really great articles that provided good background information on why it’s such a great idea … and I’d definitely encourage you to check those out (since I’m clearly not an expert on this topic).  Here’s a link to one that I thought summed it up really nicely.  It became really clear that there were a lot of benefits besides just managing the toy clutter.

When I started to work through how we would implement a toy rotation system in our house, I found a couple of other posts (here and here) that were really useful in detailing how to practically make this work.  After reading about what had worked for others, I decided to give it a try, but with these tweaks:

  1. I wanted to have multiple areas in the house with toys so that Haley could play wherever we spent time together rather than having just one set of toys out in one designated play area.
  2. I didn’t want to pack away most of her toys in plastic storage bins and then find a place to keep the bins of toys that were currently out of rotation.  Storage space is limited enough as it is.
  3. I wanted to be able to change up which toys were grouped together for each rotation so she could have different experiences playing with them.

So, based on that, we started with the process below, which we’ve stuck with for the last few months – and I’m sold.  I’m sure there’s probably a more efficient way to do this, but (for now) this is our system:

  1. I gather up all of the toys in the house (from all of Haley’s play areas) and put them all in one central location (we use her room).

    All of our toys gathered in one spot.

    All of our toys gathered in one spot.

  2. I sort through all of the toys, grouping like things together.  Roughly, the categories I use for this sorting are:
    1. Stuffed Animals
    2. Pretend Play toys (dolls & accessories, tea set, dress up, etc.)
    3. Thinking toys (puzzles, blocks, shape sorters, etc.)
    4. Movement toys (ride-on toys, pull toys, balls, etc.)
    5. Electronic learning toys (usually Vtech or Leap Frog stuff)
    6. BooksA couple of the websites I read had a whole long list of categories to use for the sorting step and it all just seemed a little overwhelming to me.  Maybe as she gets older and has a wider range of toys it will make sense to add a few more categories to the list, but this seems to catch everything for now.  Also, some of her toys could easily fit into multiple of the above categories, and I don’t worry too much about that – I just put it in one of the piles and keep going.Here are a couple of our piles of toys, sorted by category:
      Pretend toys.

      Pretend toys.

      Thinking Toys

      Thinking Toys

      Books

      Books

      Electronic learning toys.

      Electronic learning toys.

  3. Once everything is more or less sorted, I start making groups of toys to keep in different rooms throughout the house.  For each group, I try to get one or two items from each of the categories along with a few books.  For the way we live in our house, I make groups of toys to keep in the family room, kitchen, the master bedroom, Haley’s playpen, and a group to leave sitting out in Haley’s room.  I include more toys for the areas where we have more space, so my final groups aren’t all the same size.  Here are some of the toy groupings we came up with when we rotated today:
    Toys for the kitchen.

    Toys for the kitchen.

    Toys for the family room.

    Toys for the family room.

    Toys for the master bedroom.

    Toys for the master bedroom.

  4. For any items that are “left over” at the end of each toy sorting/rotation session, I tuck them away in Haley’s room.  Stuffed animals and dolls go in a big basket, books go on the shelf in her room, other miscellaneous toys go in canvas bins on her shelves.

    Anything that's leftover gets tucked away in the bins on Haley's shelves.

    Anything that’s leftover gets tucked away in the bins on Haley’s shelves.

  5. I carry the baskets/groups of toys through the house and deposit them where they will live until the next toy rotation.  Here are some pictures from today’s rotation:
    Freshly rotated toys in Haley's playpen.

    Freshly rotated toys in Haley’s playpen.

    The kitchen toy basket.

    The kitchen toy basket.

    Toys in the family room.  Books & blocks are in baskets on the shelves, her shopping cart is tucked into a corner on the opposite side of the room and everything else is lined up along this wall.

    Toys in the family room. Books & blocks are in baskets on the shelves, her shopping cart is tucked into a corner on the opposite side of the room and everything else is lined up along this wall.

    Along with the items on the lower shelves, we leave a few other toys out in Haley's room.

    Along with the items on her lower shelves, we leave a few other toys out in Haley’s room.

The entire process takes less than an hour and I do it whenever I notice her starting to get bored with the current arrangement (usually about once a month).

We’ve been rotating toys like this for about 6 months, but got a lot more organized about it after the holidays and we’ve noticed so many benefits.  We were successful in the primary goal of avoiding mountains of toys in a few rooms of the house, replacing them instead with a small number of toys in a bunch of different spots where we spend time.  This has worked out really well – I can tolerate a smaller selection of toys better, Haley is more engaged with the toys when there aren’t so many available to play with, and we have toys for her in all of the rooms where we spend most of our time, which is an added bonus.  It’s also pretty easy to tell when it’s time to rotate the toys.  She gets bored and just rolls around in the playpen during independent playtime rather than playing with the toys.  And she stops being interested in whatever is in her toy baskets in the kitchen and family room.  So, then we rotate and she gets so excited to see all of her toys in new spots throughout the house – it’s like Christmas all over again.  Actually rotating the toys might seem like a pain, but the payoff is totally worth it.

Having said all of that, there are things that don’t always work out perfectly every time – and that’s ok.  Haley almost always has a favorite toy or two (usually her baby doll is one of them) that gets carried around the house with her and doesn’t stay in whatever room it started out in.  This is fine, but after a few weeks with a lot of different favorite toys, we can be a little long on toys in one room and a little short in another.  And sometimes I just totally mess up a grouping of toys in one room and she’s isn’t interested in any of the toys in that basket.  It doesn’t always make a lot of sense, but adding another one or two toys (a few more Little People, an accessory for the baby doll, etc.) can make the whole basket fun again.

So, in a nutshell, that’s how we’ve been managing Haley’s toy collection and it’s been working well so far.  I’m sure our method will evolve as she gets older, acquires more toys, and the variety of toys in the house start to change.  The next step is for me to warm up to the idea of actually parting with the toys she’s outgrown.  Of course, that would be like admitting that my baby is growing up and I’m still definitely in denial on that topic – so, that’ll have to be a project for another day … another day in the very distant future!

Shark Vac Then Steam

With all the construction work on the new entry way addition, our house has sure taken a beating over the last couple of months from a cleanliness perspective.  It seems like the entire main floor is perpetually covered in a layer of construction-related dust and the kitchen floor, in particular, is various levels of muddy, dusty, and just plain dirty depending on the day.  In an effort to try to resolve the issues with the kitchen floor without spending all of my free time scrubbing it, I bought a Shark Vac Then Steam last weekend, figuring it would be nice to have for all the new tile being installed in the entry way and powder room also.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the purchase, but it didn’t turn out to be the miracle cure for a perpetually filthy kitchen floor that I’d hoped for.  The hard floor vacuum seems to do an ok job, but the suction is all coming from the rear center of the vacuum head, so it does miss things that are around the edges of the room.  For stuff in the middle, though, it picks up the debris without kicking it all over the floor like my regular vacuum does (even in “hard floor” mode).  I’ve never had one specifically designed for hard floors, so I’m not sure how it compares to other models, but I do prefer it to using my normal vacuum on the hard floor.

Shark Vac Then Steam

The steam mop also works pretty much as advertised.  It puts out a good amount of steam and the floor feels really clean afterwards.  My only complaint is that it leaves the floor looking really streaked.  Our kitchen floor is a Pergo laminate “tile” floor and I did some reading online after the first time it happened.  After reading on the Pergo site about recommended care of the laminate floor, it sounded like the streaking was most likely caused by a build up of dirt and other cleaners (Swiffer Wet Jet cleaning solution, etc.) in the tile.  The recommendation was to deep clean the floor with a mixture of vinegar and water, which I did.  Immediately afterwards, I was able to use the steam mop with no streaking in the kitchen.  A few days later, though, when the floor was muddy from the contractors again, I used the steam mop to clean up and it streaked something awful.

I still have a couple of other things I want to try – maybe switching the cleaning pad to the one for heavy duty cleaning or maybe switching off to a clean one after the worst of the mess is picked up.  I’m thinking the streaking this last time is probably because a thin layer of dirt and mud was getting spread around by the steam mop.  I’m also curious to see if this will continue to be a problem once the construction work is done and the level of filth in the kitchen is reduced to a more normal amount.

I do like the concept of the steam mop a lot – I like that there’s no build up of cleaners on the floor and I like that the cleaning pads can go in the washer and be reused rather than being disposable.  I’m really hoping to have better results with it when I’m starting with a floor that’s not as dirty as what we’re living with now …

My Dryer Works Again!

A little over two years ago, when we moved into this house, we purchased a new washer and dryer set since our old ones had been included with the sale of our previous home. I really struggled at the time with which model to select, but it turned out that the decision had pretty much been made for us based on which would fit through the door into the laundry room. We had decided against a front-loading washer to avoid any vibration issues that go along with a front-loading washer in a second floor installation … and there was really only one line of high efficiency top load washers at the time that seemed to be any good: the Whirlpool Cabrio / Kenmore Elite Oasis line. Of those, there was only one dryer in the Kenmore line that would fit into the room … so, decision made. We wound up purchasing the Kenmore Elite Oasis Canyon Capacity washer and Kenmore Elite Oasis Super Capacity Dryer.

Overall, I’ve been pretty happy with the washer and dryer since we purchased them. We got the “Canyon Capacity” washer and I really love how large it is. It seems to do a good job cleaning our clothes and we haven’t had many problems with vibration or other annoyances. The dryer, though, has never seemed as good as the one we left at our old house. When we first got it, it took about as long to dry a load of clothes as it did to wash one, which worked out ok, but over the last couple of years, it’s gotten increasingly worse. I stopped using the “Auto Dry” settings because I thought the sensors weren’t working right and I started setting the temperature to “high” rather than “medium” hoping that would help things to dry faster, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. For a while, I thought maybe I was washing loads that were too big for the dryer to handle (since it’s capacity is smaller than the washer’s), so I started washing only about half as much stuff at a shot, but the dryer would still need to run for an extra hour or so longer than the washer, which was really annoying. I could hear the dryer cycling on and off while it was running, so I knew it wasn’t heating the air/clothes the whole time, but I thought maybe that’s how it was supposed to work.

As much as I was dreading it, I was ready to admit that we needed to call a service person to have them come take a look at the dryer. Then, a couple of weeks ago, Chad and I were sitting on the deck and he noticed that the dryer vent looked like it was maybe a little clogged, so the next night he dug out the ladder and climbed up to clear the lint from the vent. We didn’t think it would have any effect on the performance of the dryer, but it’s made all the difference in the world! I’ve gotten twice as much laundry done today as on a normal Sunday because the dryer is working so much faster! I was able to dry a load of jeans on medium heat in only 50 minutes … it would have taken probably 3 hours on “high” before. It seems that the dryer must have some safety features built in to sense when air flow is restricted and reduce the heat in that situation. I’m so glad we cleaned the dryer vent before scheduling a service call! I only wish the dryer had had some kind of an indicator to tell me what the problem was – it would have saved so much frustration! In any case, I’m putting a reminder on the calendar so we don’t forget to clean out the dryer vent a couple times a year, so we can avoid a repeat problem!

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