Look carefully at the living room photo above. Take note of the fresh design aesthetic, the neatly placed decorative items, the lack of clutter. Based on what you’re observing, take a moment to construct a brief story in your mind about who lives in this home. Is it a single college grad decorating her own space for the first time? Middle-aged empty nesters who appreciate things just so? A professional couple who loves to entertain?
Would you believe me if I said that living room could easily belong to a young couple with a 2-year-old?
You heard that right. That living room, with everything in its place, is not unlike my own. And my husband and I have a toddler son.
Have you been around a 2-year-old boy before? They love to build towers out of dozens of blocks and knock them down triumphantly. They’re into trains and will create an intricate wooden track system that encompasses half of the living room. They read books zealously and will pull handfuls of them off the shelf at once. Toddlers need to love and interact with their stuff.
Although this isn’t a photo of my own home, it’s similar to what my living room looks like on a daily basis — I promise. So how is a living room like that possible with kids?
Rejoice, parents! Living with kids can still mean living with style.
The key to creating a colorful, bright and tidy home that’s both parent and kid-friendly? Keep only what you love and use and designate a home for everything you keep. You can’t express your style if there’s too much stuff in the way to see it.
I’ve always been into organization. During my summers while in design school I even worked as a professional organizer, helping people clear out their mess and designing functional living spaces. So it’s no surprise that I’m already teaching these principles to my toddler. He may only be 2, but he’s very capable of understanding that there are no magic cleaning fairies who appear while he sleeps. Part of our naptime and bedtime routine includes cleanup — or as he shouts enthusiastically, “CLEE AHP!” — and we work together to gather everything that’s come out of boxes and bins and return those things to their homes. While dozens of toys make an appearance in our living room and home office during his waking hours, they have not been included in my photography. That’s because they return from where they came when it’s time for him to go to bed.
My favorite part about this? Besides the fact that he loves to tidy up (total parenting win!), he always knows exactly where his toys are when he wants them. No frustrations or tantrums searching for a missing toy car or his favorite book.
This wasn’t intended to be an essay on parenting. However, while conventional wisdom suggests that the secret to living successfully with kids is to hide everything you own in clever concealed storage, I believe there’s more to it than stashing junk in an upholstered ottoman with a hinged lid (although I’m totally into that too).
If a storage ottoman becomes the home for certain toys or games, that’s awesome. But if it becomes a hidden catchall for kid-related crap, it’s time to evaluate why you have that crap in the first place.
After hearing about its charm for some time, I recently read Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing .” While I was intrigued, I didn’t enter its pages expecting to glean great wisdom. After all, I’m a former professional organizer! Who has taught her toddler to tidy up! And who loves to let go of things she’s no longer using and give them away!
I wasn’t even two chapters in before I sprung up, reviewed everything in my closet to see if it sparked joy and collected a small garbage bag’s worth of clothes that were no longer needed. And let me mention that by conventional standards I had a very small wardrobe to begin with. I only became more obsessed from there. By the end of the weekend I had thrown out two large garbage bags worth of trash and had amassed a hefty pile of housewares, unused toiletries, DVDs and clothes for donation.
So how does my enthusiasm for decluttering — and for Marie Kondo — relate to creating a family-friendly home with style? Well, you can’t see or appreciate your style if it’s cluttered with kid-related stuff. In fact, it’s hard to justify making any home purchases that reflect your taste when they really have nowhere to go.
We have a limited amount of storage space for my son’s toys and books, and once we’re at capacity, it’s time to review what’s there and create space by rotating out what’s been outgrown or is no longer loved. Everything in his bedroom has a place where it belongs, and because of this we can actually see and appreciate the sweet little space we’ve created for him, with its custom house-shaped storage shelf, quirky mini-gallery wall with faux deer head and boldly patterned black-and-white area rug.
Following this philosophy of keeping books and toys within comfortable boundaries has kept my toddler happy because, ironically, having too many choices isn’t liberating for kids — it’s limiting. If you’re honest with yourself, the same is also true for grownups. My son loves his room because he can actually see it, use it and appreciate it. Its appeal isn’t hidden under mountains of clothing, and its functionality isn’t obstructed by a perilous pile of unloved toys.
While it may seem counterintuitive, having less in your home can actually mean having more — more of what you love and less of what you don’t. More opportunities to showcase the quirky armchair you adore and less time spent moving the slowly accumulated pile of stuff off said armchair. More places to showcase your collection of vintage cameras and less time hiding the things you love in storage because there’s nowhere for them to belong. More time spent with the people you’re into and less time cleaning the things you’re totally not into. Can I get an amen?
In case you were looking for a simple quick fix this month and aren’t ready to totally KonMari your space, I’ve got one final tip on how to create a kid-friendly family home: invest in a leather or faux-leather sofa that can be easily cleaned. Kids drool and spill — and let’s be real, so do grownups sometimes — so a sofa upholstered in a high-maintenance fabric will be the bane of your existence. While I adore my teal sofa for its aesthetic appeal, the real reason I’m so psyched about it is that I can basically hose it down when everyday life happens.
When kids are in the picture, there’s no point designing for some sort of ideal life. The reality of how you live should dictate your design choices, and your life will be better for it. The beautiful side effect of decluttering to create space for the things and people that matter is that your style will finally be able to shine through.