Clean and Simple Kids’ Rooms (Zone Defense: Kid Stuff)

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On Zone Defense, we’re tackling clutter and working to put in place a game plan for home organization. This month we’re turning our attention to the stuff that our kids collect.

Six months ago we started a game plan to organize our homes. Rather than tackle clutter and chaos in one fell swoop, we are approaching it by zones: physical zones as well as activity zones. We’ve looked at the following areas of life:

This month it’s the kids’ turn! Let’s take a closer look at our kids’ stuff. After all, they’re home for the summer. They have lots of time on their hands. And it would be nice to have some clutter cleared away before they go back to school. The busy-ness of fall, followed by the  festivities of the holidays make summer the perfect time to organize our kid zones.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be talking about simple and easy things to do to get a handle on your kids’ bedrooms. Today, I’m looking at how to simplify the bedrooms. Next week Prerna will be talking about ways to organize and contain kids’ toys and games. And then we’ll take a look at how to archive kids’ artwork and paperwork.

We’re really only going to graze the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully the ideas we touch on will spark some creativity and organization in your own home.

Create simple spaces for kids.

Once upon a time, I dreamed of Pottery Barn bedrooms for my kids. I wanted those beautiful landscapes in my home, idyllic places for my children to play, read, or sleep, complete with beautiful knick knacks on the shelves.

The reality is that was expensive and hard to keep clean. While we didn’t reach exactly Pottery Barn heights, I did my darn best to deck out their bedrooms. But, a lot of it was visual clutter.

Call me a spartan, but I’m an advocate for simple spaces for kids.

Above is my girls’ bedroom — at its best. It doesn’t often look like this. Since they are three and five, they tend not to pick up things on their own and the room is often a shambles. We’re working together to teach them how to care for their things.

Currently, we have three kids’ bedrooms with two children per room. The rooms are big enough to hold two beds and two dressers and a laundry hamper. And that is about it. We’ve been intentional about making their space simple and easy to clean up.

Here’s how it works at our house, albeit imperfectly:

1. Matching furniture gives a uniform look.

In the early years when we really had no money, we took whatever hand-me-down furniture we could get. When our debts were paid, we were able to upgrade. Slowly, room by room, we bought the kids matching beds and dressers. We have six beds and six dressers exactly alike.

(Well, almost, the girls’ beds, purchased a few years later have slightly different headboards.)

The beds are actually bunkbeds that we separated. It’s a $199 for the set at Walmart. We purposefully bought them beds that don’t need boxsprings. This cuts the cost on mattresses as well as leaves them ample storage space under their beds. Regular size rubbermaid tubs fit under them if we need that storage space. This is where they can store toy boxes and their keepsake boxes if there isn’t room in the closet.

The dressers are the Hemnes three drawer chest from IKEA that we bought on special. We also bought one for our foyer.

By using matching furniture, we give the rooms a clean, uncluttered vista. I think it helps cut down on visual clutter. Since kids collect so much stuff, the less visual clutter the better.

2. Keep the floors clear.

I make my kids clean up their floors once a week at minimum, but more often as needed. This means that all the junk has to be out from under the beds, the toys picked up and put away, and all clothing, books, etc returned to their homes.

They are responsible for putting away their own clothes as well as vacuuming weekly.

3. Make beds easy to make.

While I love the look of many throw pillows and stuffed animals perched atop a bed, I’ve learned that those are just more stuff to clean up! So, we keep our bed displays to a minimum.

Hubby and I disagree on must-haves for bedding. He prefers a top sheet at all costs. I’m lazy and sometimes don’t care to mess with it. So, I pretty much let the child choose. Sometimes they have the full sheet set-up and sometimes they just have a fitted sheet and a comforter.

Psst. The latter is much easier to make.

4. Limit the visual clutter.

Ours is a very lived in house. Clutter breeds like rabbits. So, when I say “limit” please don’t envision a sterile household. That is most definitely not the case. Hehe.

Instead, we just try to keep things cleared off. The kids don’t have too many tchotchkes on their dressers. This means less to knock over, less to dust, and more space to stack your laundry when you’re cheating and not putting it away as soon as Mom said to.


We really don’t hang much on the walls, either, mostly from safety concerns. We do live in earthquake country and the idea of broken glass on the bed concerns me a tad. I imagine this will change as the boys all enter the teen years. There’s a small collection of Lego and LA Kings posters waiting to be hung.

5. Provide laundry hampers and a method for emptying.

You can imagine the amount of laundry that we go through around here. It’s staggering. I’ve found it works best to have identical laundry hampers, to ditch the lids, and to make sure my kids know to empty them appropriately in the laundry room.

If they know what to do with their dirty clothes, and it’s relatively easy to do, they are more likely to do it.

6. Limit the amount of clothes they have.

As I mentioned before in this post about sorting and storing kids’ clothing, our kids don’t have extensive wardrobes. Since I’m doing mountains of laundry every day anyway, they don’t need a lot. Fewer items to wear means fewer to wash and put away. It also means fewer to fall on the floor or be stuffed under the beds.

‘Nuf said.

Those are the things that work for us to give our kids simple spaces to live, sleep, and play in. It doesn’t work perfectly, but it does make it easier for them to keep their rooms (mostly) clean.

What works for YOU to help your kids keep their rooms clean?

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  1. I have been working on this for the past few weeks with my kiddos. Just one question… where do your kids have their toys?

    1. We have long term toy storage in our garage and family room. If they take toys to their rooms, they store the tubs either in the closet or under their beds. We try to switch it out fairly often. The girls have pretty baskets under their beds for the randomness that they accumulate.

      1. Curious – how to you allow for toys. Meaning, do you have rules for individual toys? Or do you have all toys are up for grabs for any kid?

        My Father has been insistent on allowing the kids to have their own individual toys and then nobody else is allowed to play with unless permission is granted. I have a mix of the two – some individual and some any one can play with, but it’s hard when they leave out their individual toys and someone else grabs!

        1. We have a little bit of both. The legos that are special to the boys they keep in their closets or in boxes under their beds. The big bins of communal toys get stored in the garage and pulled out. Hopefully, they get put back eventually. We do a fair amount of sharing of toys, but the special ones are (generally) respected.

          1. I am having issues with this toy sharing at the moment. We just moved house & now have an amazing conservatrey / play room. My 7 year old son seems to have ear marked a lot of toys that I know me or santa brought as sharing toys & taken them to his room. I’ve told him they need to come downstairs (his 5 & 3 year old sisters love playing soliders, legos & cars too). At the moment the girls (especially the 3 year old) sneak in to his room & take things which just ends in fights & tears. Any tips to help us with a solution please?

          2. In reply to Deborah above, We have little tastes of that, so I totally get how frustrating that might be. One thought would be to allow him a few in rotation. For example, he could take one small tub of things to keep in his room, but only keep it for a week. Kind of like a toy library. Then the girls know they will have a chance at it “sometime”. In their minds it’s probably seems like forever. This might help him feel like he has his own space and things at the same time as recognizing that they are toys to be shared.

          3. Deborah – My mom always had the rule with us that we got one day to be selfish with our toys (whatever day we first got the toy), and then we had to share. Maybe compromise with your son that he can have one day per week where he’s the only one that plays with those toys? Might raise the ire of the girls, but they could have their special day too.

    1. We have long term toy storage in our garage and family room. If they take toys to their rooms, they store the tubs either in the closet or under their beds.

  2. We utilize the back of the bedroom door by using 2 command hooks. One is for their robe, the other hook is used to hold their towel after they shower. Saves on visual clutter in their rooms and in the bathroom.

    1. That is a great idea! We have lots of trouble with towels. I end up washing more than we use, I think.

  3. It’s refreshing to see a REAL kids bedroom, not a Pottery Barn one 🙂 My kids and us all sleep on mattresses without beds lol, we find it so much more convenient, everyone would have so many bruises from beds (with little babies and toddlers)

  4. I insist on a top sheet too 🙂 Mostly because it’s easier to wash the sheets from build up of oils and stuff, than it is the comforters or quilts that don’t get washed as often. I also insist that kiddos sleep in the sheets – or if they don’t want that, they still have to pull back the sheets and blankets and can sleep on the flat sheet 🙂 Oils and skin build up on things, sheets are much easier to wash 🙂 I had one kiddo that didn’t want to make her bed, so she tried sleeping on the quilt…didn’t go for long. Have to pull down those sheets!

    1. I know. You are so right. I wash them fairly frequently. (And yes, sheets are more comfortable, just more work.)

      1. There is a middle road – a duvet with washable covers. It’s a little bit of a hassle after doing laundry to put the duvet back into the cover, but at least it’s easy to make the bed in the morning, and the cover feels like a sheet. We got our son’s at IKEA.

        1. We all use duvet covers on our comforters as well. It is lovely! Our bed has a top sheet since we’re used to it & I don’t want to have to wash our duvet cover every week. The children all have duvet covers and a bottom sheet simply because they used to get tangled up or wake looking for the sheet, and this is so much easier for them. It’s easier bed-making as well. We have their top sheets, and I’m thinking of making duvet covers from them (pairing the sheet with a fun top fabric) or if they ever want to use a top sheet when they are older, that’s fine with me too. It’s their choice as long as they make the bed.

          1. I finally introduced top sheets (since I wrote this post in 2012). My 11yo was stunned last week when I explained that that’s what they were for. LOL!

          2. Oh that is funny how your son was stunned about the sheets! Did you decide to use them for easier washing? I don’t love putting the duvet covers back on after washing, but I loved them after living in Europe.

      2. Another “middle-of-the road” option for this is to sew a top sheet to the comforter. I have sewn the bottom of the comforter to the bottom of the sheet which means that I can make the bed by just picking up the comforter and shaking it out onto the bed but the sheet goes with it too! You can even sew up the sides 1/3 of the way if that helps it stay together for you. An easy solution that satisfies both groups of people!

  5. In order to keep the kids room clean, we keep most toys downstairs in our living room. We have a storage system for those, so please don’t think we have toys scattered everywhere all the time, lol.

    My kids are 4 and 3, so they don’t play in their room upstairs (where the other rooms and bathrooms and LOTS of “stuff” to get into are) alone often, so it’s fairly easy to keep it clean. They have a hamper and they’re responsible for emptying and sorting it every few days or so. They also have to put away their clean socks, underwear and jammies (items in drawers).

    If they do play in their rooms, the toy(s) can stay for a few days, but ultimate end up back in their own storage bin downstairs within a couple weeks.

    They have matching beds and share one dresser. They each have a fitted sheet and a comforter. My youngest also has a lighter blanket because she seems to get hotter that my oldest when she sleeps.

    I’m in the process of teaching them to make their beds now. It’s never perfect, but I’m happy as long as they try!

  6. Really great ideas – I have one little one but already the lines between rooms are blurring! For now I have 3 toy boxes I keep in the three main rooms downstairs. That way my son has “new” toys depending on where we’re hanging out and I have a quick way of picking up. It works – for now…

  7. thanks so much for these thoughts! I am a minimalist with kids stuff, too, up to a limit. I’m also not very good at decorating, so that plays into it, too. 😛 I’m about to move into a new house in 2-3 weeks, so this will help as we reorganize and set up again. 🙂

    1. I tried the decorating thing, but found that the kids weren’t really that “into” it, and it was just more work to clean and dust.

  8. I loved this! Thanks for the encouragement to keep it simple in the kids room. I am a big advocate of very few toys and clothes, but I had been feeling guilty about their walls being so bare.

    Just this week I gave myself permission to worry about decorating our bedroom and not the kids…my husband and I actually will benefit from a cozy room, my kids won’t care. 🙂

  9. So, thoughts on keepsake types of things. Each of my four oldest children have their own plastic file box to hold papers, certificates, etc, that they want to keep. What do you do for all the things that they want to keep, collectibles, etc? I’m going crazy trying to keep a handle on things without making them feel like they can’t keep anything. I don’t mind them having their treasures, but there are 7 children!

    1. Our kids have good sized Rubbermaid bins for their treasure boxes. They can keep whatever fits in the box of the knick-knacky variety. I have family deep storage where we keep other sentimental items. But, those collections of theirs, I let them keep whatever they want if it fits in the box.

  10. Jessica,
    How do you handle the problem of “wanting to leave it out/ I’m not done with it” issues? My kids like to work for several days on Lego projects or Playmobile setups that take up a lot of room and get added onto over several days. I would love to know how others deal with this problem.

    1. We hide it on a closet shelf or use a big box at least to contain it. Other times, it can sit on the dresser when it’s cleared off. My kids’ rooms aren’t always this clean, but that’s the standard, anyway.

  11. LOVED this post! I struggle with my kids rooms and their endless clutter and laundry. 4 kids, oldest is disabled, youngest is a toddler…. just starting to get some help from the 6 and 8 year olds. 🙂 We’re getting ready to move and I’ve begun mentally planning the new bedrooms in the new house. I was thinking Mary Poppins style nursery would be SO cute, but you know what that room would look like in two weeks! Ugh! So, less is more will be my motto. Thanks!