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Functional Family Rooms

A family room devoid of Monopoly money and Matchbox cars is probably missing one fairly important element: a family. But you know that when it comes to turning your home's central space back from a lion's den of fun and games an environment built for living, a little help goes a long way. Try out these simple and practical ways to reallocate the clutter and redefine your room.

Make a hobby or game center with an inexpensive pint-size table and chairs, or for toddlers, a plastic mat to protect the floor, and pillows to lounge on.

Stow toys that don't get daily use in large plastic boxes, then stash them on a high shelf or under the sofa. Because kids can always keep an eye on the contents, they probably won't protest.

Toss out broken game boxes and put game parts in zip-close plastic bags, then into a larger master container. Tape instructions to the back of each board and file next to the game-parts box on a shelf.

Create a pint-size reading corner for your child by positioning kid-size beanbags or large pillows around bookshelves. Or make a portable library by standing books (titles facing out) inside a colorful plastic tub.Set up a kiddie entertainment center. File kids' CDs, videocassettes, and tapes in rectangular wicker baskets that can be placed on a shelf or on the floor, near the TV and the stereo.

Save toy chests for large toys or stuffed animals. Although neat, they're terrible for organization: "Whatever toy the child wants is always at the bottom," says Deborah Gussoff, of Montclair, New Jersey, a professional organizer.

Some quick fixes:

* Upper shelves can hold less-used toys and games

* Clear, plastic storage is smart. Easy-open drawers, shoe boxes, or deli tubs can hold grouped items, like action figures or doll accessories

* Stool for older kids lets them reach higher shelves

* Cigar boxes are perfect for kids' special treasures; ask for empties at a smoke shop

* Zip-close bags can stash puzzle pieces (those flimsy boxes tend to collapse and leak pieces), along with the cutout picture from the box cover

* Books for toddlers are best in a basket and rotated often; they get messy on regular bookshelves

* Labels make for quick sorting. Glue on pictures for prereaders and replace them with words as kids grow. (Baby-wipes boxes like these can hold small items)

* A spice rack can hold tiny trains, cars, or fragile items (away from active play)

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