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The Ultimate Organizer

Clothes and closets
Reconsider dressers for small children. "Drawers can be frustrating because kids can't see what's underneath the top layer, and every extra step makes it harder for them," says Sheila McCurdy, owner of Clutter Stop, in Uplands, California. She likes storing preschoolers' clothes in milk crates labeled with pictures of pants, shirts, dresses, and underwear to help youngsters find what they need.

Create a system for older kids. By kindergarten, when children can handle drawers with ease, use just the ones they can reach, and move up as they grow. Some families organize drawers by activity  -- play clothes, school clothes, dressy outfits  -- so kids don't have to fish through different drawers to put together an outfit.

Avoid clothing mix-ups between siblings with an idea from one Portola Valley, California, mom: "My three sons all wear oversize clothes, which ended up in each other's drawers. Now I mark the label of my oldest boy's clothes (and his sock toes) with one black dot. The second son gets two dots, the youngest three. When clothes are passed down, we just add a dot."

Some quick fixes:

* Hooks installed on the inside of the door can hold frequently used items like jackets, hats, or pajamas

* Wire baskets that slide out let kids see and get at underwear, socks, and folded clothes. (Out-of-season clothes can go on top.) A good option if hanging clothes only take up half the closet

* A dresser can be moved into the closet for more floor space in bedroom

* Hanging rods can be hard for children to reach. Reserve the higher bar for out-of-season, rarely worn, and to-grow-into clothing. Then install a second, lower one (you can also buy an extender rod that attaches directly to the high rod at housewares stores) so the clothes your child currently wears are at her level

Toys and games


Choose the right container. Plastic sink tubs are fine for blocks or race-car tracks; even cheaper are inexpensive, sturdy cardboard banker's boxes. Kids can decorate them with collages and drawings.

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.

Don't overlook unusual holders. Beth de Guzman, of New York City, keeps her 5-year-old son's rock collection in plastic potting trays from plant nurseries. Catherine Fussell, of Clutter Coach, a home-organizing service in Atlanta, puts her 7-year-old's favorite toys of the moment in a wagon that he can roll to where he wants to play and then roll it out of the way when he's finished.

Save storage space by clothes-pinning stuffed animals to wall-mounted wire or fishing line low enough for kids to reach.

Some quick fixes:

* Upper shelves can hold less-used toys and games

* Shelving units keeps boxes and bins of playthings organized and accessible. A basic setup like this chrome one assembles easily and can graduate to the garage when the kids are past the toy stage. Since visibility is key for children, avoid deep shelves

* 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 laundry basket or plastic crate that lets kids see what's inside is ideal for bigger items, like trucks or stuffed animals

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

Arts and crafts

Keep on top of the avalanche of artwork. Most experts suggest weeding often. Save your child's favorites in large portfolios from an art-supply store, which slip neatly out of sight behind dressers or under beds. Cynthia Ishimoto, of Visual Peace, an organizing service in San Jose, California, pares her two boys' annual output to a one-inch stack apiece. These go in marked folders in storage boxes, then on a garage shelf. "When my sons are eighteen," she says, "they'll each have one box."

Immortalize three-dimensional art  -- which eats up space on table tops and shelves  -- on film, then toss it, advises New Jersey organizer Deborah Gussoff.

Showcase artwork on a rotating basis. You can use narrow bands of corkboard to display current creations in hallways. Frances Strassman, a mother of five who runs More Than Order, in Berkeley, California, lets each child choose a picture of the week for exhibition.

Put supplies in containers that keep them orderly: multidrawer nuts-and-bolts boxes for beads and tiny craft fixings, flip-top kitchen canisters for crayons and markers.

Some quick fixes:

• File folders can hold paper and completed artwork  -- each child can have a different color folder. Slip the folders into a file rack at each kid's height.

• A storage tower with see-through drawers allows for easy organizing of larger supplies: paper, paint jars, and clay. Wheels add portability.

• A clear shoe bag or lingerie organizer can hold pencils in one pocket, scissors in another, glitter tubes, glue, and so on.

• A tackle box or toolbox, with its display-style compartments, can hold tiny jars of paint, crayons, and markers.

• A metal cash box has nooks for beads, stamps, and crayons; closes securely; and can be carried anywhere.

Sports Equipment

Use basements, laundry rooms, and vertical space, since this gear can be too bulky to keep in living areas. Michael Goldberg, of St. Louis, stashes his son's big outdoor toys and sports stuff in a recycling bin.

If you live in an apartment, an umbrella stand behind a door can hold long items like bats and hockey sticks. Store balls under beds in a net bag.

Some quick fixes:

• Peg racks keep gear off the floor and out of the way. Use it to hang skates, sneakers, bags

• Backpacks filled with soccer uniforms and protective gear can hang on pegs, ready to go directly to practice and games

• A net laundry bag suspended from hooks neatly holds soccer balls and other large balls

• Hampers or clean trash can corrals rackets, bats, sticks  -- anything tall or oversize

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