Total playroom entropy

photo-172So I did not do much housework while the family was out of the house over the last week. However, I felt I could do a few hours, especially when I had no power for close to 24 hours and my computer was out of juice. I decided to tackle the basement playroom. This was quite an undertaking.

At some point in the course of 3 children and their friends playing with a complex variety of objects, you reach a state of almost complete entropy. There is almost no relationship between any two toys you might find next to each other. A UNO card next to a puzzle piece next to a party favor from Bounce U next to a Lego next to a small, infernal part of a Playmobil set. And that would actually be OK as a mix, because I know what all those things are and where they go. More complicated is when I cannot actually identify the small plastic piece in question. While I do have a box for “random plastic toys” I have some nagging sense that a plastic piece might be part of a set. Which has its own place.

The good news is I did get my 10,000 steps, basically from walking around the playroom putting things in bins. And I was able to vacuum! Of course, the whole place promptly lost its pristine nature as soon as my children walked back in the door. That’s why it’s good that it’s the basement. In NYC, all this mess was always underfoot. In my suburban house, I can close the door to the basement and refuse to go down there. I don’t really want to spend my life battling it.

Do you have a play area in your home? Do you require things be put away with any regularity? Which toy pieces have the biggest tendency to wind up in bizarre places?

In other news: Mary Mazzio’s new documentary, Underwater Dreams, will screen in limited release in New York and Los Angeles starting on July 11. Long time readers will recognize her as the former Olympic rower turned film maker that I’ve interviewed several times about creative careers. This film — which covers how an engineering team composed of children of undocumented Mexican immigrants started winning robotics competitions — looks at all kinds of hot button issues, but manages to be fun, too.



14 Responses to Total playroom entropy


  1. Tana says:

    We make our kids put everything away every evening before supper. That said, the place where most toys belong is in a closet under the stairs (that only very short people can stand in). There are shelves and totes for everything under there, but they still don’t always sort things like they are supposed to and we will find legos mixed with train tracks mixed with trucks and Lincoln logs. It pains me that they cannot play with things and have all the parts, but it is their own fault. I certainly kept my toys organized and in order when I was a kid, as did dh.

  2. Shelly says:

    Right now the main kids play area is right off our kitchen. Really this would be a family room but when we moved into our house our first child was only one and we didn’t have enough furniture for two family rooms so we left this one to be a play area. The bonus is the kids play while I’m in the kitchen (they are now 4 and almost 2). If it is a complete disaster then the kids have to help clean up before bed but sometimes I will just leave it as long as the toys are out of the way.
    We do have plans to open up a wall in our basement and clean it up for a play area. The plan is to do this in the fall so once we are ensconced in winter the kids can run and play downstairs (hopefully by then the younger one will require a little less supervision and be less destructive).

    • Laura says:

      @Shelly- yep, the lure of being able to entertain themselves indoors in the winter is huge. Best of luck on the basement remodel!

  3. Marci says:

    We do not have a dedicated playroom, so things had to get picked up and put away at the end of the day for us to move through the house safely. Anything that would be trash if it weren’t a complete set (like games or puzzles) had to be taken out one at a time. Messy activities like playdough or paints had to be done at the kitchen table and put away when done. Anything else could be mixed up for creative play – Polly Pockets could ride on bulldozers, legos could be built to make homes for miniature animals. I didn’t obsess about things being put back in the proper bins. My own kids eventually figured out that if they wanted to find something again they’d have to put it in a particular spot. My kids are teens now and are pretty good about taking care of their things. I wish we had a playroom at times when they had a big creation in progress (Legos, train track, dollhouse world) that they didn’t want to put away. Those times I was OK with them having it out in the middle of the living room for several days until they were “done” and moving onto the next thing.

    • Laura says:

      @Marci- yes, one of the toughest things with the NYC apartment was when we got the Thomas train set, and the kids wanted to make elaborate tracks for their trains with bridges and loops and such. And they definitely did not want to put those away immediately, so there they sat, between the kitchen and the eating area, ready to be tripped on by anyone setting the table. Now it’s all out of the way.

  4. Except for a few months between when we moved in and when we remodeled to turn that area into a bedroom, we’ve never had a dedicated playroom.

    A system that has always worked well for us is to have large bins or drawers for particular kinds of toys. All the ponies go in one drawer, all the duplos go in another, etc. Also, not having a bajilliion different kinds of toys helps to keep it under control.

    That said, the room my younger two share is often in a state of entropy like your basement. I think it’s a problem of too much stuff in too small of a space, and since we’re not in the position to upgrade them space-wise, I’m thinking I need to help them get rid of some stuff this summer!

    • Laura says:

      @The Frugal Girl – yard sale! We haven’t done as much purging, partly because of the playroom, but also because the littlest kid is still cycling through the big kids’ old toys. Eventually we’ll be able to part with the Duplos…

      • I dunno…my 8,10, and 13 year old still routinely build things with Duplos. They seem to prefer them to Legos, mostly because you can get the structure built more quickly with large blocks.

        I plan to keep Duplos in my house even when my kids stop playing with them because they’re a great thing to have around for visiting kids.

  5. Meghan says:

    We have a few designated homes for toys, since our boys share a bedroom and it’s not huge. Cars and trains and art supplies are in my office, which is the sun porch and has lots of floor space, and board games and puzzles are in the family room on a bookshelf. The other stuff is in their room. I just use huge toy boxes for all the miscellaneous plastic crap, baskets for stuffed animals and then costumes hang on hooks in the closet. I don’t mind having toys in family spaces as long as they have homes and can be invisible when they’re not being played with.

    My kids (4 and 1) pick up their own toys — that’s my version of outsourcing! I’ll help when things are out of control, and they need reminders, but even the 1-year-old does things like put blocks and cars in baskets.

    Where I’d like to get better is having a regular, scheduled clean-up day/time, rather than waiting until I start to lose my mind or we have company coming.

  6. Katherine says:

    When my kids were smaller (toddler and baby) and their toys were few, we lived in a 700 sq foot apartment. I judged anyone with the nerve to pay for a playroom in their house:) Just keep it simple! Purge regularly! Etc and so forth.
    I still like keeping it simple and purging toys and all of that stuff, but some days I would give my right arm for a playroom. Especially one in a basement, where no one has to see it. You’ve got a good thing going… :)

    • Laura says:

      @Katherine- ah, parenting. Anything we judge others for…will probably wind up looking good at some point! Yes, the large, finished, walk-out basement with its own bathroom was a major selling point for us when we looked at this house.

  7. Our girls who are 4 and 3 yrs old play a lot and make a lot of mess all the time.We don’t have play area,technically,the whole house.And we’re teaching them to put all their toys where they belong (I bought six small bins with the same colors at Dollar store) and we have a huge bin for bigger toys. And it’s normal for me to find puzzle pieces all over the place.

  8. ARC says:

    I never thought we’d “need” a playroom since the girls have their own rooms, but until I had small kids myself I didn’t realize that it might be unwise to let them play upstairs alone without *some* supervision during the daredevil toddler years.

    So when we did the remodel we specifically built a playroom (special bonus is that on the other side of the glass doors is my craft room so I can vaguely supervise while doing something fun myself.

    Since it is on the side of the house and people coming in don’t see it, I don’t require clean up every day. However, every day around 5:30, we have “clean up time” for one area of the house – playroom, living room, or the older one’s bedroom. So we rotate through cleanup.

    I read a book called “Simplicity Parenting” a while ago that advocates REALLY paring down the stuff, and I’ve noticed my girls play with things a LOT longer and independently without having a ton of little things to distract them.

    So we have one of those 8-cubby IKEA shelves with a toy on each cubby and 1 filled with books, plus a play kitchen, a tiny riding toy for the 21 month old and a mini trampoline. One wall of the playroom is chalkboard (not as disastrous as it sounds).

    It’s not a lot of stuff, so easy to clean up, and the girls can play for hours without getting bored. I swap out the small toys and books every 3 weeks or so.

    Every now and then I throw away the birthday party/eye doctor/cheapy toy detritus while everyone is away ;) So far no one has asked for anything that disappeared.

  9. Today I was reminded that a room in our house can go from tidy to complete and total chaos in under 15 min with just the 2 year old. All the toys out of the baskets. All the books off the bookshelves she can reach. Seriously determined little girl. Fortunately she is equally determined about clean-up, singing the clean-up song as she stuff stuff back into the bookshelves and baskets.
    re: playroom. Playroom = every room in the house except the two that have cat litter.