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10 tips for organizing kids' play areas from LI pro organizers and parents

Kimberly and Dermond Thomas encourage their children, Cole,

Kimberly and Dermond Thomas encourage their children, Cole, 10, and Olivia, 13, to donate five items a month that they do not use or need at their house in Valley Stream. Credit: Corey Sipkin

The holiday season has come and gone, but households can be left with a clutter hangover. With new toys coming in and taxing storage space, how can families best organize kids’ bedrooms, basements and playrooms?

Long Island professional organizers and savvy parents offer these 10 tips to regain order and keep things organized in 2019:

GET THE KIDS MOTIVATED Make the task of clearing out what’s old, broken or unneeded a positive instead of a negative. If you say to your kids, “You have to get rid of this stuff,” their response isn’t going to be, “Oh, OK,” as they start throwing things away, says Jean Linder, an East Quogue-based professional organizer. More likely they’ll grab toys back or try to hide them, she says. Instead, recommend you sort the toys together so they can find them easily and casually suggest getting rid of some they don’t play with as you sort.

ATTACK IN MANAGEABLE SECTIONS “You can’t say, ‘Do you want this? Do you want this? Do you want this?’ for hours,” Linder says. “They can’t handle it.”

ACT WHEN THE KIDS AREN’T HOME That’s what VJ Hannemann, 46, an elementary school art teacher, and his wife, Trish, a fourth-grade teacher, do. When their daughters, Brook, 9, and River, 5, are visiting his parents, who live next door, “we will quickly do an assessment of what they won’t miss, what they haven’t touched in a while,” Hannemann says. “Occasionally four or five months later they’ll say, ‘Dad, have you seen my…’” but typically they don’t notice, he says.

PURGE WHEN THEY’RE ASLEEP Kimberly Thomas, 46, a mom blogger who posts at, and her husband, Dermond, 42, a corporate lawyer, used to head to their basement while the kids were asleep to clear things out. They would always choose the night before garbage pickup. Now that Olivia, 13, and Cole, 10, are older, Thomas says she has them pick five things a month themselves that they don’t want and either toss them or donate them.

KEEP DONATION BIN IN THE HOUSE “That gives you somewhere to put your stuff you don’t use anymore,” says Christine Krass of Huntington-based professional organizing company Klutter Free Me. Designating a spot makes it less likely you put the item away again. When the donation bin is full, give it all away.

MAKE IT A WIN-WIN FOR YOU Rachel Wright, 30, of Bay Shore, goes through her 5-year-old daughter Addison’s toys and clothing two to three times a year and donates items to Big Brothers Big Sisters. It’s been a win-win, because she also has earned a tax write-off for the donations. “You can schedule a pickup online. It’s usually within a couple of days,” Wright says. You leave your items on your porch, and the organization leaves you a receipt. Other organizations also offer pickups. Danielle Cahill, 40, a medium and healer from Centerport, makes a little extra cash selling the toys her children — ages 11, 7, and 3 — no longer need on local Facebook buy-and-sell pages. “What’s convenient about it is people just come to you to pick up your stuff. Because I’m dealing with just local sites, I am usually OK with people coming to the house,” Cahill says.

PUT SANTA TO WORK This will have to wait until next Christmas, but Blair Stack, 37, a stay-at-home mother from Hicksville, purchased Santa Sacks for her four kids ages 7, 5, 3 and 1. She told them to fill them with toys they no longer use to be donated to kids in need, and that in return for their generosity Santa would refill their sacks with new gifts. It’s become a Christmas tradition, with the kids excited to select toys they can part with, Stack says. “It teaches them to be generous and compassionate as well as to be able to declutter under their own volition,” Stack says.

LABEL, LABEL, LABEL Stephanie Abramowitz, 40, of Massapequa Park, turned to Klutter Free Me in September for help to recreate her basement playroom. She works in a veterinary hospital and her husband, Larry, 43, is an electrician. They have two girls, ages Taylor, 7, and Sienna, 4. They wanted to get everything organized so they could easily keep it that way. “Instead of just throwing things in bins, everything was itemized. Cars. Dinosaurs. LOL dolls,” Abramowitz says. If kids are too young to read, use pictures of the items as labels instead of words so that they will know where to put their toys away.

ASSIGN STATIONS AND SHELVES Joe Garcia, 36, a realty office manager from Farmingdale, splits the toys of his two sons — Anthony, 4, and Dominick, 15 months — into stations in areas of the family’s den-TV room. Cars and other toys with wheels in one corner of the room, superheroes in another station, etc. “By grouping the toys, it helps keep the house a lot more organized,” he says. “At least things are in the general vicinity you want them to be.” In the room’s closet, Matchbox cars are on one shelf, Lego pieces on another, and so on. The basement has become a way station on lesser-used toys’ path to the dump. They get temporarily moved there, and then eventually Garcia and his wife, Stephanie, 35, an elementary school teacher, purge them.

USE YOUR HEIGHT ADVANTAGE Store toys with small parts and board games out of reach. Krass does this with her own 4-year-old son, keeping the items on a high shelf. “This way if he wants to use the game, he has to ask, and I can easily grab it for him and supervise him playing with it so he doesn’t lose parts of the game,” she says. And you won’t be stepping on miniature dolls or pieces of Lego.

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