If the patter of little feet is a familiar sound in your home, then the sight of pint-size clutter probably is, too.
Rainbow drawings, aced tests, and miscellaneous school papers arrive home daily with the kids. And afternoons are an adventurous whirl of crayons, paints, books, and toys.
Messiness is a normal part of childhood. Most kids grow into neat - or at least neater - adults.
But that doesn't mean you have to give in to the clutter until your kids head off to college.
Gather the kids together and set some ground rules: toys mustn't block doorways.
Clean clothes, tried on and rejected, must go back to the drawer instead of into the dirty-clothes hamper. Everything must be picked up and put away by bedtime.
Once you have these rules in place, look around your home for furnishings that can be recycled to the kids' rooms to provide additional storage space.
Instill an appreciation of your family's past by turning items with sentimental value into unique storage solutions for their precious treasures.
Turn a trunk or footlocker into a storage compartment for athletic gear or toys. As a precaution, disengage the lock and add a safety latch or other device that keeps the lid securely open.
Use a small dresser to store the kids' artwork in the family room or a child's bedroom. Store art supplies atop a dresser in tin beach pails; add a basket to hold fresh paper. Let the kids fill the drawers with their daily creations.
You can't save every crayon drawing or finger painting, so pick the best effort of each week, or weed out the drawers when they are full and stash the treasures away in a special box with the child's name on it. You can also include school photos, notes from the teacher, and other special papers.
Let a mug rack - hung low - serve as a hitching post for the kids' miscellaneous possessions, such as belts, hats, necklaces, and gloves. In the bath, a laundry lingerie bag or corner organizer with holes that allow water to drain out will keep those rubber ducks, sailboats, and Barbies from taking over the both.
Your nighttime cleanup ritual will be quicker and simpler, as the kids will need to go to only one place in each room to retrieve the toys they've played with during the day.
If you're in the market for a good-size stuff-holder, steer clear of the uncovered toy boxes you'll come across - they just collect dust in addition to an unsightly jumble of toys and books that eventually spill onto the floor.Choose clear plastic bins with snap on lids - they allow your children to see what's inside. They also make great space maximizers, as most are stackable.