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. These storage solutions for kids' clutter can help clear things up.
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 as storage solutions.
Instill an appreciation of your family's past by turning items with sentimental value into unique storage spots for their precious treasures.
Turn a trunk or footlocker into a storage spot 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 a corner organizer with holes that allow water to drain out will keep those rubber ducks, sailboats, and Barbies from taking over the bath.
Finally, place a bin or a sturdy basket in each of the main rooms where your children play. Teach your kids to deposit their toys there when they move from one room to the next. Your nighttime cleanup ritual will be quicker and more straightforward, 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.
Kid-friendly storage ideas here include:
Stackable bins: Open-front bins will keep toys off the floor where they might cause someone to trip, yet let kids retrieve playthings without assistance. Stackable units are a blessing if your child has more toys than one bin can hold.
Transparent lidded boxes: Store toys that don't get daily use in a large plastic box. Because kids can always keep an eye on the contents, they probably won't protest. Stash boxes of second-string toys in the back of a closet or under a bed.
Toy chest: Consider an attractive toy chest to house frequently used toys. It can also be a sturdy seat for parents to sit on while helping kids get dressed in the morning. But make sure the chest has a lightweight or removable lid that won't slam down and hurt a child.
Small baskets: Shallow wicker baskets - the kind adults use to sort mail - are equally efficient for storing toy soldiers, action figures, and stray dinosaurs. For added kid appeal purchase baskets in bright, eye-popping colors.