Unclutterer’s 2014 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Gifts for kids

Each year Erin is kind enough to let me write the gift guide for kids. I have such a good time, and often have to whittle my ideas down to the best selections. That’s what I’ve done again this year. In the following post you’ll find great suggestions for little and big kids.

Younger tykes

The POWER A Skylanders SWAP Force Tackle Box. Skylanders is a game for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo 3DS that encourages kids to buy a vast collection of figurines, which become playable characters. Even a small collection can be unwieldily, and if you think stepping on a LEGO brick is bad, try putting your bare foot down on Drobot. This storage box holds up to 20 figures, is stackable, has a lit that latches shut and is transparent. Plus, Jr. can use it to carry his minions to a friend’s house. (It also works with Disney Infinity characters, if your kid is into that one.)

The LEGO Swoop Bag. I mentioned this last year, and I’ve brought it back for 2014 because LEGOS just won’t go away. Between the LEGO Movie, Star Wars tie-ins that are bolstered by a new TV series, those ever-present bricks will be popular again this season. The Swoop Bag holds a huge collection of LEGOs and spreads out during play time, and easily scoops and stores the lot when play is finished. A few other fun ways to keep LEGOS organized:

  1. The LEGO Storage Head offers a fun way to keep LEGOS organized, and gifts should be fun, right? I’d recommend this for smaller collections.
  2. The LEGO ZipBin 1000 Brick Storage Box and Playmat. I love it because it stores 1,000 bricks, comes with a playmat, and features a brick remover! This all-important tool will keep you from using your teeth to separate stubborn bricks. That thing is like gold, so keep it safe.
  3. The Brick Rack Wall Display for LEGO minifigs. As kids get older, they may want to display their favorite LEGOS. This interesting system mounts to the wall and lets kids slide minifigs in and out. The best part is they aren’t in there permanently, so if they want to take a few down to play with them, they can.

Melissa and Doug Trunki Terrance Rolling Kids Luggage. This beautiful little suit case is perfect for the younger child who travels — or doesn’t! For travelers, it’s carry-on sized and features wheels plus handles and a shoulder strap. At home, it’s a cute and sturdy (holds up to 75 lbs) storage container that you won’t mind looking at. It’s available in several colors and patterns, so you can find one that works for you.

The Hot Wheels Basic Car 50-Pack. Perhaps it’s my nostalgia talking, but Hot Wheels are awesome. This set contains 50 vehicles, each individually wrapped, with no duplicates. Plus, it all ships in a cute cardboard storage box. It’s a great way to create an instant Hot Wheels collection or add on to an existing one AND keep them stored nicely when not in use.

Older kids/teens

Gear Pockets. These wall-hanging units feature mesh pockets and straps for storing all sorts of items: sports equipment, hunting supplies, helmets, boots and more. Put one in the garage or your teenager’s room and they’ll have at-a-glance access to their most important gear.

Multi-Device Charging Station. This great-looking bamboo charging station can accommodate three phones/music players of various makes, an iPad, and a laptop computer. There are hidden hook-ups for everything, keeping them charged in a tidy, nice-looking package.

Finally, this one’s a little abstract, but I’d recommend an Evernote Premium subscription for any college students on your list. I’ve sung Evernote’s praises several times on Unclutterer. It really is my external brain. College is a time to run around like a chicken minus its academic head, and Evernote will help students keep everything they need together and accessible.

If you’re like me, you find time spent shopping for kids almost as much fun as watching them open their gifts. I hope there were a few items here that are prefect for the young ones on your list. Have a great holiday season, everybody!

Feel welcome to explore our past Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

2013 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Gifts for helping kids be organized

Maybe it’s me, but I get as much enjoyment from buying and imagining my kids’ reactions to opening gifts as I get from witnessing the unwrapping itself. As a result, Erin assigned me the task for putting together the shopping guide for kids for this year. I’ve collected a number of gift ideas for kids of various ages and interest, from toddlers to teens. And, each of these gifts has a special organizing slant, of course.

  1. Foldie T-shirts. I am flat-out in love with these. The Foldie “educational” tee is very cute. The shirts feature adorable graphics and they have a secret. Specifically, they teach kids how to fold shirts in a very clever way. Flip it over and bring the sleeves together, and the image on the back becomes a whole new picture. Fold it again, bringing the bottom to the top, and a third image is created. It’s utterly delightful. I tried one out with my own kids and, not only did they love it, the lesson generalized to non-Foldie shirts. Perfect.
  2. The Swoop Bag. The fantastic swoop bag serves three purposes. First, it’s a play surface. When fully opened, this sturdy bag makes a great area for playing with LEGO bricks, wooden blocks, and so on. Second, it’s fantastic for storage. When playtime’s over, just zip! It’s closed. Use the built-in straps to close or hang it up. Finally, it’s super for transportation. My son has a mind-bending number of Skylanders figures which he brings to his buddy’s house. The Swoop Bag is a great way to transport them.
  3. Rainbow Loom. It’s a clever little device that lets kids make all sorts of bracelets with elastics. My kids sure love it, and that means I find tiny rubber bands all over the place. Keep them tidy with a multi-compartment container. It also helps kids more easily transport their “loom gear” to their friends’ houses.
  4. A can of chalkboard paint. Stay with me here. Last Christmas, we gave a pint of chalkboard paint to the kids, whose initial reaction was hesitant. A year later, they absolutely love it. My son is always changing the “art” on his wall, while my daughter has taken to using her wall as a calendar. She’ll note down what’s happening on a given day, like “ballet” or “play practice.” She draws goofy faces, too, but that’s the fun. Slap some on the wall, hand them a box of fresh, colorful chalk, and let them go wild without any paper mess cluttering up their spaces.
  5. Activity bags are great for older kids. Val Jacobs makes super dance bags, from multi-pocketed duffels to hanging solutions that can accommodate costumes, makeup, and more. CCM makes a very nice hockey bag that’s suitable for other sports, too. (While we’re on the subject, here’s how to keep odor out of sports equipment bags.)
  6. The chalkboard laptop. Seriously, how adorable is this? This handmade, wooden “laptop” features a chalkboard screen and keyboard, plus a slot for chalk where the trackpad is on mom and dad’s laptop. The whole thing folds up for easily for travel and storage, just like its computer counterpart.
  7. The crayon bandolier is adorable and handy. First of all, it’s super cute. And, secondly, it keeps crayons ready to go and not all over the table or floor.
  8. The Doodle Tablecloth. Since you’ve got the crayons out, break out the Doodle Tablecloth to complete the set. This lined tablecloth is machine washable and ships with a pack of eight washable markers. If you’re not willing to subject your entire tablecloth to Jr.’s artistic endeavors, consider the Doodle placemat set.

Want more gift-giving ideas? Explore Unclutterer’s full 2013 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

Deciding when to let go of your children’s toys

If you have little ones in your life, you might also have a not so little situation known as toy clutter. Letting go of toys can be difficult because you may be considering passing them on to younger or future children or you might think that reducing the number of toys means that you’re depriving your children of enjoyment and learning experiences. You don’t have to be a parent to experience this dilemma. If you’re a grandparent or family member who often has kids stopping in for quick (or long) visits, you will likely need to determine what to do with an overabundance of toys.

How do you decide when it’s okay to let toys go? There isn’t a super hero to swoop in and take away toys that are no longer needed, nor are there flashing signals to let you know the exact moment when it’s time to let go of a toy. But, over time, you’ll begin notice whether your children’s interest in specific toys increases or wanes.

To help you recognize when it’s time to part with some of their playthings:

Oberserve your children during play time

When I was a teacher, I spent a good amount of time observing the children in my classroom. This helped me create lessons that suited their learning styles. Though interacting with them gave me lots of insight, I found that simply observing them when they were “in the moment” helped me to get to know them better. To truly discover the types of toys that your children love (or don’t love), you’ll likely need to do this as well. That doesn’t mean that you need to spend an entire hour with a clipboard in hand ready to jot down what you see. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to figure out which toys they reach for often and which one they don’t pay much attention to. Those that are not as interesting to them anymore are great candidates for donation. And, you can then decide which specific toys you’d like to introduce them to.

Look for toys that do similar things

I once worked for an organization where the motto was, “Each child is unique, precious, and unrepeatable.” Toys on the other hand, are not necessarily unique. You may have duplicates or several that function in extremely similar ways. As I mentioned before, your children will let you know which are their favorites based on their typical play habits. This means you can easily donate or give away the ones they don’t play with often.

Swap toys in/out regularly

Limiting the number of toys that your children have to play with will help you get a better sense of their likes and dislikes, and give them ample opportunities to play with specific things. Having fewer toys to focus on can be less overwhelming for them and they can get on with the business of fully learning about each one (rather than bouncing around from item to item). Rotating toys in and out will also stop them from taking over adult spaces and will make it easier to unclutter and maintain children’s areas in your home.

Once you’ve determined which toys your children no longer play with (and which ones you’ll keep in rotation), you can do a toy swap with friends or donate gently used items to a local family shelter. There are also several organizations, like Goodwill, Loving Hugs, and Second Chance Toys, that will accept used toys that are still in good condition.

What to do with your kids’ art

What do you do with all the artwork your kids bring home from school? What happens with all the drawings, paintings and macaroni collages they also make — lovingly — for you at home? They’re so cute, but refrigerator doors can only hold so much!

My wife and I implement a simple process of editing, displaying and swapping that serves us well. It does take a little honesty and “tough love,” but it works out quite well.

Step One: Edit

In essence, these pieces of art tell a story. You can watch Jr.’s skills evolve, and notice what he notices in his daily life. This story, like any other, needs editing. Now that the year draws to a close, it’s a good time to sit down with the stack and identify the keepers and the rest. What does a keeper look like?

  1. A first. For example, we saved my daughter’s first attempt at drawing people who weren’t stick figures. I’m wearing an actual shirt! Other firsts might include a new home, new puppy in the family and so on.
  2. A beautiful piece of art. Every now and then they’ll knock your socks off with something that looks downright good. Those examples definitely go in the keep pile.
  3. Holiday Theme. As I’ll explain later, it’s nice to grab something to represent Christmas, Thanksgiving, summer or whatever you celebrate. Only one, though.
  4. Something Meaningful. Maybe you’ve got something that was made on a special trip, on a memorable occasion, or for a reason that has great significance to you and your family. Just be careful not to let your emotions get the best of you here or you may go overboard.

Step Two: Display

Now that you’ve identified the cream of the crop and eliminated a lot of clutter potential, it’s time to give the winners the respect and prominence they deserve. Here are a few ideas.

  1. Frame them. You can find inexpensive matted frames in various sizes at photo supply stores, craft stores and even the supermarket. They hang on the wall and really make that art look special. We’ve found that you can store three or four paintings or drawings in the frame behind the piece being displayed. So, we’ve got four frames that actually store 16 pieces of art. As the seasons (or our whims) change, we simply take the frame off the wall and rotate which piece is in front.
  2. Make a digital photo book. Shutterfly and Apple’s iPhoto will let you create beautiful hard-bound books of photos. You can snap photos of your children’s art and in a few steps have a beautiful coffee table book of their work. This is especially useful for items that might break like pottery or tree ornaments. These are also great to share with grandma, grandpa and other loved ones who don’t get to see your childrens’ art in person. Finally, here’s how to get great photos of objects at home on the cheap.
  3. Create a home gallery. This can be a lot of fun and gets the kids involved in the editing process. Pick one area of the house, perhaps a single wall, to be the art gallery. Avoid Jr.’s bedroom because you want this to be visible to all visitors. Have her select the pieces to be displayed. I love this idea of putting a frame around an office clip mounted to the wall. How easy to swap pieces in and out. When the gallery gets full, take a photo, then pull that “exhibit” down and begin replacing it with the next one.
  4. Re-use. That painting needn’t be a painting forever! You can turn it into a greeting card or laminate larger pieces and use them as place mats.

Step Three: Swap

When swapping out some pieces, consider sending them to far-flung family and friends. Chances are they’ll love having them.

More Ideas

Another option is Kids Art for the Cure. This organization takes donated artwork and puts them on greeting cards. Proceeds go to recognized cancer research organizations.

Or, consider Child’s Own Studio. This company builds actual stuffed dolls based on your child’s drawings.

What do you do or have you done with children’s artwork? Share your success stories in the comments.

Reader’s Digest tips to tame kids’ clutter

Reader’s Digest is a fun periodical. Recently, I was happy to come across this article as I was checking out their site. The “6 Ways to Tame Kids’ Clutter” isn’t groundbreaking content, much of it is common sense, but it is still helpful advice. I’ve always found reading common sense solutions in writing makes them click.

Creative storage for kid’s clutter

Apartment Therapy’s ohdeedoh site recently held a contest in conjunction with Cookie Magazine where readers sent in pictures of their creative solutions for storing toys, clothing, and entryway items. It was called, Now You See, Now You Don’t! The contest finalists were recently announced, and their ideas were fantastic. I thought some of our readers would like to check out some of the great ideas that were showcased in this contest.

As a parent of a nearly two-year-old daughter, storage for toys is a constant struggle. It is always helpful to see what other people are doing to conquer the toy sprawl. I hope you enjoy these creative solutions for storage.

(Photo via ohdeedoh)

Online toy rental in the spirit of Netflix

Reader Lorena sent us a link to a wonderful article about Baby Plays, an internet-based toy rental company for U.S. residents. From the article:

“Baby Plays … allows parents to receive four or six toys in the mail every month, assembled and ready for playtime. Call it Netflix for the toddler set.”

There is a flat fee based on the number of rentals ($29, $32, and $36 packages), and all of the toys are guaranteed to be lead-free. According to the article, “the toys are sanitized with Clorox wipes and loaded with fresh batteries before being shrink wrapped and boxed for shipment.” Additionally, all toys come with a postage-paid box for returning the toy when your child tires of playing with it.

Toy rental sounds like a terrific idea for keeping play room clutter under control, especially if you don’t have a toy lending library like the one discussed in today’s earlier post. This service also seems like a perfect gift a grandparent could give a grandchild.

Hide away step stool

Pierce Bath ConsoleI received a Pottery Barn Kids catalog in the mail a couple of days ago. I promptly added it to my ever growing list of catalogs that I no longer want using Catalog Choice. As my wife flipped through the unsolicited catalog, she came across an interesting option for a child who needs a step stool to reach the sink.

The Pierce Bath Console adds the step stool as a part of the console so you don’t have to take up space in your bathroom storing one. Obviously, the price on this console is a bit high, but the idea can be implemented into a custom made console that you may take on yourself. Or, look for this option at other retailers if you’re interested.