Ask Unclutterer: Simple baby-proofing solutions

Reader Liz submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My husband and I recently bought our first house, and we’re really looking forward to all the space, especially with our 20-month-old son! However, we have an issue I haven’t seen addressed here (or anywhere for that matter) — what is a good computer set-up that can also be locked away to keep little fingers away from the keyboard, mouse, and tower? We’re looking for something relatively inexpensive, but we haven’t found a good solution that would also fit in a living room, since our computer/monitor also functions as our TV/DVD player. Any suggestions?

My eight-month-old son is about a week away from taking his first, unassisted steps. The past month has been a giant lesson in baby proofing our home as he has learned to pull himself up to standing and toddle along next to any surface that will support him. I wholly understand your dilemma.

We found that making items “invisible” is the best thing to do with the things that can’t be set on high shelves. If my son doesn’t see the breakable and expensive electronics, he has no interest in messing with them.

For cords and cables, we used Kwik Clips to secure them to baseboards, support beams, the desktop, and along the back of furniture. Not only are the cables secured, but they become “invisible” because they’re no longer obviously there. We also put down area rugs to hide our surround sound speaker wires and then ran the wires up through the speaker stands. For your computer table, a large mouse pad might work in a similar fashion.

For your electronics, you can hide these items by installing cupboard doors or screens to an existing desk or media center, or purchase a new storage system that already has doors. If the doors open, simply use childproof latches to keep them closed. If you’re buying something new, I recommend checking out the desks and media centers at Ikea. They’re inexpensive and you can easily unload them on Craigslist if you ever want to upgrade. At least in our area, there is a huge community of people always looking for Ikea pieces. Armoires are also great for hiding desks and equipment — check out Mark Coggins’ office that we featured as a Workspace of the Week. Using a closet might also work, and you can simply shut the closet door when your son is in the adjoining room.

If you want to make your own screens to use with your existing furniture, I recommend purchasing art canvas frames or large picture frames and then stretching a material similar to panty hose across them (check your hardware and fabric stores, there are a few different fabric styles available). This way, your child can’t see the electronics, but your IR remote can still communicate with the hidden devices. Once your child loses interest in pushing buttons, you can permanently remove the screens.

I’m sure that there are other solutions out there that our readers have used, so be sure to check the comments for more baby-proofing solutions. Thank you, Liz, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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26 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Simple baby-proofing solutions”

  1. posted by Ronique Gibson on

    We used an all inclusive armoire/secretary piece of furniture that the computer, monitor, printer, etc.. was all housed in. When not in use we could close the doors, and even put a child proof “loopy” latch over the handles, so only we could open it. It worked great with our toddler, and when closed it was a quick way to hide all the office clutter around the desk. They usually have pull out shelves, so you can sit at it.

    Hope this helps!

  2. posted by Melanie on

    Most fire experts recommend not running any cords or cables underneath rugs.

  3. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Melanie — Why not? We had a fire expert in here (part of the adoption process, you get to have a fire inspection!) and nothing was said about it. I could understand not running speaker cables underneath wall-to-wall carpeting, but don’t understand why a throw rug is unsafe for speaker cables. Any idea why it isn’t recommended?

  4. posted by Fred E. on

    Heat can build up in the cord and can’t dissipate. The rug also hides any wear or damage to the cord. For speaker cords it is not as dangerous as with an electrical cord because there is less current and they don’t normally heat up.

    More importantly, having any kind cord under a rug creates a hazard especially for toddlers or the elderly. In fact, a throw rug creates a fall hazard even without a cord under it. When elderly people fall they can break their hip with a high mortality rate. Anyone who has an elderly friend or parent should check their house or apartment for throw rugs, cords, stacks of newspapers, or any other hazard like floor vents or thresholds that could cause them to fall. Vision problems, mobility issues, and certain medications will increase the risk of fall.

    If you do run speaker wire under a rug, please tape it down flat with gaffers tape to prevent the trip & fall hazard!

  5. posted by Fred E. on

    Sorry for the double post but please make sure any monitor is securely screwed down so it can’t tip over or that it is so high that the toddler won’t be able to climb up to it at all. Also make sure your shelves are attached to the wall so that when your kid climbs up (which is inevitable) the whole thing doesn’t crash on them, what a bummer.

  6. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Fred — Good advice about bolting things to the wall. Everything in our house is bolted or strapped, and I forgot about it because we did it so long ago. A great reminder.

    Our speaker cables are flat, so they don’t create a tripping hazard. You could also use one of these doodads and then put a throw rug on top of it:

  7. posted by Mike on

    Virtually every “entertainment center” furniture sold today is relatively low to the floor. It was very frustrating when my first daughter reached the “movin’ around” age because we couldn’t find anything that was higher up that she wouldn’t be able to mess with. Eventually we found, at Costco Home (which is unfortunately defunct now) a heavy wooden TV cabinet that tops out a little over 3 feet off the ground. It has two open front sections at the top that house the satellite/cable box and the video game system. The rest of the front is drawers for DVDs, but they don’t look like drawers! So our daughter still doesn’t know what is in them, and she never tries to open them. The top of the cabinet is where the TV and nothing else sits. It has the look of a repurposed dresser or credenza, and compliments the room well.

    So the good furniture is out there, you just have to scavenge a bit to locate it.

    For computers, we put them in a room for projects and closed the doors and put the doorknob thingies on so little hands cannot open them. We’ll keep this in place as our younger daughter is starting to scoot around now and our older daughter is a living tornado. I don’t think you’re really going to be able to keep computers completely safe if the child has access to the room they are in… unless you do the “standing office” thing.

  8. posted by jedd on

    this is where uncluttering is at it’s best. the less stuff, the less stuff that is dangerous. we have a 2 yr old who learned how to crawl by trying to get at a power cord, so de-cluttering and baby proofing went hand it hand.

    i agree about attaching anything they might climb to the wall, and securing a cabinet with dangerous chemicals is obviously a good idea, but we found if we needed to baby proof much else we moved it or got rid of it. and our house is not sparse at all.

    we did move our media stuff up higher, but more important we dumped the receiver for powered speakers, and the cable box for a mac mini.

  9. posted by Ray on

    To protect our entertainment system we used yard gates (Superyard) that were intended to keep kids “in” the gate. Now they keep our toddler “out.” This only works if the cabinet is tall enough to hold the TV above the gate. Just don’t forget to leave some room for when junior gets tall enough to reach over, and also when you need to climb over to access the equipment.

    Granted, it’s not very pretty to look at, but next to the other large-ish toddler toys in the room, it doesn’t look out of place. It’s cheaper than buying new furniture and little effort to install.

    Mind you, it’s a little too convenient to quickly drop off items that you don’t want your toddler to access. It turns into a visible clutter depot after awhile.

  10. posted by Karen on

    For a while I had my computer up on a “bar style” table, and I sat on a barstool style chair, and this worked because the table was so high that my two year old couldn’t reach my keyboard or mouse or anything.

    However, this was not ergonomically friendly, and my back paid the price. My husband just recently purchased a lovely Arts and Crafts style computer desk for me; it has a drawer for the keyboard and mouse, so they slide away unnoticed when I’m not using it. I’m thinking this would work well for those with curious kiddos. I know my now three year old leaves my computer alone, as well as his older brother’s, which is in the same type of desk.

    The high bar-height table, we repurposed for our larger flat screen TV. We weren’t comfortable with mounting it on the wall, because it was so heavy. The table is deep enough that all our electronics fit on it, and it’s tall enough to keep little fingers away.

  11. posted by WilliamB on

    Go wireless wherever you can!

    Wireless things have many advantages:
    – no wires for kids to pull, unplug or trip over
    – wireless things are portable, move it whenever you need
    – fewer things to fuss with

    Every time I visit a house with kids or friends with kids visit my house (a frequent occurrence), I am thankful for my wireless laptop. All I need do is put it on a counter or in a room they don’t/can’t go into and my stuff is safe.

    Also, the cord concealers can be quite useful. They’re ugly but safe. IIRC they come in a dark grey and beigish, so you can get close to your floor color.

  12. posted by Dad is in the House on

    I agree with all this stuff. If I was doing it again, I would probably take an armoire and cut the doors in half so I had dutch-style doors where the bottom could be closed while working on the computer. However, I wouldn’t go out and buy a bunch of new stuff before you get the feel of what your kid is going to be interested in. My daughter loved the computer buttons. But I have two nephews, one of whom couldn’t care less and left the whole thing alone; the other is even worse than my daughter was for playing with cords and buttons.

  13. posted by Naomi on

    Hi. We pretty much avoided baby proofing too much. I was always told (not sure who by!) that kids need to learn about safety and putting everything out of reach makes this hard. We didn’t bolt anything down or move anything. We just taught our kids what they could and couldn’t touch/play with and actually with consistency it worked. Now they are 2 and 4 it isn’t such an issue but there’s still only one kitchen cupboard they are allowed to root around in. They call it “our” cupboard.

  14. posted by Rue on

    They make computer armoires that are made for using the computer (i.e., have a pull-out shelf for the keyboard and a place you can pull a chair up to) but have doors that can close. My mom has one, and it even has a lock on it so you can close and lock it when not in use so that your child can’t get into it. These won’t look too much different from a TV armoire so it won’t look out of place in your living room.

    Like this:

  15. posted by Rosa on

    I vote for an armoire w/doors that close and childproofing latches if you need it – we have a media armoire that we got specifically because we didn’t want our toddler pulling the TV down on top of himself – there’s no learning from a fatal accident.

    It was actually the first piece of brand-new furniture I ever bought and it was *so* worth it. It has drawers underneath that he can access, but the knobs for the doors are so high he still can’t open them himself.

  16. posted by April on

    Like Naomi, we simply teach them not to mess with it. Never has been a problem, and is certainly much cheaper (free, technically) than trying to rig your computer station to guard it from a toddler.

  17. posted by Beverly D on

    It depends on the child. Some kids are fast, and you can’t take a chance on them getting seriously hurt, or causing $$$ in damage. My grandson is a case in point, he is like a lightening bug. You can’t turn your back on him for a second, even now that he’s 3. And this has been since he learned to roll at 6 months. What worked with him was the baby fence method mentioned above, to keep him out rather than in. You do have to resist using it as a clutter magnet for anything you want to keep out of reach but it worked well.

  18. posted by Jasi on

    We installed a wall cabinet from Ikea and hid our computer away in it. Also Ikea cable management tubes can be cut to size to minimize mess. Love it.

  19. posted by Morydd on

    A couple of things to keep in mind too… what’s a “high” shelf one week, may not be the next. Some kids like to climb and will get into anything they can. Also, any tall piece of furniture should be secured to the wall regardless of the presence of little ones. Especially if you live in an earthquake prone area, or an older building that’s not quite level.

    One thing we’ve found that seems to work well so far (our little guy is 21 months) is that we set aside the low shelves for his books and toys. He’s generally not interested in climbing up to grab our stuff if his (more fun) stuff is easier to get to.

  20. posted by Courtney on

    We have a large number of electronic devices in our house, and here’s what we did:

    I bought clear Plexiglas sheets at Lowe’s. I cut them to fit over the front of the shelves on the entertainment center (easily done with a razor blade or a utility knife), drilled little holes in the corners (can be a bit tricky), and then hung them from upside down cup hooks in front of the stereo equipment. If you wanted, you could buy small hinges and fasten them on. This solution is lightweight, has no breaking glass to worry about, makes it easy to see the readouts, protects the contents from flying sippy cups, the little person can’t yank it off, and she usually can’t wiggle her hand behind it.

    This will also work for a TV screen that is fabric (like our rear-projection DLP) that you need to protect. Oh, and it does wonders for bookcases without doors.

    We actually drilled holes in the floors and ran our speaker wires and CAT-5 cable through the floors. We also ran them *up* the walls and across the ceiling. White duct tape is great for white ceilings, as a temporary measure.

    Laptops are great for easily moving computers away from small children. We bought a net-book and use it as our primary “surfing” computer.

    When the temptation to bang on it became too much for her, about a year old, I hooked it up to the TV’s VGA port, tucked it behind the Plexiglas, and used a wireless keyboard to surf using the TV screen.

    I also shared the computer with by downloading Giggles software so that she could bang on the computer, get used to it, get tired of it, and then go find something else to do.

    Our printer was actually on a high shelf, along with the router, modem, etc., so that she couldn’t reach it.

    I work from home, and at one point, made a practice of barricading myself in a corner behind the couch with a baby-gate so that she could run about and not be tempted by all the shiny lights, including the power-strip switch. 😉

    Now, at 2, our daughter is old enough to lay on the floor and watch Kipper or Caillou while Mommy & Daddy watch their shows.

  21. posted by Robin on

    Moving with a toddler is great for babyproofing! You already known what s/he is drawn towards and can keep the tchotchkes packed away for a few more years.

    The folks who say “just train the kid” are on to something, but only halfway. Some kids are a LOT more obedient than others and while that may work for a lot of kids, some need complete childproofing to stay safe and keep you sane.

    Start with the dangerous stuff. No matter how well behaved your kid is, keep that completely unobtainable. Think through the consequences of a moment of disobedience and act accordingly. What’s the worst thing that could happen if they climbed the book case? It could fall and kill them. Bolt it. What’s the worst thing that could happen if they opened the cabinet under the sink and drank bleach? Use a GOOD childproof latch (my kids learned to work the cheap ones in no time) or better yet, put chemicals in a high cabinet. Mine are in the cabinet above the stove because it’s the only one without shelves.

    Now, what’s the worst thing that could happen if they get their hands on your computer? As long as you have a password-protected screen saver, the worst thing is an unscheduled reboot. Inconvenient, for sure, but not life threatening.

    I feel like Smokey The Bear, but really, only YOU know what your kid needs. Is she drawn to outlets? Get the good outlet protectors where you have to push a button to get them out. Does she ignore them? Then don’t bother with any at all. The cheap ones you press in just attract kids to the outlet and their little nimble fingers are perfect for fishing them out.

  22. posted by pluto on

    Heavy duty velcro was a staple when our son was that age. Our speaker stands were velcro’ed to the the tile floor and the (light) speakers velcro’ed to the stand. Not only did it keep them from falling on my son when learning to walk, but they also don’t get knocked down now when he and his friends decide to re-enact battle scenes or the football game. If you need to keep (light) stuff in place, this is an easy, invisible, and non-permanent way to do so.

    My son was also “trained” not to mess with things, but that only goes so far. You don’t want one mistake to be costly or fatal. We have a stand with CD/DVDs that he learned not touch, but it took a few times of having them all over the floor. We also learned that his friends (and their younger siblings) did not know what could be touched and what couldn’t.

  23. posted by Jo on

    Also, for all the parents who are saying their kids aren’t interested in or can’t reach or don’t bother with certain things – kids change all the time. In two seconds, two hours, or two weeks – they can suddenly be doing the very thing you thought they never would!

  24. posted by Nat on

    Our daughter is almost 2. We did the usual babyproofing of the common dangerous stuff, but not so much for the electronics. The TV and stereo were already in a converted closet in the guest room, so that we could just close the door when we needed to. Most of the time we just close the door to the whole room to save on heat, so The Girl’s hardly ever in there unless we’re using the room. The remotes are on the table in the open, but it’s not like she’s obsessed with them. She hardly touches them except to hand them to me to turn something on.
    For computers, we mostly have laptops that can be put away when necessary. I usually only do that when we host a playgroup. The Husband has an office with an old monitor and cords up the wazoo, but we don’t let her hang out in there unsupervised. Besides, the spinning chair in there is much more fun. Otherwise, The Girl has been taught over time that playing on the computer is a supervised activity. I did add a free keyboard lock out program for my iBook that activates a kid friendly typing program for her instead of whatever I was working on.
    Maybe we’re just lucky. I do know kids that could find trouble in a padded room. In our case, teaching, decoys (ie give the kid her own laptop or electronic toy) and a little out of sight out of mind seem to be working.

  25. posted by Homestead on

    We put the power strip that couldn’t be stashed away in a clear plastic shoe box with holes cut in the ends. Teething babies (and puppies) love to chew cords.

    I could talk about baby proofing for a long time. But here are a couple things I know for sure.

    1. Zip ties. We ran zip ties through the vents in the flatscreen tv to hook it to the stair railing and/or to eyebolts in the wall. Apparently falling/tipping flatscreens are a new big injury issue. We also do this with any large climbable furniture like bookcases and Sissy’s play kitchen.

    2. Travel. A good roll of gaffer’s tape (or gorilla tape or duct tape) is great for baby proofing a hotel room or a temporary place to stay. Cover the outlets, tape the cabinets closed. And for the love of all…. keep the kids out of the suitcase and Grandma’s purse. (Yes, my brother drank Jafra facial toner and, yes, my husband ate his Gram’s heart medication… as children, of course.)

    3. Pool Noodles. Skip the fancy babyproofing stuff…. get a couple of pool noodles at the dollar store. On windy days we put a chunk of noodle on the screen door (slit and slid over edge) to keep it from slamming tiny fingers. Works great on the sharper edges of life if you have an especially wicked coffee table. Also a great (but hideous) way to cover cords/cables/wires.

    I’m not a fan of OVER-babyproofing but I also like to make it easy on myself and my kids.

  26. posted by Jen on

    I’m going to have to go with Naomi on this topic. I think some baby-proofing is important, i.e. stairs, chemicals and outlets but I thinks it’s even more important to set boundaries for your children and for them to learn and understand “no”. Baby-proofing every potential danger doesn’t teach them that they shouldn’t touch certain things it just makes them unaccessible and doesn’t help when they are at someone else’s house.

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