Does having kids mean living with chaos for a decade or two? Yes, I’m afraid it does. (Welcome to the humbling, yet oh-so-gratifying world of parenthood.) But for design-minded types, there are several easy steps to take to introduce order—and style—into the equation.
1. Minimize Your Gear
Even before your baby is born, it’s hard to resist the urge to buy every gadget and gizmo that experts say will guarantee early admission to Harvard. But junior doesn’t actually need swings, bouncy seats, and Baby Einstein videos. What he or she needs is the floor. Research shows that floor time, during which the newborn figures out how to navigate the world, develops both important gross motor (movement) and psycho-motor (body/brain connection) skills. So forget the ExerSaucer and shell out for a really nice blanket instead.
2. Invest in Classic Toys Made of Natural Materials
Classic toys made of natural fibers are not only better for healthy bodies and brains than plastic, they also look better and are often longer lasting. One of the best toys I ever bought was my son’s all-wood Svan scooter (which I scored on Craigslist). It got passed down to his sister, and the grandchildren may get to enjoy it. Meanwhile, it looks good wherever it gets parked. Another favorite is the wooden Like-a-Bike. Expensive, yes (but not after the grandparents chipped in). Other basics you can count on for years of creative play are wooden blocks and handmade rag dolls and animals. And their colors and patterns are unlikely to clash with your own decor.
3. If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
Sometimes you just can’t train your children, so meet them where they stand (or climb or draw). I set up a beautiful easel in our home office, but my kids still prefer to do all their art projects at the kitchen table. Rather than wish for a better way, I incorporated their habits into my design scheme: Our centerpiece is a now a vintage Finel bowl filled with Muji markers. Similarly, in our hall, flea market crates house the shoes that never seem to make it into bedroom closets.
4. Create a Gallery
I proudly displayed my son’s first scribblings on the fridge. His later illustrations papered a whole wall. Now, with two kids in elementary school, I’m buried in their projects. How to tame all that art without stifling their creativity? Make a designated display space. Don’t worry about hanging things neatly; if your hanging area is well defined, the art will read like one big piece. The most important thing is to make sure your gallery allows you to easily swap images, so there’s a place for the latest–a magnetic wall (created with special paint) or an extra-large cork board work really well. And for when great work comes off the wall, I created portfolios for each child. They feel like real artists filing their canvases away.
5. Play with Style
One of the best things about being a parent is that you get to be a kid again. Use your children as an excuse to unleash your playful side: Experiment with a bold colors that you might not otherwise choose; introduce a swing in the living room or a tree in the bedroom.
6. Develop an Old-Fashioned Work Ethic
Today’s over-scheduled child often doesn’t have time for chores. But helping out at home is important for a number of reasons. Children like to feel like they’re a significant member of the group, and chores can foster this sense of security and well-being, especially when parents and kids tackle something together. Whenever my husband and I work in the yard, our children are expected to chip in. We start small with tasks that take 5 to 15 minutes and are fun–like picking up apples in the yard before we mow–and gradually get more elaborate. Assigned tasks also help give your child a sense of accomplishment, especially when you keep them age-appropriate with some challenges. We “trust” our eight-year-old to use the garden loppers on his own (aka we stand close, but don’t hover). Lastly, chores lend your child a feeling of ownership of his or her space–which just might lead to a tidier home.
7. Kick Them Out
Recently, while taking a family walk, my son declared, “Mom, there really is no better toy than a stick!” It was one of those moments when I felt like I really might be able to pull off this parenting thing.
Outdoor time not only gives your child a chance to enjoy fresh air and exercise, it also opens the door for all kinds of imaginative play. With trees to climb, and dirt and sand to dig in, Mother Nature really is the best gym around. And bonus for neatnicks, if your kids are out of the house, they’re less likely to mess up the inside.
For more style tips, see 11 Zero-Cost Room-Changing Ideas.