Our house,  Parenting

Our quest to reclaim the lounge room: 7 effortless ways to purge, sort and corral kids toys and take back your living room and your sanity

Some people are lucky enough to have a large house with a lounge room, living room, playroom, guest bedroom and office. We are not one of those families – houses in Germany are normally smaller. We have an open plan living and dining room, which is currently also Miss M’s favoured playroom. Her stuff is everywhere and I am sick of it. It is time for us to reclaim the lounge room.

The situation was exacerbated by the fact that we only just returned from Australia. We arrived with a case full of Christmas presents and souvenirs, which needed new homes.

Then we were forced to practice social distancing, the kindergartens were closed and we were all stuck in the same place 24 hours a day. The chaos was worse than normal and we really needed a plan.

I am someone who will put up with a lot before I step in to make a change. Peter is much more likely to force a change before I have reached the end of my patience. However, in this case, it is getting too much for both of us. You know it must be bad.

Our lounge room, just after we returned from Australia. It was overdue for an overhaul

And this picture didn’t even capture one of the worse angles:

The fireplace before we decided to reclaim the lounge room and purge, sort and organise the toys and almost ban them from the room

Why we needed to reclaim the lounge room

Our lounge room is the centre of our home. It is the room that immediately joins our entry, dining room and kitchen.

We still need to finish the entry and hallway update. The construction works next door, dust, pollen and weather have put things on hold. Recently, we made a significant change and we are slowly getting it back to where we want it to be. Hopefully, it will be finished soon and we can share the end result. Look out for the post!

It is the area that we gather in most often The room needs to be relaxed enough to reflect our lifestyle and provide the space that we need to do everything we need to do in the space. At the moment, it is not fulfilling its purpose, primarily due to the clutter.

Taking a more minimalist approach

For a long time, I have admired the minimalist approach, but known it is not for me. I like clean, uncluttered surfaces. However, I also like to showcase some of my favourite finds and have a stash that I can change up depending on the season and my current loves.

Clearly, in the state it was in, our lounge room was far from minimalist.

We needed to reclaim our lounge room and regain our sanity and find a degree of cosy minimalism that suits us (thanks Myquilllyn Smith for the term!).

Move over Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo is the great guru of cleaning up and conquering clutter. Her books have been read by millions and her Netflix show is a hit. Her trademarked KonMari method is based on 6 rules. The most talked-about element is rule 6: whether the object sparks joy. If it does not, you should sell it or donate it.

The problem with the KonMari method is how to apply it to children. I can see which things Miss M plays with most often, but how do I judge what ‘sparks joy’ for her? She is not old enough to understand the concept properly. She is also a packrat and would keep everything if possible – she takes after her Great Grandfather. This is one of the reasons why our lounge room has reached the state that it is in.

I am clearly had to find another measurement to decide whether to keep or dispose of objects in our quest to reclaim the lounge room. Tip: it was best done when Miss M was not around… which meant we had to get creative with the distractions if we were ever going to reclaim our lounge room as she had to be home all the time while her kindergarten was closed.

We also took things slowly (by necessity) and looked at things category by category. Our categories were somewhat narrower than Mari Kondo’s, but it worked for us. You might have different categories, such as cars or stuffed toys. Separate the job into categories that work for you.

Our lounge room

The room is rather small and is dominated by our couch. This divides the room into a lounge and a passage of sorts to the door to our terrace. Before our efforts to reclaim the lounge room, the couch was littered with various toys and books, mostly new. Those that ran out of space were on the floor, or had evicted the pillows to take up space on the sofa.

Supergirl with the couch behind her covered in stuff

We don’t have a lot of storage in the room, at least not a lot that Miss M can easily access. There is a large storage bin under the chaisse lounge part of our couch. It contained a hodgepodge of miscellany of odds and ends and needed to be optimised.

Our TV cabinet is open storage. Unless I find some clever boxes to use, this will not be an area that I can use to corral the toys.

Our TV cabinet, with chocolates left over from St Nicholaus, baubles in a bowl and some books that have fallen off the cabinet next to it. It is one area that we need to purge, sort and organise the stuff!

Most of the toys and books were focused on one corner of the lounge between the TV cabinet and the fireplace. There is a low dresser which supported a mass of books and some games. Next to this is an armchair that held two dinosaurs, some games and a basket that Miss M uses as a basket for her toy dogs.

The low dresser and armchair, both covered with books, pencils, games and toys.

In the corner is an antique filing cupboard, originally used in a Dutch local authority. I love this cupboard but I sincerely doubted that it was being used optimally. The contents in the top was sorted into vague categories, some of which were repetitive, while the bottom contained various decor items. I considered putting all the books in the bottom of the cupboard, but:

  1. I would have had to find an alternative location for all the decor items
  2. The cupboard door was jammed shut for about 6 months. If I filled this with Miss M’s books and it happened again…
  3. We already had a chest of drawers full of craft things, which is where some of the things belonged. It is already overflowing.

Finally, there was a large, overflowing pile of lego, dinosaurs, Playmobil and other toys that were corralled in a few boxes. These collections had since outgrown their boxes – and there were still the Australian Christmas presents to be added to the mix.

The fireplace area, overflowing with toys and Christmas ornaments. We need to find a solution for this area if we are to reclaim the lounge room.

Reclaiming the lounge room

There were seven main focus areas in our quest to reclaim the lounge room – and one to make it look pretty afterwards. Some were going to be easier to deal with than others. So we rolled up our sleeves to purge, sort and organise the toys and other chaos in the lounge and bring it all into order.

Step 1: Set up an alternative

Purging alone would not solve our problems with the volume of toys and books that were cluttering our lounge. While I recognised that some should stay in the lounge, some would be donated or sold and others were just bound for the rubbish bin, there would still be many that really could be put elsewhere.

Our first step was to decide where the toys and books and other sundry items would be put instead. Appropriate storage needed to be found for them wherever that would be. There was no point banning the toys or books from one room just to clutter up another – we don’t have that many rooms for that to be an option.

  1. Decide how badly you want to reclaim your lounge and how many toys and books and other items should remain in the room. If you are like us, this will be a mixture of the desire to become more minimalist and free up some surfaces and our general space limitations.
  2. Decide which toys, books or other objects – once you have finished purging – are best put elsewhere. This might be based on where your child uses the toys or where you generally read to your child, or simply on the question of which surfaces or areas you wish to free of clutter.
  3. Decide where the new home for those toys, books and objects will be.
  4. You can either make space for them now or do it after you finish purging and sorting, or after you have finished the lounge so that you know what space is needed for the relocated objects. My approach is generally to make space first and relocate the objects as I go.
Get creative with storage - we used some vintage suitcases or some storage. Purging the lounge room of toys does not mean everything has to go. This little dinosaur and his handbag stayed, for example.

Step 2: Remove seasonal decor

Perhaps the easiest of the focus areas for us was getting rid of the Christmas ornaments. I don’t mean throwing them out, but just putting them away until next season. In fact, while I was at it, I purged the whole house of the seasonal decor and to get ready for the next season.

Last Christmas, I purged a whole box of ornaments and decor that we no longer wanted or used, so I don’t have to worry about that this time.

Of course, Christmas decor could be a synonym for any other inappropriate seasonal decor that might be lying around and cluttering up your lounge room. We still have Easter decorations up – like our Easter tree with wire Easter egg crowns and beaded bunnies

Put it away now – don’t just put it in another room – and start your quest to reclaim your lounge room.

Our Easter tree - which has decided to bloom. A good example of seasonal decor that really needs to be removed from the lounge (and put somewhere organized) when the season is over.

Step 3: Clear easy surfaces

In our case, there are some surfaces that are currently littered with toys and books, which do not belong there, even if they are going to remain in the lounge room. These include our couch, the coffee table and the TV cabinet. Decluttering and reclaiming our lounge starts with freeing these surfaces of the clutter.

This is an easy job as it makes no difference whether you purge these objects or move them to their more permanent location, or whether you just put them with the other similar objects in the lounge to deal with at a later stage.

While you are at it, give the surface a clean – it probably has not had one for a while.

Our TV cabinet, free of clutter

Step 4: Attack the colouring in stuff

Miss M loves colouring in. It is something we try to encourage. I therefore don’t mind her having some paper and pencils in the lounge.

We have a selection of pencils, felt tips and other pens in our craft cupboard for Miss M to use. In practice, however, she rarely uses these unless we are doing a craft project together. She prefers instead to use those that we have in a small box under the coffee table.

For Christmas, Miss M received a handful of colouring in books and similar books. This is good thing as she has nearly completed a few of her favourite colouring in books.

My approach to reclaiming the lounge room from Miss M’s colouring goodies had a number of steps. Perhaps these will help you reclaim your lounge room, too.

  1. Purging the existing pencil box of dead felt tips and pens, broken crayons, pencil shavings, etc. Sharpening pencils.
  2. Throwing out the colouring and activities books that are full, perhaps first saving one or two of Miss M’s pictures.
  3. Creating a small pile (max. 3 books) of colouring books for Miss M to use in the lounge.
  4. Establishing a drawing station in Miss M’s room. I’d like her to spend time in there colouring and listing to music or audiobooks.
  5. Carving out space in the craft cabinet and in Miss M’s room for her additional pencils and books.
It's not perfect, but Miss M knows where her stuff is and has a pretty good overview of what is in there: the cupboard in the corner of the lounge post purge, sort and organise the toys

Step 5: Tackle the books

Miss M likes to read. This is something we like to encourage. She has a lot of books, and received about 10 more for Christmas. At the moment, all of her book storage places in her room, upstairs in our office/guest room and in our lounge room are overflowing. If we are going to reclaim the lounge room, this has to change.

This is one area where I will use the KonMari method and look at all of Miss M’s books at one.

  1. Some books are falling apart. Unless they are an heirloom or a favourite, we disposed of them.
  2. Seasonal books (Christmas or Easter themes) went in a box to be brought out at an appropriate time.
  3. Some are too young for her now, such as first word books. These are a box to be donated. As many of them are in English and not German, we will need to decide where best to donate them.
  4. The remaining books are reorganised and spread between the three locations.
  5. This actually also forced us to look at getting a new bookshelf for Miss M’s room. As she grows, the function of her room is changing and we have decided to get some better storage for her, hopefully this week. I am looking forward to styling it and getting rid of some more clutter!

It also became clear that the main area (apart from the clutter) contributing to the clutter was the low cabinet with all the books and games on top. When you tried to take something off, it started an avalanche. To solve this problem and visually free up the room, we decided to turn the bottom of the antique filing cupboard into book and game storage.

Of course, this meant that we first had to find alternative storage for the vases and other decor items that are currently in the cupboard. After a purge, sort and reorganisation of these items (many were no longer our style) we found some space in our basement and in the chaisse lounge for them.

Step 6: Deal with the Lego

Lego is the biggest hindrance to our quest to reclaim the lounge room.

At the moment, we are in that annoying phase, where Miss M is starting to use normal Lego, but still enjoys playing with her (significant) Duplo collection. We have both and the crate that the blocks were in overflowed regularly.

I am hoping we will be over this phase in the next six months or so. However, at the moment, we have to deal with both.

Fortunately, we have some space under Miss M’s bed that is perfect for boxes of toys. We made two boxes of Duplo, removing it from the lounge as well as a box of clothes and stuff for her babies. Where there was once a cascading Duplo mountain, there is now… nothing.

I have already put out feelers to find someone who might like our Duplo collection when Miss M is done with it.

Image of our fireplace, after we purged, sorted and corralled the toys that were threatening to take over

I am not in love with our fireplace. As we don’t use it as a fireplace, it is really just taking up space. It is not my style, nor is it useful – the surfaces are uneven and slope the wrong way so things tend to fall off the mantle. While I might come up with a work around to at least appreciate the look of it more, it will not be changing for a number of years. But that is a can of worms we don’t need to open now.

Step 7: Optimise storage

As Miss M’s interests grow, so too do her collections. With Christmas presents and recent second-hand finds, Miss M now has a sizable collection of Barbies, dinosaurs and Playmobil. These all needed new homes.

Some went under her bed and some, some under the fireplace (we never use the fire). The normal size Lego went into another box which is next to the lounge, together with a box of Barbies and Playmobil and dinosaurs, all stacked one on top of each other. She can take the box that she wants when she wants it.

To streamline the look, we found unicoloured boxes. The best solution we could find for our purposes was the Kuggis range from Ikea. Fortunately, they fit!

For simplicity, I would also like to have uniform labels. I don’t have a cricut machine so I will have to work out how I am going to make them – or have them made.

Of course, this will only happen after we purged, the broken, unwanted and unloved toys and sorted the others into categories.

Step 8: Simplify and personalise the decor

Finally, once we cleared the surfaces, purged, sorted and organised the toys and books, we could look at the other decor in the room (minus the Christmas decor of course).

Minimalism focuses on living with less. One of the things I like about Marie Kondo’s approach is her focus on “living with items you truly cherish.” So that is our aim.

Once we’d dealt with all the toys and books etc, I took down all the decor and started from scratch. I will have to do it again soon to deal with the Easter decor. That way, we’ll reclaim the lounge room from the toys and reclaim it for us, too.

We also purchased a new rug – just before IKEA closed – to add some vibrancy to the space.

The decorations on the left side of our fireplace, with the robot we found on our trip to Amsterdam

We reclaimed our lounge room – and won!

It was a VERY slow process, especially because of the kindergarten closure. However, our quest to reclaim the lounge room was successful! So far, our new system is working, too!

We came up with a plan to reclaim the lounge room and followed it. We purged, sorted and organised the toys and books and sundry items, category by category. We found and established alternative homes for some of these things and unified the storage for the others to minimise the visual clutter.

Finally, we and our living room can breathe.

The view of our lounge room, after purging, sorting and organising the toys, once we had reclaimed the lounge room.

Do you have a problem with kid clutter taking over your living room? Is there a ‘lounge room’ in your house that you need to take back? Follow these steps to reclaim the lounge room in your house.

Stay safe & good luck sign off


  • Rachel Roy

    We have done this so many times. It’s amazing though, however much we purge we seem to gain “stuff” quicker. For a while as the kids purged their rooms, all the hand-me downs etc seemed to migrate to our room… I’m finally getting through this pile of stuff.

    • Rachael Matthews

      Noooo! That’s rather disheartening! We did manage to get rid of (most) of the things that we needed to send elsewhere, so none of them are in our room at least. Glas to hear that you are getting to that pile!

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