Toy Cabinet Organization

What follows is the long saga of what I thought would be a simple and quick home improvement project. But I’m proud that I did it all myself.

When we moved into our house, we had built in bookshelves and cabinets installed to either side of the fireplace.  They cabinets in the bottom have always been a great place to store a lot of the toys.  They each have a cabinet.  I’ve gone through several different ways of organizing things but in the last few months, I decided they needed a shelf to utilize a little more of the vertical space.

I figured I could probably tackle this project myself and some day around New Year’s I went to Lowe’s and picked out my shelving and had the nice man cut the pieces to my measurements.

The first problem is that the 1×10 boards that I purchased were not really 10 inches wide.  More like 9.  But I had the ledger boards for support cut to 10 inches.  They were an inch too long and I didn’t want them sticking out from under the shelf.

Also the shelves were just a bit too snug when I fit them in the cabinet.  I did a bunch of sanding and fitting and refitting until I thought they were good.  Then I put some satin finish polyurethane on my shelves.

The ledger boards sat there for quite a while, staring at me, waiting for me to find a solution for them.  I was hoping I might see my neighbor out who could just take an inch off with his saw really quickly.  No luck.

It took a couple weeks but it finally hit me that the simplest thing to do was to go back to Lowe’s and just buy another $2.50 1×2 and have the man cut it 9 inches instead of 10.  Oh, except this nice guy informed me that they can’t do cuts less than 12 inches.  That other guy must have been breaking the rules for me.

Plan B – I bought a miter box and saw.  I came home and hacked that 1 inch off those 4 ledger boards in about 10 minutes.  Kind of proud of myself but it cost more to buy the miter box & saw than it did to just buy a new piece of wood.

But then it got cold and I didn’t feel like adding the polyurethane to my ledger boards.  For a couple weeks.

It warmed up and I finally finished the polyurethane part.  Time to screw those ledger boards in and set up my shelves.

Except I guess the poly added a little too much width back to my shelves and they were too tight again. Or I never sanded them enough in the first place.

I got the circular saw out.  Told the kids to cover their ears.  Made some horrible cuts…one was very crooked and the other I wasn’t holding the saw level and the blade didn’t go through the wood all the way so I finished it with the hacksaw.  Jack asked me why it smelled like things were burning.  I got a little short with him.

They were ugly, which was kind of a disappointment.  But then I put them in the cabinets.  They fit and no one can see how ugly they are.  Case closed.  Or cabinet closed.  Or project finished.  The end.


This is Casey’s cabinet beforehand.  Not too bad.  I bought a bunch of $1 shoe containers just after Christmas to organize all her little things…dolls clothes, doll accessories, princess shoes, etc.

But she also had this bin full of (mostly naked) dolls that didn’t fit in the cabinet.

The after – It fits a lot more stuff in there.  It bothers me a little that the shelf is slightly too narrow for the four shoeboxes to fit perfectly across.  I can’t really make the cabinet wider though.  Although maybe dollar store has slightly narrower boxes.  

Jack’s cabinet wasn’t really in need of the extra space.  It basically looked like this but without the shelf.  But now it looks nicer.

And another Aha! moment.  These cute little license plates have been floating around inside the cabinets for years.  Why did I just figure out that I should stick them on the cabinet doors now?  But I’m glad it hit me and I like it!

Thus ends the long saga of my shelving project.  It really only took a couple hours of total time, but I managed to spread it out over a month or so and add some obstacles to make it more exciting.  And I’m very happy with the final results.

Lego City

I may have mentioned that we have a few Legos lying around the house (here).  Christmas added a few items to the collection and I was getting tired of all the houses, spaceships, starfighters, ninjas and pizza shops sitting on the built-in bookshelves.  It added a cluttered feel to the living room.  When they were all lined up neatly it didn’t look too bad, but when I moved them all off the shelf during Christmas decorating I realized how much better it looks without them.

I decided that the kids needed a Lego table.  They were setting up cities in the middle of the living room floor and it was getting dangerous to walk into the living room in bare feet.  I’ve probably already invested more time thinking about, planning and executing my Lego storage solutions than most people but I did some more internet research and thinking about the best way to make a Lego table.

All my plans revolved around some surface onto which I could glue a bunch of Lego base boards.  I have an extra coffee table but I decided that wasn’t big enough.  I thought about buying an unfinished table top at Lowe’s and gluing the boards on that.  It could be shoved under Jack’s bed to move it out of the way or it could just be placed on top of an existing table.  I looked into buying a used (bigger) coffee table on Craigs List.  I thought about gluing boards onto their train table too.  I searched Pinterest for “lego table” and saw all kinds of cute solutions.

I thought about all this for a good week.  Then the Legos all over the living room got to me one day and I tentatively asked, “Do you guys want to turn your train table into a Lego table instead?”  It was an enthusiastic response from both of them and we got to work.  Actually, I got to work and they got to playing.

The train table is upstairs in our playroom and it’s not really used all that often as a playroom.  I was somewhat afraid that if I put all the Legos up there, they wouldn’t play with them.  But I reminded myself that we could always move them back downstairs if that was the case.  Nothing was permanent.

The best part about this train table is that we bought it for $25 off Craigs List 2 1/2 years ago and that’s a bargain for a train table that’s held up as well as it has.  Now that it is living it’s second life as a Lego table it makes it even more of a bargain.  I think Pat is no longer cursing me for sending him 30 minutes away to the “country” to buy it.

The original owners of the train table told us that train table had two sides to the top surface but that the one with roads, water and land was a little beat up.  We’ve had it on the plain green side since we’ve owned it.  We decided to flip the boards back over and the kids immediately arranged their buildings and space centers and cars within their new city.

It’s been almost two weeks since we created our own Lego City up their and the kids have loved playing up there.  Of course it requires that I spend a little more time up there too but that’s actually been good for our laundry since the laundry room is beside the playroom.  I fold and they do city things.

Oh, and it turns out it’s totally not necessary to glue any Lego base boards down onto the table.  Their bigger sets already come with bases and they enjoy just having a flat surface on which to drive the their cars.

There is also a big bookshelf in the playroom and it has more than enough storage for the sets that are rotating out of “city” duty, the Star Wars Legos that occasionally attack the city, their extra blocks and instructions.

So, here are some pictures…

Minutes after I put all these boxes back on the shelf the kids had pulled them out to create something else.  I looked around the room that night and said, “Wow, this place is a disaster.  We need to clean it up.”  Jack said, “No it’s not…it’s the Lego room!  It’s supposed to be like this.”

They are both really happy up there.  Jack continues to amaze me with how well he can follow the directions to put things together and his creativity in designing his own structures.  Today he created his own castle complete with a drawbridge.  Sometimes Jack likes to brag a little bit about how great he is at following the directions and how he can put anything together, but I put him in his place by reminding him that I am the only one who can put that X-wing back together when it falls apart again after 3 seconds of play.  😉

Casey is also starting to create her own structures and a few days ago she put something together all by herself by following the directions.  I was very impressed.

Hopefully the newness doesn’t wear off anytime soon, but I think this playroom will get a lot of use for the last few months that we have left in this house before our next move.  (It has a future life as a man-cave for Pat, but that is years down the road when we return.)

Lego Organization

About a year ago, I thought I had come up with a great solution for Lego storage.  It worked for a while but lately it seems that the Legos have exploded again and I was ready for something new.

First I have to show the solution to Lego storage from 25 years ago!  Jenn and I used this box for our Legos when we were little girls.  Jack first started playing with Legos a couple years ago when we were in Maine for a couple weeks and I pulled this box out of the attic.  Now, he has more Legos as a 5 year old than Jenn and I ever did.

As retro as the box looks and as much nostalgia as there is with it, it’s not the greatest storage system.  Even as a girl, I remember digging and digging and digging through that box looking for the right pieces.  Jack’s collection quickly outgrew it so I figured out a new system.  I bought the plastic container with drawers on the right.  The big bins on the left have some “overflow” Legos and other toys.  These drawers kept the toys organized and separated but there was a lot more pulling things out than putting things away on Jack’s part.

I bought little containers (at the dollar store) to hold different types of Legos and I divided them all up – wheels, angled pieces, windows, doors, other special pieces in this drawer.

Army guys, minifigures, flat pieces and very small pieces.

Instructions, long bricks and bigger block-shaped bricks.

Creations that were small enough to fit in the drawer

Extra boxes.  I used old wipe containers to keep certain sets together and for when we were travelling and I need to throw a bunch in a box.

But, like I said, the Legos were exploding all over the house again.  Jack has been building up his Star Wars Legos collection and the house has turned into a galaxy with different pieces of furniture as planets and the floor as space.  I did a little Google search and found a blog where she used fishing tackle boxes for Lego storage.  I envisioned the typical tackle box that folds out and thought that would be great for Jack’s Star Wars Legos – a big area of the bottom for the spaceships and smaller compartments for the little pieces.  We left the house that afternoon to find one.  I got this big one.  It wasn’t exactly what I wanted but it was what Jack wanted.  The good guys have a shelf, the bad guys have a shelf and the spaceships live on the bottom.  (It’s a little empty right now…I think there’s a battle going on in the dining room.)

I also saw some plastic boxes that looked like they would work and when Casey and I made a trip to Walmart last week, I found exactly what I was looking for:  plastic boxes with dividers and handles.  These two are for Casey’s Legos.

While waiting three hours for new tires last week, I put one of these boxes in my bag and we had instant entertainment.  I’m hoping they will play with them in the car next week when we have a long car ride to Maine.  I would love to glue one of the flat base boards to the top of them, but the boxes are not quite flat on the top.

I got Jack a bigger one and one the same size as Casey’s.  I love that the Legos all have their own spaces and they stay in their spaces when you pick them up.  For all the Legos they hold, they are pretty compact.  These two hold most of Jack’s Legos (that aren’t being used) but I just bought him another big one because they don’t all fit in here.  But it still takes up less space than the drawers.  Now he can pull out one of these boxes and drag it to wherever he is working and when he’s done he can just close the lid and put it away.

In the end, it’s really only me who is excited about these containers.  And me who organized them all into different sections.  And me who will reorganize them when they get messed up. But it makes me happy.

My Little Decorator

After the dump truck of toys stopped by over Christmas, Pat and I were throwing around the idea of turning our front room into more of an official playroom.  There have always been toys in it but it’s not exclusively for toys.  After deciding that I didn’t want to do that, I couldn’t sleep last night and kept rearranging furniture in my head.  I’m trying not to be afraid of changing things and moving furniture because all I have to do is move it back if I don’t like it.  It’s funny that I shouldn’t naturally think that considering the number of times I moved my furniture in my bedroom growing up.  Anyway, by the time I went to sleep last night I had come up with some good furniture arrangements and thought I might just go for it.

This morning I didn’t really think about playrooms all that much given that we actually had to get up, get dressed and leave the house today to get Jack to school.  I think I could have used another week of vacation.  The kids weren’t even getting on my nerves yet.  Sometimes a big infusion of toys is all they need to get along a little better.

While Casey was napping this afternoon, I was trying to get some things done on the computer, like reading other blogs and looking at great projects other people have done and thinking, ‘I should do that someday.’  I paid some bills too.  Jack decided that it would be a great time to bring a Lego creation over to disassemble, placing the pieces strategically around the mouse.  And that was my inspiration to do a little reorganizing.  I ran upstairs and dug our 2nd coffee table out of the upstairs toy closet and brought it downstairs.  Before I go any further, there are no pictures of this process yet because it’s still a bit of a disaster.  It had to get worse before it could get better and it’s just now making the turn.  Pat has asked me twice already if I plan to keep a 6 foot tall bookcase in the middle of the living room.    

I brought the coffee table downstairs and moved Jack’s pile of Legos to the table.  He went and got himself a Buzz Lightyear chair and happily sat creating a new airplane for his aircraft carrier.  I was able to get back to blogland without a pile of Legos and child under my elbow.  I wondered why I hadn’t thought to bring the table down months ago.  When Jack was a baby we baby-proofed this table and stuck the spongy rubber stuff around the sides so he wouldn’t bump his head on the sharp edges.  We’re a little past the baby proofing stage around here now but I decided that rubber stuff is staying on.  It’s primary purpose now is to keep Legos and puzzle pieces on the table.  Brilliant.

From the coffee table to moving a 6 foot bookshelf to moving a bunch of toys around, the room is now more of a playroom but I didn’t move any major furniture beside that bookshelf.  (And a small kitchen.)  In the midst of this Jack thought he would help me.  He just started pulling things out of cupboards and shelves and saying, “I’ll put this here and this here and this here.  See how I’m fixing it Mommy?”  When I took some old frames and knick knacks out of a cupboard he asked where they were going.  I was planning to put them back in a different cupboard but I asked him where he thought they should go.  And boy, did he have some opinions.  More like steadfast confidence in his decorating ability.  He knew exactly where things needed to go and how to do it.  I’ve already signed him up for the next season of Design Star on HGTV.

“Mommy, what rocks do you want to put in this jar?” he asked as he pulled out a bag of rocks and a clear vase.  It was obvious that he didn’t even need me to answer that because rocks were already going into the jar.  He was very serious about his tasking and his end table was decorated in no time.  I’m afraid to move things now.

Great Wolf Lodge Part 3

I didn’t realize that there was going to be a part 3 to this story, but Jack and Casey weren’t quite ready to let go of the fun. Jack keeps saying he wants to go there “next time” which I think means next week. First we watched the 4 little videos that I shot (grand total of about 1 min of viewing) over and over again. Jack wanted to watch himself playing in all the different areas, of which I have no video. I wish I had more, but I was always trying to keep my eye on one of them and that usually required me being in the water and I wasn’t carrying my camera around in there.

We’ve been doing a little reorganizing around the house this weekend. Pat did an awesome job of cleaning out the garage and providing some useful storage in the entry from the garage. I reorganized a bunch of toys and discreetly put a bunch in “Mommy’s” closet. The kids think it’s just my boring crafting things but it’s also where I hide presents (for now) and where some of our toys go to die. Basically I take toys that I think they won’t miss and put them in the closet in a bin. If Jack doesn’t ask for them after a while, then I will donate them or save them for Jack & Casey’s cousins.
As part of my organizing plan, I bought a bigger bin for the dressup clothes and I was thinking of using the older one for Legos. Jack had other plans. After watching our waterpark videos and then a bunch of videos on YouTube, he decided the plastic bin was going to be a really good innertube for sliding. I think he spent hours today sitting in that box, pretending that he was going down a waterslide. This is the same child who only went down one slide by himself and needed serious convincing to go down one with the family. It was apparently a lot more fun in our living room in a plastic box. But I love his imagination. And should probably be thankful that he didn’t decide to pretend the stairs were the waterslide and try to come down them while sitting in a plastic box.
More with the organizing…In the guest room/playroom I’m trying to create a better crafting area for myself where I can scrapbook and sew. (Do I sew? Not for a really long time, but I have some projects I want to work on.) A couple weeks ago, I bought some cubes at Michael’s to store scrapbook supplies. They come in a nice compact box, about 15 inches square and 4 or 5 inches thick. I put one together last weekend. The box said it would take 15 minutes…an hour later I finally had it together. It wasn’t hard, just time consuming…and maybe I had to take short breaks to watch various Olympic events.
Since then the other two boxes have been sitting on the floor in the living room. Pat offered to put them together for me tonight…he just got smart and brought in the automatic screwdriver. Unfortunately, I’m afraid Casey is going to be really upset about it in the morning. She has spent more time playing with these boxes last week than any toy she has. She loves to jump off them, either onto the floor or to launch herself onto a chair. Pat pushed them into a corner today because we were having company, but after dinner Casey was crying because she couldn’t get them out to play. Hopefully if they’re out of sight in the morning she will forget about them.
So, it’s been a good weekend of playing, pretending and organizing…and it finally felt like spring. As a bonus, I also got my weekly grocery shopping done today. It has honestly been very hard to push the car cart around the grocery store once it is full of groceries and kids. This morning I went to a weight lifting class at the gym and my arms are really sore…I really don’t think I could push it around tomorrow with both kids!
Here’s the last group of pictures from Great Wolf Lodge. I originally tried to get Jack to put his arm around Casey. He didn’t want to, so Casey put her arms around him…he turned around to not be in the picture…she still held him…
He looked up, she looked down…
He looked down, she looked right…
He looked up again, she looked at me…
And that’s as good as I got. Kind of like an awkward prom picture.