Organizing Your Children's Belongings
By Laura E. Stachel
Even before you give birth, clothing and accessories for your baby are likely to start coming through the door. Shower gifts can provide a fetching selection of newborn attire, while bags of hand-me-down clothes from friends may outfit your child through the toddler years and beyond. Keeping everything organized can become a challenge.

At each developmental stage, you'll be faced with the choice of what to keep, what to toss and what to give away. If you're like me, you'll want to hang on to just about everything that holds a memory or may someday be useful. Ten years after stashing boxes of my oldest children's clothing and art supplies, I pulled them out for my youngest daughter. While I'm glad I have these recycled treasures and favorites, managing the large volume of material can be overwhelming.

Here are ideas to help you stay on top of kids' stuff.

1. Purge. While this can be tough for parents who become emotionally attached to their children's belongings, it's wise to establish some basic guidelines. Anything that's stained, worn out, unattractive or missing parts goes in the trash. Decent clothes that are duplicates can be passed on to friends or dropped off at a thrift store. Hand-me-downs should be sorted immediately; what's not suitable can be rebagged for donation.

2. Create a system. Your storage system depends on how much room you have. If you're lucky enough to have an attic or dry garage, you'll be able to keep more. Limited space requires selectivity. Stackable clear plastic bins with lids allow you to see what's inside, but cardboard boxes with lids also work well, as long as they are labeled as specifically as possible: Girls' clothes, summer, sizes 2 and 3. Group clothing by the size you think it really is, no matter what the tag says.

3. Sort toys by size. Rather than tossing small cars, balls and jewelry into a large bin, group small items together in a shoe box. That way they won't get lost on the bottom of the bin.

4. Ask for help. If you're inundated with stuff and don't know where to start, invite a friend to help you sift through the chaos. In turn, you could help her. It's easier to make tough choices with someone else's belongings. A professional organizer may be a worthwhile investment. A two-hour meeting may be all you need to set up a system that works.

5. Teach your kids to organize. It's hard to convince kids to let go of every plastic toy they've ever had, but it's a life skill they need to learn. Create a donation basket and talk to them about passing on toys and clothes to other kids who need them. Or have them help you stage a garage sale and raise money for a children's charity. Introduce the rule that every new toy that comes into the house means an old toy gets recycled: one in, one out.

Once you've got your system in place, use birthdays, holidays and changes of season as opportunities to take inventory and retrieve clothes and toys out of storage. It's frustrating to discover a never-worn outfit in a box after your child has outgrown it! Even though organization takes time and effort, it can bring you satisfaction and peace of mind.