Dear Peter Walsh,
This is my family room/kitchen combo. This is where the family spends the day until it's time for bed. I can't figure out what to do with all the toys. There are too many big pieces that do not fit into totes, and also I would like my kids (3 years old and 12 months old) to be able to easily see what they can choose to play with. You caught me after I had already stuffed all the things that are usually on the countertops into closets because Thanksgiving was at our house this year. But we have a problem with papers cluttering the countertops and kitchen table too. I've been thinking of making a desk area in the kitchen so I can do bills and be on the computer while the kids are playing in the family room but haven't taken action yet. With the economy the way it is now, we are spending more time at home and less time shopping. So, as I told my husband, I would like to make our home as comfortable and functional as possible for us and the kids.
Tracey, the key to being organized is to have a clear vision for the space then set some limits and establish routines. What you are doing with your papers (cluttering your countertops and the kitchen table), your kids are doing with their toys (cluttering the family room).
First, you need to what you want from each room—family, living and kitchen. Check out this room function chart.
Then, establish the limits for each room: Where do you place your paperwork—a file tray, box, container or on a shelf? Where do the kids place their toys—bins that are large enough accommodate what they play with? Then, establish and stick to routines. Where do you put your mail/paperwork when it comes into the house? Throwing it onto the kitchen counter or table to deal with later is not an option here! Alternatively, where do the kids put their toys at the end of the end of the day?
Things don't put themselves away, and your kids won't learn organization automatically, especially is you're not modeling the behavior you want.