Monday, November 28, 2011

Toddler toy storage - the bane of my existence

Before having a kid, we swore we'd never have a house teeming with toys all over the living space.  Toys would be minimal, and neatly confined to our future offspring's bedroom, or a small toy box in the living room.  Our house would look just like it did before we had kids.

HAHAHAHA.  As anyone who actually has real kids knows, this is a fantasy.  The toddlers I know don't really want to play in their bedrooms or fancy playrooms by themselves - they want to "be with mama in kitchen!"  Hence the bottom half of our fridge and our dishwasher have been given over to a plethora of letter and number magnets, and the adjoining living room has essentially become T's playroom.

Which isn't all bad, really.  We love this living room, but almost never *lived* in it before we had a baby.  It has no TV, so we only used it for parties or visitors.  I'm glad we spend so much time in there now, because the high ceilings and wall-o-windows makes it pretty nice, even with our ridiculous 9 months of grey each year. 

The tiny baby toys were no problem - we had just enough to fit in a medium sized Rubbermaid box, and would just rotate a few out to entertain BabyT for the 30 minutes she was awake between naps.  And we had a small box for board books so we could read to her.  We thought smugly that we had this toy thing under control.

And then BabyT became a toddler.  Well, let me rephrase - she turned 1, and didn't exactly toddle, but started crawling and became interested in getting her own toys.  At first, it was fine.  We had the box for books.  My interior decorating-talented and smart mama friend Lisa suggested this cheap but nice looking storage ottoman from Target:

That worked for a while - we managed to contain all the toys into this ottoman plus the book box.  But then, to encourage T to stand up more, her physical therapist recommended putting toys out on a table to entice her.  So then we had instant toy clutter on our coffee table and another bench.  I rotated the toys that were out and stuffed the rest into the ottoman.  She also recommended push toys to get her walking.  The IKEA walker wagon showed up, and you can't really put it away anywhere.

And then our not-toddling-toddler became more adventurous in her crawling, and eventually walking.  And that's when toy hell broke loose.  We'd leave her in the securely-gated living room to go take a shower and return to find all the books dumped out, and every toy in the ottoman removed.  Duplos were everywhere.  Pieces to the much loved tea set rolled under the couches regularly.

And when she became more interested in toys, so did we.  I bought her a play kitchen, intended for her 2nd birthday, but was so excited about it that I had to give it to her 5 months early.  And she was thrilled - it's one of her favorite items.  But so big!  And you can't put it away.

And of course, with play kitchen, comes play dishes, and play food, presents for her 2nd birthday.  It was not unusual to sit down on the couch and find a lovely wooden mushroom in the cushion.  Or underfoot.  Or being sniffed suspiciously by Spike, in case it was For Eating.

Now let's pause here for a chat about philosophy.  I'm definitely not a minimalist, but I am an unsentimental de-clutterer.  I read a book called Simplicity Parenting about simplifying kids' lives, and it resonated with me.  They addressed things like overexposure to media, too many scheduled activities, as well as toy clutter.  I've been using a lot of their practices, which is why T is only scheduled for one "class" per week, she doesn't really watch much TV, we're anal retentive about her naptimes and bedtime, and we've only got about 8-10 books out for her at any given time, which I rotate through her collection.   Honestly, she just does better when we work to avoid overstimulation.  She's always been this way, so I guess she takes after both of her introvert parents.

As she gets older, we have more toys with pieces - Little People, alphabet puzzles, cool wooden stacking/sorting/arranging toys. And there's the not-so-small matter of my love affair with Montessori materials. I bought some trays to create structured activities for her to choose. But I didn't really have a good place for these, so they all lived in my craft room and didn't come out as often as I'd like.

We corralled some of the clutter with small bins from IKEA, but then we had bins lying around on the floor or on our side tables. The homeschooling blogs I've come across, the home organization blogs I drool over, *and* the crafting blogs I read sing the praises of IKEA's Expedit shelving.  You've seen it - it looks like a giant grid, and is open at the back.

We bought a small 4-shelf one for T's room, and it helped the clutter in there significantly.  But we couldn't decide what we needed for the living room so didn't buy anything on that trip.  This weekend, with several days at home to stew over our clutter issue, I decided we *had* to do something, and the answer was the Expedit 4x2 shelf:
I'm using the top set of cubbies for her pseudo-Montessori activities, and will switch them out weekly, or when she seems to get bored with them.  There's one tray per cubby, with only one item on the tray so she doesn't get overwhelmed.  She knows to put away the tray and items before taking out the next one. (yay!)

The bottom row of cubbies is more traditional toy and book storage.  I filled one of the IKEA Skubb storage boxes with some board books from her collection.  I'll rotate those out weekly as well.  The other cubbies have one of the Kusiner bins, plus maybe one other larger toy or a small bin.  I wanted her to be able to take out one bin at a time, and not have to take out multiple things to get to something in the back. 
Now I feel so much better.  Everything has a place.  She is in that super-helpful toddler stage where she LOVES cleaning up, so I can tell her where everything goes now, and it actually looks nice when she's done!

I'd love to hear about what you guys are doing with toy clutter, especially as the toys come with more and more pieces.  Plus, I'm kind of freaky and I love home organization.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

20 Albums That Influenced My Life

I had a similar post on Facebook from Feb 2009 ( a lifetime ago!) but wanted to share it here.  I also updated it a bit to include 20 albums instead of the original 17.  It was one of those memes going around and I knew immediately I wanted to do it. Music is such a part of my life that I can instantly go back to certain time periods when hearing certain songs.  I love that kind of sensory memory.

Clearly this is going to reveal some terribly uncool stuff, but I was 8 when I started really listening to music, so I can't help it that I was influenced by what was on MTV and Top 40 radio at the time :)

Think of the albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. Not your favorite albums now: the ones that sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that no matter what they were thought of musically shaped your world. Albums you wore into the ground.

These aren't in any particular order. And I am too lazy to look up the release year, so you'll have to live with that.

Michael Jackson: Thriller
I was 8. Gimme a break. But listening to it again now, it really is a great album. And I only recently found out that Eddie Van Halen does the guitar solo on Beat It. So it *is* a little bit metal :)

Def Leppard: Hysteria
I was 13, and my mom drove my friend Judy and me to a different state so we could see my then-favorite band live. Someday, I'll do that for BabyT, because I too will understand just how important it is.

Queensryche: Operation: Mindcrime
I saw them open for Def Leppard at that show and was *hooked*. I have seen them at least 9 times since then. I still don't really understand the whole story behind this concept album. Something about a dude who had to kill people, and a priest and a nun? Good times. Plus it seems to be one of TJ's favorites, too, so that's how I know we are meant to be together :)

Death Cab for Cutie: Plans
This one snuck up on me. It's not my usual kind of music. But when I heard it, I couldn't stop listening to it. It reminds me of my favorite part of my career - when I ran the beta program for Microsoft Speech Server 2007. I spent a lot of time at work then, and this album kept me company.

Counting Crows: August & Everything After
College. 4:30am on a Tuesday, doing wretched Physics homework. Debating about what Adam Duritz really meant in the lyrics.

10,000 Maniacs: Our Time In Eden
I love her voice. It was the soundtrack to my first summer back home after starting college. Bonus points because she sings in a range where I can also hit most of the notes, so I sound less wretched than usual when singing along.

Indigo Girls: Indigo Girls
In the midst of all the metal in high school, I found this album and inexplicably fell in love with it. I've seen them live more than a few times and my friend Judy took me to Emily Salier's restaurant in Atlanta a few years ago.

Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes
Bad choices in college. Unreliable boys. Last time I "saw" her live, I took Peanut over to Marymoor park and camped out on a blanket across from the venue. Free concert. Woot.

Vienna Teng: Waking Hour
Saw her at the Tractor Tavern on a whim upon recommendation from someone at Microsoft. Was blown away. I've seen her at least 7? 8? times live.

Live: Mental Jewelry
Soundtrack to the summer after my senior year in high school, waiting to go to California for college. I still take it with me on every road trip. I have never seen them live, and don't really want to, since their first album is the only one I love.

Toad the Wet Sprocket: fear
Happy, cheerful soundtrack for most of college. I have seen Toad live at least 7 times, nearly always with my friends Chris and Jasmine.

Bon Jovi: Slippery When Wet
I was 10, and this started my glam/hair metal phase. I wasn't allowed to go to their concert, and didn't see them live until 1994 in LA at the venue formerly known as the Great Western Forum.  This is also the year I learned a lot of swear words from a friend who introduced me to this album. I remember being a little sad when those words entered my (mental) vocabulary - it was like a glowing neon sign saying "your childhood ends here".

Rush: Presto
Senior year in high school. Moping around waiting for it to be over. This album made me look forward instead of back. I know, it's the Rush album everyone else hates. Too bad.

Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs: Crooked Path
Reminds me of new friends, but also reminds me of the year I lived in Butte, MT against my will. I'm apparently a little bit country and a little bit rock n roll...

Pearl Jam: Ten
College, Ruddock House friends and a bad ski trip that turned out ok in the end. Made me want to visit Seattle someday. Here I am :)  I still have not seen these guys live, and I deeply regret missing my chance in 1994 because of some lame excuse like too much homework, not enough sleep, blah blah blah.

Guns 'n' Roses: Appetite For Destruction
I think I was 13 or 14 when I first heard it, and I was both horrified by it and loved it at the same time. It was so much *dirtier* than any of my other hair metal albums that I listened to at the time, but different and awesome. I saw these guys with my friend Uma at Three Rivers Stadium in 1992 (may it rest in peace), and they played with Metallica and Faith No More. It was amazing, just like when I met Uma and found another Indian-American girl who liked the same kind of music as I did.

Matchbox 20: Yourself Or Someone Like You
I found this used at my favorite CD store (RIP, Disc Go Round in the U-District). I was in grad school, and really felt like I shouldn't be there. I was in a relationship I really felt like I shouldn't be in, and to make matters even more complicated, was seriously crushin' on someone else who shall remain nameless but lives with me now :) I know it's cheesy and Top 40, but Rob Thomas can write a catchy pop song with tortured relationship lyrics like no one else. I saw them play in a high school auditorium before they hit it big, then saw them in Key Arena when Adam Duritz showed up out of nowhere to sing "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys". Swoon.

The Decemberists: The King Is Dead
Like Death Cab for Cutie, this is another band I thought only hipsters wearing skinny jeans liked and I did my best to ignore them.  But I couldn't.  The first time I heard "This is Why We Fight" on the radio, I knew I had to own it.  Something about this album reminds me of the 70s classic rock I grew up with on WDVE in Pittsburgh, the only radio station we had in the 80s that would play anything remotely "metal".  The whole album is great, and classic, and 1 year-old BabyT would request it.  That made it even more fun.  She still likes to listen to "'Cemberists".

Dave Matthews Band: Live At Red Rocks 8.15.95, Disc 1
This album got me skinny.  I was living in Seattle, and decided I needed to make some changes in my life.  I started walking on the Burke Gilman trail, miles and miles.  DMB kept me company.  This album was long enough that I never made it to side 2 on those walks.  Plus, it was before I had an MP3 player so I was listening to the actual CD and it's hard to carry extra CDs when you're out walking and running.
Dave Matthews Band: Under The Table And Dreaming
Caltech, senior year. Not sure how I discovered them since I was pretty much living in a media-free bubble, but it was hard to avoid DMB in the mid-90s.  It was so different from the metal and grunge I had been listening to, but this one was *always* in my CD player.  I listened to it when taking my very last final exam (Analytical Chemistry) and made a mental note to mark that occasion.  16 years later, I still remember sitting at my desk in my room, and feeling the utter relief tinged with a bit of sadness that I was almost done with college.  Even now listening to "Warehouse" makes my heart rate increase just a little, remembering that stress.

That's my 20.  Now I want to know yours!  Leave me a link in the comments.  Jenn, Shalini, hush, Cloud, caramama, LauraC, Di, and Shannon, I'm talking to you!  If you weren't listed here, I'm talking to you too!  Think of this as a homework assignment :)

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