When I told my husband I was writing an article about home organization, his eyes widened in disbelief shortly before he let out a loud chortle designed to convey he was laughing at me not with me. It’s true, I am not the best at home organization. I tend to leave piles everywhere and give up in the middle of doing dishes. But there is one thing I definitely did right – organize my son’s toy and play area.
We live in a Brooklyn apartment that is not small by New York’s standards but is entirely laughable by anyone else’s. Our son does not have a playroom; he barely even has a bedroom. The “nursery” is a windowless room built with fake walls that fits a crib, changing table, nursing chair and some shelves. That’s it.
We knew he wouldn’t be playing in his room. But how could we keep the living area of the apartment from turning into one giant play room?
Our solution: Baby Fun Zone. (We started out calling it Baby Jail, but then this happened, and we rebranded it.)
- Expedit shelving units from Ikea. We used the 4×4, 4×2 and 5×1 sizes.
- Five-panel free-standing wooden pet gate from Four Paws. Yes. A pet gate. Apparently gates are way cheaper when you don’t put the word “child” in front of it. And the wood is so much nicer than those faux-cheerful plastic baby gates.
- Panda Mat. Great non-toxic alternative to foam mats.
- Canvas cube bins from The Land of Nod. These are just as good as and one-third the price of the Pottery Barn equivalent.
- Elbow joints and screws
- Bonus: Learning Home from Fisher Price. I got this as hand-me-down and had no idea it cost $100. I bet there are lots of used ones floating around for sale. What else would you do with this hunk of plastic after your child outgrows it?
How to Make a Baby Fun Zone
The shelves act as two walls. Lay them sideways, so the maximum height is two cubes. (You don’t want the bookcase falling onto the baby.) Put the Panda Mat down and arrange the wooden pet gate around it to form two other walls. It’s an amazingly perfect fit. Put the toys in the baskets and the baskets in the cubes. Books and stuffed animals fit great in the cubes as well.
In the beginning, this is all you will need. But as your baby becomes more mobile (and craftier), it will help to screw the ends of the gate into the shelves. We also put an elbow joint on the corner to give the gate more stability. Baby Fun Zone doubles as a place to keep your sweet child safe while you take that blessed shower.
Eventually, your toddler will break out of Baby Fun Zone entirely. Don’t fight it. Fold one panel of the gate back and put a fake door in its place. The zone is still contained, and your little one will love going in and out through his special door.
Here’s the great thing: These days, even though our son comes and goes from Baby Fun Zone as he pleases, he knows toys belong inside the zone. So even if we take some toys out into the living space to play, when it’s time for clean-up, he returns them to their rightful place. He’s never known another way. Easy peasy.
As an added benefit, pets will also have learned that the Baby Fun Zone is a restricted area. The gate is, after all, made for pets.
And my husband and I still have our living space relatively unscathed. If we close our eyes, we might even be able to pretend, for just a brief moment, that sleeping in is still an option.
Debra Cole is a Brooklyn-based writer and mom. She blogs about parenting at www.urbanmoocow.com.
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