The closet next to our front door was an obvious place for our coat closet when we first moved in. But since our definition of “coat closet” seems to include random stuff like cleaning supplies (vacuum, dust buster, etc) as well as miscellaneous files and bags, we quickly realized that it was smarter for us to use the deeper closet under the stairs for that stuff instead. It’s slightly closer to the garage anyways, so it’s actually a more convenient spot for daily coat access (not that I’m ready to admit summer’s over yet).
But that left this lonely guy next to the door without a job to do. And what’s the opposite of having a job? Playing with toys. That’s what.
Well, not so much playing with them as storing them. I’ll get to the “why?” of this toy closet in a moment, but let me start with the “how?” since it was kind of lacking in the shelving department. We considered building some more shelves like the existing one up top (i.e. nailing wood braces to the wall and resting a board on top). But we decided we wanted something with more flexibility (so that we could alter the shelf spacing over time). So after perusing the options at a couple of stores, we landed on this Rubbermaid option at Home Depot (but with wood shelves, not wire ones).
Installation was pretty straightforward. Pun intended, since you do have to be careful about keeping your tracks straight and level when hanging them so your shelves don’t look all wonky. I used my laser level to help me mark my drill spots so they lined up and the shelves would be nice and straight.
Rubbermaid sells a hardware pack that comes with anchors and screws, so it was kind of a no brainer. I just drilled a hole in the wall at each spot, tapped in the anchor, and then screwed the track securely in place.
When placing the second track I again wanted to make sure it was level with the first. Don’t mind the green slime on my yardstick. It was a victim of this paint spill in the garage.
Once both tracks were in place, I clipped in the brackets and rested the shelves right on top of them. Our closet was just an inch-ish narrower than the 36″ stock white shelf they sold, so it did require a quick cut on the table saw for each one.
Certainly not the sexiest shelving unit I’ve ever laid eyes on, but considering it took me about an hour to install and it’ll be behind a closed door most of the time, we’re satisfied customers. Especially since it made this closet approximately 89.542% more functional, and we can move the shelves to be closer together or further apart, depending on what we’re storing. Here’s the cost breakdown:
- Four 12″ x 36″ shelves: $14
- Eight 12″ brackets: $28
- Two 48″ twin tracks: $13
- Two hardware packs: $4
- TOTAL: $59
With “construction” done, Sherry gave the existing blue shelf and baseboard a couple coats of white primer and paint and then loaded in the toys after everything dried.
We know some of you might be scratching your head at this. A toy closet in the foyer? And with things she can’t even reach? Plus, where can I get one of those panda hats? Well hang on to your bear-less heads, for I will explain…
Clara’s at an age where it’s tough for more than a few favorite toys (like her play kitchen or her dolls) to keep her interest for more than a minute or two. So she can be that typical three-year-old tornado that burns through an entire jumbled basket of cars, balls, puzzles, and games in five minutes. We also have a few things that we don’t keep readily accessible to her since they’re supervised activities, like painting, markers, play-doh, etc. So that’s where the idea for this toy closet, er, toy library comes in. We figured we could still keep a basket of her favorite toys out in a few rooms where she plays (along with larger things like her dollhouse and play kitchen) but the rest of those easily-dumped-and-ditched items might feel more special and exciting to her if they’re not always jumbled up in a basket that’s right under her nose.
We call it a “library” because it’s meant to have the same effect that library books have on her versus the books that we have around all the time. Library books seem special and new, keeping her excited and attentive longer. So we’ve taken a bunch of her existing toys and activities out of the everyday access spots and organized them in this closet (which is centrally located, so it’s actually a convenient spot). Here’s how it works:
- Clara often plays with a few favorite toys that are still out in baskets, but if she decides she’d like something from the closet, she just asks us and we help her get the item that she wants
- She can only “check one thing out” at a time, so one thing must be returned before another is taken out (this is already really inspiring her to clean things up before asking for something else)
- We hope this will work for us long-term (growing up Sherry and I both had a closet with shelves full of board games and movies, so we think even for older kids this could come in handy – especially since we can adjust the shelf spacing).
We debated organizing with cute image or photo labels (since Clara can’t read the words yet) but since it’s a grown-up guided activity (meaning we’ll be the ones getting things off most of the shelves for a long time since they’re out of her reach anyway), we stuck with text labels for now. Sherry even repurposed a frame to make a little “menu” of what’s inside so she can quickly offer up some suggestions to Clara without digging through all the baskets and bins to remember what’s in there.
The toy library closet has actually been in use for a couple of weeks now (we wanted to wait to report on how it’s working for us – just in case it was a huge bust and we decided it was a better tool closet or something), and so far it’s working even better than expected. I sort of anticipated this being one of those “a 3 year old won’t bend to your need for systems and order, Petersik!” moments but Clara actually loves it. It seems to be helping with her attention span and how long she plays with things (we’ve had a couple marathon marker coloring sessions lately) – and it’s definitely helping her better grasp the concept of cleaning up one mess before making another.
So yes, we may be the weirdos who greet our guests with a basket of finger paints and an over-sized dinosaur puzzle, but the former library employee in me is quite proud of our little closet. Ooooh, maybe we should make library cards?! Too far, Petersik. Too far.
Psst- Wanna know where we got something in our house or what paint color we used? Just click on this button:
I love the new shelves!
Seriously, ever since you moved into the new house your blog is one of the highlights of my morning. It used to be the highlight of my afternoon but now that the changes/projects are big I can’t wait to see them when I wake up! LOVE IT! You do realize when you are done with this house you are going to need to get a beach house to work on?! Keep it up!!! Awesome closet btw.
Haha, thanks Claire!
Agreed, Claire! YHL is my first stop over coffee every morning. I’m loving what’s happening with this new house.
Thanks so much Larita!
Gina Britton says
Very clever…I love the idea of keeping certain items away.
Anele @ Success Along the Weigh says
Traditional? Maybe not. Functional for your family and therefore awesome? Absolutely!
I think it is fairly traditional, my mom and my grandmom both had closets like this for us when we were kids. And both in the “front hallway”. Brings back memories. ;)
BTW, I’m trying to figure out why didn’t you go ahead and paint the rest of the “old” walls in the closet before you put in the shelves and stocked it? Can’t imagine it was a time problem, since you had to wait on the shelf to dry anyway…? *head scratching*
It was a paint problem. Haha! We didn’t have enough of the wall paint after using it to paint the living room walls, but I’ve been planning to add a pop of fun color in there anyway, so I’m just waiting to have paint leftover from another project that I can use in there.
I think this idea is brilliant! Thank you for sharing.
I love this! I’ve actually heard of it before and considered implementing it with my kids but was never organized enough to get it done. I really admire how neat yours looks, kudos!!
Laura @ Rather Square says
Great idea! Wish I had an extra closet to do this with for my nearly-two-year-old. We’re currently working out a system with low shelves and baskets, though… lots of those around.
love it. good thinking. I may try to so something like this for my four year old. her tiny room always looks like a tornado has come through. ugh.
Megan @ Rappsody in Rooms says
I say go for the library system full fledged! Although I guess kids these days (geesh am I a grandmother – answer is no) won’t understand the actual stamping the card in the back of the book library system. But I totally support it because my mom made all my books into that type of library system and I had so much fun stamping them and checking them out. It’s like playing store for nerds! haha.
Plus, that closet is awesome! I’m so impressed it’s working so well! Go you two and go Clara!
You were not alone Megan…all of my books had the library system in the back of the book! I still have many of those books and recently gave them to my 8 yr old daughter and she had no idea what they were for!
No no you should TOTALLY make library cards. Doooo eeeeet.
Soooo…where can we get one of those panda hats? :)
ps. love the toy library. brilliant!
Gotta go to China for one of those. John’s friend Quan brought it here for Clara (she loves that thing). Although I bet there are some here too (maybe try ebay?).
BRILLIANT. Library cards won’t be too far if you have more kids . . . maybe a little overboard with just Clara around. But if the Petersik clan gets a little bigger, it might be a smart move :-)
Manda Wolf says
Very cool idea. I am glad she likes it. Our coat closet has coats but also the bottom is covered with bowling balls and the top it crammed full with board games and Angry Bird’s Star Wars games!
Looks great! Wish we had one coat closet, two would make me jump for joy. I dread winter for finding a place to put all of our coats…
Lisa @ Charlie The Cavalier says
Love the toy menu! Why did I not think of this. I need an art closet menu. Great for guest and baby sitters too.
Love your art closet idea!!
The librarian in me is saying, “Yes, get library checkout labels!!!” They do sell some really cute ones on Etsy.
No, you totally need to make library cards! September is Library Card Sign-Up Month! See the American Library Association for more details:
I think a toy closet is a great idea!
I would have been tempted to give it a fun color inside, like your front door, or something to harmonize with that color.
I’d love to do that sometime! Maybe when we have some fun colored paint leftover from another project…
I already have this for my 2,5 year old. :-) But in a closet in our study. Works for us.
Just one thing. What do you do with the coats of friends and family when they come to visit? Im totally ok with mixing cleaning supplies with my own coats but I would not put friends coats in there… Will you have some hooks somewhere else?
Most of our actual cleaning supplies are under the sink in the kitchen, so there’s just a vacuum and a swiffer and a broom in the coat closet – but thankfully it’s double deep (so those can be tucked in the back corner and coats can hang on the bar up front).
What a GREAT idea! Wish I had a place for my vacuum cleaner…I’d be shelving up my closet pronto! Oh, wait…I don’t have another spot for coats either. Sigh. I’m so glad Sherry painted the shelf & the baseboard. I was getting a little bit anxious, thinking that you were going to skip that for now!
Vanessa B. says
LOL! I thought the same exact thing! I was glad Sherry painted that too. :)
I think this is great! I have tried and tried to get my 6 year old to only play with one toy at a time and then put it back before playing with another. It’s not easy! Maybe I can do something like this in his playroom closet! Thanks for the idea!!
This is very inspiring, thank you! I’ve been reading Simplicity Parenting, which talks about similar concepts, and am working up the motivation to tackle my son’s toys this weekend. :)
I loved that book! Just finished that about a month ago (I’m begging John to read it next).
Great idea! After working in the two-year-old room of a daycare for six years, I learned that storing the toys in a closet and getting out one at a time was the way to keep the kids happy and the mess to a minimum. Kudos for figuring that out yourself!
Mary VB says
We have the very same set up in our house! We call it the “craft closet”. Our kids are now 10 and 8, and it still works great for storing all their stuff.
Love to hear that!
And now I need an extra closet…
Janelle @ Two Cups of Happy says
I love this idea! I read a book called Simplified Parenting and it talked a lot about “toy overwhelm”. This is a great way to keep her attention focused and bonus — every toy has a home. :)
Yes, I loved that book!
I absolutely LOVE this idea. I have a 2.5 year old and a 1 year old and we have toys everywhere on every surface of the house. It would be amazing to get the toys organized and teach the kids to clean up after themselves also. Thanks for the idea!
Oh I love this. I was a nanny last year, and the family had a version of this – but your system seems to work much better! It makes a lot of sense – I’m a new teacher too, and many classrooms I’ve volunteered with (in the you get grades) rotate things to keep them new/interesting. And as for guests, I’d love to be greated with toys and games! I wouldn’t worry about the placement of the toy library- Do what you can, which what you have, where you are!
Nice “library”! What’s the thingy in the corner above the closet hinge?
That’s just part of our alarm system.
So John worked at the library??? That’s just plain awesome. Love the “toy menu,” and I will definitely have to try this technique at home (but with books – Elsa leaves books EVERYWHERE).
So, I actually get to use my closet as a library, haha:)
Oh yeah! I’m dating a former book-shelving expert. He used to work there in the summer during high school.
This closet idea is so smart and cool! I’ll definitely have to remember this for when I have kids.
This is such a clever idea!
Love it! I needs me one of them!
U guys gave me an idea! Giving up a coat closet is hard…but why not, i agree and say too!
I love this idea- I’m totally stealing it! My 2.5 year old is in the ‘dump and go’ phase with her toys and it is making me CRAZY! I’ve been rotating toys out in boxes in a high closet but she remembers what is up there now and asks for them. Sounds like a toy library is just what we need! Once again thank you for a great idea!
Melissa @ Loving Here says
This idea is awesome! I love the concept and think it’s a brilliant use of space, while an awesome teaching and playing tool. Isn’t making your house (and your closets) work specifically for you the best part of owning a home anyway? Great work!
what kind of hooks are those?
They’re from Home Depot. Just simple ORB ones with one rounded hook.
That looks amazing. I’m really trying to simplify the toys in my house after ready Simplicity Parenting, too! I wondered, do you have more toys available to her in her bedroom/other rooms or is this it in terms of what is out and ready to go?
Oh yes, we have a basket of favorite toys out in her room and the living room (as well as her play kitchen and dollhouse being readily accessible) – so this was just for the extra stuff that seemed to be getting skipped over (dumped and ditched, as I like to call it) and the adult-accompanied activities like painting/play-dog/etc.
betty (the sweaty betty) says
I wish I could have just one entry closet. my only complaint in my new house is that it has ZERO storage. jealous.
Nicely done! I love it when you can think out side the (toy) box and repurpose a space so that it’s actually WAY functional for you and your family. AND, definitely an added bonus that it’s helping teach Clara to keep things neat and tidy! BTW, I used your guys (y’all’s?) tip about the painter’s tape when caulking for nicer caulk lines last night, and it worked like a charm! Thanks for being awesome! :)
So glad it worked!
Anne @ Planting Sequoias says
My mom did this sort of thing with us too! Except she had about 4 giant bins that she’d rotate out monthly. Let me tell you–it was THRILLING when it was time for a “new” box of toys to come out! We would clean up the “old” toys in record time. :)
That’s so fun!
Sarah @ An Inviting Home says
I love this idea – I am inspired to go home and clean out a closet to hide, I mean organize, some toys in!
Very cool. We did the same thing with our 3 year old’s toys, but our doesn’t look half as awesome as yours :) He really enjoys his playtime more now and does not make nearly as much of a mess.
The same concept actually works on dogs, too!
My pup gets three toys at a time and when I realise he gets bored with them, I swap one or two out with the ones in my storage bin (Hello, my name is Andrea and I’m a dog toy hoarder).
There’s one he needs at all times, his “play kitchen
“, “Squeaky” but it’s lovely to see how he gets all excited when new things suddenly!! appear in his toy basket :)
okay no, he gets four at a time ^^
Haha, I love that!
Lisa E says
Maybe I need to do this for our dog, ha! It seems that after a few throws while playing fetch, he gets bored and gets another toy out. At the end of the night, it’s almost a guarantee that he has five toys out, always five.
so interesting! I have a bin for our dog’s toys, but it’s almost always open unless we have company over. She prefers to “kill” her squeeky toys, so I usually throw them out after awhile. She will go pick toys out of the bin though. Maybe I’ll try shutting it when I get home!
Courtney N. says
We did this years ago when we moved into our house. It’s perfect for all of the legos, playmobile, etc. that we’ve acquired with 3 boys. Perfect!
GENIUS. Totes stealing this idea, S+J!
Love this idea! And John you had me laughing throughout the whole post! Our daughter turned three in July and I find she is the same way with toys. We actually went through her toys one day and picked out things we knew she doesn’t play with anymore and then we involved her in it and she picked out a few things she didn’t like, put them in Daddy’s trunk and they drove to the Goodwill together. It was getting to the point where she was just throwing everything on the floor and walking away from it. Now we only have her favorites out, like dinky cars, puzzles, coloring books and mega blocks. She has to ask to paint or use markers. I just wish our house had an extra closet now. Believe it or not but we only have 3!!!
I love this project!!
I am off on Monday (after sending my boys to school, I need a mental health day) and plan on working on the playroom. Great motivation.
Are you going to create a Dewey Decimal System for Clara’s toys?
Haha, I wouldn’t put it past John! He has parts of the DDS memorized!