Restoring order to chaos: Art supply organization ideas for parents

I always thought of myself as an organized person. That is, until I had a child. Then, all my notions of order were thrown out the window.

As you are well aware, kids come with…stuff. Clothes, “treasures”, toys, sippy cups, stuffed animals, mismatched socks…the list goes on. And on.

Admittedly, this is a first world problem. Where do we put it all? How do we periodically sort through it? Do we do so with or without our children?

One project I have had on my list for ages is to go through our art supplies. If you are anything like me, you are an art supply hoarder. Do pipe cleaners beckon you from the Target $1 bins? Do you find it hard to pass up sales on glue and colored pencils come back to school shopping time? Do you find yourself rescuing restaurant crayons from the trash bin, only to have them melt in your car during the summer?

When I brought this up with my friends who also have kids, I realized this is a common parenting conundrum. I heard stories of multiple art stations, scattered throughout the house. Paintbrushes poking out of overstuffed drawers. Abandoned projects littering the house.

In a quest to bring order into chaos, I contacted Amy Brady, owner of The Clutter Consultants, to give me some expert advice. She recommended putting supplies in Sterilite 3-drawer countertop drawers, which you can find at Target, Walmart and craft stores and labeling each drawer with a Brother label maker, so kids know exactly where to look and, perhaps more importantly, where to return items. Amy also recommended this tutorial on how to make photo labels for pre-readers. The benefits of using these drawers, according to Amy, are that:

  • Since the drawers are clear, kids can quickly and easily see what’s inside
  • Drawers can be removed and taken to a child’s workspace
  • Supplies are contained
  • There is a finite space to store supplies (discouraging you from buying and buying supplies)
  • Supplies are accessible
  • It’s easy to clean up after a project

Amy added that larger 3-drawer systems on wheels (which I have noticed at Costco and of course are sold at Target and other stores) can be great to store coloring books, workbooks and paper. Amy has also used desktop paper sorters/stacking inboxes and fishing tackle boxes for art supplies.

I also reached out to friends to see how they managed the tide of art supplies. Here are some of their ideas:

  • Attach a metal bar from Ikea and hang plastic cups containing markers, pencils, scissors, glue sticks and other supplies in them (as a bonus, depending on how many cups/bars you need, this could be under $10).
  • Small plastic storage cases for scrapbook paper work well for storing paper, magazine pages, markers, stencils, stickers, watercolors and can be easy to take on the go.
  • A crayon telescoping tower can hold crayons and pencils on a desk.
  • Hanging metal wall files can hold paper, coloring books and homework. Some can be written on with a dry erase marker and can use magnets.
  • Clear plastic shoe boxes or pencil cases can also hold supplies and are portable in case your arts and craft areas aren’t in one location in the house.
  • A low, wide 2-shelf bookcase, wire shelves baker’s rack with baskets or plastic containers.
  • A “basics” box with the most-used supplies which is stored in a most-accessible location.

To procrastinate further round out my research, I looked to Pinterest for some inspiration and it did not disappoint, although of course it set the bar quite high. I liked this setup for younger kids, this desk area if you have a lot of space, this list of possible upcycling supplies to keep, the use of shoe organizers if you have a door to hang things on, these ideas to keep lots of supplies on hand, another use of Ikea products to keep things in order and these ideas to use different containers to store all your stuff.

Armed with all this research, I had no choice but to actually start the project. First, I enlisted the resident 6-year-old to do what he does best: dump everything out on the floor. We sorted everything into piles and put some supplies into Ziploc bags as a starting point. About 30 minutes in, when it looks worse rather than better, my son abandoned the project, which was probably for the best, so I could do some more purging. Several trash cans, trips to the recycling bin and bags for friends and charity later, I had a much more manageable set of supplies.

I loaded these into containers that I already had (some of which were not the right size or were cluttering up my son’s tiny desktop that we need to upgrade in the fall) and allowed myself a few “extras” that were really my supplies to begin with into a closet drawer that I freed up from purging. Then I loaded it all into a nice Ikea rolling drawer setup that I had purchased months ago which doubles as a printer table. I should mention that my son quickly had appropriated all the drawers for himself (well, except for one for “Parrit Suplz” — “Parent Supplies”) as soon as it was set up, but now we can go through and create new labels so he knows where everything is.

I still need to find a few more clear plastic containers that fit into the drawers, but I am already feeling relieved to have finally tackled this project — and I know the worst is behind me. I’m cautiously optimistic that this setup allows my son to more easily access, use and clean up his supplies. Since it’s right next to his workspace, he can either take a container out of the drawer or just take whatever item he needs. I also like knowing the limitations I have on supplies, so I won’t overbuy, no matter how tempting. Now that I have addressed his supplies, I can start thinking about my own!

“Stickr” drawer – before

“Stickr” drawer – after!

Summer, I’m (slowly, but surely) getting ready for you!

Have you conquered your (art supply) clutter? How do you keep your supplies in one place?

Written by: Nicole Basham

The first three images are courtesy of Amy Brady of The Clutter Consultants.

About Nicole Basham 793 Articles
A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 10-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau's words, her mission is to "suck out all the marrow of life", or in her son's words, to cultivate in him a love of "advenchers".

3 Comments on Restoring order to chaos: Art supply organization ideas for parents

  1. I have to do this twice a year because of the chaos from the three putting things in wrong place. Thanks for reminder!

  2. OMG I am such a terrible craft supply hoarder.

    I can keep my own stuff organized, but not the stuff for my daughter. 1) There’s too much. 2) Even if I buy an organizer, the stuff never fits well, or possibly even at all. All of the drawers, IKEA tubs, etc are overflowing. 3) Even if it was all sorted, she is bad about fixing it and I’m too busy to fix it for her all the time.

    I think my best solution is the Clean Craft Fairy, and as soon as I have time to knit a net and snag one, life will be awesome.

  3. Thanks, Nicole! This is one of our planned days for the summer: clean out craft cabinet. Now I have a blueprint for doing it!

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