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5 Tips For Organizing Kids’ Stuff in a Japanese Apartment

A Place for Everything?

By Elizabeth Sok
May 13, 2022
Families

When tidying up feels more miserable than magical, consider making a change to your home organization.

Let’s face it— Japan’s living spaces are, in a word, compact. And with children, the amount of things that you accumulate somehow seems to exponentially increase. While organizing can feel like an exercise in futility, I promise that there are ways of arranging your apartment that can bring sanity and style to your family home. Remember: what we lose in space, we make up for with Daiso!

Organizing Kids’ Stuff in a Japanese Apartment© Photo by Elizabeth Sok

Liking both “things” and a chic interior are two conflicting interests, especially when there are small beings involved. When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I somehow thought that having another baby would not mean that our house would overflow with kid “stuff.” To this effect, I bought one soft bin for the baby’s toys and assumed that I could stash it in the closet when she wasn’t using it. 

Of course, not only does she always want that bin, but she delights in using (and moving) all of her older sister’s toys as well, from the cooking set vegetables and magnet blocks to the art supplies and stuffed animals. And I continue to be drawn to other things to add to the mix for both of them, whether it’s a new chewable toy for a baby whose gums seem sore or a different type of marker for my budding artist. So, when I go to tidy, there are always blocks in the stuffy bin, rattles on the art cart and toy pots and pans lovingly packed with wooden “food” in our real refrigerator. 

I promise that there are ways of arranging your apartment that can bring sanity and style to your family home.

Frustrated with the chaos, I turned to Pinterest (as one does) in search of solutions. But, the most effective and stylish systems that I saw were for people with large houses in the North American suburbs. Tips about keeping children’s toys in their own playroom (with built-in shelving!) or out of adult spaces like the office or living room, just didn’t fit with the reality of my Japanese apartment where my daughters and I share a room and the LDK is home to their toys and books. 

Does this all sound familiar? Read on for five tips to help you get you and your little ones organized in your Japanese home:

1. Reduce the clutter

Organizing Kids’ Stuff in a Japanese Apartment© Photo by Elizabeth Sok

My shopaholic self hates to hear it, but the number one way of having a streamlined space for the whole family is to limit what comes in. To this effect, culling or rotating toys is essential. To start small, try removing old dollar store figurines that haven’t gotten air time in a while. And if you have a kid who is really attached to toys, rotating can be a good strategy if you have a little extra space. Just gather up the play stuff that hasn’t been used recently and hide it in the closet. When you allow it to re-emerge months later, another piece of the clutter can take its place in hiding. We sometimes also use rotating toys as a test to see if they will be missed before purging them for real. 

2. Make your storage kid friendly 

Organizing Kids’ Stuff in a Japanese Apartment© Photo by Elizabeth Sok

It is also important to use storage that is open and easy to access for young kids; they can’t put away things properly if the storage is inaccessible or the system is too complicated. This differs depending on their ages, of course. For my preschooler, all of the toys are in open and accessible bins and separated loosely. In other words, all the doll stuff in one, clay in another, paints in another, etc. Although I would love to have the books in alphabetical order as I used to, now, I’m happy if the study books are separate from picture books! Since the baby is in an adorable phase of taking books off of the shelf, however, even that has been hard recently. 

3. Use movable storage

Organizing Kids’ Stuff in a Japanese Apartment© Photo by Elizabeth Sok

 So, without the shiny built-in shelving units or walk-in closets that I saw as examples, where else can we put our kids’ stuff? A surprising solution I found is carts. Indeed, kitchen wagon/carts that can move from room to room can work great as storage. By getting some of the toys/art supplies/books on a moving rack that can follow kids from room to room, you declutter the larger units like bookshelves or toy bins/displays. They are also comparatively cheap and can be found in a range of fun colors to add to your home decor. But, if you have a baby or toddler, make sure that the wheels lock on your wagon so that they can’t take it for a joyride when you’re not watching! 

4. Organize with boxes and bins

Organizing Kids’ Stuff in a Japanese Apartment© Photo by Elizabeth Sok

A trend that I have noticed in the tidiest of houses is an abundance of small storage boxes and bins. Easily customizable to your style (wooden; wire/metallic; colorful; clean white, etc.), these little and mid-size containers do part of the work for you, namely, by keeping different items in their own separate places and hide your mess! Although this project is not complete in our home yet, we have been on a mission to organize via a variety of small baskets while trying to be purposeful about it. Kids’ seasonal and nice but too small clothes are folded into cloth colorful bins atop the girls’ closet while coloring implements of varying styles sit on a cart in rectangular bins. And, of course, small storage can keep too tiny toys and tools away from curious fingers and mouths which is why the beads, for example, are carefully stored in a sealed plastic divider case. 

5. Never underestimate the ¥100 store

Organizing Kids’ Stuff in a Japanese Apartment© Photo by Elizabeth Sok

While fancy storage systems and separate playrooms certainly have their place, Japan’s ¥100 shops mean that having the organized home of your dreams is never far away. It also means, incidentally, that more cheap toys to overrun said home are also never far away, but that’s another story…The point is: for small and mid-sized storage, the dollar shop really is your best bet. Yes, you could get a slightly nicer-looking basket at Nitori. But, if you realize that you need four of the same to hold all of the markers (true story) or that, in fact, this shape container won’t work for the plastic Princess accessories (also true), the hyakkin (dollar store) has your back for a fraction of the price of anywhere else. 

Whether you are drowning in a sea of Lego, or just looking to keep the art supplies in order, hopefully, the above tips can help you reclaim and enjoy your space!