Review: Ultimate Kid-Stuff Storage Solution [photos galore]

Say hello to the Wall of Awesome. It’s in our living room, filled with kid’s stuff, future kid’s stuff and parent stuff. My wife calls it a Steadfast Storage System. Yeah, kind of nerdy. Wall of Awesome it is.

Photo of three bookshelves in my living room. The first two are massive, together 7 feet tall and 8 feet wide. The second is toddler-sized. They are filled with books and boxed games.

Those floral curtains on the left are not so awesome. They came with the place.

We struggled for four years with toddler toy storage, using a mishmash of child-size shelving in our daughter’s room. I hated the idea of buying pastel or primary color shelves that would surely be replaced with “normal” furniture when she grew a little older.

Why not buy tall, durable solid wood shelving with a normal wood stain that will last from birth to college? Just put toddler stuff on the lower shelves, and secure the bookcases to wall studs using steel cables so they can’t be tipped (sold as earthquake safety gear here in California).

Then I came across an idea on and adapted it… a toy library, except ours is for books and boxed games.

The idea is, when you take an item from its storage space, you are responsible for returning it before taking another item. Our exception will be bedtime books, with two checked out each evening. When our boy is old enough, he’ll be able to check out items too, a sort of forced sharing situation with his big sister. Granted, 4 years difference doesn’t create much overlap, but kids can be possessive.

We bought two oak bookcases for a combined 7-foot-tall 8-foot-wide presence in our living room (from a local oak furniture store).

The three lowest rows of shelves are filled with our daughter’s items: books, puzzles and boxed games. The upper shelves contain materials we kept in two closets — older-kid and adult (complex) board games, cookbooks, craft books and “chapter books” that we read our daughter.

Next to the Wall of Awesome is our daughter’s old IKEA wall shelf-turned-floor-bookshelf, filled with our baby boy’s future board books and knob puzzles. A shape sorter and similar toys will reside in his own room.

Our daughter’s room still has her kid-sized shelving, now a bit more barren, reserved for true toys — her doll house, Woodkins dress-up dolls, K’Nex, doctor kit, dress-up clothes, a fix-it toolbox, tracing books, and so forth. One of the shelves has become a cabinet for her play kitchen.

The long-term scheme for the Wall of Awesome is for it to be overtaken by games, a family center of shared fun. My hope is we will need to buy a third giant shelf to fit our books.

The fact that the Wall of Awesome is located in our living room, rather than our kid’s room or a closet is, for me, a badge of honor. It’s a philosophical statement. These are the things we value: family time, education, play.

For your edification, or my ego, linked below are photos of each shelf hosted on Flickr. See something interesting? Ask me about it.

Jump into a specific zoomed view. These rows are from lower right-to-left.

  1. Row 1A: Children’s books
  2. Row 1B: Winnie the Pooh books
  3. Row 1C: Children’s books and jigsaw books
  4. Row 1D: Children’s books and pop-up books
  5. Row 2A: Paperback children’s books (unreadable except to sharp eyes)
  6. Row 2B: Learn-to-read and educational stuff, mostly
  7. Row 2C: Floor puzzles
  8. Row 2D: Puzzles
  9. Row 3A: Boxed toddler games
  10. Row 3B: Boxed toddler games
  11. Row 3C: Boxed toddler games
  12. Row 3D: Boxed toddler games
  13. Row 4A: Library (and borrowed-from-friends) book return shelf (keep these separate!)
  14. Row 4B: Cookbooks (used to be vegetarians)
  15. Row 4C: Carcassonne (great older-kid game)
  16. Row 4D: Older age games
  17. Row 5A: Parenting books
  18. Row 5B: Cookbooks
  19. Row 5C: Older age games
  20. Row 5D: Older age games
  21. Row 6A: Craft books and kid’s activities
  22. Row 6B: Older age games
  23. Row 6C: Classic board games
  24. Row 6D: Smaller older age games
  25. Row 7A: Poetry, nursery rhymes and older age books
  26. Row 7B: Chapter books for reading to kids (lots from a library book sale)
  27. Row 7C: More classic board games
  28. Row 7D: Big older age games
  29. Row 8A: Cyberman and Zeebot helmets (more about Cybermen and Zeebot)
  30. Row 8B: More older age games
  31. Row 8C: Busy Beetles

These rows are from bottom left-to-right.

  1. Baby Shelf bottom: Baby puzzles
  2. Baby Shelf Row 2A: Board books
  3. Baby Shelf Row 2B: Board books
  4. Baby Shelf Row 3A: Board books
  5. Baby Shelf Row 3B: Board books

If our collection of books and games seems extensive or excessive, know that much if it is purchased at garage sales. The Wall of Awesome was four years in the making. When you begin attending sales religiously on Saturdays, you can pick only top quality stuff in great condition, sometimes never used. It amazes me how many great books and games were presumably given to people as gifts and never opened or played, yet they have large collections of well-used junk I wouldn’t want for free in mint condition. Their parenting philosophy differences are my gain.


19 Responses to “Review: Ultimate Kid-Stuff Storage Solution [photos galore]”

  1. Erica says:

    I’m an avid reader, so I love seeing all the books. But can I tell you how excited I am to see all of the games? Oh, how I wished I still lived in California so our families could play together. My box of Mille Bornes is taped up and old, too. And might I suggest the Cities and Knights expansion for Settlers of Catan? My hubby and I love it to pieces. I know, I probably sound like quite the nerd, but we love playing games together, and I think it’s better than plunking in front of the tv for several mindless hours. Anyway, nice shelves!

    May 21st, 2008 at 9:40 am

  2. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    It is SO good to see someone else with books in their living rooms. I’d begun doubting our large book collection because everyone’s house I go to, I can find barely a book at all out in public areas so I was wondering if I was making our house junky, but I also couldn’t figure out where else to put them!

    May 21st, 2008 at 9:40 am

  3. Christy says:

    Oh I love it. We are about to move in to a new home and I’ve been looking forward to creating a family play room instead of just a kids play room. I’m off to see what kinds of bookshelves I can find!

    May 21st, 2008 at 10:46 am

  4. Jen says:

    Just moved and just had another kid… and in turn, with the transitioning of rooms and unpacking of toys, we’ve been searching for a storage solution. So simple! Yet, did I think of it? Nope. Onward to our local oak store!

    May 21st, 2008 at 12:23 pm

  5. JMo says:

    I like the shelves and have considered something similar for our house when LO gets a bit older … and hubby gets a bit handier (so bolting those to the wall won’t be such an ordeal). I especially like this for games.

    Books are no longer an issue for the adults at our house – we kept a handful of our favorites (and the HP series) and donated the rest. If we want a new book, it’s off the library to purchase a used one for $.25 or off to the computer to get on the waiting list. However, we will continue to buy books for the LO until he stops snacking on them between meals. Then he’ll be a library borrower too.

    I love this as a focal point of the room instead of a TV and a Wii.

    May 21st, 2008 at 12:49 pm

  6. Piseco says:

    Love it! It looks very much like our house, only neater and brighter. :) We have a “basement of awesome” – we built shelves to go all around the walls in half of our basement, and that’s where we store most of our game collection – except the heavy-rotation ones that stay in the living room. The kids’ current favorites and ours.

    We probably have about half your titles in common – the boxes looked happily familiar. We get the comments too – about money spent on “all those games” but 80% are from garage sales too. My husband knows “if it’s Ravensburger, buy it!” which occasionally results in duplicates but mostly just new-to-us game happiness.

    Obviously you like the Carcasonne expansions. We’ve only had the first set for years as we weren’t as big on the tile laying games. Recently we started playing Alhambra and now we’re revisiting Carcasonne too. Can you recommend the expansion you’d buy first?

    May 21st, 2008 at 4:03 pm

  7. PsychMamma says:

    Love this post! I just recently decided to clear 2 bookshelves to set up in our living room for similar use. We put baskets on the bottom shelves to unobtrusively hide small toys but keep them accessible for our 2 y/o. We put books for her on the next shelves up (within her reach) and have yet to fill the upper shelves (3 more on each unit). Your post gave me inspiration to move puzzles, craft supplies and games to this area as well. You also got me interested in Carcasonne, which I had never heard of. We love “Settlers” and I’m excited to try Carcasonne. It’s going on my wish list right now.

    May 21st, 2008 at 7:22 pm

  8. AJ says:

    Erica, I don’t mean to start a war, but I’m not a big fan of Settlers of Catan. I understand it’s the world’s most popular game, so I have to have it to keep up appearances and play when friends request it, but what’s the appeal? Maybe I do need an expansion set to spice it up a little.

    MBR, I grew up with book shelves in the living room (though they had my parent’s books), so the idea never seemed strange to me.

    Christy, yep, a family play room. The unifying aspect of the games on our shelves is that most require two or more people to play. I remember too many fights with my brothers, with whomever “owned” a board game storming off with the promise that no one was allowed to play.

    JMo, there isn’t a focal point in our (large) living room, just three distinct areas — bookshelf and table (I moved the table for the photo), TV and couch (on opposing walls) and my work area. The TV is off during the day, so my daughter sees the couch as a place to read books. We could use a rug and beanbag chair in front of the bookshelves though.

    Piseco, for Carcasonne, I suggest (in order) the River expansion (if it’s not included in your basic game), and… River 2, Inns & Cathedrals, and The Princess & The Dragon. These give you a large set of tiles and good game variation. Any more expansions and the game is too complex and too long. River 2 is just river tiles, so buy a second expansion set.

    The dragon is a fun element, moving randomly around the board, then striking with each player having input into the dragon’s path as he eats meeples.

    May 21st, 2008 at 7:39 pm

  9. Jamie says:

    The library concept is a great idea! And I love the contents – much of it is very familiar.

    My husband and I both puzzled over the “string of ping pong balls” to the right of the Wall of Awesome, though. What is that, please?

    May 21st, 2008 at 10:22 pm

  10. foolery says:

    Hi AJ,

    LOVE those shelves. I think the “bolting to the wall” activity would nix the whole project for us, however — being nearly helpless and living in a plaster-walled nightmare — but I know who to call. I hate toys stored in the living room, but I love books and games there, and I could fill those shelves in five minutes.


    – Laurie @ Foolery

    May 21st, 2008 at 10:22 pm

  11. AJ says:

    Jamie, those ping pong balls comprise my toddler-friendly Festivus pole. It might (fingers crossed) be featured in an upcoming revision of one of the two popular Festivus books in print.

    Laurie, so do you have any bookshelves?

    May 21st, 2008 at 11:13 pm

  12. Piseco says:

    Thanks for the Carcasonne suggestions, AJ. They come at a good time since we’re traveling for the long weekend to an area with actual brick & mortar game stores… a big treat for us.

    May 22nd, 2008 at 10:22 am

  13. Serena says:

    we have a similar wall in our living room – three Billy bookcases from IKEA with the height extensions – the difference is we put doors on the bottom half – so this way the toys are behind closed doors and look a little bit neater (we have less than 900 sq ft and two kids, so every little bit of neatness helps!)

    also, add us to the game playing set – we have carcasonne on our shelves too!

    May 22nd, 2008 at 10:30 am

  14. foolery says:

    Hi again, AJ — To answer your question, our two bookshelves are in the girls’ bedroom, filled to overflowing with books and puzzles. I’m ready for a big girl purchase of some real furniture bookshelves, but probably next year, since our car is drinking all of our discretionary income.

    May 22nd, 2008 at 1:23 pm

  15. pekmez says:

    yay, I love that you have an entire shelf devoted to Carcassone =)

    We have storage in various places in the house so no giant wall of awesomeness, and we kind of like tying in the brightly colored kids toys with some brightly colored storage bins and boxes, but most of our toys and games are also located on real furniture, supplemented with some cloth and plastic bins that fit just fine on regular bookshelves.

    May 22nd, 2008 at 1:42 pm

  16. hedra says:

    Glad you liked the toy library idea. :)

    Even having put a lot into the library, we’ve also got books in almost every room of the house, mainly separated by functions of the spaces (reference together, current favorites or ‘plan to read next’ items in the bedrooms, etc.).

    We added a ‘peace corner’ to the living room, which is a small area walled off by sturdy book shelves (full of their favorite books), and floored with some of those big Costco dog beds (great for flopping on by people smaller than 5′ tall). It’s kind of a ‘Corner of Awesome’. Kids love to have a place just their size to curl up and look at books. (Only two of the four are really reading yet. But they all have crazy passions for books.) We have plaster board (not gypsum) over lathe, so anchors are tricky to figure out, but they are still doable (and done).

    I like how you integrated the entire family philosophy into the Wall of Awesome. It’s a powerful message.

    May 22nd, 2008 at 2:01 pm

  17. jdp says:

    I see Balloon Lagoon! Our absolute fave game.

    What a great idea! Our entire house is this way – with only 1 kid! Why shouldn’t he be comfy in any space – and we don’t live designer lives.

    I can’t wait to see if my new place has a good wall for this :)

    May 22nd, 2008 at 2:04 pm

  18. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    FINALLY my son is starting to get interested in books (14 month)

    I have books set up like this, but he just pulls the whole shelf off. I put a bunch haphazardly in a box, and set the box on the shelf — doesn’t hold as much, nor is it as easy to find a book. But it slows down the chaos, and that means instead of just pushing the books over, makes a mess, he actually looks at the cover and starts flipping through some,

    did you find a better solution to this?

    October 15th, 2008 at 7:32 pm

  19. AJ says:

    MBR, my daughter wasn’t chaotic. Not a climber. Not a pusher. The few times she threw things, we acted very serious and curtailed the behavior.

    But, we did have a different shelf at the time, a sling shelf. You have to take each book out one-at-a-time.

    So, in light of your issues, maybe a sling shelf is a better solution even though it doesn’t hold as many books as a traditional shelf. Store any overflow out-of-reach and swap out books once in a while.

    Never let misbehavior fly. Not that a toddler understands much at 14 months, but he understands disapproval, knows when Mom is sad or upset and notices that Mom immediately puts the books back on the shelf. I’d wait until they’re all on the ground, then have him help you put them back, or put them back on a higher shelf he cannot reach, then return them lower again overnight.

    October 15th, 2008 at 8:09 pm

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