Most people experience a honeymoon period with their new homes. They savour the sheer sense of space that they’ve found and luxuriate in the fact that after all the hard work they’ve got it looking exactly as they want it. Bliss.
This feeling tends to last as long as it takes to have their first child. Small bundles of joy that come accompanied by a small van load of paraphernalia. It seems the smaller they are the larger their accessories. Huge prams, oversized packs of nappies, stacks of toiletries to cope with all eventualities, and in due course toys: big, brash, noisy toys. The bigger the babies grow the smaller the toys become but they come in ever increasing number of bits that lay scattered across floors, ready to ambush the unwitting intruder. The invasion has happened; by the time number two has arrived they suddenly realise their dream home has shrunk by 50% and they feel that it’s time to move.
Suzanne Aldridge of DesRes London is usually approached by clients who are looking to move (usually somewhere bigger) and looking for advice as to how best present their current properties for sale. ‘Families tend to run out of space very quickly once the toys have taken over. But whether you’re looking to sell or wanting to maximise the space in your home the principles are the same.’
By striking back on behalf of the dispossessed parents, Suzanne is helping parents in reclaiming their homes and enjoying their evenings spent in a grown up room free from toys and clutter. ‘The sense of well-being is tangible – a calm environment and a chance to appreciate a beautiful room you worked so hard to achieve. There’s no need to sacrifice your home in bringing up children.
‘When looking to sell your home you do have to go the extra mile. In a romantic world babies are seen as soft, cute and smelling of talc. When you’re selling your family home to an, as yet, child-free couple you have to present that very image but you also have to reassure them that children won’t take over their whole existence. If you’re selling to a young family you have to convince them that their life in your property can be that idyllic. Therefore prospective buyers don’t want to smell dirty nappies, see sinisterly stained carpets or food encrusted highchairs. Cleanliness is paramount. The master bedroom must remain a sanctuary, free from baby accoutrements and unless your baby is very new and still in a Moses basket, I’d recommend you keep the cot in the nursery. You may be proud of the new Bugaboo stroller but for goodness sake fold it away when you’re expecting viewers, you don’t want them tripping over it and countless pairs of wellies and shoes in the hall – keep access clear. Neither do buyers want to be swamped by toys.
‘We all began furnishing the nursery with joyous enthusiasm, but the novelty can soon wear off if the nursery spreads and annexes the rest of the home. The trick is to contain it and create distinct adult zones. Give yourself plenty of storage space by first making the most of you existing cupboards. Decide if the stuff in the cupboards, or chests earns the space it’s taking up. Ask yourself if you use this item regularly, if it’s a toy, are the children still playing with it or is it one that they’ve out-grown. Decide to throw it out or donate it but if you want to hold on to it for a younger sibling, store it away in the loft or garage until you need it. If you’re planning on moving now would be good time to start packing extras away and putting them into storage where the bigger house will be more able to accommodate them.
‘You may discover that you simply don’t have enough storage space for all the stuff your family is currently using or playing with. Look around your property for secret corners and wasted space and have storage built in – alcoves, under the stairs, window seats with hidden storage underneath, floor to ceiling cupboards. I always recommend putting doors on these storage areas. It keeps the dust off but more importantly it shuts the clutter out of sight. It doesn’t matter that the toys are piled higgledy-piggledy because behind a closed door you can’t tell, if it were in an exposed toy bin you could.
‘This is especially true of rooms that serve a dual purpose, like dining rooms or conservatories that double up as playrooms. Open shelving should display things of beauty; whereas a cupboard shuts the clutter out and provides a blank canvas for the adult function it needs to play later. It is essential that if you have viewers coming round that you present these rooms as adult rooms with proper dining or conservatory furniture’.
Once you’ve got your storage in place the next step in the process of space liberation is implementing a maintenance routine. Here are Suzanne’s tips for achieving this:
Toys Away By Bedtime Rule. ‘I accept absolutely that children have to play but there is no reason why their toys have outstay the child’s bedtime. Schedule in time before bath or story time to put the toys away together with your child. Make a game of it: time them, or count the number of different toys they can find and tidy away. If you get into a regular routine they’ll learn to do it automatically.’
The Black Bag Routine: ‘I have a friend who never shouts, threatens nor does she live in her children’s clutter. The black bag does it for her. She gives her children a five-minute warning that it’s time to tidy up before the black bin liner appears to gobble up everything that’s been left behind. Although it was hard to throw perfectly good toys away she knew that it was necessary to go through with the threat; tellingly, the black bin liner has ever had only one meal.’
One In One Out Method: ‘encourage your children to tidy a toy away before bringing out another one. This is a good one for young children whose play is being supervised by an adult.
Broken Toy Rule: ‘I have a drawer full of broken toys and good intentions that one day somehow I’ll get around to fixing them, but I never do. So now I’ve given myself a deadline of six weeks. If it’s not mended by then it’s probably because I’m not being nagged to fix it, which means that the children aren’t missing it. I’m then guilt-free about throwing it out. Your lead-time may be longer or shorter depending on how much broken storage space you’ve got available!’
Beware other clutter culprits like the ever increasing display of your darlings’ artwork taking over the available wall space ‘Children and parents are understandably proud of their children’s efforts but viewers less so and it can become a little overwhelming. I tend to put drawings and paintings in scrapbooks. They’ve got around several volumes each but I’ve made provision for them and they are neatly stowed away in a cupboard. We take them out regularly to admire their handiwork so they are just as appreciated as if they’d had them up on the wall yellowing and dog-eared.’
Watch out for the impromptu height chart that pops up spontaneously on an unsuspecting wall or doorjamb – transfer the details in to their baby books for a permanent record. Baby books and general photo albums are good repositories for all those photographs gathering dust on the pin board or the fridge. A handful of tasteful framed photographs is much more effective than the gallery of snapshots that deter would be buyers from imagining themselves living in this property.
You have a plan of attack; a way through the sea of toys and clutter so whether you’re doing it for you or for the viewers the net result is the same you’ll end up regaining your grown up spaces. The question remains are you ready to hold back the invasion?
Suzanne Aldridge from DesResLondon
Tel 07775 872142