As I gingerly step across the minefield in our daughter’s bedroom I wonder why I ever decided to move all of the kids’ toys into their respective bedrooms.

Then I remember that all of these toys could be strewn across the first floor of our house.

Yeah, I think I can live with my daughter’s mess, as long as I don’t have to look at it.

It was one of the things I wanted in our new house, and it was one of the things I had to do without: a designated playroom. Our last house had at least 1000 more square feet than our new house and our family room was large enough for a TV viewing area and a play area. Nearly all of our kids’ toys had a home away from their bedrooms.While that made it much easier to clean their bedrooms, our family room was always another story.

When we moved into our last house, our daughter was one and we were a year from another baby. We were moving from a house that was a third the size of our new home. Not only did we have plenty of room to spread out, we took full advantage of it. Large toys such as a play tunnel, musical instruments, big blocks, and large wheeled toys weren’t a big deal. For five years, that was our norm. Not only was that our norm, but we comfortably expanded into that space. The biggest problem? The large room wasn’t just a space for our children, it was a space for the whole family. It was the space that we occupied when we wanted to watch movies or play video games. When we had people over, it was our nicest finished space, so we had to make sure that ALL of the toys were put into their designated spaces and pray that they fit.

I’ll fully admit that I am far from the world’s best housekeeper. My mom once suggested that I look into paying for a cleaning lady to come clean our house once a month since I clearly didn’t have time to do so as a full-time wife, mom, and teacher. Besides being unable to afford the luxury, I couldn’t imagine having someone else come in and clean around our mess, especially since we would still have to pick up the floors and clean off surfaces. I also have a SLIGHT problem with paper piles. Add all of that to a family room full of toys big and small and you have a huge, stressful mess when company is coming. Not only that, but we were also living in that huge, stressful, and sometimes painful mess.

The toys were out of control. The mess was out of control. The stuff was out of control. Something needed to change but I had no idea what or how.

Then we moved halfway across the country.

We looked at several houses, some that had a room or loft that could easily be a designated play space. I wanted it for now and for when our kids got older so they would have a place to hang out with their friends. But as we continued to look at houses it became clear that the play space was going to the bottom of the “must have” list. And the house we bought had everything we wanted EXCEPT a playroom or loft.

We moved into our new house and put a new rule into place: toys stay in bedrooms. There were no exceptions.

I was nervous. After all, the kids had a lot of toys and we had to figure out how to get them to fit neatly into their rooms. But we did it and every toy has a place, even if their rooms usually look messier than this.

It’s not a perfect system. Honestly, I try to stay out of their rooms just because I can’t handle the acrobatics necessary to cross from my daughter’s bedroom door to her bed. But it also means that the mess is in their bedrooms. And while the rest of our house still needs a lot of work, it is not nearly as overwhelming as it was two years ago. It has also forced us to help our kids manage their toy collection, as they need to fit their toys into their bedrooms; they know the rule is that they have to find a home for the toy or get rid of it. They aren’t always ready to purge when necessary, but it is certainly easier to motivate them when it is their own space and not the space occupied by the entire family.

I know that the decision to get rid of the playroom means tolerating more concentrated messes, but the payoff in our family comfort has been significant.

Now, if I could just figure out how to break that 30+ year paper habit.

Thoughtful and nuanced responses welcome!