We have always lived in tiny places.  Before kids, we lived in a 500 sq. ft. apartment in Boulder.  When we moved into our Denver "palace", all 1400 sq. ft. of it seemed HUGE…until we somehow found ourselves sharing the space with two kids.

And their toys.

The system that worked for us was this:


The boy's toys all had to fit on this wall.  We had a few more toys on our Montessori-style shelves in the dining room, and I had a box or two of stuff in our basement storage room…but this was pretty much it. 



Gosh, R loved this little work area.  



And I'm showing this picture only because awwwww…I miss Denver.  But back to my point: Elfa shelving.

As most of you know, two years ago we left our much-loved pad in Denver to move into an even tinier space outside of Philly.  But HORRORS.  MAMA HAD NO CLOSET.  (Nor an office.)

Well, technically I do, but it is much, much smaller than my closet in Denver. 

And, well, we had all of this Elfa shelving….


Look familiar?  Sorry, boys.


And for the last two years, we managed to get by without Elfa shelving in the boy's room.  But I'm not gonna lie:  our toy situation has been getting uglier and uglier. I just went through a huge clean-out and have VOWED!  I HAVE VOWED! to get this crap under control.

So first off, I ordered these:



The Container Store's shoe box (top) and Sweater box (bottom)

The shoe box houses a few sets of Jawbones, assorted playmobile, plastic figurines or a complete set of Jenga perfectly.  The sweater box holds marble runs, Hero Factory guys, dollhouse furniture or Zoob builders.  (We did have to upsize to a boot box for our huge Lego collection, however.)

Once I had everything properly stored into clear containers….I…what?  What now?  Well.  I just stacked the boxes up in a perilously tall column and left them sitting in the corner of the room.  (I know!)

Despite the fact that toy retrieval is now risky (I routinely hear crashes from upstairs followed by, "WE'RE OKAAAAAY" from R)…the boys LOVE it.  They love their toys neatly sorted, and they love the clear boxes.   "Gank you gank you gank you Mom!" was R's response the first time he saw his tower 'o toys.  Since the boys can now see exactly what toys they have…they've been playing with toys previously ignored for over a year.

This has translated into hours (!!!) of independent play.  Seriously.  It's like a whole new dawn over here.

But I need to fix the tower problem, obviously.  NOT a lasting solution.  Since both the shoe and sweater boxes fit perfectly on Elfa shelving…and we know first-hand how flexible this system is….YUP.  That's our plan.   Also, it's the Container Store's annual Elfa shelving sale, so all Elfa components are 25% off.  Which means I can get my entire shelving system (as seen above) for under $300.  (I always design my own online.  Which basically means putting in the measurements, then calling and having them finish it for me.)

Need more inspiration?  Here are a few more kid spaces featuring Elfa shelving:



You can buy these systems here.


I have a lot more work to do to get back in my old Montessori-inspired, toy rotation groove…but it's worth it.  And despite the fact that I keep thinking "it's just a rental, who cares?"…the reality is that our home, rental or no, should feel like our home.    


Awwwwww.  Missing you, Denver.





  1. I’m about to move me plus two kids from a 900′ apartment into a 700′ apartment, and I have really been needing small-room-storage-and-decor inspiration, this is so timely! If anyone else has good pictures or links for similar, please, let me know…

  2. This is great! I’m in 900 sq. ft. rental in Denver. I have to remind myself that it is our home and worth making it work. I thought I was so clever to get those Ikea cube shelves with baskets for the toys in the living room. Too bad the toys are often out of sight out of mind for my little one. (And of course she started hoarding her toys once baby came along, but that’s another story). Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. It misses you too Shana, you started some great things in this city and so many people are so thankful for YOU. I have faith you’ll be back and when you do you’ll be stronger than ever. Don’t give up and come back to the mile high blue skies soon, xoxo.

  4. I had to laugh because the whole time I’ve been reading your blog I’ve never seen you post photos of your home. It occured to me that I guess I thought you just lived on the streets of Philly.

  5. What great inspiration! We moved recently (we’re also small-space people!) and I’ve been wrestling with a built-in in my twins’ room. I think those shoe boxes might spoof an Elfa setup rather nicely. Thanks!

  6. I love that the kids can see their toys in the clear containers. Why that never dawned on me I’ll never know. I’ve been using the Expedit shelves and fabric bins from Ikea and the opacity issue is a constant. I’m switching to clear this weekend after a BIG clean out. Thanks for the inspriation!

  7. I love this post! I have been wanting to make an “art studio” type space for my boys. We have NO room, no room at all so I need to do something creative. They are young so I don’t really want everything accessible either. I like the idea of these shelves with desks on the bottom. But oh how I wish I could just build a studio space onto our house to go crazy in, we’d clean it every once in a while but for the most part just leave the paint splatters to mark our creative history over the years! I’m excited.
    I devoured that Childhood 101 site as well as so many other links from there. I’m getting her Time To Create book. All these posts have been so perfect for what my mind has been chewing on lately and how random that it’s coming from my daily style blog reads! Thanks S, as usual, you rock!

  8. Completely unrelated to storage issues….
    I love that blue-green paint color with the wood trim! I bought a house with unpainted wood trim and chose a similar hue for the main family room/dining area. Seeing it again here just reminded me how much I love that combination!

  9. We LOVE the Container Store clear shoeboxes. As a project a couple of months ago, my 5 year old and I printed out pictures of the items in each box (monster trucks, Hotwheels cars, Star Wars action figures, etc) that we found online, cut them out, and taped them on each box. He loves it and keeps things much more organized. We even went crazy and made a box for each color Lego (we have A LOT of Legos). It actually makes it much easier to build things and we don’t get the huge pile of Legos on the floor each night. We store all the boxes in the Expedit bookshelf from Ikea.

  10. UGH I KNOW. But in terms of your question…I *believe* so. Some of their ready-made designs are bookshelves….but call. They are insanely helpful and knowledgable.

  11. I agree! The blue-green is my favorite color. My new place has wood floors and trim but boring beige walls and of course I can’t paint… So I’m trying to figure out how to get color in there!

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