Photo: Kristin Van de Water

“Where can I put this, so nobody gets it?” my daughter asked, holding the half-finished art project she was working on as I pushed three kids and my husband out the door for 8 a.m. school drop-off.

“In your drawer,” I suggested, knowing my two-year-old wouldn’t venture into that off-limits territory while her older siblings were at school.

In our family, each kid has one drawer in their bedroom entirely to themselves, where they can store their most prized possessions. When you’re used to sharing a room with three siblings, getting a whole new drawer is like being gifted a mansion. Raising four kids in a two-bedroom apartment requires some ninja organizational skills plus one essential rule: everyone—and everything—needs a place to be.

Most of our apartment is communal. We share school supplies and spots at the table, bathrooms and bins of books, toys and technology. But to coexist peacefully, it’s crucial to give our kids one thing: a sliver of personal space.

Shortly after my youngest turned two, we traded our crib and toddler bed for a second set of bunkbeds. With the newly available floor space, I was determined to give my kids a storage area that was completely their own. I considered large cubed cubbies, a bookshelf, a desk, inboxes and treasure chests. 

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We ultimately decided that getting a second dresser would be the most useful for storing their clothes, which just keep getting bigger each year! It also provided an extra drawer for each child to use as the kid version of a junk drawer. The great part about a drawer is that everything inside is out of sight rather than an eyesore.

This drawer is where they can store the special projects they are working on or toys they want to keep out of their siblings’ hands. Prizes from school carnivals, goody bag trinkets and old Valentines find their home in the drawers. My son parks a toy semi-truck, loaded with Pokemon cards, in the drawer under his bed. My older kids store their Bibles and chapter books in their drawers. My two-year-old tucks away some plastic cupcakes, GoldieBlox figurines and a book her sister made for her. My four-year-old uses her drawer for her piggy bank, knitting and an Else purse filled with the “special learning cards” she has completed. 

One day early on, I found an entire bunny tea party set up in my oldest daughter’s drawer, which now includes her unicorn necklace, Calico Critter puppies and latest doodles.

My kids love to incorporate items from various sets into their play simultaneously, so at the end of the day we find My Little Ponies set up in a scene using magnifying glasses from the Busytown game and eraser animals having a party in a house made of Legos and 8½” x 11” paper taped together.

When the 5 o’clock sweep comes around, we return all those gazillion pieces to their designated spots. Building sets in the shoe box, electronic toys in the TV cabinet, dress-up clothes in the wicker basket and so on.

In the past, after clean-up time, we’d still be left with random projects—special treasures that my kid wouldn’t want to get mixed up with everyone else’s stuff or scooped up with the recycling. Items that were priceless to one child at that moment, yet meaningless or even annoying to the rest of us, would end up loitering on our dining room table or kitchen windowsill indefinitely.

Now, thanks to something as simple as a catch-all drawer, my evenings in the living room and kitchen are free of kid-litter and, thus, way more peaceful.

We set a couple ground rules to make this system work:

No hiding someone else’s stuff. If another family member has any claims on an item, it belongs in our shared spaces, not your personal drawer. If the drawer can close, I will resist the urge to clean it out. 

No food—and certainly no half-eaten lollipops. 

No judgement. Whatever you choose to store in your drawer in fine with me. Just because I would throw out a crumpled-up paper airplane or the box a toy came in, it doesn’t mean those can’t be deemed special treasures.

If my kids want to be alone, they can climb into their beds. With the addition of the drawers, the few possessions they claim as their own have a home now too.

What space can you carve out for your kids?