Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dining Room (Sorta) Makeover

In August I was very frustrated with the state of our dining room. It had been nagging at me a long time -- I don't even know how long. Below is the "before" picture I posted last month, which was taken in January.
The table we eat on was temporarily pushed aside to make room for moving the file cabinet, and I left it that way as I worked some to rearrange things -- and loaded it down with stuff, as you can see below.  Keep in mind that these are the "before" photos! :)  I'm going to describe to you what we were doing some, and then tell you about the changes we made.  I know for some of you this will seem quite tedious (I won't be offended if you skip it), but some who are also attempting to organize may appreciate details so I'm giving them.
I let the little girls cut away at scrap paper with scissors to their hearts' content, to keep them busy so I could think and work.  It worked fairly well.  I guess Abraham wasn't mobile enough at that point for him to be a problem having some tummy time there near them (as I look at this now I'm amazed that he wasn't making things lots more complicated -- he definitely would now!), though my guess is that he was asleep when I started.

About the items in the room:
  • The file cabinet was supposed to hold loads of papers, but until fairly recently I haven't used it because it smelled a bit musty when we got it (used, from Craigslist) and I was concerned it would pass on that smell to the papers.  I tried various things to get rid of the smell, until I was reasonably satisfied.  Now that I'm using it, it's quite convenient to have in the room, even if it isn't lovely.  Maybe someday I'll decorate it or something, like I've seen on Pinterest....
  • The large shelving unit held a lot of school/craft/art-related stuff, as well as a growing amount of sewing-related items.  The number of sewing projects as well as people who sew has increased greatly in our household (no sewing at all at first, but I'm learning, and the older girls are picking it up from me as I learn, actually enjoy it so far--unlike me--and will probably be far more skilled than I am before very long at all... so now you know my plan to never have to sew again, ha).  The sewing stuff was creating part of our storage difficulty in the room.  The large blue tubs under the table hold fabrics, and in the top photo you can see the sewing machine case was next to them.  Not only did the storage take up space, but when we sew, all the stuff spreads out all over and the project never fits neatly in any set time frame, so that we're inclined to try to leave it out somewhere when we have to move it off the dinner table, and it threatens to take over the room.  I've solved that problem, I hope, and will try to post about that later.
  • On the table
    • I got these paper storage compartments a while back -- two units stacked on top of each other (they are made to be stacked if desired), and I still like them a lot.  They are plastic and very sturdy.  Before these I used a cardboard thing that was an absolute joke, so I wanted something that would really work well this time as well as be large enough, and these fit what I had in mind.  I assigned and labeled for each of the four older children bins for "IN," "WORK," and "KEEP" (for papers they were done working on and wanted to keep, if that's unclear -- things needing to go to me for checking or something else had other designated places).  This worked better than anything before it, so it was sort of successful I guess.  In practice, the "IN" kind of became more storage-oriented because most of their incoming papers went directly into the "WORK" and their folders if it was school, and they didn't have much incoming besides school assignments except occasional letters from friends or notes from someone, which were usually hand-delivered.  We didn't empty the "KEEP" bins regularly enough, or go through any of them often enough, so they did kind of get junky and too full.  That's going to happen with almost any system used but not maintained, so that's not the fault of the set-up, just the follow-through.  The bins not designated for their personal papers were assigned other uses, such holding unused notebook or drawing or construction paper, math windows, etc.
    • Also on the table you can see some plastic drawer units, in which I stored various activities and supplies.  Two of those units have been relocated and used for activity drawers aimed largely at my preschooler and kindergartener.  You can see them at that link where I discuss them a little, and I may mention more about them in a future post.  The wider drawer unit on the right side of the paper compartments holds rubber stamps and related supplies. 
  • On the wall:
    • You can see a nice green shelf my mom gave us when we got our first house years ago.  It once held pretty plates and has had a good place to belong everywhere we've lived since, until now. :(  When we got the file cabinet we needed to move it over some but we hadn't stabilized it enough to be comfortable putting the plates back on. 
    • Also on the wall are a couple things I got at a teacher supply store when I was probably a little over-exuberant years ago, thinking I'd use them a lot.  We did use the red pocket storage thing (what's it called?) for a while, for worksheets, and part of it for chore pockets, which worked pretty well while we did it, but when I decided to switch away from that to a list format so chore cards wouldn't get lost, maybe around the same time we moved the extra table into the room(?), it wasn't used nearly as often for other things either. Could partly be that the spot isn't that convenient, but I'm not sure. 
    • The blue thing rolled up above it is a pocket chart.  That was definitely a convenience problem -- it's just not in that usable a place, there is no good place for it here, and I didn't want to use it enough to use it in spite of these things.  I did get a little table pocket chart thing that's similar in concept, though smaller, and that's been nice to have.

Okay, now here's where it gets embarrassing.  Didn't I tell you I'm a Messy?  Below, the desk in the other corner of the dining room.  This stuff was just there, and had nothing to do with the reorganizing efforts.  This was supposed to be "my" desk, but it really wasn't a good place.
It got worse.  Various degrees and stages of worse.
This is what it looked like before I finally tackled it (and yes, the July calendar page was still up even though it was August, because I'm just that naturally organized).

Pretty scary.  Now you know why I didn't show you that part of the room in the other post. :)
And the school table?  That sorta-kinda looked neat in the top photos?  This is what it looked like as I was beginning my August reworking of this room. (The shelves on the paper trays had been stuffed full, though, so I'd apparently started clearing them, and I'd already moved the drawers I used for the little ones' activities.)
It had seemed like a great idea to have a school table in the room.  I do think it helped with some of our problems, and for a season was the right solution for us.  But have you seen that cartoon?... here, I'll share it with you:

That's not far from what the school table was like.  And that desk in the corner was pretty close to that.  They just attracted clutter. 

The last corner of the room held six large plastic drawers, which have served various purposes through the years, but for some time have held each of the four older children's individual art/craft supplies, plus the top drawer kept some craft supplies that were mine or for common use, and the bottom some bibs and other things used at the table.  The top eventually came to be used for storing boxed foods commonly used at the table, because it was more convenient storage and we kept running out of room elsewhere:
I can't find a photo of the full height of the drawers, so here's a 2008 photo of Zion on her 4th birthday where she's standing in front of the rest -- if you mentally blend the two photos you'll get the idea. (By the way, the advertisements for cereal companies here are inadvertent on my part.  I  consider using boxed cereals a compromise I'd rather not have to make, both from nutritional and financial viewpoints.  For sake of convenience we often do have some cereal at least on hand, though, and we do enjoy eating it, too -- though I'm not under any illusions about the healthfulness of most brands, including the ones in these pictures.)

Aw, wasn't she a cutie?  Those little cheeks and pigtails! :)

All right, now for the fun part -- the "after" photos!  :)  There are some differences since these were taken in August, and the room is still a work-in-progress, but I think we all agree it's far better than it was.
The first major thing I did was clear off the desk and move the paper trays over there.  It worked out really well.  I was pleased with it, and still am.  :)  No more "my" desk there, but it really wasn't used that way anyway, and this has been quite a practical improvement overall.  It looks a lot better, too.   I also converted the cabinet next to the phone from holding cookbooks and phone books to holding those boxes that sat on the white drawers in the other corner.  I put most of the cookbooks on a bookshelf in the living room that had a little more space thanks to the mantel conversion, and threw away all the phone books but the most important ones to keep (we had several outdated ones!).  It's been really nice to have that extra bit of cabinet space for food storage, and it's convenient.
This is what went in the corner where the large white drawer units had been.  It's a desk that was handed down to us some time ago, which we've just kept stored because we didn't think we had a place for it.  I hesitated, but after much thought and some discussion with John about our needs, we decided to try it.  Again, I have to thank my husband here for putting these together for us, though it took some trips to the hardware store when the screw sizes didn't work out right, which is definitely not his favorite place.  And Peter helped. Did I mention Peter helped build the garage shelves as well?  He did, and he enjoys helping with that sort of thing.  Maybe John has a secret plan to eventually get out of those projects, like I hope I can with sewing. ;)  This desk has been assigned to Peter. 
Here is the shelving unit, after we cleared off the sewing stuff, sorted through some things, and moved some things from the school table onto it (it's no longer that clear, though), because...
 ...we removed the school table and replaced it with these two desks -- one that matches Peter's, which Bethany is using, and another we got at a garage sale years ago, which is for Zion.  The drawers in between had been next to the school table before, holding pictures from magazines, construction paper scraps, and general junk.  Now, they are for those first two items plus things for activities for the younger ones to do during school time, but which they aren't to access -- I get them out as I see fit.  We also removed the green shelf, which I hated to do, but it just doesn't seem as well-fitted to the room as it once did now that the room has become so dedicated to school use.  Maybe sometime we'll have a place for it again.  The pocket chart and storage are also gone, put away for perhaps another season in the future.  We've put up a map of the Roman Empire on this wall since this photo was taken (just because we happened to have it, though it's come in handy already having it there).

I hesitated about bringing in the personal desks.  I wasn't sure whether it would help or not regarding storage and space.  It seemed like we were potentially losing quite a bit taking the table out.  And then there was the issue of them being DESKS, which clearly reek of more typical school.  Ha, how silly I've become, but really.  I rather liked the whole "nix the desks, we do school at the table and on the couch, and incorporate it with life" thing.  Didn't I recently make a post where I mentioned that line of thought?  And I'm not abandoning that -- far from it.  Yet, at the same time I've almost always had a desk of my own, and I really wish I could have something that would work well for me for that now, so it's not that I'm opposed to desks at all.  When there's been space and it's seemed practical, the children have had desks to use in their rooms or wherever it seemed they could work best throughout the years.  But I think that I kind of liked the togetherness aspect that I saw using the centralized table as providing, though in retrospect I realize more fully that a lot of it was merely symbolic.  Obviously we are still together with the desks. :) 

Since implementing the use of these desks, there have been some very happy results.  I've enumerated them, in case someone else could use the information.
  1. The older children were immediately excited about having their own desks.  I did tell them that there might be times when the little ones would need to sit there to work on something so they weren't to assume that no one else could ever use them, but so far that hasn't been needed much.  The little desk in the living room (shown here -- scroll down on the post that comes up) is now for Tirzah primarily, and she shares it with Liberty.  There is also a small table currently in the living room which Liberty can use if needed.  They both usually sit at the dining room table for most of the school-related work they do, though.  That's where the center of the action has been most of the time, and Abraham is at that phase where he's quite disruptive to anything done on his level, which the small desk and table are.
  2. The desks have storage space which seems to have more than compensated for lost storage elsewhere.  Those white desks have a hinge lid that opens up to reveal a surprisingly large storage area.  And Zion's desk is like the typical school desk I used some years in elementary school classrooms, which has storage accessed from the front. 
  3. The desks are lighter in color and more attractive, and that along with more open wall space gives a more open and light feel to the entire room, which is nice.
  4. They seem to have practically eliminated the need for the older children to use the paper trays for their own papers thus far.  They're keeping them in their desks and doing okay with that overall.  I feel kind of dumb for not realizing they'd be able to do that ahead of time, but that's okay.  I've not redesignated new uses for their paper trays/bins yet, but I'm sure I'll be able to come up with some if it seems they still don't need them after a while. 
  5. They have reduced general difficulties related to space and personal belongings.  They all have a place to be with some margin, so there's no "She's in my spot!" or "His notebook is crowding mine!"  And we've all heard the saying, "What's everyone's responsibility is no one's responsibility," right?  Well, I just have to reaffirm the truth of that statement!  It's been amazing to me how they have taken responsibility for their own spaces and things since we did this.  They want a neat place to work, they know where their boundaries are, and they know they'll be easily called on it if they don't keep their things orderly, too.  This stands in stark contrast to the way things went before with the school table.  We could clean it up, which was often a drawn-out process met with less-than-stellar attitudes on about everyone's part, and then I'd look just a short time later and it would seem to have undone itself!  And there was good old Nobody again, always on hand to take the blame.  Sigh.  Hmm, do you see any parallels to politics emerging in this paragraph?  :-/
So I'm very happy with the "new" dining room overall, and I think everyone is.  We still use the dining room table, also, for the little ones and for any other time we need it.  I can sit there with the little ones and have the older ones bring issues to me if they're working independently, or I can go around and help them individually at their desks, depending on what's needed at the moment.  When we need to do group work, I can either talk to them all as they're at their desks or we can all gather around the table, as we do for Bible time or science experiments, for example. 
 Bethany was so pleased that she took her own photo of her desk, arranged as she liked it.
And here's a bonus picture of her in front of it. :)  I think Zion took this.  It's annoying me that the bottom drawer is gone on that unit -- I'd taken it out to go through it.  I don't really think I finished, but it has been put back.

Finally, here's an (extreme!) before-and-after comparison of the area that had the table but now has two desks.

I still want to get some good photos of the whole room with the rearrangement, though I'd like to finish some things with the shelf first, which means more procrastinating.  But no matter, upcoming posts will likely feature this room heavily. 

I'll also try to show you eventually what we did with the table, and with all that sewing stuff.

Have a lovely day! :)
This post is linked to the Homemaking Link-Up at Raising Homemakers.


  1. These pictures of before and after are great! Your kids are so sweet looking.

  2. I'm impressed with the work and the write-up. It's such a release to tame clutter, even if you can never quite trust it not to come creeping back. Maybe the kids will start coming up with and executing grand organizational schemes, so you can get some relief from that, sewing, and assembling shelves. ;)

  3. Hmmmm, I commented mentally when I read this the first time, but I guess that doesn't translate well, does it?! I got a real kick out of the exaggerated before and after photo. You must always tidy before we come visit, because I've never seen it quite like that before picture. ;)

    I think you have some great ideas and I like the new, more open look. Hope it's still working well for you!

  4. Great job! It's amazing how quickly a room gets messy when you use it each day. It's an ongoing battle, isn't it?