A Functional Living Room With Toy Storage Ideas (For A Small Space)
The purpose of this post is to offer some insight and inspiration for creating a functional living room. I will explain how I was able to create a functional living room out of a small space with specific storage that was intently chosen to hide and display my toddler’s toys. This maximized the use of my small living room space, encouraged independent play for my toddler, and offered more free time for me.
“Excuse the mess, my children are making memories” and while my toddler was making memories, it was causing me a lot of stress.”
I knew what I was setting myself up for the day I decided to get rid of the baby gate to let my toddler have fun and explore. It was fine and cute in the beginning because she was just learning how to walk. Things got out of hand when she became more mobile, she started to become more curious, and her toys started to progress to toys that consisted of multiple pieces. Sound familiar?
It was fun and a nightmare at the same time. It was consuming me especially on days that I would come home after work and my toddler was under the care of my husband. It was consuming me on days that I was off and I was finding myself constantly needing to provide my toddler with a toy to entertain her.
I was a hot mess. It was really causing me a lot of stress and I just couldn’t function. Do you feel me?
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The problem began when I took away the baby gate of my toddler’s play area that was in our living room and didn’t really make any other changes aside from taking away the baby gate. Pretty much everything stayed the same but pushed further back to the wall. So, essentially I made what use to be her play area within the baby gate take full control over our living room.
Our living room became her play area making no space for me and my family to live. I was doing this to myself. I didn’t plan and format my living room to accommodate me and the rest of my family once I got rid of the baby gate. I only accommodated her and that resulted in chaos.
Does this sound like you?
There’s a popular term people use for designing living rooms for parents who have children – it’s called a kid-friendly living room. Kid-friendly is the term business establishments use to let families know that their place of business has a place to entertain/feed kids on a temporary basis during an outing or vacation.
However, your living room is not temporary. This is your living space. The room you spend the majority of your time in, that it doesn’t feel right calling a living room kid-friendly. Besides, I think the more correct term would be family-friendly.
For this post, however, I will discuss how I was able to create a functional living room out of a small space with a toddler in mind. This resulted in maximal use of our living space, longer independent play for my child, less stress for mom, and more me-time – all while improving the aesthetics of my home.
Who would want to make a functional living room?
Parents who have toddlers and are tired of having a living room that only creates fun for the child but stress for the parent. Nothing about a toddler is kid-friendly nor stress-free. However, I was able to find ways to make my living room work for both me and my toddler to make it less stressful and “kid-friendly” – hence functional.
What is a functional living room?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, functional is defined as the contribution to the development or maintenance of a larger whole. A functional living room for me (as a parent with a toddler) is maximizing the small space in my living room with purposeful furniture and things while minimizing inconvenience and the time it takes me to maintain it, especially after my toddler has utilized the space.
When my daughter started to crawl/walk I wanted to start making areas of my home – not only childproof – but functional. I did this by intently choosing my toddler’s books and toys and through toy storage intent. The best toy storage ideas that work for your own living room will come from toy storage intent.
With this type of intent, our toy storage made sense to me, my toddler, and our living room situation. This encouraged me to let my child move freely around our living room because she had toys always available to her intently chosen and displayed around our living room. She was then able to play independently, which helped me at not having to be there with her every waking moment. This also resulted in more time for myself.
Throughout this process, I learned that the types of toys you choose to display matter. I did this by observing my daughter to see what type of books and toys interested her independently the longest.
Disclaimer: Ideas and options displayed in this post are all dependent on your child’s age and what he/she can do independently, so always proceed with caution and tailor to you and your child’s needs.
How do I make a functional living room?
I was watching a show on home decor one day and this lady was explaining how all the decor on her shelves needed to have a purpose. They weren’t just there for decoration but each piece actually served a purpose. I thought the idea was so clever because it just made sense.
So, I took that idea and brought it to my living room. This is where I learned that baskets would make such a huge difference in my mental health. I started to become fixated on baskets that I realized it wasn’t baskets that I was fixated on, it was the fact that baskets made my living area more functional and as a bonus, aesthetically pleasing.
Merriam-Webster dictionary also defined functional as being useful and practical rather than attractive. However, I found that baskets were able to provide me all of that in terms of being useful, practical, and attractive.
I further learned that an aesthetic room resulted in positive feelings. So much that I became fixated on other things that would make a functional living room without having to sacrifice the aesthetics of it.
Here are some small living room ideas to maximize your small space that will create a functional living room for parents who have toddlers. I’ll describe and link all the products that I used down below so that you can get a better view and description of them.
Toy storage ideas that make a functional living room
1. Baskets – A lot of baskets in all shapes and sizes. Baskets keep your living room from looking like a playroom. Having multiple baskets are great because it creates a no-thinking dumping system for your child’s toys when they’re done playing with them. You can also place them inside bookshelves in your living room to maximize your space even more.
The first picture is an example of how I used a storage trunk to hide my toddler’s toys. I also used that same storage trunk to display some books and toys for her to easily access and use. I used a rattan serving tray to display those books to add texture on top of the storage trunk.
The remaining photos are examples of how I displayed and utilized the smaller baskets. The large and medium gray fabric baskets are from Marshalls. I was unable to find the baskets online but the brand is called Heritage. The smallest fabric basket is from Target and the brand is Pillowfort.
I placed toys that I wanted my toddler to easily access and play with independently in the fabric baskets. I kept it small and light so that she is able to grab it and carry it herself.
The tall rattan basket underneath the small gray baskets is what I use to hide my child’s toys that I do not want her to access.
TIP: Most thrift stores sell baskets for as little as 50 cents. I was able to purchase the tall rattan basket at Goodwill for only $5.
2. Non-fabric Storage ottomans – The ones I am using are from Amazon. I aimed for non-fabric ottomans because they’re easier to clean. Small storage ottomans with wheels can encourage your child to walk. The small and medium storage ottomans can go along the side of your sofa. The storage trunks can act as your coffee table. The long bench storage trunks can line the wall for extra seating (especially beneficial for small places.)
I also wanted storage ottomans that were foldable. That way I was able to fold and store them easily if I no longer needed them or if I needed the space for the time being. I used the larger storage ottomans and storage trunk to hide my toddler’s toys and the medium/small ottomans for my child to open and choose her own toys to independently play with.
I purchased 2 of the B FSOBEIIALEO Folding Storage Ottoman, Faux Leather Footrest Stool Long Bench because I needed the space and wanted extra seating if needed. I use them specifically to hide my child’s toys. We don’t have very much storage space left in our place so I had to make do with what we had. It’s also foldable which you can easily store underneath the bed, sofa, or in a closet as you can see in the last 2 pictures above.
This bench has a lot of storage space. I was surprised at the quality. It also looks really good in person and the color leans more towards a rusty orange-brown color. It’s very strong. I am able to stand on it and I weigh about 120-125lb.
I also purchased the Proman Products Colonial Storage Ottoman. I use this small storage ottoman to place open-ended toys for my child to easily access and play with. I placed it by the sofa to work as a side coffee table. I also wanted my toddler to use it to assist her with climbing onto our couch to encourage gross motor play. This required my assistance at first, but once she was able to do that independently, I was able to have more free time for myself.
Just like the bench storage ottoman, this ottoman is strong enough for me to sit on. I can also easily fold and store it away if I no longer need it or for later use for something else when my child gets older.
To the left of the smaller storage ottoman, is a brown magazine holder I purchased at Marshalls. I was unable to find the brand name or the item on the web. I use the magazine holder to store a mixture of my toddler’s electronic items that teaches the alphabet, numbers, first words, and animal sounds. My toddler also likes to carry it around the living room.
Children items to display around your living room
1. Hard books or electronics books – Encourages sensory, language, and fine-motor. I mostly aimed for books where my child was able to press a button that produced a sound so that she was able to independently learn on her own. When she was younger, I displayed more sensory type books like “See, touch, feel.” I also found that hard books are best to display because your child will have an easier time turning the pages on their own without assistance.
2. Toys that encourage open-ended and independent play – The toys are really dependent on your child. These are the toys that worked for me and my toddler. The block toy sitting on top of the books is from Lovevery and it’s a big dice that she can roll and copy whatever picture it lands on. Each picture has a child either touching their nose, sitting on the floor, rubbing their belly, etc.
Related: Why Lovevery Play Kits Are Worth It?
3. At least one child-size sofa/chair to encourage gross-motor development (sitting, climbing, and walking). I have the wooden weaning chair because it can act as both a table and chair. I’m all about multi-use/purpose things and had to really get creative especially with living in a small place with a family of 4 (including me) and 2 cats.
All these chairs encourage gross motor through climbing. The wooden chair can also encourage walking, can act as a stool, and even a small table to display books/toys. You can click on the link provided to see an example of how I use my toddler’s weaning chair as a table for her holiday play space.
4. Step Stool – encourages gross motor development. When my child learned the word “up,” I felt like all she wanted to do was “up, up” on the bed and on the sofa. I was tired of always having to carry her up and down the sofa. When I felt like she was ready to climb up and down the sofa without any safety concerns, I placed a step stool by the sofa for her to use independently.
I used the step-stool along with the small storage ottoman because the step stool encourages her to actually take upward/downward steps.
Since we live in an apartment and do not have stairs I figured this can encourage her in some way and it actually did. Now she is physically walking up and down the step stool because she mastered climbing it.
I went for a plastic step stool so that it was lighter for her to carry around. Here is a couple from Amazon that has handles, which makes it easier for your child to carry around also.
Here is an example of my living room. We live in a 2 bedroom apartment so we have no space for a playroom. We really have a big living room but as my child got older, I opted to do a split living and playroom. This made our living room smaller.
I had to make do with the space we had living in an apartment with limited space. I learned how to maximize the space we did have utilizing functional storage pieces that worked for me as a parent with a toddler.
Through toy and toy storage intent, I was able to make a more functional living room tailored to our family and living room situation. By accident, it resulted in making the aesthetics of my living room better.
Having a functional living room with practical pieces that made my living room look better also resulted in positive feelings and in-turn minimized stress. More importantly, our new functional living room encouraged longer independent play for my toddler thus resulting in more free time for myself. Having a functional living room worked out so great that I decided to split my living room into half a playroom. Check out Create A Living Room Playroom Combo (Functional Tips For Small Spaces) to find out how I was able to do so.