Family Friendly: 9 Products That Keep Me Sane

The hardest thing about living with kids is, well, the living with kids part. And like most things related to parenting, choosing home furnishings that will serve (and survive) the needs of a family can be a real challenge. Many of my own seemingly wise purchases have proven foolish.

Those fiberglass shell chairs that spin, for example: a really bad idea at meal time. (We have since inserted a bolt that will temporarily disable the chair's rotation). And then there are all those toys that were never touched. But once in a while I pat myself on the back (when no one is climbing on my shoulders) for a wise purchasing decision. Here are 9 products that have made my life as a parent much more manageable.

Easy Off Floors
Chilewich all-weather floor mat in Skinny Stripe, $150. We have this rug in its biggest size on our kitchen floor. It hides dust and dirt during the day and all it needs is a good vacuum or a big shake over the side of the outdoor stairs.

Now You See It
I love this Flea Market wire ball bin from Land of Nod, $39. Ours is bursting with stuffed animals. The best part is the kids can see what the bin contains so they don't have to tip the entire thing over to search the contents at the bottom!

....Now You Don't
I know this isn't a product per se, but it is an essential part of my strategy to stay sane living with kids. I have a special series of kid-oriented shelves in my kitchen that the girls can reach and explore on their own. The top shelf has cups and glasses and cereal, which they can serve themselves. On the next level down I store bowls and plates. And the bottom shelf is a condensed version of their playroom craft supply, including key basics like pens, paper and sticker books. I love that I can shut this whole area away by simply shutting the doors. No toy boxes or craft containers to be carried around or stored out on display. And because the shelves are all within the kids' reach, I feel I am fostering their independence. All of the organization trays and bins on these shelves are from the Container Store.

Preserve and Protect
The table pad on our antique dining room table has been a life saver. I got it from Berger's Table Pads, which custom makes pads to fit the precise dimensions of your table. The underside is soft and fuzzy so it doesn't scratch the wood beneath it. The top is designed to look like wood (we chose mahogany). Sure, it's not even remotely as attractive as the table itself but it gives us peace of mind while our kids eat, draw and do crafts at the table. And when we want to move it for adult company the pieces just fold up easily for storage. A great purchase indeed.

A Shaded Playspace
I wrote about this fabulous umbrella here. When I bought it the umbrella was cheaper, though not cheap ($799). But it was worth every penny. My kids have finally started to play in our tiny yard now that they aren't oppressed by the intense sunshine that saturates our little garden.

Books on Tape
Sony clock radio for ipod from Amazon, $35.99. My kids have this in their bedroom. They can keep track of the time (the time it takes me to actually follow through on my threat to punish them for not going to bed, for example) and allows them to listen to books on tape via Audible. Their favorites right now are the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osbourne.

Dual Use Library Cart
Local Branch Library Cart from Land of Nod, $199. At first we used this wheeled cart for books in the kitchen to ensure that books were always within arm's reach. But we found that for whatever reason the kids still tended to pick books from their bedroom bookshelves. So the library cart found an even better use. It is now used in the front hall, where it stores wicker bins for bike helmets, hats, gloves, extra socks and rainboots.

Pour it Yourself, Sweetie.
Plastic pitcher from the Container Store, $9.99. This sounds really unexciting but trust me. We get our milk delivered from a local farm and it arrives in these wonderful glass jugs, which have no handles and are very heavy. I want to encourage my daughters to be as independent as possible in the kitchen (and, sure, I am also sick of getting them drinks). So I got this plastic pitcher just for them. I fill it halfway up with milk and they can help themselves. The handle is sturdy and easy to hold and the screw-on lid means less spills. In a year or two I will use glass, which is better for the environment. But for now, these girls are still a bit too clumsy.

Craft Station
Carolina craft table from Pottery Barn Kids, $239. Any similar table would do. My kids use this daily, practically hourly.

Sources: As credited above.