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A place for everything .... Some ways to help your kids control clutter

HAVE you ever: 1.Stepped on a stray Lego or orphaned Tinker Toy on your way to the shower? 2.Shared your shower with a rubber duck, three plastic boats, and She-Ra doll? 3.Lost sight of your teen's bed? or rug? We know who you are. You're a parent. And like others of your breed, your home occasionally (dare we say regularly?) overflows with what we'll politely call juvenile junk - jackets on the floor, sneakers on the stairs, blocks on the bed, and puzzles on the dining room table.

Getting kids to put these things away presupposes that there's somewhere to put them. Ronni Eisenberg, author of ``Organize Yourself'' (Collier Books, $7.95) and mother of a toddler, thinks you should declare one room off limits to toys (like the living room), and then put receptacles for toys in all the other rooms - mesh bags in the bathroom, baskets or boxes in the kitchen and bedrooms.

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Deniece Schofield, author of ``Confessions of an Organized Housewife'' (Writer's Digest Books, $7.95) and mother of six, thinks you should keep toys out of kids' rooms altogether.

``Let's say Jim has his toys stored in his room and Mary has hers stored in her room,'' she writes. ``When Jim's room is `totaled,' everyone simply packs up and moves to Mary's room.'' A centralized play area is easier to maintain, she thinks.

But Ms. Eisenberg, who lives in a New York City apartment, thinks many families simply have no extra space for a playroom. ``A child's room is a child's room,'' she says. ``It's theirs for playing.''

Regardless of where the juvenile junk is kept, organizers suggest that you cull through it periodically, tossing whatever you can. Clothes to be passed down should be washed and repaired, say Alice Fulton and Pauline Hatch, authors of ``It's Here ... Somewhere'' (Writer's Digest Books, $7.95) - or chances are they won't be used.

Many parents divide the toys into two or three piles, rotating them every month or two. Others, says Eisenberg, have a policy of ``for every new toy, the child gives up an old one. They keep a donation box going,'' she says.

As to where you put the rest, the experts have these suggestions:

Art supplies: Put crayons, glue, scissors, etc., into an ice cube bin; stick it in a dishpan holding the coloring books, pads, construction paper, and so on.

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Bed: Use a comforter, sleeping bag, or duvet for ease in making. Store extra sheets beneath the mattress.

Books: For the thin or oversize children's books, use kitty litter pans or dish drainers.

Centers: Create a reading corner with books, big pillows, and a good light. Or a block corner with a flat surface, and adjunct toys like small cars. Or a dress-up corner with a coatrack full of discards and a wall mirror. Or a puzzle and game table, where the pieces can stay overnight. The areas needn't be large, just well thought through.

Clothes: Hang a rod down low in the closet so the child can reach it, or use hooks. Label drawers for shirts, pants, etc. (Use pictures for nonreaders.) Use drawer dividers to separate socks, undershirts, etc. Put a hamper or laundry basket in the child's closet for dirty clothes.

Games: Instead of stacking them in an unwieldy pyramid, or taping (and retaping) their cardboard boxes, put the pieces in one of those metal parts cabinets you find at hardware stores. Mrs. Schofield puts the game rules into a three-ring notebook, including those she photocopied from inside the box cover.

Puzzles: Assign each one a number or a color, and mark the back of each piece with your code. This makes it easier to put pieces back in the right box. Or put the pieces into food storage bags, and clamp the bag to the puzzle tray.

Stuffed animals: Make a stand for a wooden pole, and cover with either Velcro strips or cup hooks. Then attach Velcro or rings to the stuffed toys, and hang them on the ``tree.''

Toys with small parts: Use clear shoe boxes so you can see the contents, or ice cream pails, dishpans, or colored plastic baskets (``Color is the best memory jogger,'' says Eisenberg). Or make colored drawstring bags and hang them on a giant pegboard cut in a whimsical shape (car, elephant, house).

Having a place for everything is no guarantee at all that everything will be in its place. Mrs. Fulton and Mrs. Hatch (who between them have 12 children) think you need to ``thoroughly orient your children as to what goes where and why it goes there.''

``You'll also need to be consistent with the morning room inspection,'' they add. ``This is the one action that will tell children you're serious about this change.''

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