You heard yesterday about the tale of getting severe dust allergy diagnoses for two of my four kids and all the cleaning routines we had to implement to try to give some relief to their nasal passages without medication. 

Friends whose kids also had dust allergies had major advice for me right away, typically in two categories:
“Get the drops – they’re amazing.” “Clear out everything from their rooms – it makes an incredible difference!”
And all the online sources of information agreed: No stuffed animals in the room, period. 

Well, shucks.

Where are all the toys and books going to go?

I didn’t really want more stuff in the common areas of my house, and our basement, yet to be finished, just isn’t a cozy place to play. It seemed like a major sacrifice for everyone to strip both boys of their own space, the ability to keep “their stuff” in their room and not be banished to the basement.

But looking around at the bedrooms, it was very clear that there were hundreds of dust traps around, none of which I was willing to dust thoroughly each week.
Legos: who could get a cloth between all those little knobbies? Books: literally absorbing the dust mites (and their feces) into the pages from the top down. Not a pretty picture! 🙁 Toy cars: impossible to get dust out of all the little grooves! Rubik’s cubes: dusting one or two I could probably handle, but when your son has 42 of them? Not a chance! All the tiny little things kids like to collect? #drivesmecrazy Open baskets of random toys? #dustdisaster That’s like a dust mite apartment building! 😮
And the list goes on.

I had to use those problem solving skills I’m always encouraging my children to foster and think out of the box.

What WOULD I be willing to dust each week?

I had to dust the surfaces anyway, because we didn’t have another space in the house to magically move a few dressers full of clothing. So what if there were FLAT surfaces on the flat surfaces? I don’t have to dust underneath each item, just the tops.

Enter the tubbing project.

I decided that if all the toys and books could live in tubs with flat tops, I could damp dust those once a week and still keep my sanity.
Do Dust Allergy Kids Have to Keep Their Rooms Clean?
Short answer? Yes.

Yes, they really should!

This is still a work in progress (and always will be) in our house, as I’m sure many parents will empathize with.

The most ironic part about being diagnosed with this dust allergy is that I had just done an interview with Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure, a few weeks before.

We talked about keeping kids’ rooms clean, and I asked her, completely perplexed, “How in the world can I let my kids fail when it comes to cleaning their room?” I said, “They don’t care when their room is messy. So if I let them fail, I’m the one who suffers.”

She looked at me with quite a stern face and said, “I’m going to tell you something a little different Katie.” She proposed that as long as the mess is behind a closed door and doesn’t seep out into the hallway, you let a child organize their own room however they like.

My kids, who are often made to change some routine or try something new after I do these expert interviews, were beyond thrilled to hear what Mrs. Jessica Lahey had to say. In fact, I think they practically declared a national Jessica Lahey celebration day in her honor!

And then it all came crashing down. Mere weeks later, Paul suddenly has a diagnosed dust allergy and has to have nothing on his surfaces, nothing on his shelves, nothing on his floor, so that mom can thoroughly clean his room once a week.

Ruh roh.
Teenager Organizing a Bedroom for Dust Allergy Management
Paul is 14 and just entered High School. His room had the accumulation of all of his phases of life, from toys he never played with anymore to puzzles and games and books and piles of clothing on the floor.

Typical of a teenage boy’s room, it was a total disaster.

Paul’s room when this happened, top of his chest of drawers on the left, shelving unit on the right

It “only” took him about eight months to get completely organized to a point where I was satisfied that I could clean in half an hour instead of an hour and a half.

I actually had to set some deadlines for him, and after about a month, I took everything out from under his bed and put it in two laundry baskets. FULL baskets.

It took me a full half-hour and I didn’t sort one bit. Every piece of trash and every dirty sock went into those baskets!

That way I could keep his poor nasal passages safe, and he could take his own sweet time organizing the baskets. Eight months! Good grief.
The Little Boys’ Room “Before” Dust Allergy Organization

For the little boys, they honestly were fairly sparse already on the number of toys in the room, but they still had a full bookshelf and quite a few large toys scattered about.

Although…looking at that photo above, perhaps my memory deceives me about the “sparse” part! The toys had started to accumulate as well, but their closet didn’t hold any toys, while Paul’s did (not pictured).

Their surfaces definitely were cluttered with many little items. Those would have to go for sure, but I decided that I didn’t really want to make their rooms so spartan as to have nothing in them (like that advice I got from many people).

I thought there has to be a better way.

So off we went, Paul and I, to buy as many tubs as we predicted we would need.

We chose a combination of under-the-bed tubs (to be plopped onto the bed while cleaning the floors thoroughly just before washing the sheets – see our dust allergy cleaning routine in the previous post), very large tubs for the closet floor or bedroom floor to contain those larger items, and shoebox and 12-inch wide tubs for toy organization.

These tubs were rejected at the store immediately:

These bins have too many grooves in the lids! They will collect more dust and be more difficult to wipe clean.
Small Children Dust Allergy Safety Toy Organization
I find that when I have to do something new, it helps me to see what others have done so I can wrap my brain around what it will look like.

I hope this helps you too! Here’s how it ended up for us…

I feel very blessed that the boys’ 10-year-old sister took it upon herself to use her gifts as an organizer and whipped it all into shape within two days. Truly, she’s amazing.

She helped the boys categorize their smaller toys into tubs that would go on a bookshelf, large toys into the big tubs that sit on their floor (these double as the “launch pad” for the boys to lay out their clothes for school, which is helpful!), and what could fit under their bed.

They worked together to make colorful labels for each box, and it turned out to be a FUN activity! Go figure! As you can see in the photos, it got worse before it got better, like every organizing project!

I still crack up when Gabe, age 4, says, “Can you help me lift down the miscellaneous box, please?” You can imagine how cute that word comes out! 🙂

The Lego tub above looks huge in the photo somehow, but it’s only about 12″x24″x14″ high. We measured their bookshelves to make sure all the tubs would fit nicely, organized by category: superheroes, Legos, bugs and dinosaurs, and craft supplies.

All the little boxes of toys (on the left below) were recycled in favor of tubs, stacked on shelves. This photo on the right is actually a year after organizing, so it’s impressive that it still looks “pretty” good!

The little boys have a queen bed, so under their bed is packed with two tubs full of books, one for dress up clothes, one for Nerf guns, and another for all the bags they’ve collected over the years.

You can see that there are still a few items on the chest of drawers on the left, and we still hang clothes up to be worn another day, but the fabric lamp is gone along with many other items. (Do you know why the bed is unmade? Read this post!)

They have some very large tubs on their floor with the big toys like dump trucks and large bags of blocks, and the shelves that used to hold picture frames, books on CD, a stereo and a few larger or decorative toys is now empty (but for the few items that they’ve set back there without permission!).

You can see there are a few non-dustable items on top of the tubs too – it’s hard to keep up on perfect organization, but it’s much better!

Check out these “before and after” pans. They make me feel like we made a difference when it comes to dust!
Before: too many dust catching toys!

After: much less on the surfaces; a big improvement!

Get rid of dust allergies isn’t as simple as dusting once a week…or even once a day. Download the printable list of baby steps you can take to kill dust mites and start removing them from your home!


The Teenager’s Dust Allergy Bedroom Organization
As I mentioned, this one was a much more laborious process!

Paul loves that I don’t ask him to make his bed anymore:

But he really resents every week when I tell him: “Tomorrow is the day I’ll dust and vacuum your room, as long as I can find all the surfaces. If I can’t, the job’s on you.”

I didn’t take photos of the piles of clothing on his floor to protect his privacy, but you can use your imagination!!

Overall I feel like we are about 80% of the way to where we should be:

We replaced his “toy shelves” with a desk, which was a good rite of passage anyway. It also helped motivation: “If you can reduce your toys to all fit in your closet, we can give you Dad’s old desk and get rid of the shelves.”

The Rubik’s cubes do have a “home” in a box under the bed, but they keep creeping out onto the desk. I dust the surfaces I can find but really do need to ask Paul to clear the shelves. It’s hard not to set things on surfaces when they exist!

We still need to replace the blinds with flat shades, especially since my cleaning slat by slat was such a failure:

We are finally back to the part of the year when I can just leave them open and not risk an early morning wake-up from the sun. (That’s his AirDoctor in the corner, by the way. So grateful we have those!)

And the last piece we need to remedy in both rooms?
Stuffed Animals: Did we Leave Them in the Room?
I just couldn’t do it.

I couldn’t pull them all out!

I love when my kids have a lovey or stuffy that they snuggle, and I decided to “wait” on the decision of what to do with their stuffed animals in their rooms. 

Ironically (again) we had just finally bought a cute basket (with an open top of course!!) to collect all the boys’ stuffies. I was too stubborn to get rid of it so quickly!

So waiting on the decision, naturally, meant that here we are a year later, and there are still 50 stuffed animals in the boys’ room.

Ooops. That’s not so great for them.

It’s good that I blog, because sometimes it gets me back on track. This week I finally did two overdue tasks:
Dumped out all the stuffies and asked the boys to choose only their favorites until the basket was full. Those that didn’t fit were donated. I froze all the stuffed animals for at least 24 hours, and today or tomorrow I’ll shake them vigorously outside to get the dust mite carcasses and poop off.

Paul’s are still hanging on the wall, but at age 14, I’m guessing I can talk him into putting them in a “keepsake” tub since they’re just memories, not exactly active daily friends anymore. On the to-do ASAP list!
Items to Get Rid of When Fighting a Dust Allergy
We DID weed some items out of the rooms that simply weren’t going to fit the tub project or the “dust in less than half an hour” goal.

Plain and simple, anything that is soft fabric upholstered absorbent…these things need to go, especially in the bedrooms.

Here’s a quick list of items that should be ditched:
Plush rugs Curtains or fabric blinds Lamps with fabric shades Knick knacks tip: buy a glass front Curio cabinet Open shelving for toys or clothing tip: think drawers that close or tubs with lids Boot pets out of the bedrooms
Paul was using a secondhand TV stand with two shelves for his nightstand, and it worked great, until we had to dust every item on it once a week. It would have taken an hour in itself!

We sold that and still haven’t replaced it (sorry, Paul!), partly because I need to do research on furniture and offgassing, and partly because all my energy the last year has gone into dust allergy management and our massive house remodel project, which was supposed to be done by now. I figured I’d buy him a nightstand this fall…ahem…

But I know we’re making progress. Here’s his pan:

So that’s how we solved the dust catcher problem!
Once you have a kid with a dust allergy you see every nook and cranny as a potential hazard.

I hope these are helpful ideas and stories for you as you begin to think about how to reorganize a bedroom to make it all flat surfaces and very easily dustable.

Now the question that remains: Did all this effort make any difference in their health?

We’ll talk more about symptoms and the real health hazards of an untreated dust allergy in the next post…but I will tell you now that my boys still can’t breathe well, so more needs to be done!!
What do you think? Is the tub project a good solution?
The post How to Organize a Room (& Toys) When Fighting a Dust Allergy appeared first on Kitchen Stewardship | Real Food and Natural Living.
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