Playroom on a Budget

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By Lisa Scarbrough

I’ve always joked with people that I have a type A+ personality. As soon as I found out I was pregnant (I was 10 weeks along), I immediately took to arranging the nursery. I had everything ready just the way I wanted it, complete with clothes stocked in a dresser, before I was six months pregnant.

Now that my son is a walking, almost talking, toddler, I wanted to change things up for him. But given that I live on a budget, completely re-outfitting his nursery was a no go. So instead, I rearranged the furniture in our living room to make him his own play area, re-purposing items we already had, making it a very low investment for his hours of fun (and my sanity).

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1. Play with space.
It took re-arranging three times before I made the perfect space in the room. I found that picking a corner and making that the start place brought everything else together. We now have a distinct division between Mommy and Daddy’s reading and relaxing area and Doodleland.

2. Don’t focus on a theme.
I was obsessed about the nursery. I picked a sage green and teddy bears as the theme, and I spent endless hours at thrift stores and on ebay purchasing everything just right to match. I started out with the same goal for the play area, but after several days of scouring realized I was not going to find a coordinating everything that I wanted. I set my sights on Dr. Seuss, primarily because we have a beautifully framed print (from the Dr. Suess wall calendar) that was gifted to us for a newborn present. So I picked colorful storage baskets to match the print, and am working to get a second print done. Little touches I do with love, he’s much too busy to notice.

3. Repurpose what you already have.
We already had a corner bookshelf, so I put all of his board books and a few toys on the shelves, making sure to place the easier-to-destroy books on top to be used for story time. We had carpet remnants that are working great for protecting the hardwood floor, and a small hamper that has been repurposed for storing stuffed animals.

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4. Make it self-service.
Repurposing our coffee table not only gave additional storage, but put our little Doodle’s toys within reach. I did purchase three CD storage boxes from Target to help categorize his toys (they turned out to be the perfect length of the coffee table). In addition to the toys, he has a snack dish on top of the coffee table, which is just a cheap and colorful dog food dish purchased at the dollar store (for cheap plastic, it has held up very well through all the banging, throwing and chewing). Now he can not only get toys when he wants them, but help himself to snacks and juice, too. It’s never too early to start building a little independence.

5. No rules, just play.
We have a wide variety of toys in the play area (all but one purchased through yard sales or thrift stores). And while we know certain things are supposed to work a certain way, we leave it up to the little one to decide how to play. Just recently, we learned that footballs go in nesting boxes, rockets (are stuffed) inside tugboats, and sorting rings in the dog’s water bowl. Additionally, I make sure that the TV is off as much as possible so he can use his imagination without interference.

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The bottom line is that everyone in the family should have their own space in the home, not just their bedroom. By sharing our living room with our son, we’ve created a real family room, where we can share memorable moments as he makes new discoveries and reminds us a thing or two about the joys of childhood.

Lisa Scarbrough offers mom-on-a-dime advice for parents like her who still hold out hope that they’ll be able to afford the rising costs of college tuition (yeah, right). Course, Lisa has some time to prepare; her son, Ian, is three years old. Lisa lives in Guyton, GA, and when she’s not chasing after her little man, she serves as the Digital Properties Manager for Paula Deen.
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Reader Comments:

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Nice blog...keep it up...!

By jamesblantins on January 28, 2012

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Paula, keep on cooking baby! The media elites hate successful good Christian Southern women. It drives them mad. It's a testimony for everyone that you spoke up knowing you would be criticized. These same media folks had no problem with Ted Kennedy hiding his alcoholism; but eating and cooking are wrong. Keep cooking Baby. God bless.

By Annette Cook on January 17, 2012

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Your ideas are great, thank you for sharing. We put down a toddler themed rug in the living room at night for our 3 year old son, bring out his Legos and cars, and he has such a great time building. Using the cars with the Legos has helped him be more creative, because he loves to build things for the cars to go into or under.

By SFig on January 09, 2012

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Love all the ideas! We struggle with finding a good space for Gabby's toys, hence they are all over the house. Thanks for the tips! Michelle in Virginia!

By Anonymous on December 14, 2011

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Great! I totally agree on all counts, especially the "no rules" part! It's fun to watch their little minds decide what things are for! wink Thanks!

By Lauri Z on December 14, 2011

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Lisa, Another great blog! Loce the face that that the family room really is the familie's room! smile Merry Christmas!!

By Andrea on December 14, 2011

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I agree with Pamela, you've definitely made the room a "family" room! It's nice to see rather than a play room with the door closed all the time!

By Anonymous on December 14, 2011

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We don't have a play room since we are in a small apartment but I do need to use this advice for the dark scary cave that is my son's room.

By Tanya on December 14, 2011

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Lisa - You've shared such great ideas here for making a play area toddler-friendly. But, I especially love that you've made it a true "FAMILY" room. Merry Christmas!

By Pamela Meagher on December 14, 2011

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Paula Deen
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love the table paula would look good on my new patio. so glad you are back. I hope to get there to see you in person one day.i will start tomorrow to find the patern form the tablecloth.
Gladys Rainesl in Savannah Style: A Spring Table for Two on April 13, 2014 at 7:45 pm

I just want to say this I don't even know if is the right page all I ever wanted to say to Paula Deen welcome back I have missed you. You are my favorite home down girls keep your head up and hang on and feel the love. P.S. from a woman of color.
in Chicken Salad: A Southern Staple on April 13, 2014 at 2:55 pm

I just love love love the table and flowers and am so glad that I can still access all of Paula's recipes, her family life, Bobby's lighter versions and Brandon's beautiful work. Truly thankful to see such beautiful tablescapes. You guys are my heros.
Patricia in Savannah Style: A Spring Table for Two on April 13, 2014 at 9:14 am