Living room Q&A with tons of tipsLast week, I shared my Living Room Tour with you all, in response to some requests to see the things I write about “in action” in a real-life situation.

I received tons of questions and requests for living room tips from readers on Instagram, and this post is dedicated to answering those.

I hope I didn’t leave anyone out!

This post covers:

  • “Where’d you get that…?”
  • What the deal is with rugs on carpets (and how to keep them from bunching or shifting, tripping people, or being obnoxious).
  • Where are all your tables? Where do you put your drinks?
  • How do you keep things so neat when you have kids and dogs?
  • What’s the best way to store magazines and reading material?
  • How can I arrange my furniture in my super-weird-shaped living room with tons of obstacles?
  • What do I do about the laundry that keeps piling up in the living room, waiting for me to fold it?
  • How can I create a living room I actually love and use?

Here we go!

Living Room Tips / Q&A

Where did you get your 9 cubed shelf? -@texasbobbi

Believe it or not, it’s from Big Lots, and people ask me about it ALL the time. We have another one in the dining room holding our serving dishes and napkins, and they’re fantastic. We’ve had them for probably 6 years, and they’ve held up surprisingly well (though I’m not sure how many more moves they can take). This shelf was on their website when I checked about a year ago, but it looks like it’s been removed since then.

I guess the takeaway tip here is to always keep your eyes open. You can find some really great things in unexpected places.

Other sources:

  • Couch and loveseat – “apartment sized” from Macy’s
  • Yellow pillows – Target
  • Green/bird pillows – Urban Outfitters, I think? Years ago.
  • Orange/bird pillows – IKEA fabric, homemade
  • Screenprinted + buttons bird pillow – Egg-a-go-go
  • Grey rug – IKEA
  • Braided rug – Zulily
  • Orange curtains – IKEA
  • “Kid table” – Target dining table with the legs cut and sanded
  • Wooden kid chairs – Melissa & Doug
  • Lamps – Target
  • Square wall shelves – Target
  • Photo canvases – Homemade
  • End table – IKEA
  • Former TV stand – Some furniture store in California I can’t remember. Sorry.

Tell me about this rug tape you use. – @traciemae71280

Living in military housing and rentals for 7 years, we’ve come to terms that we’re going to have to deal with carpet. A lot of carpet. Ugly carpet, stained carpet, old carpet, gross carpet. And we can’t rip it out and install hardwood floors, or tile, or even pretty laminate. But we still wanted the option to decorate a bit using rugs. They seriously warm up the place, and make things feel cozier and more… well… like home.

So to keep the rugs from sliding around, bunching up, and tripping people, we tape them to the carpet with this awesome rug tape. It hasn’t damaged the rugs or the carpets, and we’ve been using it for years.

And while we’re talking about rugs, the rugs in this room are from IKEA (the one under the window) and Zulily (the main one). The brand of the braided one is Colonial Mills, and I think it’s technically an indoor/outdoor rug, so it’s super durable. I love that they have a lot of color options for their braided rugs too, many of them bright and fun (which I appreciate).

No coffee table or side tables? – @emmybeu

Nope. We had a coffee table back in the day, but I took it apart when Joseph was a toddler, to open up the room with a larger area for playing. I didn’t miss it, or the clutter it collected on top, and I certainly didn’t miss cleaning it, so I finally sold it (after saving it for years “just in case I wanted to use it again”).

The little table with the green lamp on it is an end table, really, but right now it’s holding our modem/router and external hard drive, plus the Roomba lives underneath it. So, it’s nice to have it against a wall so all those electrical cords are kind of contained behind it.

Speaking of Roomba, this is the one we have, which we bought refurbished at a discount. I’m kind of in love with it. It vacuums every day while the kids are at school and I’m writing at the library. Sometimes we still pull out the “real” vacuum, but Roomba keeps everything maintained in the meantime.

Back to the tables… I thought I might miss side tables for drinks and such, but if we’re sitting on the couch with a drink, we put the cup on the table behind the couch or on the floor. Or sometimes we’ll bring a stool from the kitchen, and use it as a table temporarily.

My biggest living room challenge is a 3.5 foot toddler – @violetteunderground

Toys and constant vacuum – @sushi2008

It’s too small! And legos. -@melinaflina

My kids’ toys are in the living room because it’s basically their playroom. – @umezayd

Space and toy storage – @monyoung

We live in an old house too and the living room is small. Some toys and children’s books are in our space. How can I make it look nice and clean up easy? – @hippiejennie

Toy organization (we do not have a playroom) and baby proofing our entertainment center! – @lizjuice

Okay, I get it. Y’all have kids. And kids have stuff! Let’s deal with this head-on.

It’s gonna be tough-love Emily for a minute. That’s what you’re here for, right?

You saw my playroom tour, right? Some of you might have been thinking, “Ugh, she has a playroom. So jealous.”

Don’t be jealous. It’s SO NOT NECESSARY. If our playroom disappeared tomorrow, it would be TOTALLY fine. I’d move the kids’ books into their shared bedroom (which currently have NO toys and only one basket of books). I would get a storage ottoman in the living room to store the dress-up clothes. The kid-sized furniture in the playroom would be gone. No one would care. And I would put the one shelf of toys that are in there into the living room, probably in place of the kids’ table. They could use the dining table for crafts. It wouldn’t kill them.

And if I didn’t even have space for that shelf, I would move my husband’s and my books into our bedroom. There are currently no books in there, and there’s a bit of space. That would free up 3 cubbies of our living room shelf for kids’ stuff. Things can always be shifted. Keep an open mind!

If your problem is that you have too many toys out at once, start a toy rotation system. I mean it. Did you see step 5? “Determine your space and limits for in-rotation toys.” This says nothing about having an entire playroom dedicated to toys. If your space and limits are the bottom 2 shelves of your bookshelf, that works! If you have a storage ottoman and part of the TV stand, that’s cool. Whatever space you decide to use in your living room though, make sure you actually keep it as a limiting factor. No one can handle too many toys out at once. It frustrates kids when they’re trying to figure out what to play with, and it frustrates parents AND kids at clean-up time.

Plus, there’s a reason TWO of the steps in the 10-steps to implementing a toy rotation system are to declutter. The fewer toys you have, the less mess there is. I keep decluttering and decluttering, and my kids have also voluntarily and spontaneously decluttered some of their toys too… and they keep playing. And they’re still happy. They don’t need as much as we’re told they do.

I’m sorry for being so stern. It’s only because I love you.

(And if you keep reading, you’ll see pictures of my other living rooms from before we ever had a playroom. Toy rotation with clear limits on the space available for “out” toys is the ONLY way I could keep them looking as nice as they did.)

Keeping the carpet clean. It’s our highest traffic area and we have 2 dogs that contribute to the mess as well. – @missyhelene

I know I mentioned my Roomba earlier in the post, but seriously.

You just don’t even understand. It vacuums while no one is even home. It picks up our dog’s fur. It picks up random dust and dirt and papers from the crayons the kids like to peel.

But also, we’ve implemented a no-shoe policy in our house. I grew up in a shoe-wearing household, and thought no-shoe people were weird, until I had carpets and a baby who was learning to crawl. I mean, just think about it…

And if the carpets are just looking run-down and stained, again, I’ll recommend rugs. They look great AND they can be replaced more easily than carpet if they wear out. The rug in the middle of ours is an indoor-outdoor design, so it’s super-durable. Perfect for high-traffic areas.

Storing magazines and other reading material – @emikatj

We used baskets on our shelves for magazines. And if our magazines were overflowing from the basket, I knew it was time to read and declutter some.

If you are keeping them to read “someday,” schedule it on your calendar. If that seems silly and it’s not important enough to schedule, get rid of the magazines. Really. If you’re not prioritizing reading them, why are you prioritizing storing them?

Other reading material isn’t “reading material” unless it’s being read. You can probably declutter a LOT of books if you have so many that it’s causing a storage problem in your house. The library has books you can borrow. For free. Probably even a lot of your favorites. And the OverDrive app will even let you borrow ebooks and audio books using your library card to sign in!

Keep what you’re actually reading, the things you plan to re-read in the next year or two, and the things you actively reference. Owning a lot of books also doesn’t signify anything other than that you own a lot of books.

Owning a lot of books doesn’t make it clear that you’re well-read, or educated, and it won’t make your children love to read. Reading in front of your children will make them want to read more. Being well-read and educated will be evident in the way you think and speak, and the way you interpret and respond to things in the world.

The books on your shelf are not connected to any of that. It’s within you.

And if your reason for keeping them is because you just love books so much, pay respect to the books by passing them on to allow them to continue being read and enjoyed by many more people. (Mistake #2 in Decluttering: Are You Making these 3 Mistakes? applies here.)

I KNOW books are a difficult thing to let go of. But if they’re causing problems for you, it’s time.

Furniture placement. We have a very long living room. It’s wide but not a comfortable wide. If that makes sense. Trying to fit two couches and a TV stand and side tables and toys and book shelf etc and have it flow nicely is almost impossible. – @maribethdx3

We live in a small older home. I’m clutter-free, but furniture placement is a challenge. We only have one couch because of the space issue. – @marywoita

Space and layout – @laurenf7572719

Small and one wall is windows/radiators, one is fireplace, one is the opening to dining room. So basically I have one full wall to work with. Not sure how to arrange furniture without being cluttered. – @charlieandmima

I have a long narrow living room with no entry way and nothing but hand me down furniture. There’s also no lights! Oh, and we have a baby due in 2 weeks, and it’s about to be filled up with a swing, bouncer, and play pen. – @ashmash32

OK, so we’ve lived in some houses with weird living room furniture arrangement issues before. Want to see a few of them?

The very-small-with-no-real-wallspace living room:

We were in a house once with a dining room (vinyl floor) that was probably 150% the size of our living room (carpet). The living room was totally open to the dining room, so no wall there. There was a closet on one wall, window and our front door on another wall, and very little wall at all on the other side, which led to the kitchen. We ended up using the closet as long term storage, and blocked it with our couch.

I was doing in-home childcare at the time, and we used part of the dining room for kid stuff, in addition to one of our cubby-shelves in the living room, with a bulletin board above it for all of the required papers (I’m sure a few of you who are reading this have “been there” with child care requirements).

We had one small couch, a tiny end table, a coffee table, and our dog’s (then a puppy) crate. Our TV stand was basically right in front of the front door. The TV stand actually had a huge upper part, but we disassembled it so that it wouldn’t be as imposing that close to the entry. It was a super-weird room, but we made it work.

Arranging a really weird living room.

Another living room we had would qualify as “awkwardly wide, I think.

We re-did the living room, phasing out most of our hand-me-down furniture and changing the rug that year. I think we handled the awkwardly-wide-ness well, by moving the whole sitting area forward a bit, so it wasn’t against the wall. That also gave us a nice place to “hide” my husband’s weights out of the general traffic paths.

I wish I had another angle to show you, but the kitchen was off to the right of the sitting area in the top photo. It also opened up to a small hallway beside the kitchen that led to the front door, and just off the left of the TV stand was the little hallway that led to the bedrooms. So keeping open walkways was important.

awkwardly wide living room arrangement

I would definitely describe our next living room as “awkwardly long.”

We tried a couple of different living room furniture arrangements. In the first one, one end of the living room was basically our living room, with the other side serving as a playroom. The TV stand and television were in the center of the room, and when we wanted to watch movies or TV shows, we would just rotate the television a little toward the couches. It worked fine, and we loved that the couches weren’t centered around a television. On the other wall in the center, we had our bookshelf.

The room wasn’t set up to have the television where we put it, but we got an extra-long cord and just snaked it around the edge of the room, stapling it beneath the baseboard so that it wouldn’t trip anyone or look ugly. It worked really well. Don’t let outlets and cable jacks tell you what to do! Think outside the box!

The doorway in the top photo leads to the dining room. There was a door here, but to keep things open and to allow for more “flow” in the house, we removed the door and stored it in our outdoor storage closet. We may not be allowed to pull up carpet and knock down walls in rental houses, but we sure can remove a door or some ugly blinds!

Also, in the bottom picture of these two, you’ll see that I had moved the coffee table to make more room for my son to play on the floor… this was the beginning of the end for that table. Soon after, I disassembled it and we never set it up again.

awkwardly long living room furniture placement

This living room furniture arrangement didn’t “stick” though, because the kids always wanted to hang out with me. It was rare for them to go to the playroom-area of the living room and leave me to fold laundry or read or anything like that on the other side. They were always with me on that orange rug! So I rearranged.

I basically just swapped the love seat and the toy shelf. That gave us two “sitting areas.” Mainly we hung out in the orange rug area with the toys and the larger couch. The other side was good for quietly reading together, or doing not-messy projects.

awkwardly long living room furniture arrangement

Living room furniture arrangement tips from my varied experience (heh):

  • Don’t be afraid to play with furniture arrangement! Just because you set a room up one way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way forever. You might fall in love with your second, third, or 10th arrangement.
  • Get rid of some furniture if there’s too much for the space or if it’s just getting in the way (like our coffee table was).
  • Smaller-profile furniture means more flexibility with the way it’s arranged. We have “apartment sized” couches from Macy’s, which I think is the best darned idea anyone ever had.
  • Don’t get boxed in by things you can’t change. Get super-long cords if outlets and jacks aren’t where you’d like them to be. Remove a door, or block a closet. This is YOUR HOME and you do what you want.
  • At all costs, preserve walkways. Paths leading to different rooms or areas of the house should be 2 to 3 feet wide in order to feel like a comfortable opening. Any narrower, and you’ll feel like you have to scoot between things sideways.
  • You don’t have to line everything up along walls. Scroll all the way back up to the top of this post to see our current living room. Neither couch is against the wall, and it makes the room feel more room-like even though it’s open to the rest of the house.
  • Think about the way you want your room to function and how it actually is functioning. I wanted my kids to feel welcome to play in the living room, but their playroom-corner obviously wasn’t cutting it for them (in our weirdly-long living room). They wanted to feel more integrated into the house, so mixing up the room a bit was the answer.

My living room challenge is laundry baskets. I go days where I’m amazing and fold and put laundry away immediately. Then I go weeks where the laundry basket sits in the middle of my living room for days before I get to it. – @mothermountains

I get this too. Sometimes I fold it right away, and I’m aware that it only takes 15 minutes, tops, to fold and put away a load of laundry. But some days, every spare 15 minutes I have is occupied by other tasks that are higher priority.

So I put the laundry basket somewhere else. Right outside of the laundry room. It’s not so out of the way that we’ll never see it and remember to fold the clothes, but it’s out of the way enough that we can enjoy the rest of the house without having to look at it and feel guilty. So if I were you, I’d move it from the middle of the living room if you know it’s seriously not gonna happen anytime soon. No reason to make yourself feel bad about it. Life happens.

I wanted to ask you though. What happens on those days when you fold it immediately? Is there something that sets you up for success in that area? Like did you also wash your dishes right away all day, or something like that? Maybe try to figure out what the trigger is, and duplicate it.

For me and my husband, we tend to fold it “right away” if a load finishes drying around dinnertime. We can fold it after dinner, or after the kids are in bed, and I’ll put it away first thing in the morning (since I don’t want to wake the kids by going into their room).

Strangely, if all of our laundry is finished drying in the middle of the day, the timing is just all wrong for us. One load that’s ready for folding at 3pm will often not get folded for a couple of days. But two loads that finished at 6pm will get immediately folded. Is that weird? It seems weird.

You might have a pattern that makes no sense like that too… something to think about.

My challenge is actually using it. We “live” in the kitchen – @tita_529

Take some time to think about what you really want to do in the living room. And what do you do in the kitchen that you’d prefer to do in the living room?

  • Maybe it’s a matter of moving a few of your kids’ toys into the living room.
  • Maybe you need to rearrange the furniture to make the living room more welcoming to you when you’re standing in the kitchen.
  • Maybe a basket with a handcraft you could do on the couch would entice you (knitting, crochet, embroidery).
  • Or maybe you need to repurpose the whole room. If you have no use for a living room, you could make it into a craft area, or a playroom, or a place to do yoga or meditate, or any number of things. Do you feel like anything  like that is missing from your home?

Do you want to create a living room you love?15 minutes is all it takes to get started decluttering, organizing, and homemaking

  1. First, decide what you want to do in your living room. Is it mainly an area for watching television together, or do you want to do crafts and play games? Would you like it to be mostly an area for quiet activities and reading? Whatever it is you’d like to do in the living room, design with that in mind.
  2. If something isn’t helping you with the list you made in Step 1, remove it. If you decided that you want the living room to be a place for connecting with your family, but you currently have all of your “office” stuff in the area, remove it and find somewhere else it can belong. If you mainly want to play games together, but you have 3 shelves full of magazines you’ll “get to someday,” declutter the magazines. It’s time to focus on what you truly want to do with your time and space.
  3. Once you’ve removed the excess, organize what remains. You might have areas or nooks for different types of activities, or baskets on a shelf like we have. Organize it in a way that makes sense to you and your family, and it will be easier to maintain over time.

If you already spent 15 minutes on defining your living room goals last week, move to step 2, and start removing things that don’t fit in with your vision for the room. Comment to share what you’ve removed or relocated!

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  1. I *love* the look of your dinner can’t wait for the soup riepce to follow.Very glad that you are happy in your space I hope I would choose a smaller home and more time with loved ones consistently ( i.e. even on days when more space may seem appealing).Well done as always for not letting external peer pressure get to you. A living room for adults and a playroom for children? Maybe, maybe not. Growing up with my sister I realised we were lucky just to have separate bedrooms.What is the point in working all hours to have a bigger house, so everyone can sit in different rooms with their laptop / tablet / TV? If you work long hours because you love your job, and the house is a side-effect of this, then fine. But if people get caught up in thinking they need’ it, then the issue arises. Anyway, I’m preaching to the converted here, you have articulated all this better than I in many of your posts.

  2. What a great post. Thanks for all the tips. Military housing is a challenge.

  3. Growing up, my playroom was my primarily my bedroom. I would only venture out of that room if I needed more room to play “school” with my dolls or had something that required more room. Any toys I took out of my room had to be put back by the end of the day. My husband was required to keep his toys in his room also, and he was one of 5 kids in a small space. It can definitely be done. The concept of having a room specifically/only for toys was something I never heard of until I joined Pinterest lol.

    • That’s how it was in my house too, most of the time. The only time we had a playroom was when my younger sister and I shared a room. Other than that, we had our play things in our own bedrooms.

      I really like having a (shared) bedroom for my kids that’s really only for sleeping at this age. I feel like it makes bedtime a lot simpler since they have no potential to be distracted by toys and dress-up clothes in there.

      My husband and I don’t have all of our “stuff” in our bedroom… really only sleeping things and clothes. Our “stuff” is mostly all over the house (in places that make sense), so I’m good with the kids’ “stuff” being around the house too. But again, within limits (just as we keep ours within limits too).

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