Art is one of the best hands-on learning activities for kids, but organizing art often takes planning and practice. Without a consistent system, stress from mess can spoil the joy of creating. After attempting a few different arrangements, we finally have a logical art set up that works for our family! I’m excited to share our kids’ art cart, organization system, and tips for minimizing art clutter.
When you go through this post, please keep in mind that it’s normal for a kids’ art space to be a work-in-progress. Organizing children’s craft and school supplies as they grow takes brainstorming and practice, so I hope these ideas can help!
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Benefits of an organized kids art cart and workstation
Independence: Like most busy parents, I don’t want my kids to ask me to help them open or find materials 100 times a day! This is why every art supply is in an open container and has a designated spot in our art cart. The more they can do for themselves, the more they learn, and the more time we all have for other important tasks.
Creativity: Having easily accessible art supplies encourages my kids to have fun making whatever they want. They don’t have to ask me for permission, because I leave age-appropriate materials in their art station and reinforce where their “yes space” is for artwork.
Simplified clean-up time: By having consistent places to put things, my kids understand where things need to go. Of course, they sometimes need reminders and positive reinforcement to clean up. But even at a young age, organization makes it possible to give them this responsibility.
How our kids art station changed from toddlerhood to the elementary years
Before I share our current set up, I’ll show you how the area has changed over the years. Our kitchen, dining, and living rooms are part of an open concept floor plan. We don’t have space for an extra art or play room.
Although my kids could easily leave a panoramic mess (and sometimes do), my husband and I are adamant not to let “kid stuff” take over the house for our own sanity. Therefore, organization is the foundation of our kids art station!
Simple art baskets for toddlers
When my children were younger, we set up a little art station next to their small kids table. This was the original mini art station which you might remember from our homeschool tour a few years ago.
The simple set up worked well when both of my kids were under 5 years of age.
By placing the basket atop a shelf, my son could not reach it when he was in the crawling and mouthing stage.
However, in hindsight, I would actually nix all markers so they could focus on using colored pencils or crayons. Limited options are better for younger children.
Pencils and crayons give proprioceptive feedback with use; depending on the pressure applied, kids will discover light versus dark results. This feedback teaches cause and effect and also encourages coordination and concentration.
From left to right:
- Paper tray
- Small baskets with handles so that little hands could carry independently to table
- Small paper cups provided separation for some of the supplies so that they would be easier to find.
- Basket with limited favorite drawings and crafts to minimize hoarding and clutter
Despite this designated station, my daughter ended up carrying everything back and forth between this little table and our dining table.
In addition, my older child was constantly asking for more “grown up” art supplies.
Small kids table and art cart
Then we tried moving the little table closer to the main dining table and got a rolling art cart.
The art cart was a game changer (details below), but my kids continued to prefer our dining table which gave them more space!
So for the past year, we’ve come to accept that our dining table is also our kids desk, homework, and art area.
Now, we have 2 art carts that live beside our kids self-serve water, snack, and cleaning station.
We’ve since relocated the little table to my daughter’s room (stay tuned for her bedroom library tour).
Kids art storage essentials
3 secrets to our successful dining room art center:
- Kids art cart
- Labeled art storage compartments
- Regular de-cluttering system
Compartments are absolutely necessary for organization, and these are the bones of our art storage system!
- Art cart with wheels for portability; similar here and here
- Open containers for access and compartmentalization
- Upcycled tin cans painted with a few coats of acrylic paint (buy from Michaels or Amazon). These are perfect for holding writing and drawing utensils upright so you can easily find the necessary color
- Recycled fruit baskets from the farmer’s market
- And of course our favorite cotton rope baskets!
- If you don’t have these recyclables on hand, here are some inexpensive solutions:
- Zipper storage bags – Although we have many supplies stored in plastic Ziploc bags, we have been transitioning to these durable, reusable silicone bags
- Labels – Essential for organizing and also reminding my kids to speak Chinese, their minority language
- Free printable art and school supply labels in English, Chinese, Pinyin, and Zhuyin!
- DIY with painter’s tape and Sharpie marker
- I’ve tried several brands and like this brand the best. The smooth surface is easy to write on, and the tape can be removed and re-adhered if needed.
- Fine point Sharpie marker is easy to read; ultra fine point is helpful for small words
- Multilingual label maker (for those who prefer not to write)
I’m going to show you what we have inside everything now!
However, please do not feel like you should need to get all of these materials. Honestly, we would have far less if we completely refused all gifts from friends and family!
Inside our kids art cart
Art Cart #1: Commonly Used Kids School Supplies
Art carts are one of the best inventions because they have a small footprint, and my kids can easily wheel them to any seat of the table.
Our first art cart contains the supplies my kids use every day for homework, writing, and doodling.
Depending on your child’s age and developmental level, I strongly suggest limiting options so that they are not overwhelmed and have a better chance at cleaning up.
I also only include items that I can trust both of my children to use independently.
Therefore, Sharpie markers and paint are stored far, far away.
Until my toddler son becomes more mature, those art supplies require adult permission and supervision.
Top art shelf:
- Regular scissors and set of fun edger scissors with spinning caddy that we received as a gift (similar here)
- Prang groove triangular coloring pencils for my 6-year-old daughter
- Lyra triangular coloring pencils for my 3-year-old son
- Sharpie highlighters
- Glitter gel pens
- Black and blue pens
- Assorted markers
- Rock crayons and regular crayons
Middle art shelf:
- Erasers, pencil sharpeners
- Stamps and envelopes (eg, handmade greeting cards for writing practice and pen pals)
- Multi-purpose glue, craft tacky glue, glue stick, single-sided and double-sided tape , painter’s tape, white out
- Hole punchers and stapler
Art Cart #2: Special Kids Craft and School Supplies
Here’s a close-up look at our second art cart!
These supplies used to be stored away, but now I feel comfortable offering more materials to both children.
Top art shelf:
Middle art shelf:
- Cotton string
- Various glitter glue
- Washi tape
- Puffy paint (see examples and tips for creating tactile Chinese and Korean words here as an alternative to Montessori sandpaper cards)
- Oil pastels
- Craft books:
Here’s another view of the art cart where you can see the middle shelf more clearly.
Bottom art shelf:
- Recycled cardboard pieces, some cut into interesting shapes (eg, hearts, tree, cross, numbers)
- Cardboard toilet paper roll in a tray
Whenever possible, we encourage the kids to make recycled crafts and limit paper waste.
By putting recyclables in this visible, open shelf, they are more likely to use it compared to new paper that is stored in our art cabinet.
Labeled art storage system with compartments
If you have limited space like us, a dining cabinet is a sleek way to hide art materials in an organized, functional, and stylish way.
To figure out the most logical placement for my kids, I’ve moved things around a few times!
Here’s the “behind-the-scenes” of an organizing frenzy!
And here’s the calm after the storm!
Inside our dining cabinet-turned-art storage system!
Here’s a peek inside our art cabinet!
Like our art carts, everything is labeled clearly in Chinese and sometimes English.
Left side of cabinet
- Animal stamps
- Chinese reward stamps (simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese)
- Paper corner cutter
- Craft beads
- Spirograph set
- Pipe Cleaners
- Mini Velcro Dots
- Magnetic tabletop white board
- 5-tier paper tray (similar here and here)
- Korean Hangul alphabet magnets
- Chinese character magnets
- 3-tier clear storage latched box
These materials were intentionally moved to the left side of the cabinet so that they are closer to the art carts and dining table.
Previously, these craft and school supplies were on the opposite side of the cabinet.
After observing my kids more carefully, I realized they were wasting time walking back and forth.
The simple switch has saved time and energy and prevented complaints about something being “too far”!
Bottom drawer: dot stickers, googly eyes, bottle caps, baby wipe lids, and more cardboard!
My kids reuse the plastic googly eyes by removing them from old crafts.
Middle drawer: Since the middle drawer is at eye level for my children, I put the most commonly used paper supplies here:
- Origami paper for my daughter
- Scrap paper and paint chips for both kids
- Index cards
- Post-It Notes
Colorful paper scraps are in a cute, heart-shaped tray to make upcycling more attractive.
Top drawer: This is filled to the brim with soft and stiff felt plus felt scraps for crafts. Honestly, I have a feeling that we will never finish all of these and will end up donating this to school someday!
My children are strongly encouraged to check the scraps bag before cutting a new piece of felt.
Right side of cabinet
- Above cabinet: Wood Chinese Calendar, printable Chinese calendar behind it (not visible in this view)
- Top shelf: Daughter’s school work divided in subjects with vertical organizer; journals, bilingual devotions book
- Bottom shelf: Art storage baskets for big sister and little brother (explained below)
How we organize and declutter art with the “one basket rule”
As I often mention, regular decluttering with my kids is necessary for maximizing efficiency and minimizing frustration in all spaces.
Here, although not perfectly, we try to minimize duplicates and remove things the kids rarely use.
One art basket rule
To teach my children how to prioritize and not hoard, they each have one art basket where they can store their favorite crafts. We use this cotton rope basket, because it’s lightweight with handles.
As the basket fills up, they must figure out what to discard to make room for more crafts.
This teaches them to practice letting go of sentimental clutter.
We’ve had this “one basket rule” for a few years, and my daughter sorts through her art basket almost every week. My son is trying, too.
Cleaning before eating
Since this table is used for everything, before each meal, my kids are encouraged to clear the table by putting completed projects in appropriate baskets.
Incomplete projects can be placed on a large bowl atop the dining/art cabinet.
Occasionally, work can be left on the corner of the table, but this can become a slippery slope to clutter.
Then the kids spray down the table with mild dish soap mixed with water and microfiber cloths.
Stubborn Sharpie marker stains are removed with the Magic eraser, which truly is magical!
We’re still figuring out what to hang above the dining/art cabinet, and I’m open to any suggestions you might have. I’ve been considering framing some of my kids art pieces or hanging family pictures, but I’m waiting for the right inspiration.
Anyway, I hope it was helpful to see the details and thought process behind our kids art carts, storage system, and organization tips!
Do you have a designated art station for your kids?
What does art look like in your home?
What strategies have worked or flopped?
I’d love to hear about your family’s experience!
Please feel free to share in the comments below.