I loved designing a nursery for my daughter. “Design” is a bit of a fancy term for what I actually did, which was to create a nursery out of clearance items and gifted furniture. Her first room had pale gray walls and a cheerful red rose patterned fabric. After I got divorced, we moved to an apartment, where I once again redecorated her room with a red metal bed, colorful quilt, mosquito netting with twinkle lights, and a wall of art that she brought home from daycare. But years later, as I was painting the walls of her newest bedroom purple, she said to me, “Mom, I don’t really want the twinkle lights anymore.”
And that’s when I knew I was in trouble. It had not dawned on me until that moment that I would no longer have absolute sway over her room decor. It had not dawned on me that she would stop watching princess movies, or say to me, “Just donate the Barbies, mom. I’m not going to play with them anymore.”
Like all emotional knives-in-the-heart, the switch from little girl to tween has come as a shock. And while she desperately wants a room that isn’t babyish and doesn’t harken back to her Sophia the First-loving days, she does care about how her room looks. So, here are 10 important lessons I’ve learned about decorating for a preteen.
Toy Storage: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore
Once the giant play-kitchens and big plastic cars become a thing of the past, toy storage needs change dramatically. Toys grow smaller, more complex, and sometimes aren’t even toys at all. These smaller items (art supplies, Legos, chapter books, sewing supplies or science experiment tools) require more organization and can’t be easily thrown into bins on the floor anymore. It’s time to invest in small clear containers with lids that can be easily organized on shelves and labeled.
Homework is Real
These tweens need a desk or a mobile desk tray they can use to do homework. The past year of virtual school helped me realize that most schoolwork is tied to a computer, so desk space is a must-have.
Hobbies and Interests are Life
While nurseries and kid bedrooms are designed around cute themes, this is the stage where kids may speak up and say, “I’m not really into unicorns anymore.” I try to straddle the fence because on the one hand, it’s my house and I pay for all the things. But my daughter is also becoming her own person with very real burgeoning preferences and hobbies. It’s time to accept that their rooms may revolve around hobbies and interests like art, sports, NASA or Harry Potter.
They Still Need Room to Move
Arranging bedroom furniture the “pretty” way may need to take a backseat to the need for floorspace. Whether they are assembling giant Lego projects or practicing gymnastic moves, tweens need floor space to move around. Consider placing large beds in the corner to give them more room.
Brighter Colors Aren’t Always Better
When my daughter was little, she loved color. If she didn’t start her day wearing a brightly colored tutu, all was lost. Things have changed. When we moved back to Arkansas this past year, my daughter decided she had no desire for a repeat of her bright purple room. She wanted soft, nature-inspired colors. I was informed that bright colors are for babies. To which I responded, “Fine, tell that to the rest of this house.”
Sleepovers and hangouts are becoming regular occurrences. Consider getting your pre-teen a full or queen size bed to accommodate sleepovers with a friend, but also to serve as a guest room if needed. They won’t like sleeping on the floor of your room, but grandma and grandpa will appreciate not being relegated to an air mattress.
Let Them Express Themselves
Whether it’s a chalkboard wall, a white board, or a large bulletin board to pin up pictures of their friends (where you can stealthily pin a picture of yourself every now and then to remind them you exist), they’ll appreciate a place where they can pin drawings, write special quotes, or hang pictures of fun times.
Do yourself a favor and clear the closet of any babyish toys. Replace that empty space with adult-size coat hangers, a legitimate laundry bin, and hanging shoe and sweater racks. We are now entering the land of “I care about clothes,” and all the new outfits will need adequate organization and space. Thinking about buying clothes for them without consulting them first? Those days are over.
Mirror Mirror on the Wall
Our small people are beginning to notice how they look, and they are beginning to care. It’s probably time to hang a full-length mirror in their room or bathroom unless you want them constantly venturing into yours to check out their newest outfit.
Accessories are Becoming More Adult
A preteen’s accessories are far less babyish and more adult (think matted picture frames, floor lamps, reading chairs, or rugs). They’re no longer zooming cars around on the floor or pretending to be Rapunzel. And personally, for me, this was hard to accept without feeling very sad. I found myself going down the rabbit hole of baby pictures and videos. But there are so many positives. These little people that we’re raising are becoming who they will be, right before our very eyes. Their talents, their interests, their completely unique ways of looking at the world; they’re growing up as we enjoy watching it happen.
So, while my daughter may not dress up like Ariel and serenade me through the bathroom door, she is reading books while sitting next to her reading lamp and wants to talk about them with me over dinner. Each phase of childhood is fleeting, and while the toddler years may be in the rearview mirror, the preteen years are new, exciting and an adventure for both of us.