This IKEA Shelf Is My Favorite Way to Store Toys

published Aug 8, 2023
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Plain white IKEA KALLAX 1-by-4 unit
Credit: Cristina Chavarriaga

As a parent, I appreciate toys for what they offer my children: a fun opportunity to play and develop their imagination. What I don’t appreciate, however, is just how much darn clutter they contribute to our lives. From Legos that are somehow always in high-traffic areas, to toy cars and tiny dollhouse furniture discovered mid-sleep underneath my pillow, toys have a way of creeping into every single nook and cranny of my house. 

I’ve tried just about every kind of option out there to store these toys away. I’ve used baskets that hide the toys stylishly, I’ve switched to clear plastic bins that allow kids to easily see what toys they have, and I’ve brought in toy boxes and toy chests that hide everything under a lid. They all have their merits, but I’ve found that there’s one specific organizational unit that surpasses them all in both form and function: It’s the IKEA Kallax shelf

Credit: IKEA

Why the Kallax Shelf Is the Best for Storing Toys

In case you’re not familiar with the Kallax unit, it’s a cubby-style organizer (the best toy organizer, in our opinion!) that’s somewhat of a cult favorite at IKEA. It comes in a range of sizes, starting from four cubbies on the small end up to 16 cubbies on the larger end. Of course, you can combine multiple units to create an even larger storage system, depending on your space and individual needs. From textured rattan baskets to sleek door fronts, there’s also a large product line available to use as inserts inside the cubbies, which you can mix and match to your heart’s content. 

I store everything from board games and musical instruments to stuffed animals and action figures inside my Kallax shelf. I tend to gravitate toward using the inserts that come with the doors, too, because I like how they give the shelf more of a sideboard appearance. Plus, the doors require the inserts to be affixed inside each cubby, so my kids can’t pull them out and dump the toys all over the floor. I’m also currently eyeing a divider-style insert like this one to create more efficient storage for sticker sheets and coloring books.  

Perhaps what I appreciate most about using the Kallax shelf is that it simply holds a lot of stuff. But each separate compartment makes for a smaller, more manageable amount of items that’s easier for my kids to access. This also forces some kind of organization, where similar toys can be grouped together within each cubby, versus a large toy box or bin where everything just gets thrown on top of each other and my kids only end up playing with the top 25 percent. I also assign individual cubbies to each of my kids, so they can keep their toys separate, which is something my boy-and-girl twins appreciate.

How to Hack a Kallax Shelf to Fit Your Style

Although the Kallax shelf comes in several different finishes (white, black, gray wood, walnut, and white oak) it’s easy to create a custom look that’s more in line with your home’s style, if you choose. In fact, IKEA has even caught onto the trend by offering underframes, as many DIY tutorials include adding legs or building a base that lifts it off the floor. In case you’re interested in changing up the look of your Kallax shelf, here are a few ideas that’ll dial up the style.

  • Paint it to match your walls: In this office-turned-nursery, the homeowner selected a soothing robin’s egg blue and painted two side-by-side Kallax shelves to match the walls and trim of the room. It gives the appearance of a built-in shelving unit, and all it took was paint!  
  • Attach fluted molding to the doors: This DIYer gave her Kallax shelf a mid-century modern look by attaching fluted molding to the door and drawer fronts and adding tapered brass legs. It lends a rather luxe look for only $60 in supplies.
  • Add texture with burlap doors: In this tutorial, the DIYer created custom doors out of plywood and covered them with burlap for textural interest. She also cut half-moon wood circles to make the handles, giving the shelf a clean and minimal look.
  • Create a Brutalist-style shelf with wood blocks: This is my own DIY, and involves attaching wood veneer to the whole shelf and gluing wood blocks to the door fronts. A walnut stain gives everything a uniform appearance with a convincingly vintage vibe.
  • Use shutters to create farmhouse-style doors: To create the look of an armoire, this DIYer attached pine shutters over the front of the shelf using door hinges and added simple door pulls. It now looks like something straight out of Joanna Gaines’ playbook.

Even if IKEA hacking is not your thing, the shelf is still attractive enough on its own. And the myriad choices available for inserts offer a ton of opportunity to customize the look of your Kallax unit without making any alterations whatsoever. No matter what type of style you prefer, one thing is certain — it offers plenty of storage and makes it so much easier to tame the toy clutter.

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