Bins, bins, bins
I cannot tell you how under-rated a good bin system can be. I bought these cheap (yet chic) ones and keep them stashed beneath a console in the heart of our living room. When it's bedtime or company is coming (or I am just plain sick of stepping on Hot Wheels), the kids help me get every last block and book into one of those bins, and we simply push them to the side. Anything that doesn't fit goes back to their bedrooms.
Interiors with a Monet twist
Good from far, far from good. We found these beige, faux-suede dining room chair covers at Ikea and everyone gasps when they see them. Beige? Suede? With kids? Yep. From far they look like the literal lap of luxury, but up close the fabric is so-so, but machine washable and cheap. We can replace them if we really need to, but so far, a quick tumble with Tide has kept them in Monet mint condition.
Managing your mini Monet
I love my daughter's creativity, but I don't love the piles of artwork that come with it. So we put two systems into place -- both in their playroom. On one wall, we did a fun framed collage where we rotate out her very favorite pieces. And on another, we hang her almost favorite pieces. She has those two walls to curate as if they were the Guggenheim. Anything that doesn't make the cut makes the recycling bin.
The aforementioned playroom is a must. Giving the kids their own space where they can, for the most part, do what they want, helps keep them out of yours. Try to find a space that is not visible from your main living area, preferably with a door you can shut. And get creative! I have seen huge coat closets and under the stairs storage spaces converted into lovely little nooks for the toddler set.
Patience makes perfect
I just put a vase of fresh flowers back in the center of my coffee table for the first time in the 15 months since my son was born. It was a symbol... my stake in the ground. Yes, we have to say no an awful lot, but we're also teaching him about boundaries and rules -- and not crying over spilled water. And we're doing it without any Hot Wheels underfoot.