Quick & Affordable Ways to Transition Your Nursery to a Toddler's Room

Toddler Room
Evgenyatamanenko / Getty Images .

They say the days are long and the years are short when you’re a parent. Do you feel like you blinked and suddenly your newborn became a toddler? That is how I was feeling when my March 2019 baby quickly started outgrowing her nursery. Her newborn necessities and toys were taking up precious play space in our New York City apartment, so I knew it was time to transition her room.

Gone were the days of the monotonous cycle of eating, sleeping, and tummy time. She was totally on the move and needed more of both mental and physical stimulation. Living in a two-bedroom apartment meant her room was also doubling as a play space, so every inch needed to be thoughtfully curated and functional. I had to clear out large items taking up space, and replace them with educational and fun toddler must-haves.

Here's how I flipped her room, as well as expert advice on how to make the most of any space as your baby starts to grow up.

Clear Out the Old

I'm very sentimental, but I reached a point where saving bags and bags of newborn clothing, bibs, and even towels was encroaching on the precious closet space I needed for my toddler's clothes, shoes, and toys.

If you're the same way, start by cleaning out your drawers and closets. Take everything out and sort items by size. You can make a pile of things you absolutely must keep (for me it was baby booties my mom knitted and my daughter's hospital blanket) but it's probably time to get rid of old swaddles, bibs, and clothing that your child has outgrown.

It can be fun to involve your child in this room transition by sorting these items together and picking a few of your favorites to keep. “Kids of any age love memories,” says Carmine Sabatella, an interior designer and co-host of HGTV’s “Inside Out.”

Carmine Sabatella, interior designer

Take all of your baby blankets and swaddles and have them sewn together to make a quilt that can cover a twin bed. It offers a sense of nostalgia, warmth, and comfort to any toddler or young kid.

— Carmine Sabatella, interior designer

If you don't have it in your heart to part with things, repurpose them. “Take all of your baby blankets and swaddles and have them sewn together to make a quilt that can cover a twin bed. It offers a sense of nostalgia, warmth, and comfort to any toddler or young kid," Sabatella adds.

Donate old baby toys like rattles or board books to shelters or pregnant friends to make room for more developmentally appropriate finds. Get rid of old bottles and sippy cups to make space for straw cups and larger plates needed for mealtimes.

Choose the Right Furniture

If your now-big kid is starting to outgrow their pack and play or crib, it may be time for a toddler bed. Ask friends or family members if they have one in storage, or utilize local marketplaces or Buy Nothing groups to see if you can get one second-hand.

Many cribs transition into toddler beds, so check to see if what you already have can be converted. It could be as easy as replacing the side crib railing with a toddler guard. (If you didn't realize this, you can also use this knowledge while shopping for future children!) If you planned ahead, though, you may have pieces that have multiple functions as your child ages.

For example, instead of buying an open-shelf changing table, look for a chest of drawers and buy a changing pad for the top of the dresser. "It is just as convenient and when the diapers are gone, you won't have to worry about what to do with that big changing table in the middle of the room,” says Sabatella.

Swapping the Crib

If you're ditching the crib for a big kid bed, it can be a significant transition for your toddler and a worrisome time for parents. Prepare for a few nights of restless sleep, and do your homework before committing to this big change.

Shannon Bales, MD

Transitioning out of a crib is arguably the most crucial time in a child’s life from a safety perspective, as this introduces the potential for significant unsupervised time.

— Shannon Bales, MD

Transitioning out of a crib is arguably the most crucial time in a child’s life from a safety perspective, as this introduces the potential for significant unsupervised time,” says Shannon Bales, MD, a home and health advisor at Plunk, a Washington-based startup that helps homeowners grow their home’s value.

Leading up to the switch, make sure you have a good bedtime routine in place. Talk to your child for a week or so about what's about to happen, and what it means. Explain that they need to stay in their bed until a parent gets them in the morning. Many parents recommend a wake clock to teach your child the correct time to get out of bed. They'll visually indicate when it is OK to get out of bed.

If their crib transforms into a toddler bed, it can provide a sense of comfort since the bed is likely not moving, and it's a familiar color and shape. Shopping together to find sheets, a blanket, and a pillow will also help give your toddler the feeling of control and an affinity for their new bed.

"The main part of the transition is prepping," says Andrea De La Torre, owner and founder of sleep consulting business Baby Sleep Answers and mom of three. "Tell [your child] what's going to happen, prep the room with them, go out to the store, and buy something special. Get them the bedding that they want, so they feel ownership of their room."

In your mind, play out every scenario of what could happen (cords your child could reach, leaving the room to come into your bed) and then commit to the process. "I do suggest you have a good bedtime routine and a good schedule in place, knowing when they're going to fall asleep before you do that change," says De La Torre. "Otherwise, you will do that dance back and forth all night."

If and when your child does leave their room after bedtime, De La Torre says consistency is key. "Every time they come out, don’t talk with them," she says. "Just bring them back to their room, remind them it's time to sleep, and walk out again. Consistently."

Ditch The Glider

Hopefully, those late-night feedings have long gone at this point, so this is also a good time to say goodbye to the glider, which could be taking up valuable space in your child’s room. “Remove your rocking chair and/or ottoman and replace it with a fun [tent],” suggests Sabatella. “You can repurpose the seat, back, and foot cushions [of your chair] to soften the floor of the [tent], creating a fun space for retreat and adventure.”

Change the Décor

When you're preparing to welcome home a newborn, obviously their style is really your style, whether that means hot air balloons, jungle animals, or a princess-themed room. As your child grows, so will their interests. It's likely that they won't resonate with the pastel palette and photos of baby forest animals you picked when you were pregnant.

It's likely they have gravitated towards something by this point—maybe they love singing their ABCs. If so, why not put up a colorful alphabet mural? Obsessed with dinosaurs? Find stick-on decals on Amazon. Stick-on wallpaper is a great DIY project that won’t damage the paint underneath. It can add texture and color in less than a day, and be a fun project to do with your little one.

Shannon Bales, MD

Studies evaluating patient color preferences in hospitals and outpatient rooms routinely find that toddlers prefer blue or green palates, and they dislike white-spectrum color walls (irrespective of gender).

— Shannon Bales, MD

If you wish to change the color of the room, painting is another inexpensive option to completely transform the space. “Studies evaluating patient color preferences in hospitals and outpatient rooms routinely find that toddlers prefer blue or green palates, and they dislike white-spectrum color walls (irrespective of gender),” says Dr. Bales. “Other studies show that the best place to use the color white is actually on play surfaces. Colorful work surfaces have been shown to distract attention and impair performance in preschoolers (and in adults, as well).”

Another benefit to a white play surface is that you can easily paint over it should it ever become unrecognizably colored in crayons or paint.

Finally, you can switch out the curtains to match the new bedding your child picked out. Displaying fun, colorful toys that your child loves to help give easy access to them, which in turn will help to fuel their imagination.

Find Décor That Pulls Double Duty

In my New York City apartment, my daughter’s bedroom and playroom are one and the same. If you're working with a smaller space like I was, finding ways to help the room pull double duty will go a long way. I switched out her muted baby pink rug for an ABC, numbers, and shapes learning rug that is bright, colorful, and offers constant learning opportunities.

I also bought a hopscotch rug that rolls up neatly and tightly in her closet but has really served us well during COVID-19 isolation and frigid weather days. Another idea could be to buy a play mat with a printed road for playing with small cars and trucks.

My daughter loves painting and coloring, but instead of a large art easel that would have taken up a whole corner of her room, I invested in a kid-sized table and chair set from Kohl's for $110. It’s perfectly pint-sized for my two-year-old. Then I purchased a foldable, portable art station to use on the table. The table and chairs are multi-purpose—they can be used for coloring, tea parties, puzzles, and more.

In a small space, I love play tents and tunnels that can be easily stashed away. Another great company is called Pop2Play, which has slides, race cars, and play kitchens made of heavy-duty cardboard that you can fold and store under a bed or couch!

Prioritize Safety

Above all, especially with routines changing and asthetics shifting, it's important to keep safety as a top priority. Just as you baby-proofed your house as your baby began to crawl and walk, now is the time to toddler-proof their room, especially if they are now in a toddler bed and can get climb out themselves.

“There is no shame in having a sparse room, or minimalist décor, in the name of safety," adds Dr. Bales. "Most pediatricians recommend transitioning out of the crib around three years old, meaning your child is likely capable of having a conversation about this change and what it means for their safety. This important step could make all the difference and ensure a good outcome.”

Avoid placing any beds, chairs, or couches within reach of window blinds with cords, says Dr. Bales. She recommends installing cord winders as an inexpensive and easy way to keep them out of the hands of kids. "Additionally, electrical wires beg to be yanked by little ones and can result in appliances falling and causing injuries," she says. Make sure any plugs and wires are tied up, tucked away, or hidden behind furniture.

Our family uses a Hatch sleep machine for my daughter—it doubles as a nightlight and white noise machine and has helped my daughter sleep soundly since she was a baby. It's important to be mindful of the volume settings if you also use a white noise machine. “Ambient machines are ubiquitous and touted as methods to improve your child’s sleep,” says Dr. Bales. “However, studies have shown concerns regarding excessive use of these devices including noise-induced hearing loss and language development."

Dr. Bales says these machines should not be used during waking hours and should be kept at least one foot away from your toddler’s bed. “Additionally, when used during sleeping hours, avoid the maximum value settings," she says.

A Word From Verywell

Every family is unique and every child’s room should showcase their individual personality. It can be a large undertaking to transform a room, but getting your toddler involved can help make the process easier. Once you have an idea, you can work together to make it happen. And remember: Not every transformation needs to be done in a day! Take your time, and soon you'll have a room both you and your child love.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Toddlers (1-2 years old).

  2. Sleep Foundation. When to transition from crib to a toddler bed.

  3. Park JG. Color perception in pediatric patient room design: healthy children vs. pediatric patientsHERD. 2009;2(3):6-28. doi:10.1177/193758670900200302

  4. Stern-Ellran K, Zilcha-Mano S, Sebba R, Levit Binnun N. Disruptive effects of colorful vs. Non-colorful play area on structured play—a pilot study with preschoolersFront Psychol. 2016;7. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01661

  5. Onders B, Kim EH, Chounthirath T, Hodges NL, Smith GA. Pediatric injuries related to window blinds, shades, and cordsPediatrics. 2018;141(1):e20172359. doi:10.1542/peds.2017-2359

By Dory Zayas
Dory Zayas is a freelance beauty, fashion, and parenting writer. She spent over a decade writing for celebrity publications and since having her daughter in 2019, has been published on sites including INSIDER and Well+Good.