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High-Risk Clutter Hazards

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As any mom who's ever impaled her foot on a wayward action figure in the dark can attest, clutter can be painful. But our feet aren't the only things at risk. From trip-and-fall dangers to allergy-inducing dust, too much stuff lying around can pose big risks to little kids. Make sure to watch out for these hazards in your own home.

The Toy Trail
Does your child have a safe path from his bedroom to the bathroom -- or the kitchen or your bedroom -- in case he wakes up in the middle of the night for a potty trip, glass of water, or a snuggle? Toys, books, and other stuff on the floor might be easy to walk around during the day, but a sleepy child stumbling through the dark is much more likely to trip and fall. Especially dangerous are toys, books, and papers left on stairs, which can cause a child -- or a parent carrying a baby -- to take a serious tumble. Debbie Williams, author of "Organized Kidz" and the site www.organizedtimes.com, suggests a "10-second tidy" before you tuck your child into bed. "Pick up all the toys on the floor, or at least those in front of the bed," she says. Not only will it make his bedroom safer, but it can instill a habit that will stick with your child -- and you.

The Leaning Tower of Puzzles ... and Games ... and Blocks ...
Not only can unbalanced bookshelves and too-high stacks of toys and games come tumbling down unexpectedly, but they also create a temptation for children to climb on windowsills, counters, and shelves to get at whatever's on top -- creating a risky scenario, says Iyna Caruso, author of "The Everything Home Storage Solutions Book." A better bet? Put anything you don't want your child to have out-of-sight or behind a closed closet door.

Microbug Breeding
You might not think of those extra shampoo bottles lining your tub as "clutter" -- after all, they're mostly out of sight (when you pull the shower curtain closed), and you'll use them someday ... probably. But, according to Caruso, one of the hidden dangers of that kind of clutter is that it can create a habitat for fungus and other microbes. "People can't clean their bathtubs as well when there are too many bottles on the ledge," she explains. "Water gets trapped underneath them and becomes a breeding ground for mold and mildew." According to the Centers for Disease Control, exposure to mold can cause a host of health issues, from skin and eye irritation to respiratory problems, and can cause or exacerbate allergies and asthma. To keep mold and mildew at bay, reduce the number of items you keep in your bath and shower and be sure to move each bottle and clean under it with a disinfectant frequently. Also, hang damp towels in a well-ventilated area rather than leaving them bunched up on the floor.

The Dust-Bunny Hop
Dust is another common allergen and asthma trigger, and too much of it in the home can create an unhealthy environment for kids, reports the American Academy of Pediatrics. When you've got too much stuff in your house, it's difficult to do a really good job dusting and vacuuming, and, of course, the things themselves attract and collect dust, says Caruso. If you consider that those heirlooms you've been feeling too guilty to get rid of could actually make your family sick, you might feel better about giving them -- or packing them -- away.

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