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All About Storage & Organization

Find a place for everything by getting your storage and organization sorted first.

Drawers for cabinet storage Anthony Tieuli

It seems inevitable for human beings to continually accumulate stuff. Yet it’s not necessarily the amount of personal possessions that’s the problem, often it’s the lack of ample storage and organized arrangement of our gear that causes so much frustration and leaves us unable to find what we want when we want it.

While some folks amass all manner of items and so really struggle with clutter, most of us have a few weak spots—too many tools, loads of clothes, a massive media collection. Fortunately, some general rules apply to keeping tidily on top of just about anything. You’ll find them below, as well as solutions for specific categories of basic belongings. Follow just a few of the suggestions and the age-old adage of “a place for everything and everything in its place” may finally begin to have meaning for you.

Effective Strategies for Storage and Organization

No matter what you’ve got a lot of, these tips will help you get it under control.

  1. Please purge. Chances are you don’t use, need, or even want everything you’ve collected, so before attempting to get a handle on it, divest. Broken items that have sat unfixed for a year can safely be considered trash. “Perfectly good” gear you no longer reach for is ready to be sold or donated.
  2. Like likes like. Group similar items together, and categorize within categories. This way, when you need a certain screwdriver, for instance, you’ll know it will be with its fellows, not lost among a bunch of random tools. Plus, organizing items by type may also help you whittle further. Do you truly need three containers or copies or cartons of insert-your-particular-weakness-here? No.
  3. Every day or stow away? Once you’ve sorted items by type, think about what you rely on often and need close at hand versus what can be kept in a less accessible place. Seasonal stuff is obvious to decide on, but once in the right mindset you’ll be able to discriminate more easily.
  4. See and ye shall find. The reason we can’t locate what we want is because we can’t see it. So the more things we can put in plain view, on open shelving or in clear containers, the better. Oft-used items should be visible at all times; if lesser-used stuff goes in opaque containers, clearly label boxes/bins with their contents.
  5. Get vertical. Horizontal storage is bound to run out, so access the vertical plane. Floor-to-ceiling shelving, pegboards along a wall, hanging baskets, over-the-door racks, and even DIY storage you rig up on the sides of cabinets all help maximize space.
  6. Exploit unused space. Your home may be short on traditional closets, but if you explore you’re bound to find empty spots that could serve as storage. Consider the vacancy under the basement stairs (great for lodging large items), the attic (lay plywood platforms over the insulation), and behind doorways (an excellent spot for peg racks).
  7. Divide and conquer. Just about any drawer that holds small items is apt to become a jumbled mess without dividers. To buy the right size and number of compartments, bring a piece of paper cut to the exact size of the drawer’s interior to the store, then piece together the combination that works best. And while you’ll find plenty of drawer dividers available for purchase, they’re simple to DIY out of corrugated cardboard or plywood.
  8. Keep it up. Most of us can get organized; trouble starts when we don’t maintain it. Remind yourself that a project isn’t finished until tools and supplies are returned to where they belong. Devote ten minutes a day to putting away and your best organizing efforts will be here to stay.

Specific Storage and Organization Tips

Control the top 10 clutter causes with these smart, simple ideas.

1. Hand tools, hardware, and fasteners:

  • Put good old pegboard on the wall behind your work bench, and buy the hanging hardware for hammers, pliers, wrenches, et cetera. For foolproof organization, you can trace the outline of the tool as it hangs on the wall, and fill in this outline with black paint.
  • Cut pieces of PVC pipe at an angle and attach to a wall or the side of a cabinet to hold hand tools.
  • Add drawers under workshop surfaces for stealth storage.
  • Hold nuts, bolts, and other small fasteners in clear glass jars and house on open shelves. For easy access, screw the lids to the shelves’ underside.
  • Attach magnetic tape to a vertical surface and use to mount small metal implements like drill bits.

2. Clothing and accessories:

  • Stow off-season clothing separately. Under the bed is a likely place, or buy a storage bed with built-in drawers below.
  • Keep long items (coats, dresses, hanging pants) on one side of the closet, shorter pieces (shirts, skirts) on the other side, then utilize the area under the short side for a second hanging bar or a shoe rack.
  • Employ the same type of hangers—preferably strong, thin ones—on closet rods for optimal functioning. Bulky hangers of different shapes take up space.
  • Roll t-shirts, athletic wear, pajamas, and other wrinkle-free items, then tuck into drawers/baskets, as opposed to the traditional fold-and-stack technique. Rolled pieces take up less room and allow you to see what you’ve got.
  • Put a pegboards on a closet wall for necklaces, scarves, and belts.
  • Fill dressers in the order of dressing: underwear and socks in the top drawer, sweaters/ t-shirts in middle drawers, and pants/leggings in bottom drawers.

3. Linens:

  • Store off-season beach towels or flannel sheets out of the way, at the back of the linen closet, on a high shelf, or in some other location.
  • Organize not only by type but by location (linens for the master bath and bedroom separate from those used in secondary bath/bedrooms).
  • Keep most-used items front and center, ideally at eye-level.
  • Pack sheets sets into one pillowcase from the set and stack on shelves.
  • Gain space for sheets and towels in the linen closet by storing tablecloths, dishtowels, and the like in a dining room sideboard or hutch.
  • Place a storage bench at the foot of your bed for extra blankets and pillows.

4. Media and entertainment:

  • It’s time to digitally store music and movies, uploading to the cloud and backing files up on an external hard drive in case of accidental deletion.
  • Donate CDs, DVDs, and video games. Whatever discs you can’t part with can be stored in soft binders, the original cases recycled.
  • Rely on a storage ottoman or trunk for media you want at hand but not on display.
  • Treat vinyl records with respect: in their original sleeves and in a vertical position (never stacked), preferably on wooden, not metal, shelves (to reduce static). Arrange alphabetically and use letter dividers if your collection is vast.
  • Lodge magazines as librarians do in open-back, cut-corner files, which allow them to be seen and removed easily. To protect delicate paper, don’t overcrowd.
  • Display books, organized loosely by subject matter, then alphabetized by author. For a more aesthetically cohesive look, remove dust jackets and arrange by color.

4. Kitchen pantry:

  • Empty the pantry completely, toss expired foodstuffs, and clean the shelves.
  • Categorize according to your cooking/eating style, dedicating separate areas to breakfast, everyday dinner ingredients, baking, snacks, et cetera.
  • Dedicate an area to canned goods; make it a large but not front-and-center space if you tend to stock up on long-shelf-life staples when they go on sale.
  • Dedicate an area to napkins, foil and wrap rolls, reusable grocery bags, et cetera.
  • Maximize space with shelf risers.
  • Place bottles and oddly shaped packages in bins or baskets that fit more neatly on shelves to maximize space.
  • Consider what can come out of the pantry. It may be more convenient to locate the spice rack near the stove, for instance.

6. Cookware and dishware:

  • If remodeling the kitchen, invest in cabinetry and countertop solutions that suit your cooking and eating style—with an appliance garage or a breakfast station, say.
  • Rely on open shelving or glass-fronted cabinets to hold you accountable. You’re more apt to be neat when dishware is on display.
  • Hang everyday pots and pans within easy reach, either from a pot rack on the ceiling or from hooks on the underside of an open shelf.
  • Flip pot lids or casserole covers to create a stacking surface if storing bulky cookware in a cupboard or drawer.
  • Install a wide lazy Susan in a deep corner cabinet for cumbersome cookware.
  • Dedicate a slim pullout cabinet for baking sheets, trays, and cutting boards.
  • Mount a magnetic strip for knives.
  • Hang a pegboard for oddly shaped utensils like rolling pins and egg beaters.

7. Office papers and supplies:

  • Invest in a decent desk, with ample storage for files and supplies.
  • Dedicate a shelf with a charging station for electronics.
  • Go digital to prevent paper overload. Sign up for e-billing and automatic payments. Scan and file documents; shred hard copies
  • Stop snail mail from amassing by reviewing it immediately. Scan or file important documents and toss advertisements, catalogs, takeout menus, and other junk right in the recycle bin.
  • Keep all mail supplies together and never search for a stamp again.
  • Place a shallow tray on your desk for matters that need immediate attention; avoid a deep basket or papers will pile up.
  • Color code and neatly label files.
  • Dedicate a spot beside your desk or in a nearby cabinet for the printer, paper, and cartridges.
  • House such essential documents as insurance policies, birth certificate, passport, your will, et cetera in a small fireproof box or safe.

8. Cleaning supplies:

  • Designate a utility closet for all house cleaning products, if possible. Put a pegboard on one wall to hang brooms, mops, and dustpans.
  • Gain extra storage space with hooks and/or shelves on the inside of closet and cabinet doors.
  • Maximize under-sink storage with an expandable rack.
  • Hang spray bottles from a tension rod in the cabinet under the sink.
  • Repurpose an over-the-door shoe organizer with clear plastic pouches for cleansers, brushes, and dusters.
  • Fill a caddy with essential products to tote from room to room.
  • Install vertical shelving next to the washer/dryer for detergents, bleach, and softeners.

9. Grooming aids and accessories:

  • Check dates on cosmetics and medications and dispose of expired products properly.
  • Protect the bedroom dresser from accidental leaks by keeping lotions and colognes on a decorative tray.
  • Hang an over-the-door organizer with roomy pouches for hair dryers, styling irons, combs, and brushes. Wrap cords neatly and tuck into pouches so they don’t dangle.
  • Store jars, tubes, and bottles in clear acrylic organizers so you can read labels at a glance.
  • Increase vanity storage with stackable containers.
  • Add a magnetic strip to the inside of the medicine chest door for small metal utensils like tweezers, nail clippers, and scissors.
  • Keep hair ties, headbands, bobby pins, and the like tidy in drawstring pouches.

10. Toys and sports equipment:

  • Build a toy barn with your child’s help.
  • Designate a toy closet, separate from the clothing closet, if possible. Include a stack of drawers, brightly labeled, so kids will know what belongs where.
  • Arrange a series of kid-height cubbies in their bedrooms so they can take out and put away their toys themselves. Control clutter further with baskets inside the cubbies.
  • Employ a large bin for stuffed animals.
  • Store toys in a rolling cart that fits under the bed.
  • Use pegboards and hooks to hang long-handled sports equipment like rackets, bats, and hockey sticks. Add baskets to the pegboard for pucks and balls.
  • Get a ball rack to stow and easily see all your soccer balls, volleyballs, and basketballs.
  • House helmets in hanging sweater shelves.