Please help me learn to organize my stuff
July 21, 2010 6:17 AM   Subscribe

Please give me advice/books/websites/etc that will teach me how to organize my stuff.

I grew up in the messiest family ever and have lived with everything in piles since I was a child. I would like to change this, but I really never learned how. I dig the idea of "Everything has a place and everything in its place," but I'm clueless on how to implement it.

Every time I get down to cleaning up the mess, I just don't know where to put everything. I bought a bunch of storage furniture from Ikea, but it mostly just stands there empty because I don't know how to arrange the stuff to go inside it.

I have looked up websites (like Flylady, and bought some books (Organizing for Dummies, Organize Now, One Year to an Organized Life). All of these resources have one thing in common. They assume you already know how to organize your stuff, and just need to get around to actually doing so. For instance, I did the "Beginner Baby Steps" at Flylady, and then I got to the point where I'm supposed to clear off a "hot spot" (an area of the home that attracts a lot of clutter) and it just flat out told me to do it, like I should know where everything goes and just need someone to tell me to put it there.

I don't need a website to tell me to put things away. I don't need help getting motivated. I don't need help with "negative voices." I don't need to learn to let go of things I don't really need. I need something to help me figure out where everything goes.

It's pretty much the same with all the other resources I can find. They all tell you to go around the house with a bag labeled "trash," a bag labeled "donate" and a bag labeled "put away." That's easy, but then they never tell you what to do with the stuff in the "put away" bag.

Heeeeelllllp! Please.
posted by giggleknickers to Home & Garden (30 answers total) 74 users marked this as a favorite
Well, this all depends on whether you're a taxonomy type person or a frequency person.

If you're taxonomy-based, you will classify or categorise everything you own and put like with like, all over your house, and your organisation system will tend towards relying on shelves, boxes, hanging fabric organiser thingies from IKEA and the like. For someone creating a taxonomy-based system, the tools and the classification system are key. Step 1 is to plan out your taxonomy, usually by room. So your bedroom might be where you put everything to do with sleeping, dressing, relaxing and possibly reading. So, get a wardrobe, some plastic boxes for shoes, some bookshelves and so on. You could do this on paper.

If you're a frequency person, it's all about organising things so that they come to hand easily when they're needed, with the easiness of access being in direct relation to how often you use them. You can also place items used often together in close proximity (put your coffee cups, teabags and sugar bowl near your kettle, for example). This can mean that things you use only rarely (but still want to keep) get boxed up and stored with maximum regard to space and minimum regard to serendipity. A good example of this is the kind of person who realises they aren't going to read 90% of the books they buy more than once, so puts the ones they don't sell or give away in a box. They exchange the pleasantness of browsing their own bookshelves for the feeling of visual and spiritual simplicity that comes with good storage.

Most people don't have a formal 'system', and mix and match between these two extremes. If you've never done this before, the best thing to do is grab a big pad of paper and draw it out. If you really want to get things organised, nothing helps more than labelled containers, for everything. Map out the containers you want to use and where on a bit of paper and then replicate that with the kind of large plastic storage crates, shelving and boxes you can buy in any IKEA. Label everything. Do it a room at a time and don't freak out about it taking forever or feeling like a fruitless task - I promise if you put time and effort into it and then maintain your system over time, it will reap benefits.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:29 AM on July 21, 2010 [13 favorites]

Think about where you use things. Make the place for each thing somewhere near where you use them, but also selected because things will actually be out of the way when they are put there.

For example, until recently, my spices lived on a spice rack near my stove. However, I have two roommates whose accumulated spices have also moved in, and the spices had completely overtaken the counter. Just outside the kitchen, there is an awkward little built-in set of shelves that is too small for holding anything substantial, and which had become a clutter collection spot. I have now made them the spice shelves: close to the kitchen, with enough space for all of them, but out of the way of my day to day living.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:42 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Check out the archives at Unclutterer. They actually have a lot of "Where can/should you put this type of thing?" and "How do you store X?" type of questions and posts. They also have a forum where you can post specific questions.

This post on having "too much storage" and not knowing how to organize it might be helpful.
posted by SugarAndSass at 6:44 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

I pile everything that I think should go together into groups on the floor. Those piles then tell me the size, shape and style of storage that's needed for the mess.

If you're like me, and you stop at the stage when you've got all your stuff in piles across the floor, you'll probably have more mess than you started with. Don't do this! Move the piles into where ever they are going to be stored.
posted by Helga-woo at 6:44 AM on July 21, 2010

I'm not sure how much this will help with your current situation, but I hope it will be reassuring in terms of the future.

A few years ago I resolved to clean messes as they happen, rather than letting things pile up. It only takes 10 minutes to wash the dishes right after dinner, 30 seconds to hang up my coat when I come in from outside, etc. Whereas I get overwhelmed easily when the house is a wreck. For the most part, staying tidy is much easier now that I've got in the habit of taking care of things right away.

I have to say I'm a little confused about your not knowing "where to put things". I'm assuming your house came with cupboards and drawers and the like, and you mention storage furniture. There's no magical correct answer for Where Things Go - you have to just do it. I mean, sure, there's a logic to keeping the can opener in the kitchen and your clothes in the closet - but beyond that, it's whatever works.

My method for when things are really bad is just to get stuff out of sight. Maybe you could start there? Just open a drawer and start putting things inside it. Later on you can go back to the beginning and sort everything so that it's logical and easy to remember. Probably as you go looking for things you stowed away, you'll think, "I hate searching for my house keys in that overstuffed kitchen drawer. Maybe I should get a hook for them?"
posted by Sara C. at 6:50 AM on July 21, 2010

Suggestion: stop looking so much for systems of how to unclutter, and more at sites/magazines/etc that feature before and after examples, with some commentary on the actual process, room by room. Use these for inspiration on finding a permanent home for your "put away" items.

Off the top of my head... Unclutterer might be a good site for inspiration (they just did a feature for Wired), and you also might take a look at Apartment Therapy.

The latter is more of a design/lifestyle site, except that 2 or 3 times a year they do a 10 week group exercise called The Cure, which takes you step by step through dealing with individual areas of your house - and has a large group of people participating, commenting and crowdsourcing "what do I do with this random thing?" on their forums and Flickr page. The next Cure event starts in September... I've been considering it myself.
posted by deludingmyself at 6:50 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you have books? Put them in a bookshelf.
Do you have clothes? Hang them in the closet or put them in dresser drawers.
Do you have papers? Put them in a filing cabinet. Make some categories.
Put your dishes in a cabinet. Put your silverware in one of those drawer divider things.

What do you have that you don't know where to put? I'm serious.
posted by DarkForest at 6:51 AM on July 21, 2010

I'll second trying out the Apartment Therapy cure. If I remember it correctly, there are a lot of exercises, especially in the beginning, that get you thinking about space and the flow of your life. I remember getting a lot out of the task where you have to clean all the floors in your home. You do it not only because clean floors are obviously a good thing, but because the movement required will show you whether your space works for or against you* and how to think about changing that.

*I used to take theatre classes, and when we workshopped a piece with a real set, costumes, blocking, etc. the teacher used to always remind us, "Before you start, look around the set. Is everything as it should be? Is it comfortable? You want your set to work for you and not against you." I think she just meant to make sure that all our ducks were in a row in terms of having the props we needed and making sure we could sit around the table at the proper angles. But I still think about it in terms of my real-life space.
posted by Sara C. at 6:59 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I literally am a professional at this. Not the way you think but I design and build warehouses for efficiency and productivity goals (either storing more stuff or finding stuff faster). A lot of those books and resources you looked at focus on the emotional side of the equation and are really necessary when it becomes time to "Do it". From the sounds of it, you have issues with the "Plan it" portion of the process.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
1. Write down the top 5 activities you do regularly in your home.
2. Find a large room to clear out in your house (I am partial to living rooms for this).
3. Make 8 zones in the room (1 for each of the top 5 activities, 1 for storage, 1 for other, and 1 for trash/donate).
4. Before you start touching anything, go into each room in your house (or distinct area if you subdivide space like a family room that connects to the dining area). Look at the space and decide how it will be used, especially if it is appropriate for the "home" for 1 of the top 5 activities. Write down what each room is for on 1 sheet of paper per room/area.
5. Go back to the room set up with the sorting zones. Put the papers you made in step 4 where you can easily access them. Here is where you can decide where each of the items you will organize will "live". For each of the 5 activities and the storage zones, decide on home areas/rooms and write that zone on the sheet of paper for the room you choose. Don't worry about how or how much yet.
6. Now, to work. Use the zones to sort all the items from 1 room at a time into the "zone" room. For places that are purpose built (i.e. bathroom, workshop, kitchen), only collect the items that obviously do not belong OR have not been used in 1 year (i.e. when is the last time you really used that huge serving platter, when is the last time you used that universal remote, do you even like this brand of soap, etc.).
7. When a room is stripped down to furniture, this is a good time to clean well. Since most people really live in about 5 rooms of their homes, you probably then have 1 of the "homes" now available. Good. Wait.
8. The general idea is to get all of the rooms stripped down to furniture and stuff that belongs (either because it is the only place for the item, like a toilet bowl brush OR because it will reside there post big bang), creating a room that allows you to see all of the "stuff" you have for what you really spend your time on. If you find the items can't move (i.e. too big, too heavy, etc.), write the item down on a notecard and put it into the right zone AND where is currently resides).
9. Here is where you will get the effect you want. You now can make a bunch of decisions. Remember that each zone is for a particular purpose. Do you need it? Can you sell it if you don't need it? Can you donate it for money/tax credit? Is it trash? If you want to keep it, why? This is your chance to purge that activity down to what works. An example: You like to ski, you put all of the skis, jackets, gloves, screw kits, goggles, ski resort paperwork, crutches, ski luggage, etc. in zone 1. After having stripped 1/2 of the house, you notice that you have 3 goggles in the pile. 1 is your preferred set, 1 doesn't really fit you and 1 was a gift (never used). You now can get rid of the 2 you don't need. You also realize that you don't need the lift ticket on your jacket nor the reservations for your ski trip from 2 years ago. Okay, fast forward a day or two or maybe a month. You now know that you only have what you want for zone 1 (skiing) and that it will reside in your basement. You look at the pile and compare the pile to the available furniture in the basement (maybe also other pieces from other rooms). You choose a big plastic wardrobe that you have to move into the basement.
10. Move the top5 activity stuff to their homes after setting up the proper type of storage for those items. Don't worry about if you get more stuff for that activity. That is much easier to deal with later as you at least have a start on a "home" now.
11. Take the zone for "other" and make some choices here. A. Why is it here? B. Is this thing/activity still wanted or necessary? C. Can this be sold/donated for cash? D. Is this memoribilia that needs to be displayed/protected?
12. Use the now open 5 zones to sort out the "other" zone. Keep going through the process of sift, sort, and segregate until you have 3 piles left. Sell, donate, and trash. You know what to do with them, I hope.

I have found that gradual change (1 room at a time) only works if you know why you have the room in the first place. A room may be built as a bedroom, but if you want to use it as an art studio, you have an art studio to equip, clean and maintain. A big bang to set up the room (as I described) is messy, aggravating and time consuming. But it is the only way to make sure your room fits your need. When you let "stuff" build up from other activities, you are actually saying that the room no longer fits your need, maybe because life is busy or maybe your needs have changed. You are not looking to right your ship, you are looking to build a new ship. You want to get rid of stuff that doesn't help you and then take a look at what is left BEFORE trying to store it. You can't do that if the keeper items are spread around and if you don't know where they will live long term. Once you do this, you have a much better idea of what to store, where to store it, and how much space it will take. As for choosing the size of containers, ping me and I will help you with the basics...
posted by Koffeeman at 7:00 AM on July 21, 2010 [20 favorites]

This probably also depends on what kind of stuff you have, what particular bits of it are the major problems, and what your living arrangements are / what storage space you have available. In other words, do you have piles of books on the floor? Piles of books mixed with important financial paperwork? Important financial paperwork mixed with kitchen implements? Do you even have a kitchen and/or the associated jumble of stuff that may come with it?

I am nosy and love organising other people's stuff, admittedly mainly as a way of avoiding organising my own environment (I also grew up in a house full of piles of stuff, and am currently living there again. I have a system for most of my stuff, but can't really apply it to my mother's. I have a job where I get to spend time between customers reorganising most of the contents of the stock room. It's great). MeMail me if you want!
posted by Lebannen at 7:01 AM on July 21, 2010

Response by poster: What do you have that you don't know where to put? I'm serious.

I just went around the apartment and made a list of a few things that are sitting on the floor, on chairs etc.
- Carrier case for cat
- Various sunglasses
- Electronics project stuff, e.g. breadboards, jumper cables, resistors and all that stuff
- Tools, e.g. screwdrivers etc
- Video game console accessories
- Tons of cables for various electronics. Yes, I do need them, I just don't need all of them all the time.
- Nice tablecloth and napkins that were meant for if I ever get this place looking nice enough to have guests
- Presents for friends' birthday and Christmas (I buy these throughout the year well before they are needed)
- Notepads, pencils, pens, stapler (lord knows where the actual staples are), post-its, scissors
- Computers and electronics that are waiting to be repaired but the part I need hasn't come in the mail just yet
- Lotions, make up, hair accessories. These should go in the bathroom, but then they just go in a pile in the medicine cabinet and I can't find what I need.
- Jewelry. I've tried putting these in jewelry boxes, but again they just go in a pile and get all tangled up.
- Plastic bags and cardboard boxes. Annoyingly, I always need these, but I have to tear the place apart to find one, even thought I have plenty of them.
- Cat vitamins, catnip
- Human vitamins
- Small exercise equipment, e.g. pilates swivel thingie, hand weights
- Board games. I actually do put them away in the box after I finish playing, but then the box just sits there

I know I must seem like a moron to those of you who grew up organized, but to someone who has never, ever lived with her things in any state other than in piles, this really is hard. It truly is a skill you had to learn even if you learned it so early that it seems inherently obvious now.
posted by giggleknickers at 7:15 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

One thing that works for me is looking through home design magazines/blogs and just seeing where they put things. But I'm totally with you — arranging things sensibly and non-clutter-y is really difficult! Something that kind of works with me is to get a large series of cubes (something like this, which you can put in stacked cubes) and decide what goes in each one. Electronics equipment goes in one cube, cat stuff goes in one cube, tools go in another, video games in another, writing equipment goes in another. You can subdivide with little plastic dividers, too.

As for jewelry, I have the exact same problem you do — I eventually got a corkboard, put pins in it, and hang my necklaces from that. I got an holder for the earrings (um, except mine is much more grown-up than that).

And seriously, plastic drawer dividers are a godsend.
posted by good day merlock at 7:23 AM on July 21, 2010

Do you have a sock drawer? An underwear drawer? A t-shirt drawer? If so, they're probably in the bedroom where you'll be when you want a sock or t-shirt. You probably keep socks together, no? If not, try it and expand on this principle.

Put similar things together in one place, and make that a place where you'll use those things. And then keep them there. Anything you take from its place, put it back immediately, otherwise stuff'll pile up randomly the way it is now. Put drinking glasses in the same kitchen cabinet and plates in their own kitchen cabinet, and be sure to return them to the right spot immediately. Break things down into categories.

Home office? Put supplies in one drawer, put tax files in another drawer all together, put on-going work in one pile and up-coming work in another pile and keep the piles piled neatly. If things start to come adrift, you'll be in a mess again. The key, I think, is to think about things first, decide what items go together and then decide where the most convenient spot is for those items, and then discipline yourself to keep them there and return them to their spot right away. It's tough, because the trick is creating small-enough categories to prevent big messes, and then creating a habit for yourself. Habits can be irritating when you're creating them but amazingly liberating when you've got it done. Your car keys are ALWAYS on that hook by the door! You never lose them again.

You can't just say, "Okay, clothes go in the bedroom," and then let socks, pants, shirts, etc, all drift around in the bedroom. You've got to say, "Okay, socks in the sock drawer, pants on hangars in the closet but not in with the shirts on hangars, only with other pants." Yadda yadda.
If this doesn't come naturally to you, as you've said it doesn't, I can see how it will be a very big nuisance till you get the hang of it. But having taught myself some of these ideas I can testify it'll make your life simpler, cleaner and a lot less stressy.
Good luck.
(Socks go in the sock drawer.)
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:25 AM on July 21, 2010

Listing the things you need to organize was a great start - now list the storage that you have and its location in your house.

It sounds like you have a lot of little things that need to be organized. Do your storage options match that need? If not, you can make up little drawer dividers and things like that fairly easily using cardboard (either cut up from big boxes or boxes from granola bars or cereal or what have you).
posted by SugarAndSass at 7:27 AM on July 21, 2010

I'm going to make suggestions one by one. Because even though I am nominally organized now, I did NOT grow up that way! I'm going to totally guess and make assumptions about the amount of space you're working with - feel free to correct me or ask further questions.

- Carrier case for cat
- Presents for friends' birthday and Christmas (I buy these throughout the year well before they are needed)*
- Plastic bags and cardboard boxes. Annoyingly, I always need these, but I have to tear the place apart to find one, even thought I have plenty of them.

Closet, garage, attic, or some other large storage area for items you don't use very often.

- Various sunglasses

A drawer of some kind, maybe a small decorative box if you have one. Either in the bedroom (for a "like with like" approach to accessories storage) or near the entrance to your home so you can always grab a pair on the way out the door (a "frequency" approach).

- Lotions, make up, hair accessories. These should go in the bathroom, but then they just go in a pile in the medicine cabinet and I can't find what I need.
- Jewelry. I've tried putting these in jewelry boxes, but again they just go in a pile and get all tangled up.

- Human vitamins

Like the sunglasses, these could go in any number of places based on whether you like a Like With Like or a Frequency approach (bathroom, bedroom, closet, entrance, etc). Organize them nicely in containers. And try to put things back where they go immediately after using them. If you use them every day and can never take the time to do this, your system is not working for you. You need to find a way of organizing these things that enables you to put them away quickly and easily every time. This is where the Apartment Therapy cure comes in handy. You'll probably also have to cull every once in a while, especially the toiletries. Don't get discouraged about that.

- Electronics project stuff, e.g. breadboards, jumper cables, resistors and all that stuff
- Tons of cables for various electronics. Yes, I do need them, I just don't need all of them all the time.
- Computers and electronics that are waiting to be repaired but the part I need hasn't come in the mail just yet

You need to come up with one comprehensive solution to ALL your electronical clutter. My suggestion would be either a series of plastic bins/tubs that would be stored in a particular room (or closet/attic/basement/garage), or some kind of E-Closet. Depending on the amount of stuff and what your space constraints are.

- Tools, e.g. screwdrivers etc

Get a tool box if you don't already have one. Arrange the tools in the box. Store the box in a closet, cupboard, or the like. If these are tools you don't use often, they can go in the same place where you stored the cat carrier. If they are tools you use to repair computers, they can live in Electronics Land.

- Video game console accessories
- Board games. I actually do put them away in the box after I finish playing, but then the box just sits there
- Small exercise equipment, e.g. pilates swivel thingie, hand weights

These should probably be stored out of sight (or at least neatly arranged) in the room where you usually use them. I'm guessing living room? My ex had a great system for all his video game stuff -- he got a coffee table with drawers. Controllers and battery packs and cables and whatnot go in one drawer. The games themselves go in the other. Done and done. Same basic deal for the boardgames and exercise stuff. Pick a shelf or cabinet or some official place where your boardgames will live. If they are nice to look at, it could be someplace in full view. If you want to hide them away, you could put them in a closet or cupboard.

- Nice tablecloth and napkins that were meant for if I ever get this place looking nice enough to have guests

Linen closet. If you don't have a closet designated as your linen closet, do that. All your sheets, towels, napkins, etc. can go there. Big box stores and places that specialize in organizing/storage stuff will carry products for keeping these things tidy.

- Notepads, pencils, pens, stapler (lord knows where the actual staples are), post-its, scissors

Do you have a desk or "office" area? If so, they go there, probably in drawers or maybe some kind of desktop caddy. If not, this is what kitchen "junk drawers" were made for.

- Cat vitamins, catnip

Where do you keep the cat food, cat toys, litter, etc? This stuff should go there. If you don't have a place for any of that, designate one.

*I know it's easier said than done, but try not to bring new stuff into your house if you have nowhere to put it. Especially if it's something that's supposed to sit around for months.
posted by Sara C. at 7:40 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think it would be helpful to know what kind of space you have as well (i.e. if you're short on a storage space and therefore need to put away things like a cat carrier in a small apartment with no closets, etc.), but it sounds to me like you've gone through some stuff and you're ready for containers. Additionally, it sounds to me once you know where "home" is for these objects, you'll be able to put them there- and you just need to decide what best works for you given your space and uses of objects.

Suggestions for the things that you list:
- Cat carrier- closet if you have the space. If not, possibly near the cat litter so you create a "cat stuff area" with the box, extra litter, and carrier on top of the extra litter.

- Sunglasses- keep one pair in car, one in purse/man bag. Any more and you might have too many. Something you might find helpful to look at is the idea of a "landing pad" where all of the things you need before you leave the house go: keys, sunglasses, wallet, etc.

- Electronics project stuff- if this can be put away, buy a plastic tote box and label it. If not, put the majority of it that can go in a box, including all tools in there, and only leave out the bare minimum. I'm guessing you already have to keep some parts of your projects up so the cat doesn't bother them and you just need a place to put them. By plastic tote, I'm thinking of anything like this from target. You need something with a lid that you can label and stack. I know you're in Germany, so that's just an example.

- Tools go in a toolbox. Try a cabinet under the kitchen sink, or designate a kitchen cabinet for these and your cat vitamins, treats, etc.

- Video game console accessories- Mine are under the entertainment center on the floor on a tray from IKEA. They can be pulled out when the system is in use, and otherwise are put out of the way. Extra pieces go in the drawer of the entertainment center, otherwise find some kind of box that works that you can tuck to the side of the TV.

- Cables all go together in a plastic tub. My husband has a large one, and then when I'm picking up I don't get rid of his cables- they just all go in one tub. Alternately, they can be stored with the electronics (ie, computer cables go in desk drawer).

- Tablecloths and napkins- create a drawer in kitchen for these, as well as kitchen towels, etc.

- Presents for friends throughout year- I do this to, and bought a box I designate as the "gift box." All presents go in here.

- Desk supplies- do you have a desk? Otherwise, look at a smaller container for most items like this, and put them where you normally use your computer or pay your bills. Stapler can just go next to them.

- Bathroom supplies- I got three small plastic tubs and broke up my supplies: makeup, hair, and skin/all other products. All makeup goes together (though if you have a lot, you can break it into two boxes by parts of the face: skin/face and eyes/lips), all hair bands, brushes and gels go together, and all lotions, deodorants, perfumes go together. They're out, but contained and off the counter.

- Jewelry- Depends on your space, but I bought cute bowls/cups and put them in a drawer that I can open in my dresser/nightstand so I can see everything. I also have a jewelry box some stuff goes in that can hang. Do you like to see everything? Or do you like for it all to be put away?

- Plastic bags go together under the kitchen sink/in a drawer. Hopefully you don't need that many- consider getting reusable shopping bags. Cardboard boxes- again, only keep a few of these on hand unless you are doing serious mailings or moving things around. Not sure of your storage situations, so I can't help as much there.

- Cat vitamins and catnip- hopefully in the cabinet with the tools near other cat stuff.

- Human vitamins- anywhere you take them. Bathroom, kitchen cabinet, bedside table.

- Exercise equipment- where do you work out? Put them near that space.

- Board games. These can be stacked and still look need.

Again, a better idea of your living space and storage options would be helpful. Memail me if you need more ideas.
posted by questionsandanchors at 7:41 AM on July 21, 2010

I just went around the apartment and made a list of a few things that are sitting on the floor

I am wondering if you still have too much stuff to fit nicely in your space.

For your electronics projects you may need a dedicated desk, space or workroom where you can leave half-finished projects out.

Board games stacked on shelves.

lotions etc., in bathroom. you may need more cabinet space to keep organized.

Hand weights, under bed. Cat carrier, in floor of closet or near door if you use it often.

I'm thinking this is really a too much stuff in a too small space problem.
posted by DarkForest at 7:57 AM on July 21, 2010

I look at the item, and ask myself a few questions:
1. Are there other objects like this one?
2. How often do i use it?
3. Based on the answers to those questions, what room/how accessible to I want it to be?
4. Do i already have the storage needed for it? If not, sometimes a new storage space needs to be purchased.

For example:
Cat carrier--I almost never use mine, so they live in the garage loft storage space, where i have to get a step ladder to get them down. Previously they have lived on the top shelf of a bedroom or hall closet if I didn't have a garage. If you use yours often, maybe they would live on a closet floor.

Computer cables/misc electronics:
I bought a new storage space for these: one of those plastic 3-drawer thingies, it lives inside a large bedroom closet--if it had to live out in the bedroom itself, i might have bought something nicer, made of wood. I bought one based on how much of that stuff was lying around, so collect all similar items before deciding what to buy.

Papers: I have a 2-drawer filing cabinet, also not that nice, also lives in the same closet. A couple boxes of archive papers live on the top shelf of that closet, in case someday I might need them. There are definitely books on how to develop your own paper filing systems, but I can answer that in more detail later.

Vitamins: bathroom drawer
Cat vitamins: guest bathroom medicine cabinet

Basically: where do you use the item, and where can you stuff it?
posted by lemonade at 8:03 AM on July 21, 2010

I'll also give some specific suggestions:

- Carrier case for cat -- keep mine in the basement, near the litterboxes but up on a shelf.

- Various sunglasses -- I have a pair in my purse, a pair in my car, a pair in my husband's car ... but I also keep three little baskets, one for each person in my family, on the shelf in the front closet. These "catch" things like sunglasses, mittens, hats, etc. They're right there when you're finding your coat to go outside and keep all those small things organized by person. I trade out my stuff by season (I have a random, difficult-to-access drawer for out-of-season small things); my husband prefers to keep it all in there at once.

- Electronics project stuff, e.g. breadboards, jumper cables, resistors and all that stuff -- I keep my project stuff in several stacking tupperware-type bins (which have lived in random corners but are getting their own cabinet, yay!); my husband uses a tool bench cabinet for his stuff. Even if the tupperware bins are just sitting in the corner, you can at least stash them in your bedroom or something when you have company.

- Tools, e.g. screwdrivers etc -- toolbench. Holey board to hang them from. Tool box. I have a plastic pencil box that I keep a small assortment of tools in (hammer, 2 screwdrivers, pliers) that I use a lot, that I keep on a shelf in our home office; my husband's mega uber tool box intimidates me and I can never find anything.

- Video game console accessories -- Got a TV stand with cabinet storage. One section of it holds all my video game accessories. Before that, had a small, open TV stand; got some pretty fabric bins that tossed all the controllers and stuff in there.

- Tons of cables for various electronics. Yes, I do need them, I just don't need all of them all the time. -- Various options. My A/V ones live in my TV stand cabinet, since that's where I usually use them. For small electronics, I have a an old-fashioned telephone stand that I use for my modem and router; the storage (which was probably meant for phone books) holds small electronics and their accessories so they're all in one place. You could designate a drawer, or a bin. For excess cables, we have an old Christmas tin in the basement full of cables so we can find them when needed.

- Nice tablecloth and napkins that were meant for if I ever get this place looking nice enough to have guests -- china cabinet, linen closet, cedar chest, underbed box. If your kitchen has a lot of storage, a kitchen drawer or cabinet.

- Presents for friends' birthday and Christmas (I buy these throughout the year well before they are needed) -- I designate a closet, banker's box, or similar for these and store them all together in a rather out-of-the-way place. Right now they're on the floor of a closet that otherwise holds formal dresses that I rarely wear.

- Notepads, pencils, pens, stapler (lord knows where the actual staples are), post-its, scissors -- This one is hard for everyone. I finally designated a particular area to be "office supply central" and got one of those cube sorters and labeled each of the 8 cubes. Some of them have drawers to hold smaller things, others are open and hold larger things. I keep media storage, printer paper, envelopes, binders, hole punchers, the whole nine yards. I labeled each cube with a label maker. On top, I got small bins to hold pens and pencils, "fasteners" (paperclips, staples, etc.), and similar very small things. This is less convenient than having them on the desk, but turns out to be more convenient overall because we can find the freaking stuff.

- Computers and electronics that are waiting to be repaired but the part I need hasn't come in the mail just yet -- put with wherever you set up your hobby area with the breadboards and whatnot

- Lotions, make up, hair accessories. These should go in the bathroom, but then they just go in a pile in the medicine cabinet and I can't find what I need.
- Jewelry. I've tried putting these in jewelry boxes, but again they just go in a pile and get all tangled up.
-- these two it sounds like you're on the right track, you just need to be more disciplined about putting them away, or you may need to own less of them if the quantity is overwhelming your space or patience. You can also try keeping only SOME of them immediately to hand, while others are stored, or you can buy bins so at least you can drop them all in the same place and put the bin away.

- Plastic bags and cardboard boxes. Annoyingly, I always need these, but I have to tear the place apart to find one, even thought I have plenty of them. -- designate a cabinet. I decided at a certain point it was easier to buy cardboard boxes when I needed them rather than keep them around. For plastic bags, they make these neat tubes of fabric with elastic on both ends that store bags. You can get them at the grocery store. You hang it from a hook somewhere (in a closet, in your kitchen, wherever you use a lot of them).

- Cat vitamins, catnip -- We installed a small shelf above where we keep the catfood to keep cat accessories of this sort.

- Human vitamins -- I finally went with in the fridge. You can't smell the B vitamins if the vitamins are cold! It also turns out to be convenient for remembering to take them.

- Small exercise equipment, e.g. pilates swivel thingie, hand weights -- I am awful at this

- Board games. I actually do put them away in the box after I finish playing, but then the box just sits there -- bookshelves, stacked neatly
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:15 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Once you figure out where a particular object works, make sure it goes back there. Keep a supply of masking tape and label shelves, drawers, the floor in the closet with what lives there. Making sure those few items that *do* have a home get back there means an easier time visualizing what else there's left to do. And remember to keep putting up labels as you progress. These labels don't have to stay forever, just until you get into the habit of putting things back, also seeing the labels will motivate you to return things to their place. For anything small related to electronics (cables, cards, remotes, even gaming controllers) get an on-the-door shoe organizer for your office. One with clear plastic pockets. Works wonders. If you have a lot of this stuff (or any small stuff, office supplies etc), get three and nail them to the wall. Actually, thinking about it, I'd probably get one for my bathroom for cosmetics and the like.
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 8:35 AM on July 21, 2010

I've spent a good portion of the past few months cleaning out a spare bedroom, closets, etc. Good plastic boxes of different sizes and shapes are invaluable...I have boxes for audio equipment, cables, various electronics, photo gear. Under-the-bed boxes with rollers are perfect for my shoes. If something doesn't already have an obvious storage place, it goes in a box (roughly categorized and sorted), which then goes into a closet or the garage. If I haven't touched anything in the box in the past year, the box definitely goes to the garage. And I've become in the habit of asking three things when looking at something sitting around on the table, or wherever - what is it? why is it there? and where does it go?

One thing I've specifically become a HUGE fan of is electrical cord ties. Get a bunch of plastic ties for the cords that are seldom used, and maybe a few dozen velcro ties for the cords that get used frequently. And for the home entertainment system, I bundle as many of the cords as neatly as possible. I can't swear by these things enough.

Good luck! It's been well worth the effort to reclaim my space...everything is easier to keep clean, protected, and my living environment is much more relaxing and enjoyable than it used to be.
posted by malocchio at 9:32 AM on July 21, 2010

Another thing to think about is that you may be the kind of person who needs to see your things to feel organized. Having lots of boxes and drawers doesn't work as well for that kind of person; what works better is having open organization: shelves and hooks for clothes, racks for jewelry and accessories, overhead racks for kitchen pots, etc.

To a person who's a "everything in a labeled box" kind of organizer (which is the kind that is usually considered as "correct") open organizing looks like a mess. But the first goal of organizing isn't looking good or neat: it's having your stuff in a place where you will reliably find it and reliably put it there again. The June issue of Real Simple covered this, calling it "right brain" organizing. They recognize that the best way to approach this kind of organizing is to look at what you already do with things:
Investigate your clutter patterns: Do you drop your necklace on the bathroom counter when you’re getting ready for bed? Maybe you need a wall hook by the sink to catch jewelry. If it works for you, it’s correct.
Let me repeat that for emphasis: If it works for you, it's correct. What anyone who lives outside your space thinks of your system doesn't matter.

So, how do you apply that to your piles? Here's how:
  1. Pick one room to start with. Try one that has a medium to small number of piles first, but make sure it's a room that you use regularly, so you'll be able to enjoy the progress you make.
  2. Go to the first pile and separate out objects into categories: all the magazines go in a pile, all the pens go in a pile, etc. Do this with each pile in the room until you are left with categorized piles. (If your piles are already like with like, skip this).
  3. Okay, now look at each categorized pile and ask: do I use these things in this room, or did they land here after I used them somewhere else? If you use them in this room (let's call these Type 1), they need to have a place to live in this room. If you use them somewhere else in your house (Type 2), that's where they need to live. And if you use them out of the house (Type 3), you need to have a landing place (bins, baskets, shelves, or hooks) near where you enter and leave the house for those objects to live in. If you don't use it or don't want it, it's Type 4: toss it.
  4. Take the Type 2 objects from the room you're working on to the rooms where they live, the Type 3 objects to the place you think will be your "landing place," and Type 4 to the trash or recycle, and then come back right away. Don't worry about finding homes for Type 2 and Type 3 things yet—stay focused on the first room.
  5. Back in the room you're working on, now you can find homes for the Type 1 stuff. I'm going to pretend that these things you mentioned are all Type 1 stuff for this room. This is what would work for me (what works for you might be different):
    • Electronics project stuff, e.g. breadboards, jumper cables, resistors and all that stuff
    • Tools, e.g. screwdrivers etc
    • Video game console accessories
    • Tons of cables for various electronics.
    Okay, if you're like me and you need to see your things, here's what you do with these things: stuff for projects goes in a big clear bin that has three sections. Big things go in one part, medium size things go in another, and small things go in the last part. That way, when you're clearing off your workspace, you only have to decide what size it is. Tools go on hooks on a pegboard over the workspace, with their outline drawn with a sharpie so their home is easy to spot, and they're easy to retrieve. Game console accessories get either the pegboard and sharpie treatment or a clear bin for each console. Cables get put in labeled ziploc bags, and then thrown together in a bin.
  6. Once you've found a home for everything in that room, don't panic about moving on to the next one yet. Enjoy room one for an afternoon or an evening. Before the end of the day decide which room you're going to do next, and when you'll get to it (it's totally okay to have a week or more between rooms—this stuff takes time!).
I know I must seem like a moron (giggleknickers)

Of course you don't! Despite what some people may imply, this stuff isn't at all obvious, and it's hard to get the hang of it.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:34 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might consider hiring a professional organizer. A friend did this and said it was really helpful to have an outside person.

Also, it seemed very collaborative, non-judgmental, and not that expensive for everything they did. The organizer wasn't there to do everything (though I think that was an option), but they worked together to clean out and organize her basement. A willing friend could serve the same role of giving you ideas of where and how to store things.
posted by bubonicpeg at 6:58 AM on July 23, 2010

The secret is perhaps to have less stuff, and never add *anything* new unless you've got a place for it. If "having a place for it" means "throwing out two other things", so be it.
posted by talldean at 8:28 PM on July 25, 2010

Organizing from the Inside Out - Julie Morgenstern Explains the Preschool/Daycare method of organising.
Y'know how a good preschool has an area for dressups, and an area for painting, and an area for reading, and it's all in little zones?
That's how you do your house.
What objects go together?

I have a drawer for makeup & medications/vitamins, that I've divided up into 6 compartments with bits of cardboard from a box. In one corner is vitamins, above that medications & plasters, two makeup compartments (one nail stuff, one less used makeup), hair stuff & hairbrushes in the big front middle, and everything else (infrequently used) behind. I have a Mirror on top of that drawer, and a box on one side with makeup basics. A bowl to the side that I throw sunglasses in, and occasionally hairtyes etc. I have a funny metal tree thing (that was a candle holder) in the middle that I hang earrings & rings on, and lay necklaces in a semicircle around.
Anything I use just gets thrown into the appropriate compartment, and I can rummage around easier than I could on a shelf.
(Cutting cardboard into drawer/box dividers is one of the easiest, most effective things ever).

I do like shelves though so I can see what I have - a large bookcase up against one wall.

I have an office supplies drawer, an electronic odds and ends, and an art supplies drawer. Getting the idea here?

Infrequently used things, like suitcases, and my bedding, go under my bed.
I have a small drawer thing in my closet, rather than empty space beneath my clothes.

Put boardgames on a bookshelf, near where you play them, so they are nice and visible.

Depending how often you use tools, you can make a shadowboard for tools. Just get a board, trace the outline of the tool so you know where it goes, and hammer in some nails so you can hang it in place. Otherwise, they just go in a toolbox, near a/the table you work at.
You could also get a big shallow container for projects-in-progress. Just put them in the container, with a lid on them, and voila - takes 30 seconds to put it away, and your stuff doesn't get damaged/dusty/lost screws etc.

Oh, and I was *just like you*. Couldn't figure out where the hell anything would *go* to tidy. If I really had to 'tidy' I just put every stray thing I owned into boxes/suitcases til crises was over, then pulled it/dug it out again. And lost stuff, frequently. And had extras of things because I'd lose them.
When I finally got the hang of figuring out places for things, so I could consistently find things, I had duplicates of so much shit, a dozen hairbrushes, nearly that many scissors, oodles of stupid office supplies, several bottles of the same multivitamin.
Oh, and much more odd things, like - 5 separate caches of fireworks I'd saved from Guy Fawkes so I'd have sparklers for special occasions (I was like a pyromaniac squirrel!).
You can have less stuff when you know you can find it all.

And - you can have hobbies that you can just *do*. Because you know you can just sit down, and all the stuff you need is right *there*, and then you can chuck it back in just a minute.

Ideally, set things up so that *putting things away again* takes say, 30 seconds. If you can do that? You have mastered having easy and effective 'places for everything'.

Oh, and put a basket by your door (of room, or house), for things that are supposed to 'leave the room'. Mine is in my room, so it contains both dishes to go back to the kitchen, and books to go to the library. Easy!
posted by Elysum at 8:42 PM on July 27, 2010

I use these boxes to organise little things that end up in piles. I put things in the boxes and I put the boxes on shelves in cupboards. Even if the things aren't organised very sensibly, it's easy to pull out the boxes one by one and look for the thing I want. I have a lot of these in my kitchen, some of them probably have vitamins in.

Then I have some things like this that I keep really tiny things in - foreign coins, resistors, jewellery. These go on a shelf in a bookcase in the office.

Tools live in a tool box.

Makeup goes in a makeup bag on a shelf in the bathroom.

Something a bit like this (but bigger and preferably in clear plastic) is good for keeping gloves, woolly hats, sunglasses and so on.

Paper and pens go in desk drawers. When I didn't have a desk or drawers, I kept them in pretty A4 cardboard boxes on a bookshelf.
posted by emilyw at 6:31 AM on July 28, 2010

The suggestions above are excellent. I don't think any of them would have worked for me.

I learned how to do this from David Allen's book Getting Things Done. His process can be equally applied to an email inbox, the day's mail, and an area of your home that's cluttered. The key is to fully think through what each thing is and what it means to you, and decide what you want to do about it. When you're not sure where to put something, it's because you haven't decided what you want to be true about it.

It's hard to describe succinctly without getting tautological, but I encourage you to check it out.
posted by sudama at 7:04 AM on August 1, 2010

Response by poster: Whew! I'm sure everyone else has long forgotten this thread, but I want to come back and update. I had to go away and take a breather from this thread for a while because I just got slammed with so much information. It was a bit ironic, because I had so much data that I didn't know how to sort it all out, and the data was about how to sort everything out!

Pretty much every single answer here was helpful, which is why it overwhelmed me. For this reason, I didn't pick any best answers, because the whole page would have turned pale green. So, apologies to all of you who worked hard on an answer and didn't get that best answer.

I'm working through all this and I'm definitely making progress in organizing my stuff. It won't happen overnight, but I'm getting there. So thank you lots, everybody!
posted by giggleknickers at 11:17 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good for you, giggleknickers!
posted by magstheaxe at 6:35 AM on January 7, 2011

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