Not waving but crap
March 29, 2007 9:48 PM   Subscribe

I am gravely in need of help with an issue that has long perplexed me: namely, how to intuitively store and organize all of my miscellaneous crap.

I'm talking about belts, sunglasses, electronic gadgets, purses, checkbooks...just things.

A couple specific issues: first, I forget I own things that I'd like to use more frequently. I acknowledge that I probably possess too much stuff, but I think the main reason I don't use much of what I own is that I tend to just toss things that don't obviously have a place into the Dread Pits of No Return, namely big plastic storage containers from Target. Plus, not having good storage methods means I tend to fall into the habit of using my desk and bedside stand as a waystation for everything I use somewhat frequently.

Labeling storage containers (e.g. "Spare Office Supplies") has helped some, but I still just forget. I've often been tempted to make a giant Excel inventory of everything I own just so I don't forget I own it.

The other issue I have is a practical one. Have you any tips and tricks for storing things such as sunglasses that don't seem to have any obvious place? I feel that the solution is probably obvious to all, but somehow I never got the memo.

Thank you all!
posted by granted to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
First and foremost, simplify. Get rid of lots of 'stuff'. If you haven't used something in 6 months, either put it in deep storage (those boxes in the back of your closet) or give it away.

Sunglasses go in the car, which is where you'll most often need them (if you're like me). For belts, hang some hooks in your closet.

3) This article has been making the rounds, and the Seven stations idea might work for you. Set up hooks by the door for your keys. Set up a gadget recharging site where you dump your cellphone, PDA, iPod, etc. Create specific drawers or storage boxes for different things - one for tools, one for pens and office supplies, etc.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:04 PM on March 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

Are you my long lost twin? Man, all I can say is to GET TOUGH with yourself. I had to do that to get rid of stuff. I just say to myself, "You can't keep everything." I had to make myself establish some categories of things. For example: I'm a collage artist, so I got myself a giant IKEA drawer unit thing and made some categories for each drawer: adhesives, tools, photo equipment, small scraps of ephemera, old photos, photocopies....this seems to make sense to me and it works. For clothes, I organized work clothes by color of tops and sweaters. Sunglasses? Put them in a box or container near where you would need to grab them as you head out the door. This can more "fun" by choosing interesting containers and making those containers part of your decor (consider stuff from flea markets and antique stores). I have a separate container for extra toiletries and the like. I have a separate box for mismatched socks until I find their mates. Think, also, of things this way: paper items, book items, clothing items, toiletrie items, souvenir items, jewelry items. Start to notice where you tend to dump things and think WHY you put them there. I put my mail and my keys near the door, shoes not so near. It has to make some sort of intuitive sense in order for it to work. If you try to be too organized right away when you aren't naturally that way, you will lose. Do it little by little and see if that works. I feel for you, man! I am the queen of junk! Be brutal and realistic and really, really dump stuff it you don't use it. The more I do that, the easier it gets. Finally: accept it that being ultra-tidy and organized is just NOT YOUR STYLE. You can be somewhere in between neatnik and slob and still be happy.
posted by Lockjaw at 10:19 PM on March 29, 2007

Drawers, labelled with index cards until you get used to where things are. You can even get cheapo plastic drawers from an office store or Target-type store. Bins are no good for things you will use - they're only good for things you will put away until winter comes, or put away until you need to do a big project of a specific type. For things you use a couple times a month or more, you want drawers. Things can just get thrown into a drawer with a mishmash of similar things, they don't need to be organized in there. The drawer just gives you a first place to look for your checkbook, or whatever, when you need it.

Checkbook goes in a (shallow) drawer, with all the boxes of extra checks and old checks etc.
Belts and purses get hung up in the closet, or belts could go rolled in a drawer if you only have a few.

As for your "landing area", that's an ok place for sunglasses if you use them most days. Bills and mail should have their own basket/tray so they don't take over the whole area, and they should get filed (or put into a separate out of the way "to be filed" basket) once they're paid. Once you set up some minimal system for the rest of the house, you'll know where things go, so it will be easier to keep the landing area from getting junked up.

It sounds like you need a workable taxonomy of what stuff you have. Then you can think about how many - and how big - drawers you need for different areas. Let me suggest one and see if it works for you:
1. Office supply, creative art, and desk stuff
2. Electronics, and their associated chargers, manuals, spare cords, spare batteries, and whatnot.
3. Software, CD backups, other computer stuff.
4. Wearable stuff - belts, scarves, jewelry, hats, whatever. Sunglasses might go here in the non-sunny months.
5. Critical identity stuff - checkbook, passport, identity card for work, etc.
6. ... what other stuff do you have? (Obviously, bathroom stuff in the bathroom, kitchen stuff in the kitchen, clothing in the bedroom.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:44 PM on March 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I do pretty much what LobsterMitten has described, and I find it works pretty well. It's definitely cut down on the forgetting about things that I own.
posted by benign at 10:48 PM on March 29, 2007

If you've got the time and inclination, consider going beyond the physical crap that's pulling you under and take charge of your mental crap as well.

In particular, I'd recommend a good reading (or two) of David Allen's Getting Things Done. What you call crap falls into the broader category of what Mr. Allen calls stuff: "Anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn't belong where it is, but for which you haven't yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step."

Sure, when you're outside squinting, you know exactly what your "desired outcome" would be for your sunglasses, if you had them with you at the moment. Tangential as it may seem to the seemingly more practical issue you're facing, GTD can help you put everything in its place by ensuring that you give everything the proper amount of thought.

Regardless of whether you buy/borrow the GTD book, I suggest that you either set aside an entire 2-7 days (depending on quantity of stuff) for this project, or break it down by individual rooms/corners/drawers/etc. The last thing you want is to get overwhelmed to the point of inaction.
posted by clozach at 12:32 AM on March 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

1. If you can't see it you won't use it!!!
All things must be easily accessible. Everything stems from this there are exceptions you will know them when you come across them.
2. Snap lock bags and rubber bands are your friends.
3. Logic - group and sort. (like that Sesame Street song)
4. Hang all the clothes you possibly can. Bulky items occupy less space and you can flick through things without ending in a jumble.
5.No miscellaneous crap piles!!!
It all belongs somewhere. Junk bowls are great but only when nothing actually belongs in it.
It's like tetris everything has to occupy the smallest amount of space, still remain visible and be easily accessible.
Obviously if you do a bit of mending from time to time thats ok in a box at the back. Sometimes an everyday pile and a backup cache tucked away works well too. It's just a matter of logic and reshuffle it 'til it works.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 1:58 AM on March 30, 2007

I'd take most of what's in those boxes and put them out with the rubbish (or maybe give them to a charity shop, if you think they contain anything that might be of worth to others). If you're hoarding stuff, you can spend hours organising it, but you'll still have too much stuff.
posted by reklaw at 3:48 AM on March 30, 2007

I think that the "throw it out" approach, while useful, can be overdone. You've gone to some trouble and expense to accumulate your stuff; some of it might be appreciated as a donation, but much of it could be great when the time comes.

The problem, as you stated it, is that you don't remember that you have what you have. Storing things so that they are visible is one helpful approach; maybe you have a room or walk-in closet that you can use to hang up a lot of stuff so that it's visible. Maybe some of your "stuff" can be used as decoration (a long shot, but why not?).

But what will probably help, and be rewarding in several ways, is to "visit" your things every once in a while. You can call it annual or bi-annual reorganization, you can call it reverse shopping, or you can just call it visiting your stuff. This will remind you of what you have, and it will be fun. Yes, it will be fun! You have cool stuff that you like; seeing it again, considering it again, will be pleasing.

It's important not to pressure yourself to pare down constantly -- that's not fun, that's guilty. But you can give yourself opportunities to have creative ideas for organizing and storing your stuff.

You know how moving house is overwhelming, but if you only had more time, or could just do one room at a time, it might be fun? This is the kind of fun I'm talking about.

This isn't a cure-all approach, and may not seem especially helpful if you're mid-drowning-panic; but it's possibly an easy place to start and shouldn't raise your anxiety level. And it will accomplish your stated goal.

Finally, my own approach has been to start learning to make attractive shelves and cubbies. Soon, there will be a lot of shelves and cubbies in my house.
posted by amtho at 5:38 AM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sunglasses: I installed a small pre-made shelf next to the front door specifically for holding sunglasses and small "going out" things like that. It's right under a mirror, so it looks kind of cool.

I have wooden plaques (not fancy ones - came from Lowe's just like the shelf) with about nine little hooks and two big hooks for keys and coats next to the front door. These hooks have also held: neighbor's keys, umbrellas, cat's leash, scarves, etc. . I have four more hooks above all those for holding hats.

With this approach, it's important to have attractive hats & keys, or not to care how they look hanging there by the door. I do always know where they are, though.

Cat's dangly toys are on a similar set of hooks in the closet.

I hear you on the gadgets. Idea: use a drawer as suggested above, but make sure the drawer stays empty enough that you can arrange all gadgets in a single layer, and be insistent about this! Then, line the bottom of the drawer with a layer of something soft (quilting, cloth-covered foam) that's exactly the right size to fit the drawer - the idea here is to protect your gadgets from sliding around and hitting each other and the drawer's sides, and also to maintain them in that single layer so that you can spot them easily.

Be sure you have extra space in that drawer to add one or two more devices. Also, you'll probably find other things that can be stored this way.

Purses - look for just the right hooks at the local Lowe's or Home Depot. Make sure they won't scratch the purses. Decide whether you can hang the purses by their handles or whether they need to be supported from under the main body. Find a good place to hang them, taking into account the purses' attractiveness and relationship to your current decor.

Be sure you have extra hooks _and hanging space_ to add one or two more purses. Otherwise, you'll end up with your next one in a "black hole" plastic bin. Also, you'll probably find other things that can go on these hooks - silk scarves, maybe.

This "hang stuff up" approach can increase the amount of surface area you'll have to dust eventually, but it can really help clear your "stuff cache" problem.
posted by amtho at 5:57 AM on March 30, 2007

I thought I had too many clothes which I wasn't using. I put them in bags and hid them at the back of my wardobe. If I couldn't remember what items I put in there after a month then off to the carity shop with those bags....
posted by tomw at 5:58 AM on March 30, 2007

This is not my idea", but I store a lot of my crap in clear plastic shoe organizers that hang over the door. I got them at Target. That article focuses on gizmos, but I also use it for stuff I frequently misplace, such as my checkbook, passport, spare greeting cards, random craft supplies, etc.
posted by craichead at 6:16 AM on March 30, 2007

This is going to sound goofy, but I would suggest combining any of the storage techniques above with making a single list of some of the items you forget you own but enjoy using, and storing that list with your appointments diary, or in your PDA or your wallet or wherever.

It doesn't matter if the list has no organizational logic - it could literally include reminders of specific belts, gadgets, and sunglasses that you own. No-one else ever has to see it. Even the best storage systems don't inherently act as reminders of fun things you own and enjoy using.

(If you take Clozach's advice and implement GTD in full, this would be covered by the Someday/Maybe List, I guess, or a checklist.)
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:40 AM on March 30, 2007

I recently had my home professionally organized, and while I think my problems were a bit different than yours (I couldn't possibly forget I owned things, since I could see everything I owned sitting out somewhere on top of something) I did write a bit about it on my blog. Perhaps some of the insights will help.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:04 AM on March 30, 2007

I have this exact same problem too! I've been scheming about how I'm going to organize myself once I move into my new apartment.

1. I'm going to put up a bunch more shelves in my bedroom (probably from Ikea)
2. I'm going to buy/make decorative storage bins/baskets/containers (probably from BBB), tons of them, for my miscellaneous stuff and then they are going to go on the shelves
3. I'm going to have a bigger closet so more of my clothes can hang, and less can be lost in the back of drawers
4. I'm going to raise my bed so that seasonal stuff can go under it
5. I'm getting an over-the-closet-door shoe caddy thing so that shoes don't take up the floor of the closet
6. I'm putting plastic drawers on the bottom of the closet for purses, belts, hats, gloves, other clothing accessories

I hope something on my list inspires you. Good luck!
posted by infinityjinx at 7:14 AM on March 30, 2007

Seconding the over-the-door clear shoe organizers. I have one on my home office door, holding a small but ever-ready collection of computer cables (very useful for this) to hats, gloves, and shoes. I added them to my daughter's bedroom door, and the closet by our house's front door.

The key word here is "clear". If the pockets are canvas, you won't be able to see what's in them.
posted by Wild_Eep at 7:19 AM on March 30, 2007

Something like sunglasses you want to have by your door, so that you can see them while you are leaving. Get all your sunglasses together and put them in a space, probably a basket by the door, along with your keys, and other stuff you want to be reminded of when you leave. Now, if you have 8 pairs of sunglasses, this is the perfect time to ask yourself if you really need/want all of them.

So, place everything near where you will need it. Also, break everything down into categories. Also, it sounds like you may need more furniture to create more space to hold things. Feel free to put your unused stuff in the basement. To reorganize your rooms take EVERYTHING out of them, assemble stuff into logical categories, and put everything that you really want, back in its place. It's a good idea to store seperate categories of clothes by season and switch as needed.
posted by xammerboy at 7:33 AM on March 30, 2007

I live in a tiny tiny room, and this has lead me to reduce lots of my stuff. I now combine decoration with function, so that everything thats up on my walls is arranged to look good but also gets frequently used, so I don't have a whole set of things that is only there to look good. I also worked to create spaces for all my stuff based on how often I use it (not often = under the bed, every day = hung on a wall, placed on a shelf, sometimes = in a chest, in the closet, etc).


posted by cubby at 8:40 AM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't have too much insightful to add, and this is my first mefi post, but I've been in a similar situation as the guy and I can say it sucks. I think the best you can do is make it clear to him how much better he is than all the previous experiences. And make it clear how you never want to relive your past again.
posted by ihope at 2:48 PM on March 30, 2007

Something to remember when getting rid of stuff: it's really difficult. It's hard to throw stuff out or give it to Goodwill. You think, "...but what if I really need this old concert t-shirt/broken widget I could use for parts/letter from a person I haven't spoken to in years/bag of all the extra pants buttons I've ever accumulated..."

Then, once it's gone, you never think about the thing again. The getting-rid-of is hard; the having-gotten-rid-of part is easy, and makes your life better.
posted by hsoltz at 4:24 PM on March 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

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