Really, I've culled a lot out already.
May 12, 2008 6:58 PM   Subscribe

Organization Filter: How do you organize a bunch of definitely weird and sometimes incredibly disparate STUFF?

Or, theater filter. I have at this point a few bins of stuff from the theater that I'm trying to store/sort/use-reuse-recycle better than currently. Our biggest problem is that we are all the time losing things and rebuying them and then finding them. We are gypsies, essentially- we pack into our rehearsal/staging space 2x/year and then we pack out. Everything is stored in our garage. Here are our categories so far:

Kitchen & Concessions - coffee urn, tea, chips, nonperishable foodstuffs, signs, baskets, paper plates, etc.

Craft - hot glue, spray paint, that sort of stuff

Set and Tech - electrical stored separately, tools, fasteners, odds and ends from construction

Makeup & Costume - make up that is reusable, hairspray, curlers, shoes, wigs, and so far five Shakespeare casts' worth of costumes

We are making a costume closet in a storage space in the house, so the clothes are covered and the wigs all have wig boxes. Our biggest issue is losing track of the small items in the bigger bins. We need a system wherein we lose much less of those small things but also store stuff in a very portable way. That's why we have the bins going. We are open to non-bin solutions. Ziplock bags of stuff in the larger bins tend to get lost under bigger stuff (hammers, rope, hair dryer, etc) - I am not sure if better control of the bigger items is really the solution or not. We have thought of posting lists on the outside of the bins, but I am afraid of bin-list upkeep. Ideas?
posted by Medieval Maven to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Smaller bins for the smaller items?

Are there certain things you should always have? If so, a checklist on the bins might be good. When you are packing up, you could note anything that was missing, so you knew to replenish it before the next show. You could have the checklist in a plastic sleeve that you could write on and then erase - or just use erasable labels.
posted by jeri at 8:08 PM on May 12, 2008

You don't really want bins. Ideally, you'd have shelves. You can stand in front of shelves and just look for things without having to scruffle through endless containers.

Ms Flabdablet really doesn't get this, and I often find that things I arranged perfectly harmoniously on the Shelves O' Plenty in the front room two years ago have been mysteriously "tidied" into some drawer or box or shed or cupboard, never to be seen again. Sigh. I have so many drawers full of stuff I can't use any more because I've forgotten it's there because I never see it when I'm looking for something else.

The reason shelves work is that you can see everything. Extending this idea to your bins, it seems to me that having small bins for small things and big bins for big things and never putting small things in big bins should get you most of the way there. Transparent or even translucent bins would be better. You could have a big bin to keep all your small bins in, if you want to push the balance a little further toward "neat".
posted by flabdablet at 8:25 PM on May 12, 2008

It sounds like these are things you use at the venue, but not at home. If there are a few items that must go to the theater, but get used in the house and lost, buy extra to keep with the theater stuff.

These different categories should be kept apart. If some of the set/tech stuff goes in the lighting booth, and some goes in the wings, and some is only used to build props weeks beforehand, sort these things out. Label each bin with the broad category that it holds, for instance tech items. Put a list inside the bin with every single thing that goes in that bin listed, for instance: 6 radios, 6 flashlights, sharpie markers, gaffer's tape ... If it's on the list, it goes in the bin, and if it's in the list you know you can look through the bin until you find it. If it's too hard to look through your bins you might need smaller ones, it's also helpful not to have the bins packed full.

You don't mention two important things: Are these bins only for storage, and not accessed at home? Who is this "we" using the bins -- you and a spouse, or you and 15 volunteers? This will have a bearing on how you organize things.
posted by yohko at 9:19 PM on May 12, 2008

I work in an artist's studio, and we organize things a bit differently than the suggestions so far. These are our categories: tools, adhesives, paint, beads/jewels, wigs, screws/nails, empty containers, wire, film, camera stuff, lighting, string/twine/yarn, pens/pencils/brushes, plants, insects, fibre optic stuff...

Some are in bins, or drawers, or on shelves. That aspect has to do with portability and frequency of use and will be idiosyncratic. But the important point is the way things are separated. Little things like nails aren't tossed in the bottom of the tool drawer because it'd be impossible to find them; whereas detangling the soldering iron from a hammer in the tool bin isn't really a big deal.

We tend to have a box/bin/shelf for a category, like insects, and then it's further subdivided into smaller categories to keep cocoons separate from scorpions from beetles. For little stuff like this, or beads, or nails, we use little deli containers because you can write on them and they're kinda transparent.

One tip is to write the contents on all sides of the container - if it's cylindrical, write it on the top and the side, and if it's a box, write it on the top and all 4 sides. This habit will help you find stuff when it's stacked and surrounded by hundreds of other boxes.
posted by xo at 9:52 PM on May 12, 2008

I like your categories, but Craft and Costume will have some overlap, as will fasteners.

Store according to: (1) what it is for (all lighting-related stuff together), (2) what it is used with (popcorn machine with bags), and (3) frequency of use (stuff used every day at chest level, easily accessible; stuff used once in a while on high or low shelves).

Adjust according to environmental vulnerability (eg unpopped corn kernels in metal tins, craft stuff in waterproof/airtight plastic containers).

Label, label, label. Masking tape and a Sharpie works fine. Label the shelves, label the things on the shelves, label the non-obvious things with what they are (eg "spare bulbs for popcorn machine"). Like xo says, label on all sides.

Label clothing items internally. Masking tape and a sharpie is fine, if it practically never needs washing (eg overcoat). Alternatively get some proper clothing-labelling supplies from stationery stores that cater to schoolkids or arts & crafts stores.

Buy cheap multi-drawer shelves, tackle boxes, that kind of thing, from arts & craft stores. Second-hand toolboxes are also good and cheap. Sort as far down as you need to to be able to find a particular thing: buttons, large buttons, large blue buttons, large blue square buttons, etc. (Stop as soon as you can easily find any individual item, or when the items are identical.) Leave lots of empty drawers so you can easily categorize new things.

Index. Have someone follow you around with a clipboard and write down what, where, and how many, for everything that will be expensive or a pain to get hold of. Then you can go through the index later and add things like source, expected replacement cost, owner (if on loan), etc. You can also use this as a borrowings database when you lend stuff out for productions. List upkeep is only a problem if you have to do it in multiple places; for this, there should be three places at most: the item itself, maybe the box/shelf, and the master index. When you get rid of a thing, you probably only need to update the master index and maybe the box/shelf.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:11 PM on May 12, 2008

Response by poster: Are these bins only for storage, and not accessed at home?

Typically not accessed at home, unless we are sorting. Sometimes when we pack out of the venue it's a little chaotic, so we have to go through everything at home at least once after the show to be sure there are no odds and ends in with the bits.

Who is this "we" using the bins -- you and a spouse, or you and 15 volunteers?

Generally the set and tech bins are the most gone through by other people (people other than myself, the spouse, and the other three board members, who generally know where most everything is anyway).

re: shelves vs. bins - we have to have a portable solution because we have to take this stuff with us to the venue. If we had it out on a bunch of shelves at home, it would take forever to pack out of the garage and then pack into our space, and I think we would actually lose MORE stuff. For costumes, I can have storage at home because we are never using any more than x costumes for any show. I'm pretty much going through those once to see if we can reuse anything and then not dealing with those again until the next show, and we never transport anything other than clothing that will actually be ON a person. Thanks for the answers so far! Keep it coming!
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:36 AM on May 13, 2008

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