Saturday, November 22, 2008

Organization 101

One of my favorite things to do in the spring is to clean and organize. Although the cleaning can be a drudge and a grind, the organizing is what I love. Some of my friends think it’s a talent – my family would probably refer to it as of a compulsion. Honestly, nothing gives me a greater thrill than to see things minimized, streamlined, orderly, and user-friendly; it’s like a work of art.
We live in a small 1950’s house with very little storage space. The closets are so small that I believe they were literally an after thought. Living in a small space requires organization and keeping only the bare essentials.

Organization can only happen if you are first willing to minimize your current “inventory” i.e. de-clutter, which, Ladies, boils down to giving away and throwing away. You cannot organize without the willingness to do this because the only thing you will succeed in doing is relocating your “inventory” and creating another problem area. When you organize you will discover what you have, how much you have, which in turn will save you money.

Over the last few years we have had a “hot spot” on our dryer. The cabinet above the dryer had all of our first-aid items and some Costco bulk items like Q-tips, soap and shampoo. The top of our dryer always had some sort of first-aid “garbage” on it. Some was literally garbage like band-aid wrappers and other things were ace bandages, sunscreen, etc. And although I had some of those bulk items in containers, there was always a mess on top of the dryer. I spent a lot of time putting those cabinets back in order. This was a good indicator that this location was a problem. Here is a picture of the cabinets in my laundry room.

Mark had a similar problem in the hall closet (if you can call it that…it’s teeny-tiny). He kept his small hand-tools there like screw-drivers, hammers, a tube or two of caulking. His biggest problem was getting his tools returned. We also had other things in there like phone books and greeting cards – things we didn’t access too much. Here is a picture of what was going on in our hall closet.

I figured out that the problem in the laundry room was that those cabinets were not easy to get into and consequently made putting things back very difficult - especially for the children. I decided to trade places with Mark because he wanted his tools to be less accessible and I wanted the items in this cabinet more accessible.

I began by taking out the things that needed to be accessible and putting them in the hallway near the closet. I moved Mark’s things into the laundry room. I would organize the less used items and Mark would organize his tools in a way that made sense to him. But I did ask him to leave one Philips and one flathead screwdriver easily accessible so the “tool gremlins” wouldn’t start using the kitchen knives.

I began working on the inventory in the hallway by getting rid of the things that we hadn’t “touched in a year” and any first-aid items that had expired. I put those things that I wanted to keep and that were alike in clear boxes. For instance, I put my tubes of toothpaste and tooth brushes, which I buy in bulk, in one box. I put my scrungies and soaps in another. After doing this I labeled every box and yes, I do own a label maker – it feeds my “compulsion.” If you don’t have a label maker you can use small Avery labels found at any office supply store.

I put our greeting cards in a high quality white cardboard box with a lid (Ikea) and did the same for a couple of other items. I felt these were best kept in the hall closet for easy access.
I found after going through this process that I had an abundance of certain items. I was able to condense some items and others I just had to part with. Now, everyone can see what we have and what needs to be replenished. Since organizing the hall closet, I have not found any band-aid wrappers or toiletries out of place and that alone was worth the effort.

I found in my years of organizing that clear boxes work the best and labeling is essential because there is no mistaking where something belongs and where something can be found.
Two of my favorite places to get clear containers are from The Container Store and Ikea. The nearest Container store is up in Tyson’s Corner and Alexandria but you can order online ( and the inventory is better. Conversely, Ikea ( has minimal available online but the store has great inventory. Sometimes, Bed Bath and Beyond ( have containers. But the best selection can be found at The Container Store and Ikea. They stack nicely and can be stacked in a puzzle manner (two squares on top of a rectangle) if you buy the same maker/brand.

Some people think that organizing requires money and that is true to some extent. But buying three large bottles of hydrogen peroxide, five boxes of Q-Tips, or another set of toner cartridges for your printer because you can’t find them can be very expensive too. In addition, spending time looking for items you’re sure you have is time consuming and aggravating.

Now, for my final three tips… first, if you are a “pack rat” and have trouble parting with things because everything seems to have sentimental value, find a organizing buddy who can help you through the “elimination process.” Second, share your “box” finds with each other. My sister and I often call each other to share organization tips and for quite a while she and I were both on the hunt for a container that fit the No. 4 coffee filters. She found that a Tupperware oval fit them quite nicely and I found a box from The Container Store that fit and we shared that info.
My final tip - “Rome was not built in a day!” I am not through organizing the cabinets in the laundry room but I corrected the most troublesome spot. Buy a little at a time and organize in small chunks. When you start doing this, I have no doubt you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the end results both in looks and functionality that you will go on to organize more.Now, get busy and get organizing!

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