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Storage That Works

These ideas will help you choose and design more effective ways of storing your belongings.

Go for the simplest, least effort system.

Some organization approaches require extensive lists and indexes, and take a lot of “managing.” If you fail to adequately manage the system (i.e., you don’t get around to listing the contents of Boxes B and C on the index), the system fails completely.

A more elegant system—one that is simpler and more streamlined—will work well and help you be more organized even if you aren’t following the system perfectly.

Use product warranties as an example. If you at least throw them all in one box, you’ll know where to look when you need one. That takes a lot less effort than categorizing them, or sorting based on expiration date of the warranty. Better to be relatively organized than to attempt a highly detailed system and fail!

Store items close to where they will be used.

Tasks are much easier when everything you need is close at hand. Think about the activities you do in each room, or each area of each room, and gather the tools for each activity together in that area. Here are some examples of storing an item close to where it’s used:

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  • Keep stamps, envelopes, and a folder for unpaid bills close to the table or desk where you pay bills.
  • Store glasses close to the kitchen sink, pots close to the stove, and silverware close to the table.
  • Store bats, balls, and gloves in the garage or close to the outside door of the house.
  • Keep your calendar by the phone or in your purse or pocket.
Store frequently used items in the most convenient storage area.

Convenient storage is the most valuable and should be used for the most frequently used items. Some examples:

  • The doll your daughter sleeps with every night may belong on her bed during the day; her other dolls and stuffed animals may not deserve that prime space.
  • Files for current projects should be stored in the desk drawer where they are within arm’s reach; less frequently used files can go in the file cabinet on the other side of the room.
  • Your alarm clock and the book you are currently reading should have priority for the space on top of your nightstand.
  • Your best china and crystal belong in the dining room, while everyday dishes should be the cabinet in right above the dishwasher or closest to the kitchen table.
  • The hammer, screw drivers, and wrench that you use most often should be in the top of your tool box or some other convenient location, such as a drawer in the kitchen.

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A related concept that can help you decide where to store items is current/active storage vs. dead/inactive storage. Current storage contains material that you are still using or referring to and should be stored in a convenient location. Dead storage contains items that you must keep but may not need to access for long periods of time. For example, you may need to refer to your tax records from the past couple of years as you prepare this year’s taxes, so those records should be in current storage. On the other hand, tax records from several years ago are items that you will seldom refer to; they should be moved to a more remote location such as the basement.

Subdivide space to make it more usable.

Large, undivided spaces are inefficient storage, and they make it difficult to keep items organized. By dividing the space, you can group and organize items so you can more quickly and easily locate the item you want. For example:

  • By dividing the space in a kitchen drawer where you keep all your cooking utensils, you can group items by size or purpose, making it much easier to quickly find any given item.
  • A filing cabinet drawer is divided by using file folders.
  • Closet organizing systems typically divide your closet space into smaller spaces than just a clothes rack and one shelf, increasing the usefulness of that space.

Look at your storage areas (closets, attics, garage, basement, jewelry boxes) and think about whether adding shelves or other space-dividers will make the area more usable.

Communicate what’s inside the container.

Don’t depend on your memory to know what’s inside each container. Give yourself some clues!

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    Label it: Label the file folder, write a description on the box, tape the label from an item to the outside of a box, or give a computer file a meaningful name.
  • Store only similar or related items together so that the container can be labeled in one or two words or phrases, or so that you can see at a glance what’s inside.
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    Keep the contents visible: If you have any doubt as to the value of clear storage containers, think about how often you’ve discovered a container of spoiled food in the refrigerator that you’d complete forgotten about. Odds are, that food was in an opaque container.
    • Use clear storage containers that let you see right in.
    • Arrange items so you can see all. For example, rolling lingerie and lying side-by-side in the drawer lets you see all of them, instead of folding and stacking which lets you just see the top 1 or 2. Storing socks on end does the same thing.
    • Use open storage, such as shelves, that let you see what’s on them.

Choose effective storage containers/systems that you’ll really use.

  • Buy storage containers after you have grouped items and determined where you want to keep them. Buying the wrong size or type of storage equipment will just add to your clutter.
    • Before buying anything, visit a store that carries a substantial variety of storage and filing supplies, like a K-Mart, Wal-mart, office supply store, or The Container Store. Just walk around and look for ideas. Then, go home and measure. Also, look around your garage or basement to see what unused boxes or containers you already have on hand.
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      You can do a trial run with a cheap stand-in for the purchased item, to be sure your ideas will work. For example, if you’re thinking of buying magazine holders, first try out your idea with cereal boxes with their sides and top cut away in the same pattern. If your stand-in works and you like using it, you can buy the storage device with confidence.
  • Characteristics of effective containers:
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      Standard sizes. Use same size boxes, same size and type of photo albums, etc. It makes stacking, storing, and finding lids that fit so much easier. Think about the freezer boxes your mom or grandmother may have used to store frozen fruits and vegetables in the freezer. If all the boxes were alike, she loved the way they stacked in the freezer. If she bought a number of different kinds, she was forever searching for the right lid and having difficulty getting them to stack on top of each other.
    • Stackable containers make good use of floor space by allowing you to store more items vertically, and their lids keep what’s inside clean.
    • Nesting containers. Containers that nest inside each other when not in use save a lot of space and can make it much easier to find the size you need. Lids that also nest are another plus.
    • Containers you like. Pick containers that you like and that you will use. Do you like organizing things in notebooks, but file folders just drive you crazy? Do you enjoy baskets? Or maybe it’s neon colors that make you happy. If you enjoy the containers you use, you may be more likely to use them and get more pleasure out of an organized home or office.