Organization Week: How Does Your Brain Work?
Organization Week: At Your Fingertips

Organization Week: Storage Containers

Welcome to Day Three of Organization Week!  Links to all of the "Organization Week" posts are available by clicking on the "Organization Week" image in the far right column of my blog.

Today we're going to talk about storage containers.  If you're an organizing geek like me, a trip to The Container Store is as good as one to Disneyland! 

It's pretty obvious why storage containers are important, right?  What's less obvious is that using the wrong storage containers can be disastrous!  I'll give you an example:

You're all excited about being organized!  So you head out and buy all these big beautiful storage boxes.  Maybe some of those big deep plastic bins with a lid?  Very sensible choice.  And then you head home and put your entire fabric collection into that bin (like-with-like).  You carefully label the outside and admire how beautifully neat and clean it looks all closed up in there.  Repeat with several other supplies and stack.

Fast forward a few days and you need a piece of fabric.

Well, first you need to lift the other boxes off of the fabric box.  Oy.  Then you need to open the fabric box.  Now you need to root around inside the box to find the fabric you're looking for.  Keep going.  Boy, that container sure is deep!  Ah, found it!  So put back all of the fabric you went rooting through.  Put the lid back on.  Now restack those other boxes.  Phew.  Only took you fifteen minutes to find the piece of fabric you wanted...oh, wait!  You wanted the one with blue stars...!

Doesn't sound fun, does it?  So what's the trick to finding the right containers? 

As always, they need to be the right ones for you.  But here's a quick rule of thumb: Your supplies should be easy to see and easy to put away.

Easy to See:

  • Open Storage
  • Clear Containers
  • Labeled Containers
  • Drawers, esp. shallow drawers
  • Open shelving

Easy to Put Away:

  • Try not to stack boxes on top of each other
  • Open Storage
  • Drawers
  • Labeled Containers - so you know where everything goes
  • Grouped like-with-like

And remember, pretty storage containers are a wonderful bonus, but don't make them your focus.  Functionality is King in an organized studio.  And it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg.  Today we're going to talk about low cost storage containers -- free, repurposed, and thrifted.

Way back in January 2010 I wrote a post about my favorite kind of storage: USPS boxes turned into storage containers.

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The red part is the section of the box I cut away.  I am a utilitarian and leave the boxes "as is..."

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...but you could certainly paint them or cover them with pretty paper.  These open boxes (in any of the three styles) are such functional storage.  With my paper collection above I can see what I have, poke through it as needed, bring it to my desk, and easily return unused paper to storage.  Part of the reason that this system works is that my boxes are not overstuffed.  I do a paper purge every 3-4 months and get rid of cardstock and patterned paper that doesn't suit me right now. 

 Another of my very favorite containers are these $1 buckets from Michaels:

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I simply painted them up to be a bit more "Julie."  (Read the full post here.)  And now they sit on my desk holding my most used tools and my most used pens:

You can see that I also repurposed a mug and a prettily labeled tin can for storage.  This is easy open storage.  I can grab one of the containers and bring it down to my work desk or simply toss my tools back into the bucket when I'm done with them.

A recent favorite storage item is this loaf pan pilfered from the kitchen.

It holds all of my journaling cards, tags, and little bits and pieces.  It is stuffed to the brim and really needs a good purging.  (BTW: The chevron tag was made using a stamp we're carving in Stamp Carving 101, and the poppy and text is one of my new TCW stencils!)  Once again, it is open storage that I can drop things into and pull stuff out of without having to move think about it. 

And now, here are three other great ideas for repurposed or inexpensive storage containers!

Leslie Sowden
shares her tips on using desk drawer divider trays.

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My storage container for small items is a desk drawer divider tray. You can sometimes get them at the dollar store, and the big discount stores often have a variety of types to choose from. I also always save every small box I come across - jewelry gift boxes, the plastic trays from a box of chocolates, even cardboard or styrofoam egg crates with the top cut off would work.

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With the variety of sizes, I make a jigsaw puzzle from them, fitting them into the drawer or box that I want to store my goodies in.

During the years I crazy quilted, I collected tons of buttons, charms, beads - all kinds of small items that I wanted to keep sorted and be able to find easily. Dumping everything in a jar may look pretty on the shelf, but it's terribly inefficient when you're actually trying to find something.  

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This system works because the tray and boxes are shallow, so everything is visible.

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You can layer the trays, depending on the depth of your drawer, but they're still easy to lift out and be able to see everything at a glance.

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My drawer currently has only the one tray in it, plus an assortment of jewelry boxes, candy box dividers, and other small containers, but I've had them many layers deep in other furniture and it's a system I'm always happy with.

Q: How has this storage system changed your art work and/or creative process?

A: It has eliminated the frustration of knowing I had something that I wanted to use, but being unable to find it. That's huge for me because I get frustrated easily by that sort of thing.   

Pam Fairchild shares her crafty Lazy Susan.

I tried to look up the definition of a Lazy Susan but got sidetracked by all the available kinds and sizes when you Google it.  I did notice one of the suggestions at the bottom was a Motorized Lazy Susan, I guess that’s for the very lazy person! LOL

This above all else is my favorite “tool” on my work table.  I got the idea for it from seeing another crafter's version but she had used a smaller one with tin cans she had covered in paper. 

This is a glass Lazy Susan I had originally purchased to use on our dining room table.  Needless to say that lasted about one meal with 2 pre-teen boys in the house.  The top is tempered glass and it is 15” in diameter.  On top of it I cut standard rubber shelf liner I purchased from the dollar store -- don’t want those glass containers flying off when I spin it! 

I love that all the containers are clear so I can see exactly what I have!

Lorri Flint shares some homemade boxes.

This past year, my business partner and I both got map drawers.  

While I was thrilled with the storage opportunities, I didn't know how I would find inexpensive, shallow storage boxes in a variety of sizes to organize all my art supplies.  So I decided to make them!

I had a bunch of 1/4" foamcore board and with a little trial and error, I designed a nifty box that I make in custom sizes to fit my supplies AND fit any drawer height and width.  The cuts to create the sides of the box don't go all the way through, I just fold up the sides and use white duct tape for the corners.  The resulting box is quite sturdy, simple to make, customized and inexpensive (visit Lorri's blog for a tutorial on how to make the boxes).

I'm making more art now that my supplies are organized and accessible!

For me, being organized enables me to make more art and actually enjoy being in my studio!

You may have noticed that Leslie, Pam, and Lorri's solutions are all about making your supplies visible.  I love what Leslie wrote: "Dumping everything in a jar may look pretty on the shelf, but it's terribly inefficient when you're actually trying to find something."  The question is how do you corral those little things?  Leslie uses divided containers and Lorri has made her own little containers.  I keep mine in tiny labeled drawers:

These are from the hardware section.  Meant for screws and bolts, I'm sure.

And that leads us into today's assignment.  It's an easy one today: find as many storage containers as you can.  Look all over your home, figure out what you have that you could turn into storage.  Here are some places to look:

  • The kitchen.  One of the most functional rooms in your home.  
    • baking pans
    • dish racks
    • jars
    • vases
    • tupperware
    • Lazy Susan
    • glasses and cups
    • lunch boxes
    • candy boxes
    • tin cans
  • The garage.
    • tiny drawers
    • bins and buckets
    • peg board
    • tackle boxes or tool boxes
  • The basement.
    • boxes
    • baskets
    • old furniture like dressers, bookshelves, tables, or desks
  • The bathroom.
    • repurpose empty tissue boxes
    • paper cups
    • toilet paper tubes (stick a bunch of them, on end, in a shoebox and you've got pen storage)
    • bandaid tins

And I'm sure you can think of many more!  In fact, if you've blogged about any repurposed storage, please leave us a link to your blog post (please leave a link to the post itself, rather than a link to your general blog):

Thanks for stopping by!

About The Contributors:

Julie FFB faceLeslie Sowden

I turn 60 in January of 2012 and have been doing something or other crafty pretty much my entire life. My mom was a good painter, oils and acrylics, doing a lot of consignment work as I was growing up. I did not inherit even a smidgen of the painting gene, however, so I moved on to quilting, then through macrame, crocheting, knitting, spinning, crazy quilting, and finally, to various paper arts and mixed media. I like to work to prompts, such as challenges or themed swaps, more than I do just thinking up things myself. I'm sporadically active on Swapbot and ATCsForAll, and am in a 3-person mail art group which I really enjoy. I do a bit of art journaling, but enjoy making the journals more than actually writing in them. I live in Northern California with my husband, a goofy dog and a mean little parrot.

Blog: One Woman's Hands

HeadshotPam Fairchild
St. Joseph, Missouri
Pansy Cottage Creations

Hi, my name is Pam Fairchild a.k.a. Pansy Cottage Creations.  I come from a long line of creative women on both sides of my family and luckily that gene continued with me.  I’ve created and taught everything from embroidery, crochet and quilting to scrapbooking & card making. If I live long enough to deplete my fabric and paper stash I should be a ripe old age!  I started scrapbooking in 2000 and was hooked very quickly thanks to a friend who I still crop with monthly.  In 2010 I was introduced to rubber stamping, discovered Twitter and the world of Altered Art.  I have “met” so many talented people through these mediums and I follow so many blogs I can’t keep up.  I am so inspired by their art that I feel a need to be in my studio at least for a few minutes a day.  I am very lucky to have the largest room in our home as my studio and love that I can start a project, leave it and come back to work without having to start all over again each time.  I hope my organization ideas help you in your journey to carve out a place of your own.

Lorri-Flint-WebLorri Flint is a textile artist, working with fabric, dye, thread and embellishments to create one of a kind art quilts. She has studied with numerous nationally and internationally recognized contemporary textile artists. Her award winning work has been juried into many local and regional shows and includes realistic as well as abstract themes.

Lorri is also a Jill-of-all-trades, with an accounting degree, an interest in website design and home remodeling. She LOVES her sewing machine (and her husband and her two sons in college) and has been sewing, knitting and making art as far back as she can remember!  She's always looking for ways to organize and manage her stuff.  Her favorite ending to the day is to snuggle with a good book.

Having fun and learning something new is her goal for every class she teaches at Art Camp for Women. She provides detailed handouts with step-by-step instructions so that her students feel comfortable trying new techniques and can go home and experiment more. Her students frequently comment on how patient she is...something her husband might not agree with! The best art advice she has received is to "do what the piece requires" which means that she has been known to sewn 10,000+ beads onto one piece.