Inexpensive Organization

By Dena Wood

Aside from the fact that an organized space is just plain relaxing and enjoyable, there also are a few undeniable practical reasons to organize your space. The reason that carries the most weight with me is the fact that a lack of organization is expensive. Take a moment to think about it.

How often have you ended up buying more tape, scissors, craft supplies, or tools simply because you don’t have the time to sort through drawers, bins, and boxes to find an item you know you already have . . . somewhere? Either that, or you find the item, but it’s smashed, wrinkled, or otherwise unusable. If you’re like me, you do that more often than you’d like to admit. While I consider myself to be a fairly organized person, there is always room for improvement. Menu planning (to avoid wasting produce) is a big one for me.

Living in a society where every need is turned into an opportunity for profit, we can easily walk away with the idea that it costs a great deal to be organized. That’s what they would like you to think, anyway. There are entire store sections, magazines, and websites devoted solely to organizational helps. Can you possibly organize without all those impressive doodads and gizmos? Sure! Believe it or not, you can even do so with style.

One of my favorite organizational “tools” is the dresser. Dressers are the ultimate organizers; they come in a wide variety of styles, and they look great throughout the house. In the corner of our dining room, I have a large dresser that houses my children’s craft supplies. It’s filled with glue, tape, paint supplies, papers, foam sheets, and the like. On the top are a small lamp and some framed photographs. It looks very nice, and one would never guess it is actually a craft cabinet.

Right inside our front door is a small baby dresser. The top drawer of this dresser is used for keys, wallets, and items you tend to need as you head out the door. Another drawer holds dog leashes and brushes, and the bottom drawer holds our camcorder and tapes. A small, white, distressed dresser in the foyer neatly holds hats and gloves.

The upstairs hallway houses yet another dresser. This one has a few tools in the top drawers and fabric in the others. A second baby dresser in my craft room provides the perfect spot to store ribbons, rubber stamps, elastic, and such. Each of these dressers was either a hand-me-down or picked up at a yard sale. I’m not sure one can actually have too many dressers!

Creativity is a must when considering how to inexpensively organize. You’ll need to think outside the box. For instance, for several years I’d longed for a large hanging pot rack made of iron. Prices ranged from several hundred dollars down to about $80. Since I didn’t have the money, I got creative. I asked my husband to grab an old ladder that was out in the backyard and cut it to the size I needed. (Fortunately, I noticed when he started sanding it! I wanted an “old” look, so sanding it was not a good idea.) We mounted large cup hooks into the ladder rungs and hung it from the ceiling with chain link purchased at the hardware store. It looks great, gets lots of compliments, and cost only a few dollars. Instead of thinking I’m cheap (the truth!), people think I’m extremely creative.

So take some time to look at items you already have on hand and see how you might be able to use them for storage or organization. For instance, we inherited some large, attractive, old crocks from my husband’s grandmother. In our bathroom, I have extra towels rolled up in one of these. An old trunk serves as storage for out-of-season clothing, another as a “coat closet,” and a third as storage for Rescue Heroes. Again, all were picked up inexpensively at yard sales.

In my home baskets are organizational staples as well. We have a large library basket, another large basket in the living room for blankets and throws, a basket for DVDs, a basket for Wii™ paraphernalia . . . the list goes on and on.

Children’s books tend to end up looking messy on a bookshelf. However, if you place them, spine up, in a lined basket, and place the basket on the shelf, they look great. Not only that, but it’s easy to pull out the basket to look through the books. I have a small wooden crate in the bathroom for “bathroom” books and a wire freezer rack holds more books and slides under the living room coffee table.

My huge craft table runs the length of the room and was made by topping two small, three-drawer cabinets (from a home improvement store) with a large piece of painted MDF (medium-density fiberboard). The cost was minimal compared to what I would have paid for a manufactured desk of the same size, and it looks great.

Here are some more easy storage ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

• Corral items in shoeboxes. I use clear, plastic boxes for medicines, contact supplies, band-aids and ointments, cleaning supplies, travel-size items, etc. Not only do shoeboxes prevent small items from spilling all over the cabinet, but this idea also makes it easy to reach in and grab the particular box you need. I even have all our shampoos and conditioners in a larger box, just to keep them contained. You can nearly always find inexpensive boxes and baskets at your local dollar store.

• Earrings and necklaces can be stored neatly in pill organizers, ice cube trays, or muffin tins. Take one of your 25-cent yard sale finds, paint it, and use it for your jewelry—no more tangled chains or missing earrings!

• Headbands can be stored on an empty toilet paper or paper towel roll. If you want to pretty it up, cover it with contact paper or scrapbook paper.

• Glass jars are ideal to store so many items: food items, craft items, and office supplies are a few that come to mind. And they look so pretty sitting on your shelves. Plastic peanut butter jars are great for storing little LEGO sets and such. (I remove the label so the jars look nice.)

• Cut down cereal and detergent boxes and paint or cover them with paper and then use them to store magazines. Detergent boxes, with the handles attached, can make nice little totes for children to keep their toys in, and they can easily be moved from place to place.

• Shoe organizers are great for storing socks, gloves and hats, craft supplies, small toys, and much more. Take advantage of unused wall space whenever you can. Pegboard is inexpensive and can be used for similar storage needs.

• Store grocery store bags in a pretty, empty, tissue box.

• I love dishpans! I tend to use them mainly for school supplies—books, videos, small manipulatives, puzzles, and such. I buy them at the dollar store. My kids keep their toys on mesh shelves, and dishpans are ideal (and cheap!) for storing their toys by item. The older kids will use one for CDs, one for electronics, one for paperbacks, etc.

• Wrapping paper can be stored on end in a small wastebasket.

• Use bed risers to create extra space under your bed. (I love the look of a high bed!) You can attach casters to old dresser drawers to roll them in and out from beneath the bed, or you can just use plastic tubs. It’s amazing to see how much stuff will fit under the beds! The key to success is to keep your items organized and easily accessible.

• You can often find large, outdoor trash cans on sale. I use these to store our sleeping bags in. The lids fit tightly, and the sleeping bags stay nice and clean. I’ve seen people use these cans as storage for blankets and linens too. They place a round, wooden tabletop on the can and then drape the entire contraption with fabric so that it looks like a fabric-covered table. This is a good storage idea for seldom-used items.

I hope I’ve managed to convince you that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get organized. Perhaps I’ve even motivated you to take a fresh look at what you have on hand. Once bitten by the organizing bug, it’s hard to stop. And that’s a good thing!

Dena Wood is wife of John, mother of five, co-owner of www.TriggerMemorySystem.com, and Director of Operations for The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC. She works from her home in eastern Washington State where she enjoys homeschooling and spending time with her three youngest children, who are still at home. Email Dena at wood7@charter.net.

Copyright 2009. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Summer 2009.

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