As an untidy person, I’ve found that the secret to an organized work spaces is to have lots of bins, boxes, drawers, tubs, and containers. A couple of each are not enough. You need scores of each size. The key is to not skimp on the numbers. The wonderful news is that plastic containers are getting cheap enough to buy in bulk . If you keep an eye out for sales you can get molded, lidded, durable containers for only few dollars a piece. I recently bought about 40 plastic stackable breadbox-size containers at IKEA for 99 cents apiece. I use them in my workshop and studio and kitchen pantry.
Suitable containers come in all sizes and shapes. Some of the cheapest these days are the 12-gallon Tuffcrates, with hinged lids. (There are larger versions but I find these unmanageable when full.) The 12-gallon laundry-basket sized guys swallow a nice pile of stuff. They are semi-transparent giving you a hint of what’s inside. Empty they stack up compactly. Full, they stack up solidly five or six high. We store seasonal clothes, hobby materials, vacation gear, holiday decorations, old documents, and so on in a handy self-made wall in our basement. They are easy to move around, easy to get in and out of, pestproof and dustproof. They look fine too. Stored in basements and garages, we’ve had zero problem with mildew or mold or mice, which I cannot say about goods stored in cardboard boxes. I’ve seen Tuffcrates for sale as low as $3 a piece. Since they don’t ever wear out; you could easily pass them onto the next generation. You simply can’t have too many of them.
For more specialized storage I gravitate to Rubbermaid containers. They are often perfect for certain uses, but it’s harder to find good discount deals on them; they are usually not cheap. I like the small stackable small-parts containers (#7747). They are book size (good), open fast and are indestructible – unlike a lot of tackle boxes. I use the smaller ones, about 6 inches square, called ActionPackers (#7874), for office supplies as well – all those paperclips, pins, and easily lost paraphernalia. Get at least a dozen. I thought at first that having uniform containers would make finding things more difficult because you’d be without distinctive visual cues, but in fact labeling and standard holders speed up locating stuff.
Rubbermaid and others produce a whole line of containers called underbed containers, which slip into the underultized – or at least under-organized – space under most beds. We’ve found no where else that stores giftwrapping paper as safely and conveniently; we keep a set of cutters and tape right in the wrap boxes. But I’ve recently discovered that these long sealed flat containers are also marvelous for storing maps, charts, blueprints and other rolled paper quite securely. The Rubbermaid versions come in regular (#2128) and the Jumbo (#2129) — a full 42 inches long – which I prefer. They are also stackable.
I was in one of those discount stores the other day and I found a stockpile of shoebox-size containers for about $1.50/ piece. They are not as good as the Rubbermaids, because their lids slide off too easily, but I got a dozen and now they have brought order to the closet that holds our craft materials. A bigger size – larger than a breadbox but smaller than the Tuffcrates – took the chaos out of the Legos, Duo blocks, and Konexits toys.
Find a good deal, then pounce on a bunch. I’ve never gotten a set of containers that we haven’t used sustainably. But I have bought one or two here and there that I haven’t made much use of. You need a critical mass.