In 1998 I read a book about organizing that changed my life: Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern. Julie uses the acronym SPACE to teach her process for organizing. SPACE stands for Sort, Purge, Assign a Home, Containerize and Equalize. It was the containerizing step that I found life-changing.

I used the SPACE method to organize my plastic container cabinet way back in 1998. Yes, I used containers to organize my containers. It worked. The cabinet stayed organized. When we moved two years later, I moved the containers from the old house to the new house and the system continues to work.

The Container Rule: Use containers to group like items together.

Use containers to group like items togetherContainers can be used everywhere in your home.  They serve many purposes. The most important purpose is they physically separate categories of items.

There are many types of containers. They can be made of plastic, cloth, metal, wicker or wood.  Some have lids and some don’t. Containers can be clear or opaque. Your organizing style will determine your choice of containers.

Some containers are designed for one use but can be utilized in other ways.  A refrigerator ice bin is a great example. It’s narrow and designed to fit in the door of a freezer. The shape makes it a great container for storing hair products or cleaners under sinks. The ice bin has a lip on the end which makes a good handle.  Just grab it, slide the bin out, pick your product, and slide it back in.

Using containers for these bottled products has the bonus of  easier cleaning. Have you scrubbed gunk from leaking bottles off the shelf under your sink?   It’s so much simpler to wash out a container.

Use containers without lids for frequently used items

The Sterilite Ultra basket is one of my favorites. This basket comes in several sizes. I have several of the small size in my kitchen cabinets.  One holds my dry and liquid measuring cups. When I am cooking I just set the basket on the counter and get out the cups that I need. These baskets are inexpensive and strong.

Cloth bins look great and function well in linen closets. You will find a large variety at Target, Lowes, Walmart, and Dollar General Markets. Be sure to label these bins. A label maker is helpful but you can also get creative with your labels. Pinterest is a great source for labeling ideas. So far I’ve described containers for frequently used items. These containers should not have lids. Lids can actually cause clutter because most of us are in a hurry.

Consider this process.

  • You take a container off the shelf.
  • You remove the lid.
  • You put the item away.
  • You replace the lid.
  • You put the container back on the shelf.

This long process is just too much trouble. Without a lid all we do is slide the container partially off the shelf, toss the item in and slide the container back. Open containers on shelves function much like drawers.

Use containers with lids for items in long term storage. 

Use bins or boxes with lids in spaces like garages, basements and attics where debris can get into the container. Banker’s boxes are an inexpensive option for long term storage. Clear or opaque plastic bins are good choices for these spaces too.

Measure before you shop

Be sure to measure your shelving before you go shopping for containers. Measure the width and depth of the shelves. Measure the space between the shelves too. Take your measurements and a tape measure with you when you shop.

Use clear and air-tight containers for food staples

Some plastic ware companies are making it easier to organize our kitchen cabinets and pantries. They have designed containers for permanent food storage. They are good for storing foods such as oatmeal, rice and pasta.

The containers are clear so it’s easy to tell when you’re running low on an item.  They are air tight and keep freshness in and pests out.  I store brown sugar in one of these containers.  It stays soft and fresh for months. Oxo, Click-clack and Snapware all have some excellent options.

Re-purpose containers for gardening products

Garden sheds can be neat and clean when organized with containers.  Potting soils and soil amendments do not have to be stored in their bags.  They can be stored in trash cans and plastic bins.  The products are much easier to use when stored in these containers.

Consider storing fertilizers in old plastic canisters or coffee cans. I use a Kraft Parmesan Cheese canister to store bone meal.  It is handy to use when planting bulbs. Please avoid accidents. Always label these containers.

Let’s look at containers in a different context.

Remember the rule is to use containers to group like items together. Your calendar is a container to manage your time. Use time blocking to maximize your efficiency. Do you have more commitments than space in your calendar?

Your dedicated to-do list is a container for your tasks. Refrain from scribbling random to-do’s on scraps of papers. Choose and use one to-do list. If you maintain an office away from home you might use a separate work related list. Capture those random to-do ideas as you get them on your to-do list.

I recently heard a coach talking about her gratitude jar. She writes the thing, for which she is grateful on a note, folds it and drops it into a traditional container – a jar.

I have a gratitude list as well. I write them below my tasks on my to-do list.  I capture those things that I am grateful for along with my to-do items. Get your free copy of my To-do List with a Twist.

Use your imagination when choosing containers.  You are not locked in to using a container for its designed purpose.  It’s not always necessary to buy new containers.  You can reuse and recycle many that you already have.  Are you convinced that containers are the key to containing clutter and getting organized?