Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Great Container Crisis

(science chemicals and glassware on a high shelf)

Containers. We love them. We hate them. We have them. We need them. We fill them. The kids empty them. Literally.

Seriously, containers can be wonderful tools to store our stuff. But, how does one make the most efficient use of containers? You already have the most important container for organizing. It’s your trashcan! Come on, admit it, you have way too much stuff. Don’t worry; you’re in good company. Most of us have too much stuff. Before we can even get around to utilizing the fun, cool containers and the labeler, we need to go through all the stuff objectively. One word of caution: don’t do this all at once and don’t do it when you have PMS (oops, that was more than one word). Choose one bookshelf, desktop, toy box, or spot on the floor with which to start. Dump all the stuff on the floor. Get your kids to help with this step; they will love it!

Go through it piece by piece and decide if you really need it. When was the last time you used it? Have your kids outgrown it? Who cares if you spent money on it; if it’s not serving a purpose, trash it or pass it on to someone who really does need it. If it passes the really need test, put it in a laundry basket or larger cardboard box. If it doesn’t belong in that area or room, put it away where it does belong. Yes, right away! If you just have to keep it but you know you’re not going to use it all the time (but be real here!), make yourself a sentimental box or a save-it-for-the-younger-kids box and store it properly. When you’re through with a pile, shelf, or box, then the fun can begin.

You might want to wait until you go through the whole bookshelf, toy box, corner of the room, etc., before moving onto the next step. With all the stuff temporarily out of your storage space, take a good look at your space and your stuff. Do you need large containers? Will large containers fit into your space? Do you need small baskets? Do you have containers already that will fit into your space and hold your stuff? Look around for shoeboxes, unused baskets, and other no-cost storage ideas. Empty (cleaned!) soup cans make great pencil holders. If you are able or need to go buy containers, MEASURE EVERYTHING first! You’d hate to get home with beautiful, large baskets to go on your bookcase only to find that they’re too tall.

Okay, you’ve got your stuff cleaned out and your containers at the ready. The next step is to fill them! Make sure you put only one type of stuff into each container. For instance, math counters do not belong in the same container with presidential flash cards. Mixing spoons should be separate from Rubbermaid containers. There, wasn’t that fun?! The next step is to label your containers. If you don’t have a labeler, that’s fine. I don’t even have one! (That’s my true confession for the day.) I borrowed a friend’s labeler. You can use masking tape, blank address labels, note cards, or a sharpie right on the container (if it’s plastic or cardboard). Make sure your labels are neat, succinct, and facing in such a way that they’ll be visible when you put the containers on the shelf or stack them.

Okay, now for the show and tell portion of this post. Don’t be discouraged because I have lots of shelves and baskets. Please! Trust me, I could find many things in your house that I’d rather have than what’s in my house—the grass is always greener and all that jazz. Anyway, the point is that everyone’s house is different and everyone’s storage needs are different. As your sort through your stuff and look critically at the space you have available, you’ll find your container groove. Here’s my groove:

These built-in cabinets came with the house, and I've got blank CD-Rs, extra o ffice supplies, stationary, and similar items in the labeled containers.

Below are small items such as pencils, paper clips, sticky tack, index cards, rubber bands, etc.

Every type of paper (lined, graph, card stock)

has its own tray. Several related colors of

construction p aper share a tray. Notebooks,

folders, and sheet protectors line up, too.

In these containers are history & geography games and flashcards, science fun stuff (no chemicals), art supplies, math stuff, and the Math-U-See blocks. Of course, each container has only one type of stuff in it.

I can't believe I almost forgot to mention the most important piece of advice! If you (or your kids) take something out of a container to use, PUT IT BACK in the same spot! I know, that's a duh comment, but I figured I'd throw it out there anyway. It's lots easier to put it back right away when you only have one or two things out than when you've got a ton of stuff out from various containers. Just sayin'. Leave me a note with questions about your space or comments about how your container crisis is being solved.