Shoestring Organizing

You don't need pricey gadgets to get organized

As a professional organizer, it's my job to help clients find balance in their lives. But most of us don't want to invest much time or money to accomplish this goal. Some of the best organizational tools are very inexpensive and can be found at most discount stores. Often developing a personal system involves just a bit of creativity rather than a substantial investment in a professional product or service.

It comes down to four choices
When establishing a general storage system, you have four storage choices. You can

  • hang it
  • put it in a drawer
  • store it on the floor
  • or shelve it.

If you haven't used it in a year, chances are you never will. Get rid of anything that you haven't used for the past year or two, except tax and business documents. Sorting will reduce your storage needs, and save you valuable time and money in the process.

Taming the paper tiger
Managing paper is a challenge we all face. Consolidate important notes into a daily planner, spiral notebook, large calendar, or wipe off board. Use a multicolored pen or marker to flag special events, with one color per event or person. Create a follow up system using a file box and index cards, or notebook with pocketed dividers. For bills and other correspondence, buy a notebook with twelve pocketed dividers, one for each month of the year. Label each with birthdays, anniversaries, and billing due dates, then fill with correspondence. The binder can be used as a portable desk, or can be stored at your work area. Set a specific day of the month to do your paperwork. Minimize organizing product costs by clipping articles and recipes, then discarding the remainder of the magazine. Store in magnetic photo albums, or a notebook with dividers.

Closet organizing ideas can be implemented for storing clothing, crafts, sporting goods, and just about anything else you can shove into a closet. Use dowel rods hung at multilevels for clothing on hangers. Plastic bins and shelf dividers keep folded items stacked. Hang ties and belts on a plastic coat hanger, buy cardboard cubbies for shoes and purses (or make your own by decorating divided grocery store boxes). For quick retrieval, hooks for caps, bags, umbrellas, and purses keep things in sight. A hanging storage closet system purchased at a home store or discount store is a portable alternative to built-in organizers. (These hang by hooks over your closet rod and have multiple milk crate cubes suspended below.) If you live in small quarters or move frequently, this is a cost-effective solution to custom shelving.

Hanging organizers with divided pouches store and display at the same time. These come with small pockets for jewelry, or larger pockets for shoes, pantyhose, or scarves. I've used them in lieu of junk drawers for office supplies. The large sizes can be found at dollar stores, and the smaller sizes are featured in mail order catalogs or home furnishing stores.

Over the door, out of the way
Use over the door organizers such as laundry bags, bookracks, ironing boards, utility racks (good for storing tapes, CDs, or cleaning supplies). Store small items under the bed in boxes with lids, tackle boxes or fishing lure boxes. Save an empty thermometer case to store needles, and film canisters or empty pill bottles with lids for small buttons. Stash your chest of drawers in the closet to save wall space and to hold additional craft items. Stacking kitchen racks expand cabinet space (dishes, corner racks, lid racks, plastic wrap racks, stackable trays for junk drawer and cutlery), and over the door racks hold additional pantry items.

Bucket aprons can turn any 5-gallon bucket into a tool tote. Available at Amazon's Home Improvement store.

For the garage, there's no need to purchase expensive shelving or cabinets. Hang firring strips with nails or spring latches for long handled tools. Use hooks for hanging bikes, pegboards for tools, freestanding drawer units, lidded plastic tubs of all sizes, shelving for large items and those in containers, an old inverted barstool or trash can for holding tall items such as bats and fishing poles, and dish tubs on shelves with labels. A wraparound cloth apron with pockets for a five gallon bucket makes a wonderful tool tote, and can be found at a home improvement center, or make your own from scrap material.

Make your items do double duty. Invest in a cardpunch for your business cards, then file them on your Rolodex. A basket runner system creates a file cabinet or kitchen storage unit. Use a bedroom closet to create a niche for hobby work; the doors close to hide work in progress. Folding screens are decorative and disguise a work area. A folding card table or banquet table can be stored under the bed when not in use, which is convenient if your hobby room doubles as a guest bedroom. Find a large piece of plywood to place over the spare bedroom mattress as a workspace, which can then easily be stored when guests visit. Use wicker baskets to hold important papers or fresh fruit, and a kitchen crock for utensils. Hanging wire baskets hold produce and utilize vertical space as well. Top a large garbage can with a simple wooden circle and skirted cover to make a bedside or end table to conceal stored items.

Keep your eyes open for creative ways to contain the clutter in your life. Be only as organized as you NEED to be. This means establishing a workable system for yourself that you know you can follow for a long time. Remember that being organized is an ongoing process, not an end result. Tackle those paper piles ten minutes a day until you finally see your desk under all those stacks. It will get done, and just think of the sense of accomplishment you'll feel every day as you do just a little bit more to organize the clutter in your life.

Related items:

  • Organizing from the Inside Out is absolutely the best organizing book I've ever read. Its "kindergarten" technique for organizing spaces works, even for hopeless slobs, and it's as expensive as you want it to be; use fancy baskets and stuff from Levenger, or use cardboard boxes covered with Contac paper, it's all the same to Julie, just DO IT! [BOOK]
  •'s Home Improvement store has items like "bucket aprons" and other inexpensive organizing items mentioned here--doweling and so on.

Debbie Williams is the founder of OrganizedU and owner of Let's Get It Together. She's a professional organizer, publisher of the online newsletter Organized Times and host of the annual Online Organizing Expo, Virtually Organized. This article © 1997-2014 Debbie Williams. Used by permission.


Mindi's picture

Any teacher store will have cardboard cubbies you can purchase. They are usually around $25. Try Teacher's Tools, Teach Mart, or Mardel. Hope this helps!

Guest's picture

Get has 24 pr $19.98 36 pr 29.98 . 1-800-803-9400.

Dee Gelb's picture

I have some wonderful old cardboard cubbies.You mentioned these but not where to find them.I see other postings online of people looking for the same thin.Can you help? Any help would be appreciated. DEE

Tami Kendrick's picture

I did not see a reply to the question of where to locate the cardboard shoe cubbies. I have looked and looked and are unable to locate them. Do you know where they can be found?

Sylvia Liebbe's picture

I too have been looking for cardboard shoe cubbies. I presently have four of them and I'm looking for another two or three of them. I've had them for years and have worked well.

Cheryl S. Wilmington, NC's picture

Did anyone find the cardboard show cubbies? Okay, ladies, comeone needs to start a business!!!

Linda Kaye's picture

I too am looking for cardboard shoe cubbies. I have two that are very old land want to replace them and add to them. Where can I locate them. I am desperate. Thank you.

jennye's picture

Why not make your own? I think with some cardboard from coke cases or cardboard boxes, one could fashion their own custom sized ones! Cut a slit half way, from the top on one and bottom of the other where two come together.


Mrs. Kelly's picture

Did you ever find the cardboard boxes? If so, where?

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