Sunday, September 30, 2007

Reader Question: Organizing Bathroom Stuff, Part 2

under sink clutter

Continuing with the reader bathroom question:
I have two sinks in this bathroom, with a large countertop, and cabinets under the sink. One cabinet has toilet paper and cleaning supplies, but I'd like to find a way to use the other one productively. It just doesn't seem good for much because it's "down there" and not convenient.

Under-the-sink storage is a challenge for many people. Here are some ideas.

1. As I mentioned in Part 1, back-of-the-door storage can help - I've done this myself.

under sink shelf

2. A number of companies sell under-sink shelves designed to make that space more usable. The one shown above is available at Stacks and Stacks; you can see other options at Walter Drake and The Container Store.

under sink shelf

3. Creative Connectors provides a totally different kind of under-sink shelf.

pull out cabinet organizer

4. Pull-out cabinet organizers are nice, if they fit your space. You can see a wide selection at The Container Store, and many other companies sell them, too. The one pictured comes from Organize-It.

5. And then there's the basic approach of just using appropriate storage containers - plastic bins, laundry baskets, whatever - where you can pull the container out and grab whatever you need.

cat in kitty bed, in under sink cabinet

6. And you can get creative. This may not be practical for anyone else, but because I'm a sucker for cute kitty pictures, I'll share this one where Ron and Suzy put a bed for KK cat under the sink.

And let me add a general warning to be careful about what's stored under the sink, especially if small children could get into the cabinet.

[first photo from Oh My Stinkin' Heck! / Heather Sanders]

Reader Question: Organizing Bathroom Stuff, Part 1

lotions and potions in a closet

A reader asks:
I was wondering if you could look for some ideas on organizing bathroom stuff. I'm talking about "health and beauty aids." I have a "closet" in the bathroom with shelves in it. One is for towels, and the top shelf is not easily accessible so it has heating pads and things not used often, but the middle shelf is for all the hair care products, makeup, cold medicines, lotions, etc. I have two plastic "drawers" in there, but tall things don't fit in them, and since the shelf is deep, many things get put in front of the drawers so I have to move it all to even open them! There has got to be a better way.

Glad to help!

Let's start at the obligatory organizer starting point; please make sure you've sorted through the stuff you have and are only organizing the things you really want and need. Cosmetics don't last forever; Real Simple provides some guidance.

A second thought: Can you adjust the shelves in the closet? Sometimes making a shelf taller or shorter can make a huge difference - or adding a shelf when there's a very tall shelf that largely goes unused. If shelf spacing is an issue and the shelves are adjustable, hiring a handyperson to create the right shelving can be a good investment. (Or if you are handier than I am, you could do it yourself!)

Looking at products:

Zia medium sized plastic tote basket

What I use myself for deep shelves are the stacking plastic tote baskets that you can find so many places: your local drugstore or hardware store, Organize-It, The Container Store, Stacks and Stacks, etc. This does mean you need to pull the basket in front out to get to the ones in back, but that's relatively easy to do. They come in the size shown above plus a smaller one.

Depending on the size of your closet, installing roll-out/pull-out organizers can be helpful. More on that in Part 2.

back of the cabinet door organizer

And depending on the type of door on the closet, you might be able to add some organizing options to the back of the door. A plastic shoe holder could be used to hold all sorts of bottles. There are also a variety of organizing racks and baskets that can provide useful back-of-the-door storage, such as the one shown above from Space Savers. Rev-A-Shelf also has a number of options.

[photo not from reader, but rather from 0range County Girl / Holly Clark]

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Four More Fanciful Hooks

cow hook

I do love hooks as an organizing tool, and I also love whimsy - and they have come together once more. This cow hook will moo whenever something is hung on it. (There's also a sheep that will bleat.) [via Optimist]

chicken roost clothes peg

This chicken roost clothes peg comes from Haba. Update on Sept. 14, 2009: This product seems to have been discontinued.

bear in canoe clothes peg

Here's a black bear in a canoe, with four pegs for hanging stuff. Update on June 17, 2013: I'm no longer finding this product.

goose coat robe towel hook

And here's a Canadian goose - other options include a black bear and a chocolate lab.

Related Posts:
Four Fanciful Hooks
Budget-Minded Organizing Products, with hooks by Metalmorphosis
Dart Coat Hooks
A-Z Hooks from Sundance
Globo Wall Coat Hanger from Magis

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Have It Your Way: Use Paint to Create a Message Board

refrigerator with blackboard paint on the door

Maybe you want a memo board of some sort - a magnetic board, a chalkboard - but you have an unusual sized space, or you want something bigger than the ones readily available.

One option: Use magnetic paint (or magnetic primer paint) to change any surface into a magnetic board. You can also use chalkboard paint, dry erase (whiteboard) paint, or a magnetic/chalkboard paint combination.

Here's some good reading on the subject:

- A picture of an office with a magnetic wall, created using Rust-Oleum's primer; Rust-Oleum also makes chalkboard paint and dry erase paint [via Let's Talk Organizing]

- A discussion about magnetic paint that branches out into the other paint options, and an older post on the same subject

- A whole wall painted with chalkboard paint

- Some ideas on decorating with magnetic paint in the kitchen, in a child's room, etc.

- A wall calendar created with magnetic paint, and another with chalkboard paint

- Chalkboard paint on a refrigerator door (picture above)

- Mural magnets, for both decor and interactive play: underwater sets, flower sets, and individual pieces including an adorable kiwi bird

- Free samples of Magically Magnetic Paint

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ode to the Library Card Catalog

card catalog from Yale University library

Remember those card catalogs you used to see in libraries, before they got replaced by computer databases? (The one above was in Yale University's Sterling Memorial Library; thanks to Wikipedia for the image.) They can still make wonderful storage for all sorts of things.

Uses for a Card Catalog

1. As I noted on Friday, some people use them to store LEGO bricks.

card catalog with colorful labels

2. Tricia Royal of Bits & Bobbins uses hers for art and sewing supplies. Isn't that gorgeous? [via Apartment Therapy]

3. The folks at Publib, a discussion group for public librarians, are full of suggestions.

Ar least two people noted that wine bottles fit perfectly into the drawers.

Helen Rigdon says, "The drawers are perfect size for storing a quart size of liquor (I think that’s the 150 ml size now???) But I don’t have EVERY drawer filled that way. I store candles, napkins, flashlights and other odds and ends in the drawers."

Alison Baker writes, "I have one in my kitchen - and it is filled. The drawers are the perfect width for standard cans, spice jars, certain packaged food too. The pull out shelf works great for checking through the recipe box or cookbooks. The bottom row - I have a tall one - is reserved for tools."

Nann Blaine Hilyard says, "I use a 30-drawer Library Bureau unit in my quilting studio to hold thread and notions."

And Mary Maw, who notes the her card catalog is not made of beautiful woods, writes, "My husband stores files, plumbing parts, electrical parts, nails, etc. in the drawers."

Where to Find a Card Catalog

card catalog, restored and looking stunning

1. eBay or craiglist sometimes have card catalogs for sale. The one shown above - beautifully restored - is currently listed on the San Francisco Bay Area craigslist.

2. Libraries getting rid of their card catalogs will often auction them off - but since many have already disposed of theirs, I imagine there's less chance of getting one this way then there was in prior years.

3. A card catalog just sold on GovDeals, and another one is available. Just browse the category Library Equipment.

4. Michelle Caulk found hers at an estate sale.

5. You can still buy new card catalogs from and Update on May 14, 2010: I no longer see them at -but Demco still sells some.

More Reading (with great pictures)

See what woodworker George Brooks-Hutton (nicknamed Huttonio Brooks) has done with cabinets he got from the University of California at Berkeley.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Going Green with Custom Cabinetry

cabinet dovetail drawers made with FSC certified woods

I went to the West Coast Green conference today - and found a few exhibits that had an organizing aspect.

Quality Custom Components makes amazing dovetail drawers - and they are available in FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified woods, with waterborne wood coatings which are proven no and low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds). I wish their web site had better pictures; the one above was a picture I took this afternoon. I'm posting a large picture so you can see the dovetailing - but the picture doesn't do them justice.

kitchen cabinetry

SilverWalker says they make "sustainably crafted cabinetry"; they build their cabinets with bamboo and FSC certified woods. Their web site is still under construction, so I'm glad I took a few pictures here, too - but again, the photo doesn't begin to capture how lovely these cabinets are.

Both of these companies are in Northern California, but there are green cabinet makers in many parts of the world - something to consider if you need new cabinets.

Friday, September 21, 2007

16 LEGO Storage Options

LEGOs in a bucket

How to organize and store your collection is a challenge for all LEGO fans. After I wrote about the very cool LEGO stacking bin, my curiosity was whetted and I decided to investigate the other choices - the ones used by most LEGO collectors, and few more esoteric options.

The best option for you will depend on many variables, including:
- How many pieces you have
- The types of pieces you have: blocks, robotics, etc.
- How you like to play/build
- Your space and budget constraints

Ways to Organize suggests organizing by color.

wikiHow is the single best reference I've found on the topic of LEGO sorting and storage, and it suggests a progression of organizing approaches, as the collection grows: all together, by set, by size, by category, by part, by part and color.

Products to Consider: Specialized

LEGOs - original plastic box

1. For beginner collections, the LEGOs might simply be stored in the container they came in, especially if they came in a plastic box like this.

LEGO store & carry case

2. The LEGO store has a new category called storage, with only one product right now: the LEGO Store & Carry Case. The case has four removable, stackable trays with different sized sections. Update on June 12, 2011: The category, and this product, have disappeared from the LEGO store website.

child's LEGO building table with storage bins

3. The Kydz building table from Jonti-Craft has a base plate (LEGO or Duplooptions) and optional storage tubs underneath.

box4blocks used for LEGO sorting

4. An interesting specialty product is BOX4BLOCKS, which sorts the LEGOs through a series of trays with different sized grids, so the blocks end up in a tray with similar sized blocks.

LEGO storage bin, green

5. LEGO Education has storage bins in five different sizes. In many cases, the bins have small drain holes in the bottom, so you can wash and drain your bricks. Update on June 12, 2011: I'm only seeing two sizes of boxes now.

LEGO small parts storage cabinet

6. LEGO Education also has small parts storage cabinets in 44-drawer and 64-drawer sizes.

storage case with LEGO Mindstorms parts

7. Robotics Learning Store sells cases designed specifically for Mindstorms.

Products to Consider: Other Widely Used Options

Of course, there's no need to use products designed specifically for LEGOs.

8. Plastic bins and boxes of all sorts are popular options. JaZilla recommends some options on Squidoo. Nate Jacobs shows his collection of bins on Flickr. Tom has a LEGO room and lots of bins. Matt uses the plastic tubs that mushrooms come in.

plastic multi-sectioned storage container with LEGO parts

9. Miguel Agullo has some plastic buckets with compartments that he says work wonderfully for his LEGO Technic pieces, but are hard to get.

tool box with LEGO Mindstorm parts

10. When it comes to Mindstorms, tool boxes are a popular option. Jason Bartholme uses a Stanley ten compartment organizer. Peter Hoh on The NXT Step uses a Stanley Professional Deep Organizer, shown above.

tackle box with LEGO parts

11. Some folks really like Plano fishing tackle boxes; fans include David Bau and Ralph Hempel, who provides a nice photo.

12. Storage cabinets from companies like Akro-Mils are also popular; Jon Palmer at Zemi has a LEGO room with eight Akro-Mils storage cabinets.

Products to Consider: Other

13. Eric Harshbarger uses some old library card catalog cabinets.

14. shows that someone likes using scrapbooking carts and cases. Update on June 12, 2011: The Amazon tags only point to one scrapbooking product right now.

15. And then someone suggests storing them in socks: red LEGOs in red socks, etc.

parts display at LEGO store

16. And here's a picture from a LEGO store, courtesy of sylvar/Ben Ostrowsky.

Finally, I'm indebted to wikiHow for pointing me to Remy Evard's essay on the evolution of LEGO sorting - which illuminates (with great humor) the continual storage challenges facing serious LEGO collectors.

Update on Nov. 28, 2010: Read my latest post to see some new options from Brikcrate!

Update on August 12, 2011: See my latest finds for Lego storage.

[lead photo by feesta / Jeff Easter]

Thursday, September 20, 2007

More Modular Storage: A Stylish Option from Italy

Lazzari modular shelving under stairs / staircase

Just a few days ago I wrote about modular shelving - and it seems as soon as I do a round-up like this, I find at least one more neat option.

In this case, that additional neat option is the Italian modular furniture from Lazzari. It's eye-catching, with colorful drawers and leather handles. The web site has some nice photos to get you thinking about how you might combine the various components, which aren't limited to just a single-size cube.

Available from Colours Ltd in the UK; overseas inquiries welcome.

Lazzari is a brand of Foppapedretti S.p.A., whose web site has some different illustrations which are worth a look.

[via Optimist]

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: The Reduce Part

reduce reuse recycle logo

The Oregonian writes about how recycling alone will not meet the state's goals for stopping growth in per person waste generation. (If you want to read the full story, do it now; after 14 days the free access ends.)

As an organizer, I'm not focused on getting my clients to stop buying things, but rather to stop and ask themselves questions like this, so they don't create clutter issues for themselves:

- Is this something that is useful, or something that I love?
- Where will it go? Is there room for it?
- Will it replace something I will then donate or otherwise recycle?
- Will it hold up well over time, so it doesn't become landfill in the near future?

The Oregonian article mostly emphasizes the same thing; it's not "stop buying" but "stop buying junk." Here are some brief quotes.
Now that Oregonians are good at recycling, state officials are edging toward a far tougher Step 2: Stop buying so much stuff in the first place.
. . .
To cut consumption and waste, and the manufacturing emissions at the front end, regulators are writing a strategy that suggests people consider smaller houses, avoid cramming their homes with junk . . .
. . .
Local government officials, who regulate garbage rates and haulers, fret about waste prevention being seen as a blow to the local economy, Allaway [David Allaway, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's point man for waste prevention] said. "They don't want to spend taxpayer dollars promoting 'Buy Nothing Day.'

"On the surface, it looks bad for the economy," he said, "Our point is you can stimulate the economy without spending on cheap, wasteful goods."
. . .
Julie Daniel, director of BRING Recycling in Eugene, helped advise the state on the plan. Daniel wants tougher mandates for waste prevention and green products. . . . Now she's trying to buy used more often, including a $100 used TV last year. She shares with neighbors, buys in bulk, rents when she needs a tool, buys stuff that'll last and thinks twice before she hits the checkout counter.

[via Apartment Therapy: Green Home]

[Image from High Peak CVS]

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Nine Options for Storing Your Knives

Knife Loop

The CulinHome Speed Loop magnetic knife rack - which I just discovered - inspired this list featuring some of the many options for storing your knives. This is the white version - it's also available with a black or wood center. Update on May 22, 2021: CulinHome seems to have disappeared.

individual knife magnets

Another interesting magnetic option comes from Denmark: the ScanWood knife magnets, available through many on-line retailers in the UK, and through Tivoli Home in the USA. [via Apartment Therapy] Update on May 22, 2021: I'm no longer finding this product.

individual knife magnets

Uncommon Goods sells knife magnets that use the same individual knife approach, but have a different look. Update on May 22, 2021: I'm no longer finding these at Uncommon Goods.

I've already written about the MIKOTO bamboo knife block from Ekobo; the Kapoosh knife block is another one with no pre-set slots.

bamboo knife block

If you want a more traditional-looking knife block, Wusthof has two made from bamboo: model 7277 and 7278. Calphalon also makes a bamboo knife block. Shun Ken Onion is another bamboo option. Update on May 22, 2021: Wusthof's model numbers have changed, but it still has bamboo knife blocks. I'm no longer seeing the Calphalon bamboo knife block. And while I'm not seeing a Ken Onion knife block from Shun, you CAN find other bamboo knife blocks from Shun, including an 11-slot block and a 22-slot block.

knife frame

Another interesting counter top option is the CulinHome Knife Frame . [via Popgadget] Update on May 22, 2021: As noted above, CulinHome seems to have disappeared.

magnetic wood knife block

And then there's the Messermeister MagnaBlock Pro - quite a mouthful, and quite an unusual product. Magnets inside the block hold the knives in place.

under cabinet knife block

Really squeezed for space? Take a look at the Wusthof under-cabinet knife block. Update on May 22, 2021: Wusthof no longer makes this product.

in-drawer knife block

After years of using a magnetic knife rack, I switched to an in-drawer knife block when I got nervous about the knives and the cats; I really like it. Update on June 18, 2011: Sur La Table no longer sells a house brand in-drawer knife block, but it does sell other ones.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tips from Good Housekeeping: August 2007

words Clean House Comes Clean

Good Housekeeping is not where I'd expect to find organizing advice - but I found three interesting tidbits in this issue.

1. Organizing jewelry for travel: I wrote about this on the Clutter Control Freak blog.

2. Organizing the mail: Use a British toast rack, such as the one shown above. (Other options are available here and here.) This wouldn't be my first choice in most situations, but I always like creative alternatives - they're usually just right for someone.

3. Avoiding medical ID theft: Thieves are using other people's names to get health care, so protect your medical insurance card just as you would a credit card. Review your explanation-of-benefits notices, and follow up with your insurance company if you stop getting them.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Organizing on TV: Illusion vs. Reality

Have you watched Clean Sweep, Mission: Organization, or Clean House?

I haven't seen Clean House, but I've seen the others, thanks to my neighbor who taped a few shows for me. And while I've found the shows amusing and even informative, they certainly don't give a realistic view of what the organizing (and interior design) process looks like with an extremely cluttered house - if you don't have a TV crew to do the work!

Ann Saunders of Simple Organizing Solutions in Baltimore was interviewed for a story in The Christian Science Monitor. The article says, "She knows one organizer who spent more than 200 hours on a house for a TV makeover. That translated into 22 minutes on air."

And organizer Joan Kosmachuk of Simple Effects in Boston reports that on an episode of Clean House Comes Clean, the team stated that they spend on average 6 days of up to 18 hours/day as a whole team to declutter, clean and redecorate each home on each of their shows. And that's a team of four people!

So watch the shows for fun and inspiration - but don't expect to solve clutter issues that have been building up for years as quickly as it seems to happen on TV.

Friday, September 14, 2007

One Way to Get Too Many Magazines

four magazine covers

I just got this message in my e-mail. I'm not identifying the organization that sent it, because you might get something similar from any Cause You Care About.
The Cause-You-Care-About has launched a new fundraising campaign for the fall and we have found a fabulous way to provide you with your favorite magazines at a huge discount and raise money for the Cause-You-Care-About at the same time!

All you have to do is visit our new online magazine store to buy, renew or extend your favorite magazine subscription and 40% of each purchase is contributed to the Cause-You-Care-About!

Over 650 magazine titles at up to 85% off newsstand prices; Buy online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

You can also help by inviting your friends and family to purchase their favorite magazines online. They will also save up to 85% on more than 650 titles while the Cause-You-Care-About keeps 40% of each purchase amount!

What a piece of marketing - it plays on your sympathies and on your sense of getting a good deal. But magazines you don't need - that will just pile up unread - are not a good deal at any price. Want to support the cause? Just send them a check!

Celebrating Fine Furniture

Queen Anne Cabinet from Karges

Not all of us can afford furniture like this - but we can still appreciate that craftsmen are producing such lovely pieces.

I just discovered Karges by Hand from an ad in Architectural Digest. The piece shown above is a Queen Anne cabinet on a stand. The Karges web site has high-quality pictures, so it's a pleasure to browse.

tansu from Berkeley Mills

On the other hand, I've known about Berkeley Mills for a long time, since they're located not too far from me. This is one of their numerous tansu pieces - and they do custom work, too.

sideboard from John Kelly Furniture

John Kelly Furniture and Accessories is another company I've known about for years, having seen their furniture at a store in San Francisco. This is a sideboard from the J1 series.

file cabinet from Pompanoosuc Mills

I don't remember how I first heard about Pompanoosuc Mills - but I'm glad I did. This is a solid birch file cabinet.

Asian cabinet from Debey Zito

Debey Zito is a member of Artistic License, a group of artisans - so go to the Artistic License web site and you can ogle not only her work but that of many others.

demi armoire from Green Design Furniture

Green Design Furniture was named after founder Michael Green - but their furniture is made from domestically grown solid wood, logged following sustainable forestry guidelines. Whenever possible, manufacturing waste products are recycled or repurposed. This is their demi armoire.

chest of drawers from Andrew Muggleton

While the other furniture makers listed here make a range of storage items, this chest of drawers is the only storage-related item from Andrew Muggleton - but isn't it a beauty?