OPINION

AT HOME: Do you need stuff to store your stuff?

Labels, bins and baskets impose order on this home's pantry, making cooking and putting food away faster and more efficient. But before a pantry can look this good, home chefs need to clean out old, unwanted and expired food. (Courtesy of mDesign)
Labels, bins and baskets impose order on this home's pantry, making cooking and putting food away faster and more efficient. But before a pantry can look this good, home chefs need to clean out old, unwanted and expired food. (Courtesy of mDesign)


In my finger-wagging moments, when I am (I hope kindly) chiding folks for buying too much stuff and not getting rid of enough, when I am preaching about purging and organizing, these words fly out of my mouth every time: Don't buy stuff for your stuff!

Most of us, including me, have no trouble going out and buying products we think will solve our problems. When our stuff begins to overwhelm, rather than thin it out, we run out and binge on bins and baskets of all sizes to corral the clutter. Have too many sweaters, toiletries, cleaning products, or packaged snacks? No problem! Just buy a bin!

Although I concede that corralled clutter looks better than free-ranging clutter, if the underlying problem is too much stuff, buying more stuff to stuff the stuff in won't fix it, any more than sweeping dirt under the rug will make it go away.

All that aside, however, today I am going to talk about the exception. I recently saw some photos of drool-worthy pantries, bathroom cabinets, kitchen cupboards and closets, that all had -- gasp -- bins! I realized I may have been a little harsh.

Bins and baskets do have a place in a well-organized home. But the key is we must purge first. Then you can buy (or reuse) bins. Think vegetables before dessert. Bins should be the reward for thinning out and editing down your belongings until you are left with only what you need, use and love.

As creative director at mDesign, a company that creates storage solutions for homes, Danielle Dorn fully agrees. Dorn, who was also the source of the drool-worthy photos, has turned storing items in baskets and bins into an art form and now helps others do the same.

"The secret to storage that both looks good and functions is to make sure the organizing system you choose matches your needs not someone else's," Dorn said.

When you decide it's time to calm your chaos, she said, start in a place that bugs you most. "Ask, where am I always digging to find what I want?" Then clean out the area, purge, assess, and find a system that fits.

As she talked, I thought of the space under my bathroom sink, where I have a dozen or so bottles of lotion, hair products, and other toiletries that topple over like bowling pins when I reach for an item in the back. Dorn suggested I put the items on a lazy Susan. Problem solved.

Here are some other storage solutions she offered for common problem areas:

◼️ Think it through. Nowadays, a specialty storage container exists for just about every household item, from cookie sheets to Christmas ornaments. Before you go crazy buying stuff for your stuff, make sure a) you really need it, b) you don't already have a container that will do the job, and c) the container saves you more space than it takes up.

◼️ Unify your space. If your pantry is just a series of shelves, bins will instantly inject order into this high-traffic area. Choose bins you can see into, such as wire or acrylic, and stick to one type to create a uniform look. The containers can vary in width, but aim to have them the same height because it looks better, Dorn said. Put overflow items and refills on higher shelves. In closets, she likes to use fabric baskets.

◼️ Add labels. Labeling every bin, whether for food or clothing, helps when putting away groceries or laundry, and also when you have others working in your home.

◼️ Lift it up. Large cabinets are often cavernous sinkholes with a lot of wasted space on top. Risers, or stacking shelves, can help fill the dead space. When creating a storage system for a cabinet under a sink, which has plumbing, find containers, such as plastic drawers or risers, that work around the pipes. Affixing or hanging storage containers to the inside of the cabinet door is also a good use of space.

◼️ Remove packaging. To save space and boost appearances, remove and recycle product packaging when possible and practical. Kitchen canisters are not only for coffee, sugar and flour, but you can also have dedicated containers for pasta (clip the cooking instructions and tuck inside), cereal, nuts and more. In bathrooms, have dedicated containers for cotton balls, cotton swabs, tissues and liquid soap.

◼️ Toss in a lazy Susan. Although square or rectangular containers typically make the most efficient use of space, lazy Susans prove the exception. Dorn calls these swirling circles "the Holy Grail of organizing" because they keep items from getting lost and forgotten in a cabinet's back corner. Dorn even has one in her refrigerator, a move her husband called "life changing." Indeed, I bought one for under my bathroom sink. Now instead of toppling bottles, I just spin.

◼️ Keep it up. The key to having an organized home is maintenance. "Try to get in a routine of putting everything back in its place before you go to bed," Dorn said, before she gave up one more of her organizing secrets: "I love to purge when no one's home."

Marni Jameson is the author of seven books, including "Rightsize Today to Create Your Best Life Tomorrow."