Easy Storage Solutions From A to Z
When clutter piles up, the whole household suffers—but storage solutions are the cure. These organizing problem–specific fixes will finally conquer everything from one-time issues (like getting the kitchen knives in order) to constant dilemmas (like what to do with that unceasing flood of mail) so the whole house, finally, can feel orderly.
To get started, first identify the problem(s) then figure out what sort of storage solutions (fixes, here) work for your home and lifestyle. Many call for archiving items or storing them away in a spare closet, in the garage, in the attic, etc. If extra storage space is an elusive dream, focus on solutions that call for storing items more neatly or even giving them away (or getting them out of the house in some other way). Digitally storing items is another great storage solution for homes with little physical closet space but plenty of digital Cloud space.
To keep clutter problems from getting worse, once everything is well-organized, prioritize minimizing the potential for clutter in the future. Commit to taking time every year (or every few months if the problem is particularly bad) to pare down possessions and discard any duplicates. Fight the urge to hoard—you’ll only pay for it later, and clever storage solutions can only do so much with a huge overabundance of stuff. Try to follow the one thing in, one thing out rule, where you discard, donate, or gift an item for every new one you purchase or receive. When there’s less stuff, there’s less to organize.
Maybe you have the energy and determination (and the time) to tackle everything all at once; maybe you're planning to try these home storage solutions in waves over a few weeks. Or maybe you want to wait until a problem gets so bad that it can’t be ignored and address it then (no judgment here). However you want to put everything in order, this guide has your back.
As in: All those paintings and prints in the attic, plus the 87 drawings Billy brings home each week.
Wrap artwork with archival supplies. To keep moisture out, wrap framed artwork in archival polyethylene plastic, says John Jacobs, CEO of Artex, an art-storage company in Landover, Maryland. (Look for archival supplies from University Products.) Then place in a cardboard picture or mirror box ($51 for five; uboxes.com) and store upright. For unframed works on paper, separate each with acid-free tissue paper and lay them in an archival box. It’s best to store art in a temperature- and humidity- controlled space between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. “Too much heat can warp art, and extreme cold can make it brittle,” says Jacobs.
Frame your favorites; reuse the rest. As for those drawings by your third-grade artiste, Maria Gracia, owner of Get Organized Now, suggests dating each piece and placing it in a box. “At the end of the year, frame a few favorites,” she says, “and use the rest as wrapping paper or gifts for Grandma.”
As in: The AAs occupying the egg holder in your refrigerator.
Use the original packaging. The best way to store batteries is in their original packaging in a drawer―not, contrary to popular belief, in the refrigerator, as condensation can cause damage.
Secure loose batteries with a rubber band. Make sure all the positives point the same way, says Eric Schweitzer, technical program manager for the Association of Electrical and Medical Imaging Equipment Manufacturers, in Rosslyn, Virginia. If the terminals touch each other, the life of the batteries can be shortened. “And be sure to put them in a plastic bag so they don’t touch metal objects, like keys, which can cause electrical shorting,” he says.
As in: The dog-eared Danielle Steel novels you don’t necessarily want to display but wouldn’t dare part with, either.
Cardboard boxes are the ideal storage solution. Plastic bins “trap moisture, causing paper to wrinkle and glue to weaken,” says Joshua Mann, a co-owner of B&B Rare Books, in New York City. Set books in boxes side by side, alternating them so one spine faces down and the next spine faces up. “Don’t stack books on top of each other. The covers and pages can warp,” says Mann. Wrap valuable books, like leather-bound ones, in Mylar sheets (from $23 for 25 sheets, bagsunlimited.com). Then store the boxes in a closet free of temperature fluctuations.
Condiments and Spices
As in: The cumin that falls out each time you reach for the olive oil.
Use a lazy Susan. Consider a two-tier one with a top tray that can hold bottles of ketchup or vinegar.
Transfer spices to easily stackable jars. Laurent Gras, chef at the Chicago restaurant L2O, transfers them from various-size jars to clear ones (like Mini Oval Spice-Herb Jars with Clamps, $3 each; crateandbarrel.com) and marks each with a handheld labeler.
As in: Your grandmother’s china, which is not aging gracefully.
Use heavy-duty plastic wrap. "Wrap plates individually and stack up to eight before securing them tightly with the wrap," says Cheryl Kahn-Brocco, director of catering for the Glazier Group, an event-management company in New York City. “It’s a favorite catering trick. Your dishes won’t budge, and they’ll be protected from dust, so there’s no need to wash them before using.” Store the stacks in a cupboard or a low-traffic corner of the attic.
Consider diswasher racks. For fancy wineglasses and Champagne flutes, Kahn-Brocco recommends commercial-style dishwasher racks with individual compartments: “Load it up and wrap it in plastic so everything stays safe and clean.”
As in: The rat’s nest of wires under your desk.
RELATED: Storage Ideas for Small Spaces
Bundle cords with Velcro tape. There are plenty of cord organizers on the market, but Carrick Rowe, an interior designer in New York City, suggests using Velcro tape (from $12 for a 25-yard roll; textol.com). “I’ve screwed a small hook into the bottom of a desk and hung bundled wires up and out of the sight line,” she says.
Use a cardboard tube. You can make your own cable corraller out of the cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels: Using scissors, slice the roll down one side, then wrap the tubing around the wires to keep them neat.
As in: That wood pile holding court in the middle of your yard.
Store wood under a tarp outdoors. This is to protect it from rain and snow, says John Gulland, a cofounder of woodheat.org, an organization dedicated to the responsible use of wood as a home heating fuel. Avoid stacking wood directly on the ground (“Wood sucks up moisture, which leads to mold and mildew,” says Gulland). Instead, pile it on an sturdy log rack (4 ft. Heavy-Duty Firewood Rack, $40; homedepot.com). Or make your own rack out of two-by-fours or an old wooden pallet. “The first row should be three inches off the ground,” says Gulland. Arrange the first layer so the pieces point the same way. Then start a new layer, placing the wood perpendicularly to create a crisscross pattern. Make sure the pile remains stable and level and not higher than four feet for safety reasons.
Gas Grills and Propane Tanks
Disconnect the propane tank and wheel your gas grill into the garage. While your gas grill will take a cold-weather hiatus, the propane tank must stay outside year-round (propane is impervious to heat or cold). “It’s against the fire code to place a propane tank larger than one pound in an enclosed area,” says Michael Caldarera, vice president of regulatory and technical services for the National Propane Gas Association. “It’s possible for a leak in a tank to cause an explosion.” This flammable gas must be kept at least five feet from your house, according to the fire code.
After detaching the tank, test it for leaks. “Close the valve, then sponge the valve and the nozzle [where it attaches to the grill] with soapy water,” says Caldarera. “If the liquid foams or bubbles, check that the valve connection is tight. If it is, you probably have a leak. Call your dealer for disposal instructions.”
As in: The deed to your home, which you just discovered inside the China Star takeout menu.
RELATED: 18 Clever Organizing Tricks and Storage Ideas
Get a scanner, says Erin Doland, the editor-in-chief of Unclutterer: “I scan birth certificates, my Social Security card―everything.” For each document, Doland adds a title page that says where the hard copy can be located. She then sends the electronic files to a secure online storage space, such as Carbonite, which costs about $6 a month.
As in: That brilliant breakthrough you had on the way home that you can’t remember for the life of you.
Save your scribbles with an app. “Your head is for coming up with ideas―not for storing them,” says Peter Walsh, author of It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life With Less Stuff ($11; amazon.com). A storage solution for remembering your ideas with Evernote, a free service that you can use on any device―from a laptop to a cell phone. “I might take a photo of a napkin I scribble a note on and upload it,” says Doland.
As in: The ridiculous number of catalogs and credit-card solicitations crammed into your mailbox.
Don’t let junk mail past the foyer. Keep a pretty recycling bin and a shredder by the front door to make daily sorting easy. Many handheld shredders slip discreetly into a drawer. To curb junk mail, sign up with a service such as Catalog Choice, which works to take your name and address off many marketing lists.
As in: Those gold hoops that are just like socks: You can always find one but not the other.
Give each piece a proper place. Since diamonds can gouge amethyst and chunky silver can scratch 18- and 24-karat gold, “don’t jumble up your jewelry,” says Helena Krodel, director of media and special events at the Jewelry Information Center, in New York City. She loves the clear, plastic 80-pocket Hanging Jewelry Organizer ($25; containerstore.com): “It holds a lot and takes up hardly any space in my closet or luggage―I just roll it up anytime I go on a trip.” Elizabeth Showers, a jewelry designer in Dallas, puts each of her necklaces in a separate zippered plastic bag. Another storage solution: First wrap each necklace around a piece of cardboard to avoid tangles, then, if you’re storing the jewelry in a drawer, place the bags in a padded envelope for extra protection.
As in: The reason you’re scared to reach into the kitchen drawer.
Place them in a drawer with knife guards. Protect knives―and your digits―with individual knife guards (various sizes available from $2; kitchenworksinc.com). “You can stack them next to one another and they won’t get damaged,” says April Bloomfield, chef at the Spotted Pig, in New York City.
Hang knives on the wall. Short on drawer space? Hang knives on a wall-mounted magnetic strip “near where you’re going to cut,” says Jeffrey Elliot, executive chef for knife manufacturer Zwilling J. A. Henckels. “If you prefer a knife block, the slots should be horizontal so the knives slide in parallel to the counter rather than resting on the blade edges, which can dull over time.”
Keep bulbs in the original packaging. It will protect them from breakage, says Anne Guertin, a spokesperson for Sylvania. This is especially important for compact fluorescent lightbulbs, which contain mercury. If you’ve thrown out the packaging, place bulbs in a shoe box lined with bubble wrap or tissue paper. Temperature does not affect the performance of bulbs, so you can store spares in the garage or the attic if you don’t have room in a closet.
As in: Your prized collection of National Geographics, which have gone yellow and wavy with age.
Consolidate magazines. Send magazines to an archival service, like Denver Bookbinding, which will bind the stash into one or more hardcovers for $40 and up per book, depending on the number you order.
Nuts and Bolts
As in: All those loose thingamabobs driving you screwy.
Contain nuts and bolts in jars. “Grandpa’s wood-shop storage solution of attaching glass Ball jars underneath a table or a shelf is tried-and-true,” says Ted McCann, a Brooklyn-based custom woodworker. Nail the lids to the underside of a surface near where you store your tools, then twist the jars into place. Put like-size nuts and bolts in one jar and wood screws in another. Also attach an empty jar so that when you’re working on a project, you can keep the hardware for it in one place.
As in: Your white eyelet blouse, now curiously yellow after hibernating under the bed.
Designate seasonal storage areas. One storage solution is to place an armoire in your bedroom to store off-season stuff, like sweaters or sundresses. But if you have extra closets, dedicate one to autumn and winter and another to spring and summer, says Walsh. For hanging items, swap foam strip–covered dry-cleaner hangers for wood, plastic, or padded ones, as the foam can “end up discoloring a favorite shirt,” says Tracy McCubbin, owner of dClutterfly, an organizing service in Los Angeles. For long-term storage, avoid hangers covered in dark, velvetlike flocked material; they can transfer color to clothing over time.
Box up your sweaters. Sweaters can be stored in a garment box made of breathable cotton ($25; bedbathandbeyond.com) and placed under a bed or on a shelf. Make sure the clothes are clean before storing them. “I put my cashmere sweaters in large zippered plastic bags and stick them in the freezer for a few hours to kill off any bug larvae,” says Chris Paulocik, a conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute, in New York City.
Cover and seal paint cans. To preserve paint for later use, clean around the lip of the can, as any buildup will prevent a perfect seal. Then cover the top of the can with plastic wrap before replacing the lid. “This prevents rust from seeping into the paint and makes the lid easier to pry off,” says Alison Keane, environmental counsel for the National Paint & Coatings Association. Next, place a piece of wood on top of the lid and “hammer it once hard in the center for a good seal,” says Carl Koebbe, division merchandising manager for Home Depot. Store the can upside down so “the thin paint layer that forms will be on the bottom of the can when you use it next,” says Koebbe.
Store cans inside the house. Keep the cans in a room not subject to freezing temperatures. “The garage is the worst place to store paint,” says Keane. “Latex contains up to 80 percent water―once it freezes, it’s ruined.”
Consolidate pet supplies in a dresser. Lisa Peterson, a spokesperson for the American Kennel Club, stashes her pets’ goods in a tall, skinny tag-sale dresser. The top drawer is dedicated to her pets’ health―all pills and a folder for their medical records. The second drawer is for spare leashes and collars, the third for grooming supplies, and the last for bulk dog chews. She also uses a dry-erase board to note important dates, like the most recent tick treatment.
As in: Your great-aunt’s coverlet, which is coming apart at the seams.
Store quilts with archival materials. Crease marks are the leading cause of textile damage, says Carolyn Ducey, curator of collections at the University of Nebraska International Quilt Study Center and Museum, in Lincoln. For safe storage, lay archival tissue paper (from hollingermetaledge.com) on top of your quilt. Next, gently fold the quilt and place it in a clean cotton pillowcase. Then put it in a box made of polypropylene (from hollingermetaledge.com) and store in a temperature-controlled closet. Very important: Once a year, refold the quilt in a different way―on the diagonal, for example―to avoid fold lines.
As in: The three-by-five-inch cards and clippings stuffed in the front covers of your cookbooks.
Scan and organize them online. The most efficient way to store recipes is to “scan them, then organize them with a software system, like eChef recipe software,” says Doland. The program, which also lets you save recipes found online, has an easy-to-use search function: Type in “asparagus” and find every one of your recipes that calls for it. For a more casual approach, you can pin recipes to course-specific boards on Pinterest.
Group gear in a hall closet. Rachel Cutler, a senior director at the YMCA in Long Island City, New York, suggests keeping gear in net bags in a hall closet: “Those rope bags from health-food stores are great.” Stow tennis balls and baseballs in one or a basketball in another, and hang them on hooks. For bats, rackets, and golf clubs, Cutler recommends repurposing an umbrella stand.
As in: The power drill that resides between kiddie pool toys and garden gear.
Keep tools inside the house. “Don’t leave your tools in the garage,” says Norma Vally, author of Kitchen Fix-Ups ($10; amazon.com). “Moisture can cause rust and damage power tools. Plus, if your tools aren’t easily accessible, that gives you one more reason to procrastinate on projects.” Vally uses the Bucket Boss ($25; amazon.com), an apron with pockets for tools that fits around a joint-compound bucket.
As in: That towering pile of terry in the linen closet.
Roll them―don’t stack them. "Not only does it take up less space but it also looks pretty," says Rowe.
As in: The whisk that’s nowhere to be found when the béarnaise begins to boil.
Keep utensils within reach. “Mise en place―a French term they beat into your head in culinary school―means ‘everything in its right place,’ ” says Elliot. “So all your utensils should be within arm’s reach.” Elliot keeps a ceramic vase next to the stove for his wooden spoons, tongs, and spatulas. He also added hooks to the pot rack: “I store all my ladles and large slotted spoons there.” If you don’t have space for a pot rack, consider attaching a metal paper-towel rod under your cabinets and hanging utensils on it as a storage solution. Megan Reardon, creator of the organizing blog Not Martha, installed two 11-inch metal kitchen-cabinet handles ($7 for two; ikea.com) to hang implements from.
Place them inside one another. You really need only three kinds of vases. New York City–based event planner David Stark suggests a bud vase, for one or two stems; a cup-shaped vessel, for small bouquets; and a cylindrical vase, for bunches of long-stemmed flowers. But if you like your large collection, follow the advice of Meredith Waga Perez, a co-owner of Belle Fleur, a floral- and event-design firm in New York City. “I nestle vases inside one another and put paper towels between them so they don’t rattle,” she says. And never store vases under the kitchen sink, she says: “You can easily knock them over and break them. I like to put vases up on a shelf, where they’re better protected.”
As in: That special bottle you saved for your 10th anniversary, only to uncork vinegar.
Keep bottles away from heat. “When it comes to wine, there’s one absolute,” says Manhattan sommelier Patrick Cappiello: “Heat is bad―it cooks the wine and kills the fruit.” So never store bottles in direct sunlight or near a stove. For long-term storage, “the ideal temperature is 55 degrees,” says Cappiello. “A basement is good, but remember to keep it away from the boiler.”
Lay bottles on their sides. That way, Cappiello says, “the wine stays in contact with the cork, preventing air from oxidizing it.”
Put wine in the refrigerator. For short-term storage (reds or whites that you’ll drink within a month or so), use your refrigerator. “Open bottles should last up to four days,” says Jamie Ritchie, head of the wine department at Sotheby’s. You can also use the Vacu Vin ($13; amazon.com), a stopper-and-pump system that takes the air out of an open bottle and may keep wine fresh for as long as a week.
Christmas (or Xmas) Ornaments
As in: The angel tree topper that now has a broken wing.
Layer ornaments in a large plastic bin. Separate ornaments into three piles: fragile ones, less breakable ones, and those that are the size of a lemon or smaller (whether breakable or not). “Lay the non-fragile ornaments on the bottom of a large plastic storage bin, then add a layer of crisscross strips of cardboard on top,” says Gracia. “Next, place two kitchen-utensil drawer inserts on the cardboard and put the smaller ornaments inside them. Then wrap the fragile items in bubble wrap or tissue paper and lay them on top. Finally, pad those with the Christmas-tree skirt before closing the lid.”
As in: Your splintered Adirondack chairs, which are not sitting pretty.
Place cushions in large plastic boxes. When summer ends, make sure cushions are completely dry before placing them in the plastic boxes. “Use scissors to poke holes in the boxes to prevent mildew,” says Daryl Tilley, vice president of merchandising for seasonal living at Lowe’s. Store lighter furniture, like plastic, wood, and wicker, indoors, “preferably in the attic, as basements and garages are too damp,” says Tilley.
Cover furniture with a tarp. It’s OK to leave heavier furniture, like wrought iron, outside, but protect it with a tarp. Or try Covermate covers from Coverstore, which come in many sizes and have drawstring cords for a snug fit.
Store glass in a less-traveled area. Remove glass tabletops and “store them in a safe corner where they won’t be knocked over,” says Tilley.
Zippers and Other Sewing Supplies
As in: The thimble that you just found wedged between the sofa cushions.
Use a tackle box. Janet Markarian, owner of the Orient Linen Company, a shop in Orient, New York, sticks with a good old storage box. “The fly compartments are perfect for zippers, buttons, and trim,” she says. “And the clear lids let you spot what you’re looking for before you open the box.” You can also hang a bulletin board and pin up bags of spare thread and buttons.