Free Your Space: Duck and cover

Have you ever had the experience of reaching up to retrieve
a scarf from the coat closet shelf only to pull down more than what you had
bargained for? Or perhaps, searching for a sunhat and having to pull everything
off the shelf to find it farther back where it landed the last time it was
blindly tossed? Finally, ever look for just the right shopping bag amidst the
dozens of bags that you keep—how many bags do you pull out before finding the
right-sized one? All of these frustrating situations can be brought under
control by implementing one of the first basic organizing principles: contain

Whether it is a shelf up high or the bottom of a closet, it makes
life so much easier (and casualty free) when the items being stored are
contained. One or two small baskets or boxes give easy access to whatever is
stored and act as a reminder that there is more than one item about to be
encountered. (This is especially handy when the shelf in question is overhead.)
A container also allows for viewing everything at a glance rather than
wondering what else is still further back.

Another benefit of containment is that it maximizes the
usefulness of an area. A container that reaches the full depth of a shelf and
has some height to it allows functional access to more of the storage space,
not just the front. This helps avoid the black hole effect that comes from
tossing things back and out of sight and, in some cases, can keep craniums
intact in the process. You can stack things up and line them front to back
without worry of never seeing them again.

My personal preferences for closet shelving space management
are the collapsible canvas totes that so many stores now carry. Their cube
shape allows for them fitting side by side so as to utilize the maximum amount
of storage, with no space for stray items in between. The lightweight of the
thin canvas adds barely anything to the weight of the items being stored (and
lifted overhead) as some plastic tubs can do and the shape of the tote, a
one-foot cube, allows me to use more of the height of my shelving space without
risking the toppling effect that can happen when stacking. In deciding which
container is right for your needs, there are a few things that are worth
stopping to consider.

The size of your storage space is
the first. You will want storage pieces that fit with a little room to spare. Getting
home from the store with a storage container that doesn’t fit your space creates
yet another dilemma: Do you cut or turn it to make it fit? Do you find another
use for it? Do you return it on your next trip to that store? By that time,
will you remember where you put the receipt?

Another factor is the weight of the
container and of what you intend to store. Are you storing dog toys and leashes
or vases and statues?

Decide on the quantity you will
keep. This may be the most key consideration. Do you need one hundred empty
shopping bags or will 25 suffice? How many of those scarves will you really
wear? A storage solution only works for as long as it can contain the items
being stored. If you are outgrowing your storage solution you either need to go
through and pare down or you need a different solution.

So, take a look. Is there a shelf or area that you can
contain? If so, set aside some time. If it’s a high shelf, get a sturdy
stepstool. Carefully remove everything. Measure your area – length, height and
depth, leaving extra space so that the containers you choose can slide easily
in and out. Find or buy a couple of totes or baskets that you like and will
fit. Then store only the items that you need, use, and love. You can save your
helmet for your next bike ride.

* Annette Reyman is a member of the National
Association of Professional Organizers and its Philadelphia Chapter. View her
Web site at
To contact Annette for organizing work or speaking engagements in the Greater
Philadelphia area call (908) 361-7105 or email her at

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