Many people buy storage boxes to help them get organized, but the truth is that they promise much and deliver nothing at all unless you know how to use them.
A disorganized mess does not magically sort itself into neat groups of things and then jump into boxes by itself, however much you wish it would. And without first thinking it through, the chances are pretty high that the boxes you buy will not be quite the right size, shape, or quantity for what you need them for, as I have so often discovered in the homes of clients who have called me in to help them clear their clutter. Just about everyone I have ever worked with has a stack of empty storage boxes they have never used!
The best approach is therefore to sort through your clutter, discard what you no longer wish to keep, measure up the storage space you have available, and THEN buy boxes to match your needs exactly. Or if you have only limited storage space available, buy boxes that fit the space and only keep what fits in them.
What type of storage boxes?
Many different sizes, shapes, and types of materials are available, so it’s important not to succumb to multiple choice melt down at this stage. If you’re drowning in clutter, don’t let this be yet another reason to delay sorting through and organizing your stuff.
The simplest approach is to choose between clear and opaque.
If you like to be able to easily see what’s in a box without opening it, then the transparent plastic type will work best for you.
If you prefer opaque, then choose a colour that goes with your décor. You will enjoy using them more, and it will encourage you to make good use of them. Find the colour you like in the material and size of your choice and you’re done. For airtight storage, plastic is best, or at least a box that has a plastic coating inside. For cheap and functional, cardboard may do. If appearances are important to you, you may want to consider more exotic materials such as rattan, wicker, palm leaf, banana leaf, or sea grass, or elegant designs made of leather, wood, or canvas.
You can also purchase bespoke boxes for storing mementoes, hats, shoes, jewellery, and so on. Some boxes have a simple lid; others have a lock and key. If you are environmentally conscientious, you may want to buy the type that are made of recycled materials, or that can be recycled at the end of their useful life.
What size and shape?
If you are storing heavy items, buy smaller, stackable boxes that you can easily lift rather than a large one that you will struggle with. This will cost a little more, but it can often make the difference between using the boxes for their intended purpose or not bothering because too much effort is required each time.
Square or rectangular boxes fit most spaces best and stack easily. Search the internet or local stores to find boxes that are the size you need and are made of a material you like in the colour of your choice.
Label your boxes
Name each box in a way that is meaningful to you, and label it so that you know at a glance what is in it. An inexpensive way to do this with a transparent box is to use your computer to print the name on a piece of paper (or you can write it by hand) and then cut or fold it to the correct size and insert it vertically inside the box so that it is visible from the outside. A neater way that can be used with both transparent and opaque boxes is to create a printed or hand-written sticky label that is fixed to the outside of each box. Position the labels in the same place on each box for a more pleasing visual effect.
Don’t use storage boxes as a furniture substitute
An important aspect of managing items you own is to group them together in meaningful ways so that you can find things when you need them. And the best way to do this is the good old-fashioned way by having furniture with compartments such as drawers and shelves.
So before you rush out to buy any storage boxes at all, check to make sure that you really need them.
Small storage boxes can be used within drawers and shelves to further sub-divide and it’s fine to use larger boxes for things you keep in the attic such as Christmas decorations that are used only once a year. But if you are intending to stack boxes in a corner of a room and fill them with things that you use quite often, then what you actually need is furniture. It will do the job much better, and look far more attractive too.
Can’t afford to buy new furniture? Consider second hand (which is usually a healthier option because it will no longer be out-gassing), or search Freecycle, Freegle, or similar websites that put people who are giving things away in touch with those who can use them. At the very least, use storage boxes only as a temporary solution until you can acquire the furniture you need. I’m constantly amazed what a difference it makes to people’s lives when they finally do this. Furniture allows them to fully land in their home instead of feeling like a temporary squatter living out of boxes.
Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2015, revised 2021
The problem with open-style storage
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