- a way to keep like items together
- can maximize space
- can increase accessibility
- useful for smaller items of similar category
- not a guaranteed solution for organizing struggles
- contents within can “disappear”
- can become more work to access and replace in its space
Here’s another somewhat nontraditional review – since it’s on containers in general, not a specific container. When I talk about containers I am referring to any object that has the ability to keep things grouped together. This means that a drawer, a filing cabinet, a bin, a bag, a basket, and so on are all containers – even your purse, if you use one. We all use some containers under this definition although how useful the containers we use will depend on who we are and how we use them. There are times that using containers can make things more challenging – even if you want to use them. With this broad definition of a container, you might consider when and how they work for you and when they’re actually counter-productive.
In many ways the world seems to assume that we all need containers – we’re “weird”, maybe “wrong” if we don’t want to or can’t use containers. The filing cabinet is a great example – many people believe they have to use a filing cabinet – “it’s what it is designed for.” This is one of the fallacies of containers – even when they are designed for a specific purpose it doesn’t make them function for everyone. Then it’s time to consider other options for keeping items contained. You can create systems for containing that doesn’t require containers.
Figuring out when and where containers will help you is the most important thing – for if they only complicate your process, that’s defeating the point. Therefore let’s cover a few situations that can make containers more useful.
- Are there things that seem to get “lost” frequently? Small items in a bigger drawer can be one of these things getting lost. This can be a time to consider a container of some sort to keep those smaller items together and accessible. This is when it’s time to consider if you simply need a bin – in this example, something without a top to provide visibility and is easy to use – or if another solution needs to be found.
Here’s one of my pantry drawers – using containers to corral smaller items together
- Are there areas that are harder for you to use – spaces that are less accessible for you? If you are shorter, high shelves can be a challenge to use – although if you put less frequently used items into a container, it provides easier access. As a short person, the lip of a container means that you can slide the things you need out without the hassle of getting the step stool. And it’s not just the lip of a container – it’s the handle, lid, whatever – having the items contained means you have access to hard to reach areas and the things you store there. This can apply equally to deeper areas and low areas if it’s a challenge to bend or sit on the floor – containers offer easier access to get and move the things to a more convenient area while you need the contents. The key to making this work is to limit the weight of the containers in the hard to access areas.
Both these shelves are hard for me to reach – yet by putting like items into containers, I can grab the handle, loop, edge to get easy access. This applies even to that box above.
- Do you need (or want) to maximize the tall and/or deep shelves?A cabinet shelf – one of any style stand-alone shelf – can help make the most of tall shelves in closets and then you use containers on top and bottom of these, as they’re useful for you. One of the challenges of tall and deep shelves and using the cabinet shelf without containers is that loose things can topple off and things can disappear behind things – so the combination of tall and deep shelves and using containers means that you can make the most of the space. You can also stack containers in these spaces, though that can make it harder to get to all of them and then possible resistance to returning them to their spot. Containers used in the front of these types of closets can then be easily moved when you need access to the items further back, which hopefully are need infrequently.
Here’s a stand-alone shelf in one of our tall and deep closet shelves – where the containers on top and below provide greater storage. There are containers behind on both levels as well – helping to make the most of the space.
With all the variations of containers available to us, it is worth evaluating what features will assist you in getting and staying organized when a container is called for.
Remember, wait to get a container until you have gathered and sorted all the like items you want to store together. By doing this, you will know your specific needs. It’s worth considering if the amount of items is typical too – are you likely to pick up more things that would need to be stored there too? Do you actually have more than you’d like to store normally, so in the future a smaller container would make more sense?
- What is the container made of?
With all the options out there, we’re virtually unlimited in our choices – plastic, canvas, wicker and woven materials, metal, and so on. Yet, there are more than preferences for the material involved. For instance, wicker and other woven type containers can snag things unless they’re lined. Some people want to avoid using plastic, though that often means the contents aren’t visible from the side. Are solid sides important?
- Will you forget what’s inside if it’s not transparent?
Some people are quite visual – if you can’t see it, it’s like it doesn’t exist. Sometimes this means that labels aren’t enough, so being able to see the contents becomes critical to the system working. Other people, who are visual in a different way, come to strongly associate a particular container with specific contents – where the orange bin is autumn decorations.
- Does it need a top or will the top just get in the way (or get lost)?
Lids can be important when we are stacking containers on top of each other, or if you will need to tip the container and not have the contents spill out. They can help keep dust and dirt out of the contents too. Other times, it makes more sense to have open containers – it’s easier to put things in and pull things out. Inside a drawer is a prime place to avoid lids – you can see and access the contents easily.
- Is there a shape that will work better for the stuff or the space?
Most of the time, a square or rectangular container is going to help maximize your spaces – since most spaces are designed with right angles. Yet, is this container going into such a space? If it’s a decorative hamper that you’re going to put in the corner of your living room to hold your yarn – it doesn’t need to have right angles for the space or the contents.
- How much does it matter if it has a place for a label or is challenging to label?
One of the challenges with containers is the ability to label – or rather the inability to label them. Many adhesives don’t attach securely to canvas, metals, wicker and woven materials and so on. There are containers designed with a built in label while the bulk of them don’t provide this feature. Figuring out how valuable this is for your situation is important. Of course there are alternatives for hard to label containers – I’ve gotten attached to binder clips holding the label – as they can work with most containers.
Despite the perception that containers should work for everyone and are the solution for organizing challenges – it doesn’t make it true. We need to consider our situation, the space, and how we work. As much as I love containers, they do not function equally well for me – it depends on different factors. This means that to discover what will work for us, in whatever context, we need to evaluate our needs. Containers certainly help us contain our belongings, yet they are not the only way for us to keep our items together.