Don’t Let Your Containers Overflow!

Recently purged magazine and catalog basket. Still plenty to read, and room for more.

Recently-purged magazine and catalog basket. Still plenty to read, and room for more.

Containerizing is the art and science of deciding which container will be a good home for your stuff. (Perfectionists take note: I said “good”, not “the very best imaginable”.) A container can be a box, bin, jar, or basket. But it can also be a shelf, closet or room. Containers provide structure for your things so that you can find them when you need them, and put them away easily.

There is nothing that can’t be “containerized”:

Staying clutter-free is much easier when you set limits...and nearly impossible if you don't. Click To Tweet
  • Magazines and catalogs in a basket
  • Any number of household items (by category) in clear plastic shoe boxes
  • Packaged goods on a pantry shelf
  • Clothing in a closet or drawer
  • Files in a file cabinet
  • Gardening tools in a shed
  • Coats in a coat closet
  • Books on a shelf
  • Activities in blocks of time on a calendar (a topic for another post)
  • Etc.
Magazine and catalog basket threatening to overflow. Don't let it! Purge now!

Magazine and catalog basket threatening to overflow. Don’t let it! Purge now!

The concept of containerizing goes hand-in-hand with the concept of assigning everything a home. When I see a pile of clutter, I know that those things either don’t have homes, or they don’t “like” their homes. And, of course, what I really mean is that YOU evidently don’t like their homes (if they exist to begin with), or you’d be putting your things away. Usually you just haven’t thought about it, but if you do think about it for a minute I’ll bet you can come up with a solution. Is it too small, too big, too far away, too ugly? Is there something piled on top of it so you can’t use it easily?

Containers also help you set limits for yourself on how much stuff you will own. Staying clutter-free is much easier when you set limits…and nearly impossible if you don’t. If you’ve decided how much of something you are going to allow into your space, and if you take the time to purge the excess when you reach or exceed that limit, your space will remain clutter-free. As I tell my clients all the time: Don’t let your containers overflow!

So, where do you get the right containers? First, shop your home! Many of my clients find they do not need to spend a cent on containers. The more purging there is of unwanted items, the more containers get freed up in the process and are made available for repurposing.

Good containers are:

  • Appropriate in size, shape and material for the items they contain. (Too big, too small, wrong size or flimsy will lead to you not wanting to use them.)
  • Big enough so that you aren’t constantly having to replenish it. (Overflow of things like toilet paper and office supplies is OK, but only if you have a place to store them, and only if they are kept organized so you can find what you need and don’t just keep buying more just because you can’t find it.)
  • Roomy enough to be able to access the items easily. (Think children’s toys that are packed so tightly they never again fit into their original packaging without an engineer’s help.)
  • Attractive enough for the space you are using them in, so that you will enjoy using them. (Think ugly metal file cabinet in a garage vs. a nice one that looks like an end table in a home office that doubles as a guest room.)
  • Modular, with lids, if you want to stack them. (Think adult craft supplies.) Or, without lids, for ease of taking things out and putting them back in. (Think toy bins and laundry hampers.)

Does everything you own have a home? Is it time to rethink your containers? Is it time to purge so that you can continue using your perfectly good containers?

Share with us in the comments below!

Copyright 2015 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
Social media links directly to this page are encouraged!
Please contact me for other types of reprint permission.


Share this:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Janet Barclay on August 2, 2015 at 9:04 am

    One thing I like about containers, whether they’re file folders, binders, drawers, or what-have-you, is their finite capacity. When the container is full, it’s time to examine the contents and determine whether some of it can go, or if you need to separate it into two or more containers. For example, if the “N-S” file is much thicker than the others, divide it into two, such as “N-Q” and “R-S”.

    • Hazel Thornton on August 2, 2015 at 7:09 pm

      Exactly. Sometimes the problem is too much stuff. But sometimes the container itself needs to be re-thought.

  2. Olive Wagar on August 16, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    Sometimes it takes a couple of times to find the container that works the best. And that is OK! It just makes me smile when I find the one that seems just right!! When it is easy to use and pleasant to look at, you know you found it!!

    • Hazel Thornton on August 18, 2015 at 8:10 am

      To me it’s especially fun if the perfect container happens to be one that you already own and were not using, or at least not in the perfect way. 🙂

  3. Jill Robson on March 12, 2016 at 9:14 am

    I use clear shoe boxes for many different purposes, they are easy to stack and you can see what is inside.

  4. Seana Turner on March 12, 2016 at 9:38 am

    Finding the perfect container “sparks joy” in me:) I love a clear container, especially when housed behind closed doors. I also definitely agree that a container sets a boundary, which takes some of the stress out of the decluttering process.

    • Jamie Steele on March 12, 2016 at 1:11 pm

      Your comment really made me laugh, Seana! Love it!

  5. Liana George on March 12, 2016 at 9:52 am

    I tell my clients all the time that they don’t have to use a container if they don’t want to, but it provides a boundary for their stuff and becomes a good indicator of when it’s time to purge. It also helps others know where things belong. I love being creative with containers and seeing what I can find to hold items. It’s like a game for me! Great post 🙂

    • Hazel Thornton on March 12, 2016 at 6:28 pm

      Thanks, Liana! I, too, feel like I’ve “won” if I find the perfect container, especially if it’s one we just freed up!

  6. Linda Samuels on March 12, 2016 at 11:30 am

    What’s not to love about containers? One of my favorite places to visit is The Container Store with their creative bounty of options. Sometimes I like to walk through the aisles just to get ideas.

    I agree with all the points you made, especially about finding the right-sized container and using containers as boundary and cueing helpers.

    One additional thought to add about the “piles of clutter.” You mentioned that when you see one, it means that things don’t have homes or they don’t like their homes. It could also mean that they haven’t been returned to their homes. Containers and organizing systems are great, but they also require maintenance. So sometimes along with creating homes we also have to help with shifts in habits.

    • Hazel Thornton on March 12, 2016 at 6:26 pm

      Bragger! (We don’t have a Container Store in Albuquerque.) I agree with you, Linda, that whatever system is used, there’s always a time/habit component necessary for maintaining it. And sometimes that’s all that’s needed. But often, also, I find, there’s a technical problem to be solved first (too small, too big, too far away, too ugly, obstructed, etc).

  7. Jamie Steele on March 12, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    I love containers! It is funny when you declutter how the containers you clear just happen to be perfect for a different space you are organizing. I always try to repurpose what I have but love products from Clever Container and the Container Store when I absolutely need to purchase. I also love your point about not needing the perfect container. Good is good enough!

    • Hazel Thornton on March 12, 2016 at 6:31 pm

      Sometimes it’s nice to have (and shop for) the perfect container. But it’s not something the whole job should be held up over!

  8. Sarah Soboleski on March 12, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    I was just working with a client this morning and we used boxes from a recent shoe purchase and tech gadgets as containers for her son’s video games and controllers. They worked great and didn’t cost a thing!

    • Hazel Thornton on March 12, 2016 at 6:32 pm

      Perfect! And perfectly priced!

  9. Andi Willis on March 12, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    This morning I helped a client empty a big bin filled with old mail. As I carried it away, she said what are you going to do with it? I told her I was going to set it aside so we could use it to store something more appropriate later. I think that surprised her. The right container with the right content goes a long way.

    • Hazel Thornton on March 12, 2016 at 6:35 pm

      Yes, and sometimes we don’t know what the new use will be yet, but we DO know (from experience) that there WILL PROBABLY be a new use for that container!

  10. Jane Severance on April 3, 2016 at 9:26 am

    I would also like to mention a trick I learned from you. I already knew to put obvious things in containers, but when I saw your iron in a small, lidless plastic bin – light bulb! No more messy cord (although I will pass on this tip – I twisted a pipe cleaner around the handle of my iron and used it to corral my cord, as the rewinding option was not well designed. Pipe cleaners (I am talking about the chenille sticks for kids’ crafts that you can buy at Joanne’s or Michael’s or Hobby Lobby or probably
    Target.) are one of my best tools for easy attaching. I use them to put my small display of Christmas lights up as well and also mended the gap in the chicken wire in my cat pen.) Anyway, I digress. That one idea with the iron made all my shelves much more organized.

    • Hazel Thornton on April 4, 2016 at 2:32 pm

      Ooh, pipe cleaners! I had forgotten they even existed. Thanks, Jane!

Leave a Comment