Don’t Stack Your Boxes, Use Shelving!


This is the kind of sturdy, inexpensive, easy-to-assemble plastic shelving I like to use.

Everybody has stuff. Some stuff you use every day and you keep it handy — in cupboards, in drawers, or on small decorative shelves. Other stuff you use less often, or never — camping equipment, holiday decorations, emergency supplies, keepsakes, etc. — and you store it in boxes in less accessible places. No matter where you are storing boxes of stuff — whether it be your garage, basement, attic, shed, storage unit or office supply closet – you need shelving.

Why do I need shelving?

Shelving is necessary for getting boxes off the ground and making them accessible. Even if you don’t use their contents often, you need the ability to open the one box you want without having to move 14 other boxes from in front of and on top of it. (Seriously, if you don’t need access to your stuff, why are you keeping it?) Shelving prevents boxes from getting wet and dirty on the bottom, and prevents boxes (and their contents) from getting crushed and destroyed over time by the weight of other boxes. It is also a way of limiting how much stuff you accumulate and being able to find it when you need it. Example: If you have a “Gardening Supplies” shelf in the garage, you might think twice about cluttering the floor with gardening supplies, and buying more gardening supplies without first examining what you already have and purging what you never use to make more space on the same shelf.

boxes breaking down

Boxes and bags break down and their contents get ruined.

What kind of shelving?

You can use whatever kind of shelving you want, as long as it fits the space and supports the size and weight of your stuff. My favorite kind for most storage spaces is the larger, sturdier plastic shelving units sold at home improvement stores (not the smaller, flimsier white kind sold along with other housewares). I love them because they hold lots of heavy boxes, are inexpensive (around $40 for 5 shelves) and I can lift, carry, and assemble them myself with only the help of a rubber mallet.

How to make the most of your shelving once you have it:

  1. Label your boxes and arrange them on the shelves so that you can see the labels. Use a Sharpie and write as boldly, and as clearly, as you can on a piece of masking tape. You can make fancier labels later, if you want to. You may think you know what’s inside, but trust me, you will forget. If you are storing bulky or loose items on a shelf, such as in the “Gardening Supplies” example above, label the shelf itself.
  2. One category per box. If a box is labeled “Books”, there should be no cookie sheets or candles inside that box. If all your boxes say “Misc” on them, you might as well not have labeled them at all!
  3. Maintain your space. Like any other organized space, a shelving unit can get cluttered if you keep setting things down on it “for now”, and pay no attention to whether you still need, use, or love everything you are storing.

    boxes stacked up

    These boxes and bins are in good shape, so far, but their contents are unlabeled and difficult to access.

What has been your experience with, or without, shelving? Please share in the comments below!

Copyright 2015 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Janet Barclay on March 9, 2015 at 5:00 am

    My office is a spare bedroom, so I put one of those plastic shelving units in the closet for more efficient storage. Each shelf holds a Bankers Box plus some smaller items that would probably just disappear if they weren’t on a shelf.

    I received a number of metal units from a family member when he moved, so I put one in my spare room closet as well. It’s great for storing all kinds of things. I placed smaller ones on the shelves in my bedroom and spare room closets and they increased my storage space by the number of shelves in each one!

    • Hazel Thornton on March 9, 2015 at 5:05 am

      Hi Janet, I figure organized people will think, “I use shelving. Doesn’t everybody?” And the answer is NO. Not everybody does! Certainly not all of my clients!

  2. Linda on March 9, 2015 at 7:30 am

    Great article Hazel, it just makes sense, right?

    I am a fan of the freestanding shelving units like this one at Lowes.

    We use them for food storage, in our outside building for tools, out of season items, etc.

    While they may seem a bit pricey. they are adjustable and each shelf will hold 350 pounds.

    I loved that you mentioned labeling the bins. I recommend the Identa-labels – they look nice, are heat and cold resistant and come in a variety of sizes.

    Thanks again for a great article!

    Linda Clevenger
    Organization Direct

    • Hazel Thornton on March 9, 2015 at 7:37 am

      Thanks for sharing your favorites, Linda!

  3. Karen Sprinkle on March 11, 2015 at 9:06 am


    You are so right. So many people think they have finished organizing when they have sorted and boxed.

    • Hazel Thornton on March 11, 2015 at 3:25 pm

      Also, Karen, they think they won’t need to get into those boxes. At least not very often. And what happens is they NEVER get into them because it’s so much trouble and after awhile they forget what’s in them! So (best case) the boxes are taking up space for no good reason, and (worst case) the contents are getting ruined or there are things they wish they’d had the use of. :-/

  4. Kelvin Hunter on May 14, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    Using open style shelving to stack your storage boxes on is a great idea. It makes for easier access whenever you need to open something. I love the idea of labeling everything, that way you aren’t tearing through every single box trying to find what you are looking for, everything is neatly organized and labeled right there on the shelf.

    • Hazel Thornton on May 14, 2015 at 12:43 pm

      Hi Kelvin. I see you’re in the shelving business. So you know what you’re talking about!

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