Stumped!

Over the years of writing about organizing and working with clients, I continue to be baffled by how to neatly organize a small number of items. Whenever I see these items or hear about them, I cringe. Organizing them successfully is a complete mystery to me. Maybe you have a few, too, in your home or office — a specific item that always seems to be out of place, cumbersome, or impossible to store well?

I’ve listed a handful of difficult storage items here, and I’m looking for some creative, ingenious, and amazing storage solution suggestions from you in the comments. If you are stumped by something in your space, share this frustration in the comments, too, and we can all work to help you find a solution.

  • I’m not a basket person, so I don’t have much experience with organizing baskets when they’re not in use. Their handles and shapes keep them from stacking well, some are delicate so you don’t want to stuff them into a box, they take up an absurd amount of space on a shelf, and they don’t hang well (especially those without handles). Even craft stores seem to have a difficult time storing and displaying them.
  • Cupcake and muffin pans drive me nuts. I’m always looking for suggestions for ways to store them if a cupboard isn’t designed to accommodate pans on their sides.
  • Plastic bags, like ones you get from the grocery store, if the person doesn’t like the look or idea of a wall-mounted plastic bag holder. (I’ve been successful at convincing folks to switch to reusable grocery bags to reduce the number of plastic bags, but even then it’s difficult not to accumulate a few plastic bags.) Obviously, any container would keep them under control, but what is really an amazing solution?
  • Light bulbs — they are almost always less expensive to buy more than one at a time, but you usually only need one. You can stack the boxes on a shelf if the person has retained the boxes, but not all bulbs come in boxes these days and not everyone keeps the packaging.
  • Personally, we’re at a loss for what to do with our two amplifiers for my pedal steel guitar, my electric bass, and my husband’s electric guitars. We don’t have a music room, so they’re just out like a piece of furniture. Since they weigh more than 70 pounds, they’re not items I can easily move from space-to-space. I regularly look at them and wish they would magically become less obtrusive in our space.

Okay, let’s get the answers rolling — I’m interested in hearing from you.

141 Comments for “Stumped!”

  1. posted by Gypsie on

    For the ampliphiers, I would cover them with a table cloth. It’s inexpensive, easy to remove, etc. I use the same trick for my cats’ litter boxes. The litter boxes sit under the table that I feed them on (in a wierd little storage room) so the cats still have access to the boxes, they arent in the open, and the dog cant get to their food.

  2. posted by Patty on

    place 12 lightbulbs in the 12 muffin tin openings! Ok, maybe not. Honestly my bulbs are in a box set on a high shelf in the laundry room. Some are still boxed and some are wrapped in tissue paper or paper towels. I’m imagining though that one could buy the cheap bulb sockets from a hardware store (or re-use facility) and mount them on a board to act as a wall mounted bulb storage similar to some of the battery recharger stations I’ve seen.

  3. posted by Jennifer Macchiarella on

    I also keep extra plastic grocery bags in a square kleenex box, but it’s covered by a ceramic tissue box cover that matches my kitchen.

  4. posted by Kathy on

    I use a rack like this one for my muffin tins: http://www.containerstore.com/.....=770183415
    My lower cabinets are only 11″ high, and the muffin tins (nested inside each other), smaller cookie sheets and even small trays fit very nicely and are very accessible.

  5. posted by Lee on

    We moved last winter and one of our biggest challenges is for both of us to store a type of item in the same place, unless there is a reason to have duplicates. I found a light bulb stash of multiple types of bulbs in the basement, while I had been putting the in the storage closet on the first floor. My husband has now been storing them in a plastic basket with a metal handle – just a lighter weight version of what you might find at the grocery store as an alternative for the big cart. Compact, but hard to evaluate what we have.

    Since it’s pouring rain here now, I’ll mention that we keep a working flashlight, a sturdy candle (2+” in diameter) and base, and matches in a kitchen drawer and a drawer in the china cabinet in the dining room. We can find these points in total darkness by holding on to the wall as we walk. These have earned the right to our “prime real estate”, even though it may not be used often.

  6. posted by Jennifer on

    Baskets – not sure why you have any that you don’t use on a daily basis.

    + 1 silicone muffin cups. With the added bonus that you don’t need to use the paper insert. The cupcakes just pop out.

    I don’t understand why you have any plastic bags. This could just be living somewhere that has taxed people for every plastic bag for the last 8 years. Using them is just a bad habit that can be broken.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01.....50382.html

    I similarly don’t understand the requirement for spare light bulbs. I upgraded all of mine to energy efficient ones back in 2007 and haven’t had to replace any. I’m not prepared to keep spares for something that lasts years.

    With respect to your amps, best I can suggest is can you put a cover over them to repurpose them when not in use. I used to have 2 suitcases and lived in a 1 room apartment in Japan. I got some pretty material and a board and they became a temporary table.

  7. posted by Doreen on

    I use the clear shoe holders that you can hang on the back of a door for small items. I do that at home and in the closest of my classroom where I teach.

  8. posted by Christina W on

    I tuck my muffin pans in my square/rectangular cake pans. they can easily be stacked with other cookie sheets and baking pans this way or stacked on end. And since the muffin pans are inside the deeper pans, there is really only a small increase in the storage width needed than if they were stored separately.

    For the plastic bags, I use them as trash bags in our smaller cans. I fold up 1 or 2 additional bags in the bottom of can before lining with a bag, and not only do I stash away about 10 or so bags this way, it makes sure I always have a new bag to put in the can with out having to hunt one down around the house!

  9. posted by Karen on

    Muffin tins are stored on their sides (like books) in the lower cabinets in my kitchen. The pans are held up and separated by spring tension (curtain) rods. I use two small ones in between each set of pans. They are adjustable and cheap.

    Can’t wait till you boil down the comments on musical instruments. My husband is a professional clarinetist and his hobby is ukelele. We live in a 1200 sq ft cape with no storage. We are drowning in instruments.

  10. posted by Dylan on

    I hate hate HATE those silicon muffin forms. You now need to wash fiddly little bits. They droop. They slide around on the tray. You have to save them and bring them home from events. Bugger, that.

    For lightbulbs, I replace them so infrequently that I just suck up the cost of replacement, and buy bulbs in boxes.

    I don’t have any musical instruments.

    Pans are the bane of my life. I love to cook, so my kitchen is hella cluttered. My current strategy is going to be to buy a box from Ikea, with a lid, a big one. Put everything in it, along with my cake decorating stuff, my pattycake liners and my food colouring and all the other dross, and store it in a corner.

  11. posted by viola on

    I store lightbulbs (and lots of other stuff) in the Sterilite 18-qt. Latchbox containers. Not only do all the sizes stack well, the the latch closures are great. You don’t have to worry about the tops popping off and the handles are comfortable. They are clear so you can see what’s inside, and you don’t have to worry about the contents breaking (well, I suppose unless they were dropped from a great height.) I believe they are widely available. Love them!

  12. posted by Debbie M on

    Muffin tins – Mine are stacked on a shelf in the pantry, but you could also use a book end to hold it upright in a cabinet if you don’t have a plate rack with wide enough slots. If all your other cabinets are too small, you can usually fit them under your sink–I’ve never understood why people keep their poisons there. It is important to put only waterproof things there in case of leaks, but most muffin tins are waterproof, though some may rust. Or you could put them somewhere totally different like in under-the-bed storage.

    Lighbulbs – I keep mine (with batteries and the voltmeter) in their original packaging in one of those boxes that you get with reams of copier paper. I store that box on the high shelf in the coat closet. Lightbulbs are so lightweight that it is not dangerous to store them so high overhead.

    Um, our amp is being used as a doorstop. I do not recommend this to anyone!

    Wanda – I have just a few cookie cutters–I hang them on the wall on nails as decorations. Yes, two of them are Halloween decorations, but they still make me happy.

  13. posted by Malena on

    For plastic bags, I made a holder from an old pillow case. It has elastic at both ends and hangs in the pantry. You can buy them for about $3.00, but they’re ugly, and I always have a bit of fabric, old sheets, etc. and elastic around, so I’d rather make my own just the way I want it.

  14. posted by TMichelle on

    Until you get casters for your amps, you can always place them on furniture movers like these
    http://www.homedepot.ca/webapp.....PartNumber

    or if they are large enough a furniture mover with wheels like this one
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obi.....tterer-20/

    These would only work as a temporary solution because I’m sure you would want something attached eventually in case you wanted to pick the amps up to move them.

    What are their dimensions? I like the idea of storing them under a console table. I wouldn’t put fabric over it as I would want them to be more accessible, just out of the way.

  15. posted by Amy on

    On the basket angle, I have been very pleased with gleanings from local thrift stores. The stores vary widely in terms of quality and their inventory changes greatly, but my first choice for storage needs is to check with them first. I have scored several square (very useful) baskets lately for a few dollars each.

    Additionally, thrift stores offer many and various storage options, some new, from plastic lidded bins, to office organizers, to closet and wardrobe storage systems, for pennies on the retail dollar.

    Also Craigslist and Freecycle are a great way both to find useful stuff and to find new homes for usable stuff we can no longer use, with takers who pick up saving you the trip to the Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.

  16. posted by chantelle on

    MUFFIN TINS: I refuse to make muffins. Instead I make cakes and cut them up. Same difference then I don’t have these annoying pans.

    PLATIC BAGS: I don’t keep any or use any. I use reusable bins that I keep in my trunk.

    LIGHTBULBS: I do not keep any extra lightbulbs in the house. I wait until I need one, then I buy only what I need, never any extra. Since I only use cfc (law here in canada) it is always possible to buy just one at a time.

  17. posted by Alex Williams on

    REGARDING AMPS,
    I’m a musician, myself — but I mostly do home recording. I have a virtual amp which is designed to be rack mounted. Instead of keeping it in a rack, I have it on a shelf near my desk so I can run the line out to my mac. The guitars hang on the wall, out of the way but in plain site.

    Music gear is inherently messy, but I’ve done the best I can. Here’s a photo: http://bit.ly/bY8bbv

  18. posted by Jessica on

    I don’t keep baskets, but I do keep various sized glass / plastic containers that I don’t have an exact purpose immediately, but I know that I’ll use in the future in a “footstool” that I use under my computer desk. It’s actually a repurposed bulk food container, turned garbage can, turned foot stool, turned container holder = Multitasker FTW :)

  19. posted by Janet Foster on

    Empty Pringle cans are a great way to store plastic shopping bags. The plastic lid keeps bags tucked in neatly so you don’t have handles poking out. We keep the can under the sink.

  20. posted by Pammyfay on

    Janet, the Pringles can idea is great. Only question: Don’t the containers still have metal around the inside edge? If so, can’t you cut yourself reaching in for a bag when it’s half-full?

    Here’s how I’ve decided to store my muffin tins: By putting them out in the tag sale. I’ve made a couple batches, but no longer do I have such a craving (or need) for them that I want to bake from scratch–the grocery’s baked good section does me fine. I realize, tho, that some people know cupcake baking time for their kids’ parties or school fundraisers is inevitable, or they just prefer homemade. If I thought that there were several once-in-a-while cooking/baking items in the kitchen that were taking up space most of the time, space that could be better used for other things, then I’d stash the stuff in a Rubbermaid tote and find a place outside the kitchen for it. I’d take the tradeoff of having more efficient space use for the daily stuff against having to go get the muffin tin when I need it.

  21. posted by dan on

    Musical instruments: I keep them in the office, where they are played. Though they do get dusty, because I do not play them as frequently as I could. Considering covering them with a cover of some sort to keep them nice and shiny.

  22. posted by RazMaTaz on

    Fold the bags as you would a flag and put them in an empty tissue box.

    RazMaTaz

  23. posted by Emmie on

    I use plastic grocery grocery bags to line all my trash cans (including the kitchen) and store them in a (ta-da!) basket that hangs on a drawer pull. I use another old basket for recyclables, including a bag of extra bags to take back to the grocery store. Another old basket holds those loose lightbulbs (!) others are bedroom trash cans. I keep my clothespins in another old Easter basket. It often gets left out in the rain, but who cares? When it gets too rickety there’s always another one somewhere.

    During my last move I put all my seldom-used baking pans, including muffin tins, in a box in the coat closet. After a year it still hadn’t been opened, so I donated the whole thing. Now, on the rare occasions I need them, I use the tin liners that have a layer of tinfoil and are self standing.

  24. posted by SusanB on

    Muffin tins – mine sit inside my 9×13 pan but my grandfather made my mom a very nice vertical divider that has traveled from home to home with her – a file divider might work.

    Amps and Guitars — there is only supposed to be one amp permanently in our living room. HAHA. Wheels are good. We use those “metro” type shelving systems to construct a variety of carts and wheeled bookcases for music gear. Some get covered with canvas wardrobe covers that we picked up cheap. To a certain extent the music stuff is just part of the decor. No guitars on walls here though — too many climate control issues.

  25. posted by Lynda on

    I’ll ask my partner’s dad how he stores his 7 or 8 guitars in a way that his wife doesn’t find them…

  26. posted by Clare K. R. Miller on

    My mom uses baskets as decoration. Most people probably aren’t as obsessed with baskets as she is, but all the baskets hanging (bottom out) on nails on our kitchen walls make a nice, homey atmosphere.

  27. posted by Laura on

    I have to agree with all the people who suggested Simple Human’s plastic bag holder. I’ve had mine for years, and it’s the only thing that’s worked to corral the bags (they seem to breed when left alone). And it’s attractive enough that it’s no big deal if you need to pull it from under the sink.

  28. posted by Amanda on

    For my muffin tins & other large flat-ish bakeware I use a metal mesh file sorter built to sit on top of a letter tray that has a 2-inch space between each of the 5 dividers. It is flat, unlike a mail sorter, and is very sturdy. It is set on top of a rubbery shelf liner to keep it from sliding. This keeps the jumbled, clanging mess from happening that occurs with stacking and you don’t have to remove half of the pieces to get to the item you want like when they are in the oven bottom drawer.

  29. posted by AmandaLP on

    I cannot figure out how to store my pill bottles in an area where I can 1) see what they are, and 2) be able to access the ones I use more often, while keeping the less often used ones handy.

  30. posted by Randy on

    BASKETS:
    You already know the answer. I could practically read it between the lines as I read the post. Baskets are useless clutter. There is no good reason for keeping them at all. Just ditch ‘em.

    MUFFIN TINS:
    Muffin tins are a horrible, single-purpose, awkward item. The best solution is to throw them away. (Or sell them for scrap metal.)

    Find oven-safe ceramic ramekin dishes. You can bake muffins in them, but they also work for puddings, desserts, sauces, general serving dishes, whatever.

    PLASTIC BAGS:
    All of my plastic bags go directly into trash cans. First I change out the full bags with empties. Then, if I have any bags left over, they are the first trash in the newly emptied cans.

    LIGHT BULBS:
    Kept in the box, on a high shelf in the pantry. Light bulbs are light (forgive the pun) so I keep them up high and out of the way.

  31. posted by jmanna on

    Basket: I’ll reiterate what everyone else has said. I don’ understand why you keep them. You can pick them up at Thrift stores for a dollar a piece.

    Muffin Tins: I use plate wracks to store a lot of my cookie trays and such on end in a narrow cabinet. Less shuffling things out of the way. Another option is a small nail on the inside of the cabinet door as most muffin tins have a hole for hanging.

    Plastic bags: I tie mine in knots. Makes them easier to deal with and they take up less room. Just pull them into a string, fold in half then tie in a knot. Makes them quick and easy to grab. (Also keeps them from filling with bugs, which happened before I did this.) I keep mine in a bucket under the sink.

    Keep an eye out after Christmas, get a large ornament organizer. You can get ones with a varying number of slots. I can keep both the regular bulbs and the specialty bulbs in one container. Also? Switch to Compact Florecents, they are replace far less often. They are a pain to discard though, because of the mercury content.

    The amps: Yah got me there. Maybe IKEA has some decor table like thing you could drop over them? Then you can use them as end tables or something when they’re not in use. Putting them on wheels might effect the sound (weird vibrations and all) but it would make them easier to move. Look into the type made to fit under home filing cabinets. Or go all 50′s housewife and make giant Amp Covers with monkeys on them or something.

  32. posted by Sam on

    I stick my muffin pans to the inside of cupboard doors using these flexible adhesive-backed magnets:

    http://www.homecrafts.co.uk/pr.....s_M100.htm

    It works a treat!

  33. posted by Karen on

    Re: muffin pans — Don’t keep ‘em around. Foil and silicone liners stand up on their own without a special pan, and they don’t create awkward space issues. I use the foil ones when i bake for work or parties, because losing silicone ones stresses me out more than it really ought to.

  34. posted by gypsy packer on

    Muffins are a calorie sink. Can they be replaced with puff pastries or something which doesn’t require a special pan? If you must have them, put the little paper liners in them and then use the muffin pan to store something else–paperclips, small screws, nuts, bolts, etc.
    Or roll those pesky USB cords up and label each of the paper liners.

  35. posted by James on

    Baskets – My wife ends up with baskets all the time. I pounded some nails into the wall in the garage and just hung them in there. Every so often she’ll go out and grab one to package up another gift.

    Plastic Bags – I keep them in an empty cat litter box. I go through two bags every day or two. So I hope that they never outlaw plastic bags at the grocery store because I hate the idea of having to buy them.

    Light Bulbs – We have a “supply cabinet” and inside a clear box and inside the box, all kinds of lightbulbs. When we use up the last of a specific kind, we just add them to our shopping list again so that we’re never caught in the dark.

  36. posted by Liz Kay on

    We just figured out a way to repurpose a wastebasket cabinet we weren’t using. The trash can now holds our muffin pan, cooling racks and the lids for our larger pyrex dishes. This creates more space in drawers to store our half-sheet pans, salad spinner and other items that were currently living on the counter or dish drainer for lack of better homes.

    Someday we might replace the wastebasket cabinet, but this works fine for now!

  37. posted by Melanie on

    @Wanda I use a wide-mouthed jar for cookie-cutters, which sits on the shelf next to my mixing bowls. I think cutters look nice enough to be on display like this, but you could always use an opaque jar or tin.

    Muffin pans – like many others, they go in the drawer under the oven. In my previous house I used a rack to stack such things on edge in a cabinet, but my current kitchen doesn’t have a suitable sized cabinet.

    Light bulbs live in a plastic box in the utility room, alongside the infrequently-used specialist cleaning products & the extra glassware for parties.

    Plastic bags are the bane of my life! I try to *always* carry a reusable bag or two (I favour Onyas http://onyabags.com.au/ as they fold up tiny enough to fit in any bag or pocket), but you always end up with some plastic ones. They get stuffed into another bag & reused for rubbish, collecting allotment veg, etc.

  38. posted by Turling on

    Ah, the muffin tin. Best storage I have found is on it’s side vertically; however, you have probably found that the bottom slides and it falls flat. Prop them against one side of any cabinet. Along the shelf the side is sitting on top of place a small strip of wood, plastic or whatever else you have laying around. It doesn’t need to be bigger then a book of matches. Glue it if you like, or use double stick tape if you don’t think it will be permanent. The pans will now stay against the side of the cabinet vertically and not slide out across the shelf space.

  39. posted by Michelle on

    Saw this today and thought of you and the guitars.

    http://lifehacker.com/5607145/.....wall-mount

  40. posted by Lynn on

    For plastic bags, I cut the legs off an old pair of jeans, tied a ribbon to close the hemmed end, and put a caribeaner on the top. I stuff plastic bags into them, then hang them on the backs of the bathroom doors, where the litterbox is.

  41. posted by silk on

    You could store the muffin pan under a shelfboard. Jiust screw four brackets in place, and you have a hnaging place for the muffin pan.

    If the pan is sensitive to scratxhes just use some sugru (http://sugru.com/) and the brackets are covered in soft plastic and won`t scratch anything.

    My experience is there is always a shelfboard UNDER which therer are a few inches, and that`s all you need.

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