Don’t let maybe-one-day items become clutter in your home

Reusing objects is a tricky matter for people, like myself, who struggle with clutter. Our initial instinct is to save an item so we can reuse it (I’m being frugal! I’m helping the environment!). However, if the object is never repurposed, it becomes clutter. The most common examples of this are plastic tubs for food stuffs like cottage cheese, sour cream, and margarine. We save the tubs thinking we’ll reuse them to send leftovers home with dinner guests. And, there may be one or two times in our lives when a tub is used for such a situation, but mostly these tubs make a mess of a kitchen drawer or cabinet for years or even decades.

I’m thoroughly impressed by people who save items planning to reuse them, and then actually reuse the item creatively and within a reasonable amount of time. When done in this manner, reuse can be a wonderfully uncluttered, frugal, and environmentally friendly way to live.

The article “22 Ways to Reuse an Altoids Tin” on The Art of Manliness website is an inspiring look at all the ways an empty Altoids tin can cease being clutter. If you’ve been holding onto a tin thinking you’re going to reuse it one day, maybe a survival kit or pocket tackle box or morse code oscillator is in your future:

If Altoids tins aren’t filling up your drawers, maybe you are looking for a way to turn a cigar box into a guitar or wanting to find another purpose for those margarine tubs? Old coffee cans have numerous uses and so do used corks.

Don’t let maybe-one-day items clutter up your space. Either drop them in the recycling bin right now, or get started on a reuse project that will keep the item from being clutter in your home.

38 Comments for “Don’t let maybe-one-day items become clutter in your home”

  1. posted by Cindy May on

    Another use for an Altoids tin is a pinhole camera.

    I’m still scratching my head as to what to do with all those plastic tubs you mentioned above. I have a box of those in the basement that I only occasionally pull from. Sometimes it’s to dispose of something smelly that I wouldn’t want to put straight in the trash. I am pretty close to disposing of the whole bag since I also have a small collection in my kitchen. I may also put an ad on Craig’s List to see if anyone wants them for summer crafts for kids or whatever. Anyone else have any ideas?

    BTW, I am saving my corks in a special decorative cork saver – not sure what I’ll do with them yet, but at least they are reuseable.

  2. Profile photo of

    posted by jlw on

    Oh, this is totally me. This is why my closets are full of stuff! For me it’s a matter of responding to the “I COULD use that” voice with the “But are you actually GOING to use that?” voice. Usually, of course, the answer is no.

    I admit to having a stash of Altoids tins. I used one as a wallet for a while, actually.

  3. posted by megan @ mama is a four letter word on

    This is so me! (and my husband… who has a drawer full of altoid tins)

    high-quality containers are so hard to get rid of, but if i can’t think of exactly what i need it for immediately i try to just toss it in recycling. since it’s painful to do it, it makes me think a little bit more about how i can not bring additional containers into the house. buying necessary items in bulk helps, too!

  4. posted by momofthree on

    Those “tubs”….I save 2-3, with the lids…and RECYCLE the rest. EXCEPT for the 2-3 weeks leading up to our Vacation Bible school at church. Then, it’s mega saver mode…but only for what we need…being on the planning team, I know what we need, and those of us on the team usually have what is needed by the time VBS starts!

    Preschools or senior centers might be able to use the tubs for arts/crafts….may have to check about prior food use (we could no longer send in meat trays, even tho washed and dried—food cross contamination issues)

    A special bottle/bin for wine corks—I would save up for a frame someday, but alas, I don’t drink a whole of wine to save corks….

    our family motto: RECYCLE as much as possible!

    Personally, I am at the point now where I can’t wait for the whole “school supply” thing to be over with. I want to use my dining nook storage benches for my scrapbook supplies, not school supplies. (two in college this fall, one still in high school, so I am getting close!)

  5. posted by Elizabeth M Gatti on

    I have re purposed many Altoid’s tins. Using stamps, stamp ink, embossing powder and lining them with a bit of jewelry cleaning cloth, I use them for holding earrings when I travel. I love them. I have made many decorative ones and given them as gifts.

  6. posted by anonymous on

    Idea for the plastic tubs: see if a grade school or art teacher can use them for paint projects (they can hold paint, water, or other art supplies). Definitely ask beforehand though — no hoisting! ;)

  7. posted by pvyardsale on

    Also try Freecycle to find a good home for items that are too good to throw away but not useful for you. We’ve been able to hand off batches of gift boxes, baby food jars, decorative canisters, packing peanuts, and much more to people who were ready to use them.

  8. posted by Pet Trout on

    @Cindy May – Is there a food shelf/emergency food place near you? They can probably use all those plastic containers to give any leftovers to clients AND they can be a continuing recipient for any future plastic containers. I have also used them in the past to hold a relatively small amount of paint for touch-ups/small jobs. Otherwise, they go in the recycle bin — I cleared a whole deep kitchen drawer once I finally could let go.

  9. posted by Shalin on

    Great post! I like having a large-ish box where all my potentially reusable items go. If it’s full, then items in or potentially new items for the box are tossed, recycled, or reused immediately – but the box is to never overflow.

    –S

  10. posted by Suzy on

    re: plastic containers: Not just emergency food pantries, but places that serve meals to the community. Although they usually have take away containers (like dinner to go containers)for home-bound friends, they may be able to use other containers to share the leftovers.

    But ask first. There may be health department restrictions in your area.

  11. posted by *pol on

    I have a limit of 10 tubs – 5 smaller and 5 bigger. I really do use them for the leftovers for guests and we have the big family dinner about once a month so it’s a reasonable thing to have around.

    BUT there are a whole world of “maybe-one-day” items that I should part with… the bin of miscellaneous cables, the paint can full of oddball hooks, screws and hinges, the big basket of scrap fabric rags!

  12. posted by Pairiegal on

    I have a stash of lumber that I think I will use to make something. When we moved in May my husband made me purge most of it (why would you move left over 2x4s?) I FOUGHT for the stuff I kept and then used most of it right away.

    As for the bins – I tried to purge some of those cheap food containers (ie ziplock) but I couldn’t bring myself to toss them, so I have hidden them at work. At least it’s out of the house!

  13. Profile photo of

    posted by Sky on

    Beware of anything with 22 uses….but this is the best Altoid box use,

    http://www.survival.com/best.htm

  14. posted by Barb on

    Save too many of these kinds of things and eventually you’ll qualify for your own episode of Hoarders. I have a friend who’s paralyzed about getting rid of stuff because she doesn’t want to add to landfills. But I don’t believe that turning one’s home into a landfill is a better alternative. Perhaps the time to consider these items is when you’re making the purchase. Buy the choice with the least amount of packaging possible. For example, real butter has a slim cardboard box and a thin paper wrapper. Much better than a plastic tub of margarine and also much healthier.

  15. posted by Lara on

    For the plastic tubs/bins – a rule that has worked for us is to pick a few standard sizes where the lids can be interchanged (preferably see-through), keep those and recycle the rest. That way we’re not hunting down a specific lid that matches a container.

    We use them for packing lunches/snacks for the week, so we have 10-20 full and in the fridge on a given Sunday, but we do acquire more pretty quickly. They have a designated space, and when they threaten to overflow we recycle them – and it’s a good reminder that maybe we’re ordering in too often (we get most of them from Thai delivery). We recycle a decent amount in the fall, but after Thanskgiving we’re back to the bare minimum.

    @Shalin – I like your idea of the designated box. I think I have the tubs/bins conquered, but there’s some other stuff that could use an obvious physical limit.

  16. posted by Anne on

    Yech, I get rid of plastic containers as soon as I can via the recycling bin. I don’t trust the plastic for very long, especially after getting knicked and scratched by utensils and exposed to heat in the microwave and dishwasher. Forget the clutter – eating out of them again seems harmful!

  17. posted by Lisa from w mass on

    We’ve been painting our house (inside) for months (we only have approximately two weekends per month for this monumental and interminable process). The medium-sized plastic tubs from Greek yogurt that have tightly fitting lids are perfect for holding paint and other surface coatings. When the project is finally done, I’ll recycle the containers elsewhere — but for now they’re very useful! Also, quart-sized yogurt containers are great for picking blueberries — just thread some rope or a strap through holes at the top and you can carry it around your neck, picking with both hands.

  18. posted by Maya on

    I used to be a “maybe someday I’ll use this” saver, but no more. Like Shalin I have defined spaces for non-immediate reuse items: a box of boxes for shipping stuff, a box of bottles, and a section of a pantry shelf for food storage jars. When they get full I sort and toss because after a point you’ve saved more than you could use, and then what’s the point?

  19. posted by Maciej, PL on

    In my opinion reusing used containers, cork, metal boxes and other similar stuff, as for example in “22 Ways to Reuse an Altoids Tin”, makes no sense: you have to spend too much time and energy on doing it, therefore you put the old staff on the shelf, thinking “I will do it later” and these things last and make clutter forever. It’s better to make a difficult decision and throw it all away / donate immediately. Being merciless to maybe-one-day items is the best, if you want to avoid clutter. I like to put such things next to (but not inside) garbage container on my housing estate. There are people, who like to review garbage and collect such things. It’s the easiest form of donation.

  20. Profile photo of

    posted by bandicoot on

    we eat a lot of fruit and vegetables….and bring our own bags.
    we make our own yoghurt and bake our own cakes.
    we buy butter wrapped in a piece of paper. and have done all our lives.
    we get free range eggs from a lady to whom we return the cartons each week.
    we buy bulk wheat and nuts and seeds in washable cloth bags.
    we buy big containers of milk and cream…it minimises the plastic waste a little.
    but how i miss the glass bottles of my childhood.

    the time to most effectively deal with packaging clutter is right there in the shop.
    anything that looks overpackaged repels me on many levels.
    you can bet they are cutting costs on the “food” inside the fancy packaging, so as to pay for the fancy packaging.

    as for that other useful clutter, my mother has a genius for finding people who want this stuff.
    i save used postage stamps….wine corks…newspapers….books…for various groups and individuals she has identified.
    in the past it has been rinsed tinfoil…egg cartons….wine bottles….magazines….the list goes on.
    my own business reuses all postage packaging materials.

    as i get older, i see more and more clearly that it is just easier and simpler all round to not bring it all home in the first place.

  21. posted by Marjoryt on

    I agree with Barb – keep only specific containers, and the parts will match.
    I recently filled and threw out an entire clothes hamper of orphans. I decluttered a cabinet and placed everything that didn’t match in it. Over the next few weeks, some orphans found homes. Visitors were free to adopt or even drop off. After 2 months, only the rejects were left, and they went away.

  22. posted by Sue on

    I broke myself of this habit early on when I looked back at the house I grew up in. My father is famous for holding on to things because “I might need one someday.” We had a drawer in our kitchen full of yellow plastic lids for the old-style Hershey’s chocolate syrup containers, because we might lose one. Really? Then just keep one. We had another drawer full of used twist ties.

    When I moved out and caught myself hoarding things like that, I forced myself to dump the stash. I have never once regretting this. I have never once wanted a twist tie or little plastic tub and not been able to find one.

  23. posted by Sue on

    Hit submit too soon!

    I find that crafty-type urges can derail me. I used to keep every fabric scrap when I sewed. Never once did anythig with them, so that stash is gone.

    I currently make greeting cards, and make sure the paper scraps I keep are large enough to be useful. I also keep the scraps with the full size paper, so if I need a small piece of celery green cardstock, it’s with all of the celery green paper. I know of some women who have bins and bins of scraps. They can’t easily find one of the right size or color, so the bins grow and grow and never get used.

  24. posted by Sue on

    What would be cool if you could buy Altoid refills and reuse the tin you already have!

  25. posted by Maureen on

    You’ve convinced me: I’ve got to go buy some Altoids!

  26. posted by Virginia Allain on

    The Altoids page link was fabulous. I had no idea there were so many ways to use those. People are so creative.

    I have a webpage on reusing wine corks and it is quite popular. Apparently many people are like me and hate to throw away even a wine cork. Unfortunately many bottles are coming with those plastic corks now which don’t look nearly as good in craft projects.

  27. posted by Donna on

    @Cindy May – check out recork.org for something to do with your corks!

  28. posted by gypsy packer on

    Old people keep every plastic item which enters their houses, and all of the twist-ties. I truly believe that you are not old until you hoard all of these items instead of recycling them. We call it “plastic age”. Once you hit this milestone, you are officially approaching senility.

    My mother had hundreds. So did my dad’s mother. One bowl of each kind, and a pie plate OR two Chinese restaurant plastic containers, should be sufficient for any single and most couples. Ditto plastic grocery bags. One or two a week for the bathroom can, and reusable bags for all other shopping. Sneak the rest out to the recycler, if you have to evade a plastic ager.

  29. posted by Kat on

    Inspired by today’s post I went out to my classroom (on my own property) and dug out 2 Altoids tins from the collection of crafty – useful items and applied the “do it now” principle. I am traveling to Europe with 3 kids tomorrow (ages 4, 4 and 7) so luggage space is at a premium – even with the onebag.com suggestions.

    Game box – The first box has:
    a) 2 tic-tac-toe boards – tag board with appropriate lines, folded in half and “laminated” with packing tape
    b) 4 sets of colored chips – 5 of each color – to play tic-tac-toe or tiddly winks
    c) 5 red dice and 5 green dice (from my growing dice collection!), which among other things are good for adding and subtracting
    d) one folded Yahtzee score sheet which we will use for reference when we make our own on notebook paper
    e) 12 tiny squares of tag board labeled 1-12 to play shut the box (great game – many versions of directions avaiable online)
    f) front of box has tag board rectangle and 3 game chips under a strip of packing tape so we can quickly identify the box

    Second box has a collection of magnitic words that are similar to those found in a magnetic poetry kit, but they are geared toward children. They stick to inside and outside. We decorated the lid with stickers that have words on them.

    Add these to a deck of playing cards, Bananagrams for the grownups, two deflated beach balls and some balloons and we should be set for a while!

    Thanks for the inspiration! It makes me long for the days that I made “survival kits” from band-aids tins and Sucrets tins. Back then we included a dime to call home in case you got lost! :)

  30. posted by Chaotic on

    Great post Bandicoot.

    I take my (washed) used jars to the organic store where they get re-used by other customers to hold purchases of bulk detergent, oils, tahini, honey, etc.

  31. posted by ccherry on

    Plastic containers go to my church kitchen for.sending leftovers home after a funeral luncheon or other event.

  32. posted by Shelly on

    For those of you with extra plactic containters—check with your local animal shelter. Mine was requesting them a few months ago to use when they give pet food to families in need. They may also use them as bowls if they are short due to taking in extra animals.

  33. posted by ninakk on

    Thanks for the link, Donna! I’m in Europe and would be interested in having that project (recork.org) expanded to here, as well. If anyone knows anything about it, let me know.

  34. posted by Lim on

    I don’t save every altoids container, but I did glue a piece of ribbon inside one and it is now a credit card holder. The ribbon helps get them out, since it is snug on the corners; think of the ribbon in battery holders.

    I have a bunch of cards I just don’t use much. I don’t use my debit card (I get rewards on my credit card) or my costco card (it’s far enough away that it’s a special trip) and a handful of others just have no reason to travel everywhere with me.

  35. posted by June Lemen on

    My Creativity Group used altoids tins to make art. I called them “Altoids Shrines”. We decorated them in ways to suit our fancy. I made a Christmas one for my ten-year-old daughter and one based on “the Magician’ tarot card for a friend. If you want some ideas, just check Etsy.
    One of my sisters went to Europe for a year and saved all the corks from the wine she and her husband drank while there. My other sistey turned them into a really nice cork wreath for her kitchen. All it required was a wreath base, a glue gun, and some raffia.

  36. posted by Karen on

    I’m applying for an exception on this one: If the clutter is nigh-irreplaceable or linked to a very specific project, and if “someday” is well-defined but not today, I am going to hang on to my clutter, thank you very much.

    I have a couple of very old IBM monitors that have a fabulous destiny. I work, I’m in school, and my new house turned out not to be in the great shape we thought it was. Two of those things will eventually shake out. If I start this project before I’m ready, the monitors might end up sitting on the workbench for *months*. The monitors have a spot, and they can stay in it.

    One of the best things about having a house is having a garden. Toilet paper rolls protect seedlings from crawling insects. As far as I know, there’s nothing you can buy that does the job better. Two people only go through a couple dozen TP rolls a year. Guess what? I have a box of TP rolls.

  37. posted by Melissa on

    The way I solved the plastic food storage containers issue: I decided I hated when my leftovers are stored in margarine containers, etc. because then I forget what’s in them and eventually just think it’s margarine – much to my surprise when I go to make toast and find moldy leftovers instead. So I got rid of all of them, bought see-through food storage containers (NOT the kind with a motley assortment of sizes; I bought 2 to 3 packs each of three different sizes that I thought would work for what I usually needed – mostly stuff in lunch-sized portions so the kids & I can take leftovers to work/school for lunch). Since I only have a couple different sizes to store, they all stack neatly. I keep them with the lids neatly stacked next to each size.

    As for other random containers I “might need someday”: I still can’t part with all of them because I really do use them pretty often for stuff like keeping little game pieces together in our games cabinet, etc. So I’ve now designated a central location for “empty containers”. If I want to save an Altoids tin or whatever, I stash I tthere. If I need a box or tin or something, I know where to go look for one. And if my empty containers collection starts outgrowing the space they belong in, I know it’s time to weed through and get rid of the crummier ones. :)

  38. posted by LJ Earnest on

    I do this for certain things, but I’m getting better. I used to buy yarn when it was on sale, rather than for when I had a specific project for it. Now I limit myself to having a specific project, and I only allow myself one project queued for every one I have in action. It has saved so much space! (and guilt!)

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