Ask Unclutterer: Organizing hair accessories

Reader Theo submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My daughter is in fifth grade with long hair and every *&*^%#! hair accessory you can possibly imagine. Our house is overrun with ponytail holders and barrettes. I threaten to cut her hair off in the middle of the night if she can’t find a way to keep all of these things on her head or in her room or bathroom. Her mother has short hair and is oblivious to my frustration. Help please. — Theo, who is tired of cutting ponytail holders out of the vacuum belt

Theo, are you actually a time-traveling version of my dad writing from the early 1980s? Your email hints of so many fights he and I had when I was a kid — except replace “ponytail holders” with “ribbon braided and beaded barrettes.” It gave me a shiver, actually, when I first read it.

Your email reminiscent of my father spurred me into taking a look at my current hair accessories (yes, adults have them, too) and admitting to myself I haven’t been doing a great job organizing them, either. Everything was crammed haphazardly into a basket in my linen closet and dozens of ponytail holders were on door knobs and drawer knob pulls throughout the house (out of reach of the vacuum, but still not in their proper place).

I decided to spend about an hour this past weekend getting these items under control and what I did might work for your daughter.

The first thing I did was round up all my hair doodads — I searched the house and also grabbed my disorderly basket out of the linen closet and poured it all on my bed. Next, I sorted by type. All ponytail holders were put into one pile, all hard headbands made another pile, all soft headbands made another one, then barrettes, bobby pins, hair clips, bun holders, etc.

After sorting, I threw out all items that were ready for the trash from each of the piles — broken or over-stretched ponytail holders, bent bobby pins, barrettes missing their back clips, etc. Then, I went through the piles again and pulled out any accessories that aren’t my style any longer and put those in a large envelope to send to my toddler niece who loves dressing up and doesn’t care much about current fashion trends at this point. What remained after these two purging cycles was manageable and so I didn’t need to do a third round, but your daughter might want to (these items she could give to friends if they’re in good condition and her friends are amenable).

I decided to recycle some items in my home for storage solutions for the accessories that remained. Since developing a gluten intolerance, I no longer have a need for a wheat flour storage canister. So, I washed mine out and repurposed it for my hard and soft headbands:

If you don’t have a container like this, I recommend heading to your pantry or local grocery store with one of your daughter’s headbands. Try them out on different food canisters — they usually fit well around oatmeal canisters. She can wrap the container in her favorite wrapping paper or contact paper to spruce things up a bit.

For ponytail holders, I repurposed an old pill travel organizer:

Again, if you don’t have one of these, a lot of different materials could work, even toilet paper rolls but you need to stuff them with something sturdy so they don’t collapse (wrap this one in contact paper — I don’t recommend wrapping paper for this project as it gets ripped pretty easily, but contact paper is much more sturdy).

I put bobby pins in an old box I inherited from my grandmother. Barrettes and clips went into zip-top bags until I find something else to store them in over the longterm:

My point in repurposing these items was to show that you don’t have to go out and buy something just for organizing her accessories. You probably have things already in your home you can use. If you want to spend some money, there are manufactured options available.

Thank you, Theo, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I’m also thankful for the motivation you gave to me to get my hair accessories in order. Be sure to check out the comments for even more suggestions from our readers.

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21 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Organizing hair accessories”

  1. posted by Rita on

    When I was a little girl I had a ton of “fancy” barrettes. My Mom tacked a long piece of ribbon on my closet door and snapped the barrettes onto the ribbon. It made it easy to find ones that matched my outfit and kept the ones with puffy bows and flowers from getting crushed.

  2. posted by Heather on

    I use a carabiner to rein in my ponytail holders. I can remove whatever one I want without having to take the rest off. I’ve been using this method for a while, and it’s worked out really well. Plus, it’s good if you have ponytail holders of various diameters, since you aren’t wrapping them around anything.

  3. posted by Joy on

    Some things I use:

    I have my ponytail holders on ring clips (that you use for punched paper) that clip onto the brackets of the bathroom shelves. I’m able to separate them by size and color.

    Old spice jars hold my butterfly clips and tiny rubber bands for small braids.

    Old craft organizers hold my barrettes, metal clips, decorative bobby pins, bun screws, etc…

    (Empty) Tic-Tac boxes hold my normal bobby pins.

    For travel, I keep a round, three inch diameter, candy tin that has a variety of hair supplies.

  4. posted by Elaine on

    I use a clear shoe organizer on the back of my daughter’s closet door. It holds EVERYTHING! Brushes, barrettes, elastics, ribbons, headbands, etc.

  5. posted by Rairy on

    A friend of mine uses a sewing pin magnet holder to control her hair pin

  6. posted by Danielle on

    I use one of the hanging jewelry organizers for all of my hair accessories. It hangs on my closet door for easy outfit coordination, too.

  7. posted by DawnF on

    Wow, Theo ~ chill!

    The hanging shoe organizer might be a great solution ~ you can see everything at a quick glance and keep it all organized.

    I know it’s not very girlie, but what about a fishing tackle box? ~ or similar? plus, it’s easily portable from bedroom to bathroom.

  8. posted by Sue on

    Like Rita’s mom, I use a long, broad strip of ribbon hung from a suction cap hook in the bathroom to clip my barrettes on, like this they are organized, accessible and in full view.

  9. posted by EngineerMom on

    May I add that Theo’s daughter needs to go through the house every night and collect her hair gear?

    It sounded like part of the problem wasn’t that she had no storage for the bobby pins, ponytail holders, etc., but that she was removing things and just laying them down next to wherever she happened to be sitting at the time, or even dropping them on the floor by accident.

    I’m thinking a penalty for hair ties caught in the vacuum might also be in order – she has to cut them out herself (5th grade is definitely old enough to do this with a little supervision) or she has to pay $1 per holder or something out of her allowance, or add an extra chore for the week.

    As an adult, having to cut a ponytail holder off our vacuum’s beater bar plus replace the belt that burnt out in the process was what finally got me to be much more vigilant about putting them away as soon as I took them off, instead of setting them on the arm of the couch or a table.

  10. posted by Dede on

    I love the storage ideas!
    And EngineerMom is right. As a child, I was never made to pick things up immediately, and frequently, at the end of the day, my mom (trying to be helpful) would say “I’ll put that away for you, dear”. Now an adult, I have trouble putting things away immediately and have to make a conscious effort so I put things away only once.

    Theo – make it your daughter’s job to clean her stuff. Help her, acknowledge her progress, but make it HER job. (or you will simply trash what’s out, and it is up to her to buy replacements with her own money) Decades from now her children will thank you when they don’t have to clean up after their mom.

  11. posted by Carla on

    Completely off topic, but today’s Dilbert made me laugh. The new way of staying uncluttered at the office. :)

    http://www.dilbert.com/fast/2013-05-17/

  12. posted by April on

    I think the take-away Theo needs to see from all of this (the post and the comments) is:

    - it’s easier for her to keep things put away if everything has a “home” to be returned to (hence the organizing advice)

    - she needs to be taught to put them away in the moment (hence the suggestions in the comments about making her take responsibility/experiencing the consequences)

    …just summarizing it neatly, since I know if it were my husband writing in for help, he would feel lost/frustrated by all of this indirect information. Hope it helps. :)

  13. posted by Jessamy on

    I have a LOT of bobby pins and longer hair pins. I use altoids tins to keep them organized, plus they’re easy to toss into a bag for travel.

  14. posted by Licia on

    My sisters and I always had this problem- at first, all hair stuff was just shoved in the bathroom drawer, but I got tired of untangling combs from my elastics and ribbons- so I just used dividers to separate the clips and combs from the elastics and hair bows.
    Now I use a ribbon for barrettes, an empty plastic nut jug for scrunchies and my two hard headbands, and a small drawer organizer to hold my other treasures- elastics in one drawer, hard clips and bobby pins in another drawer, and the last drawer has all my chapsticks and makeup. My sister used a tackle box arrangement for several years- but I don’t own enough stuff to make it worth it.

  15. posted by Mrs.T on

    I put a plastic hook with a magnet on the back on the side of my medicine cabinet in my bathroom for my ponytail holders hang from (sorry, that was a run-on with a lot of prepositions!). It’s very handy, and they’re at just the right level to reach for when I’m doing my hair.

  16. posted by Mrs.T on

    I used to have a lot of French clip style barrettes (the metal kind with the arm that pops up when you press the two little pieces on each side of the arm). It was hard to see them when they were in a small bowl/basket type object (and digging through that just made a bigger mess). I think my mom came up with this simple yet super solution–clipping them to a ribbon that was then hung next to the place where I kept my hairbrushes and combs! Simple, inexpensive, pretty and practical!

  17. posted by Mrs.T on

    A reply to Dawn–yes, tackle boxes are great! Remember Caboodles? They were essentially tackle boxes in “girl” colors. For more than a decade, I’ve used a tackle box to store and organize my jewelry. The boxes/trays are clear, so it’s easy to see the contents. There are removable tabs in each row of each box/tray so there is some flexibility in adjusting the size little compartment. Each box/tray has a hinged cover. I’ve appreciated that the times I’ve dropped the box/tray since the cover prevents items from scattering to irretrievable places, and most pieces have stayed in their compartments. It’s not the prettiest solution; I wouldn’t leave it on display on my dresser like a jewelry box (but isn’t that a target for thieves anyway though?), but this solution really fits my needs. Similarly, my aunt used to use a hardware storage rack with several small drawers (you see them at hardware stores marketed to organize nuts, screws, bolts, etc) to store and organize her jewelry. Sorry, a bit off topic, but I was eager to share!

  18. posted by Maya on

    When I had long hair I used several of the big claw type clips and had some difficulty figuring out how to organize those. The little ones are pretty easy to just clip on a pencil-sized dowel, but for the big ones I hung a rope that was tied into a loop from my closet rod. That way I could put the clip on the rope and it would slide down to the bottom of the loop but not fall off.

  19. posted by ratwoman on

    The Problem with Hairtoys is – in my opinion – you do not have the nerves or time to roll them on a storage roll or clip them somewhere or even open a bag and close it afterwards (I doubt a five year old would have) – I use barettes, clips, sticks, forks, everything (I’m a bit addicted) and I simply have all the clips an sticks and forks in a pretty flower pot (looks nice too) – just stick them in there when I undress. The ponytailholders and bobbypins are in a box in my storage room and only three of different sizes (10 pins) lie in a small bowl in the bathroom together with my currently used Earrings and stuff. If you have the spare ones in a storage room locked away you look after the ones you use at the moment – for granted! Plus the bowl doesn’t get messy.

    I do this with all my jewelry and cosmetics – use one at a time, pack the unused ones away and circle each week or whatever you like. No one needs 20 pony tail holders in the same colour! Do you have all your beverages on your table? No, just the one you drink from at the moment – think about that ;-)

    The spare ones do net need to be stored in a way you can access them at any moment – needs fewer room (a small box/bag will do the job) and if your used one breaks you get another one from there and put it in your bathroom where you can easily acess it.

  20. posted by Stephanie Leary on

    Paper clip holders, the kind that come with magnetic rings in the lids, are ideal for storing bobby pins. You can get them in jumbo sizes that work well for larger metal barrettes.

  21. posted by Violetsrose on

    I don’t think Theo is asking for storage solutions – he mentions what he threatens to do if she can’t keep her hair things “on her head or in her room or bathroom”.
    He doesn’t care how she stores them – he just wants them to not be on the floor or strewn around the living areas of the house.
    This is not a storage issue, its a discipline issue – his daughter needs a new rule – take your hair things to your bedroom when you’re not using them or they will be put in the trash.
    Every time Theo sees an abandoned hair accessory he should pick it up and pop it in a box somewhere his daughter can’t find – that way he will teach her the lesson that if she doesn’t take responsibility for her things she will lose them (but without actually throwing them away – they can reappear at a later date when the lesson has been learnt).
    She obviously does need somewhere to store her things but a cardboard box in the corner of her room would suffice. Its not about the storage – its about getting her to put her things away…

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