Keys to key uncluttering

Keys are a necessary evil, and although I’ve written about keyless entry systems before, I doubt anyone can escape having some. What bothers me about keys is not so much that we have to carry them, but that they seem to slowly accumulate as if key rings were living, growing organisms.

I’ve found a simple exercise helps folks struggling with a giant set of keys. Much like having an uncluttering buddy, I’ve gone through each key on friends’ rings and asked them what it’s for and if they really need it with them at all times. Usually people discover they have all sorts of old or useless keys weighing them down and are happy to get rid of them. Once the fat has been trimmed, the next step is to get an appropriately sized keyring. That is, one that will make it difficult for you to add too many new keys without having to remove a few.

So, take a moment today to look at your keys even if you think you need them all. Just look at them one by one and ask yourself if you really need them.

34 Comments for “Keys to key uncluttering”

  1. posted by Steph on

    The problem with not keeping all my keys together is that if I were to need a little-used key and it’s not already on my keyring, I likely would forget to take it with me. :\

  2. posted by Melissa A. on

    I do need all of mine. I have:

    – mailbox key
    – main entrance to apartment key
    – deadbolt key
    – door knob key (I don’t need to lock the 2nd lock but I usually do)
    – 2 different keys for work
    – plastic thing that I wave in front of sensor to let me in front door at work.


  3. posted by Dan P on

    I needed all of mine as well but not all the time. I switched my house and car keys to a single ring and moved all my others, parents house, grandparents house, gun lock, safe lock, toolboxes, etc to a separate ring. I put the second one away and use it only when necessary.

    It’s amazing how well my pants fit now 🙂

  4. posted by Stephanie on

    I used to have extra keys on my keychain, but then I went on vacation to Nicaragua. Since I wanted to cut down on extra stuff on my trip, I sorted through my keychain. All I needed was my apartment key! I got rid of my bike lock key (for a lock I didn’t have anymore), my work key (since they changed the locks and switched to a keycard system), and my house key (as in, the key to my parents house!) I had absolutely no need for a key to my parents house, since whenever I go there, it’s for a planned trip, and they pick me up from the airport/train station, so I have no need!

    So travel ends up reminding you to cut down on unnecessary things. It also helped me to remove all my unnecessary cards and things in my wallet.

  5. posted by Jonathan Wrigley on


    This is truly a topic close to my heart as I loath even the slightest excess pocket ballast…

    I have come up with a solution though – imagine combining your keys with something similar to a Swiss Army knife… If anyone knows the right people to speak to about getting this produced, contact me please! 🙂

  6. posted by Trevor Bramble on

    Like Dan P, the keyring I carry everywhere only has my house key and my car key.

    I was often a person who kept any possibly needed keys in my pocket every day, including a Victorinox pocket knife.

    The bike chain keys sit in the bag on the bike, and all of the keys that go to things at the house stay at the house.

    I have to carry an access card for the building I work in, and a key to the suite we occupy. So they stay in a pocket of the backpack I carry with me every day to work. I rarely have to use them, but they’re available and not in my way at all.

    It’s all worked out well for me and it’s one of the few anti-clutter practices that I’ve been able to implement without any difficulty or sacrifice.

  7. posted by ck on

    I use one of these to easily detach car keys on days when I’m taking transit. It’s a great way to organize necessary keys together, so that I can’t forget my bike lock key (it’s on one) if I’m cycling, since it’s attached to my house keys.

  8. posted by Kris on

    My husband has a really cool key ring that works really well for him. His ‘extra’ keys are one one end and his house and car keys are on the other. They connect when needed but each end has a hook as well. He leaves the one end in the car typically, so he knows where they are. He uses the car/house end daily. One key ring but really two, if that makes sense.

    I have a lanyard I use with my car and house keys. I keep a separate key ring in my purse with a few keys I don’t use daily. I know where they are but they aren’t always out and in the way. The lanyard is great because when I’m in a store or running errands, it’s around my neck and the two keys aren’t cumbersome or in the way. I always know where the keys are and they’re handy when I need them. They live in my purse once I get home, the lanyard clearly visible.

  9. posted by Ed Eubanks on

    I was just thinking about this today; we’re a three vehicle (well, two and a half) family with two drivers, and I was trying to think through how to re-organize the many large vehicle keys, keyless entry fobs, etc.

    [For the curious, the “half-vehicle” is a motor scooter.]

    Here’s a system I’m tossing around, which may add clutter to the key rack but remove it from daily life:

    1 ring for each vehicle key/fob, with a house key and a primary work key on each. (Total: 3 rings.)
    1 ring for work keys (unlocking all the doors at my workplace).
    1 ring of complete spares: 1 each of vehicle keys (no fobs) and a house key.
    1 ring with a single house key.

    This system would allow me to carry only a single ring 90% of the time, and that ring would have only three keys and a fob. After all, I can only drive one vehicle at a time, right? And when I need others, I just carry those rings too.

    Any thoughts on this?

  10. posted by ck on

    Hi Ed, hope you’re well 🙂 The Internet is a small place! I think that sounds like a good idea as long as you have a central location to store the keys. The REI keychain I linked to would be a good way to easily clip the rings into a single fob, too. My wife and I use color-coded ones.

  11. posted by kas on

    Great post. I hate a bunch of keys on my ring. My solution for personal keys has been to take off all my friends/family’s house keys and keep them on a lanyard in the car (it is rare that I need to check on someone else’s house that i didn’t drive to get there) the keys aren’t marked so i don’t really feel like there is a security issue of keeping them in the car. I usually know which key is which by the unusual shape, but sometimes i use trial and error, but it is worth it to not have to have extra keys in my purse.

    work keys – those are another problem i have yet to solve.

  12. posted by pdxrlk on

    1. Single “daily” key ring with car, house, office keys
    2. Mail box key on its own (labeled) ring
    3. Key tidy near the garage entry door to hold these so they don’t get lost
    4. Garage tool & toolbox keys on their own key tidy in the garage (keeps children from turning on the power saw, for example)
    5. Labeled misc house keys, in a drawer organizer
    6. All “mystery keys” tossed together in a bag in the same drawer. Hate to throw away a key for some gadget I’ve forgotten about

  13. posted by nat on

    i was actually able to get two keys off my keyring after looking closely at what i was carrying around. thanks!

  14. posted by Corinne on

    For those thinking about getting rid of the key to their parents house after they’ve moved out – it may be a good idea to hang onto that key in case something were to happen and you needed to get into their house without them. This is especially true with older people – if they fall and you need to get in the house to get them. Not pleasant to think about, but something we should all keep in mind.

    Maybe you could do a post on how to organize (with your parents) to have all their documents together, etc, and what children should keep at their homes?

    As for my keys – I keep just my car key and my husband’s car key on a ring. The rest are on a key bar screwed into the wall in our pantry. Keys for different things are on different key chains, and each is labeled.

  15. posted by Frank Rosquin on

    Front door, upstairs door. on the key ring.

    Car Key seperate.

    I find it odd how I am such a slob on most things, and apparently such a neat freak on others…

  16. posted by Ed Eubanks on

    Thanks, CK, for the howdy– it’s been a long time. I’m quite well, and hope you are.

    In response: we have a set of three hooks that is near the front door, and I’ve recently started hanging my keys on it. I envisioned keeping them all there.

    I’ve seen rings like the one you link to, also, CK. I’ve always thought it might be easy to lose them once they are detached. What do you do with them when they’re off the main ring?

  17. posted by marc on

    Car keys go separate here – using multiple cars, I pick the key for the car I am using. Most car keys are big enough they can go on their own.

    Office key (and SecurID token, and keyless entry thingy for the office and Kensington lock etc) are on a separate key ring attached to my computer backpack. I don’t go to the office without, so I don’t need them with me all the time.

    House key – one single key without a ring – lives in my wallet. I don’t leave without wallet.

    All other keys are grouped on key rings following functions. Whatever belongs together and is used together goes on a common key ring.

  18. posted by STL Mom on

    I only carry two keys, but have a stash of old keys in my desk.
    My question is, can I recycle those old keys, or do they go in the garbage? Might they have lead or something like that in them, and if so what do I do with them?

  19. posted by ck on

    We have a small box by the front door, made of bamboo, in which we put the keys. It’s actually a few stackable compartments where we toss change for meters, sunglasses and the keys–stuff we need going out the door.

    I have actually had fewer problems losing keys with this system than before–in part because I always (mostly) drop them when coming inside.

  20. posted by The Shopping Sherpa on

    I have three keyrings:

    1. Main one (black swiss army knife) which holds my screen and front door keys and the post office box key. It used to also hold my work keys when I didn’t work from home. This keyring is used daily. (Oh – and when I’m feeding a friend’s cat I attach a separate keyring to mine to remind me)

    2. Car key and clublock key. This hangs on a hook on the Kitchen dresser until I need it.

    3. Also in the same hook is another keyring which holds the garage keys (front and side doors) and the back gate key.

    I also have a tin in the kitchen which holds spare keys for friends in case they lock themselves out or need their cats to be fed.

  21. posted by Ruth on

    I’m also a multiple-keychain person.

    1. I have one with my apartment key and my car key, and I always carry that one. I don’t have a keyless entry system for my car, so it’s just two keys and not two keys plus a fob.

    2. I have one with the work keys (front door and our office space) that stays in my work bag. The only time this is an issue is if I take that bag traveling and leave the keys out of it and then forget to put them back in before I go to work, or on Halloween when I didn’t carry it because it didn’t go with my costume. Luckily, I’m not the only one with keys, so I could still get into my office, although if I got there too early, I might have had to wait outside for a couple of minutes.

    3. I have one with apartment complex-specific keys (laundry room/pool key and mailbox key) that stays in the house unless I’m going to the laundry room, the pool, or the mailbox.

    4. I have an extra house key on one of those stretchy things that goes around your wrist that I take when I go walking.

    5. I also have keys to my parents’ house and my mom’s car. Since I very rarely use them, they just live alone and unattached on the counter with the other keys.

  22. posted by pedro on

    I have a Tumi Key Wallet. I have 7 keys (my 2 cars, 2 house, 2 work and mom’s house. The nice thing about the wallet is that they keep the keys all together without jingling around in my pocket. I also have a folded $20 in there for emergencies, and my key-sized “frequent shopper” cards slide back into a pocket so they don’t clutter up my wallet or have to sit on a chain. When it’s time to present them, I just open the wallet and slide out the appropriate one.

  23. posted by John P on

    expensive yes but coolest key ring solution ever!!

  24. posted by Andamom on

    Keep keys that you cannot remember their purpose for in a separate location for a bit… I should have followed this advice before removing keys mercilessly from my key ring and chucking them… After the fact, I discovered that I had mistakenly gotten rid of a key to the my community garden and almost lost the keys to my mother’s home.

  25. posted by Nancy on

    I recently had a pinched nerve in my neck and HAD to do this. I’ve even learned to live without a decorative key chain as, well, that’s just more weight.

    My only fear (being one of the people that needs this blog) is that I won’t remember what the removed keys are later or that i won’t be able to find them when I need them.

  26. posted by LisaZ on

    People call me crazy when I tell them that ALL my keys must “face” the same way.. i.e., the straight edge and the jagged edge of each key must be on the same sides.

    I think this is a great tip (especially for unclutterer) because it allows you to memorize which side is up and prevents you from having to fumble with your keys, turning them up and down and around trying to fit them in your door.

    Of course, the previous tip assumes that all doors use jagged edges UP — and we all know that’s not always the case (although it is in mine). So having each key placed on your key ring in the up position (ready to be inserted into a door), it will shed off precious seconds or frustration in trying to get inside or locking the door when you are in a hurry to leave.

  27. posted by Katie on

    Ha! Last week my office was packing for a move, and I went to turn in the giant keys that have been jangling unused on my keychain for three years. I handed one over and the guy said, “This isn’t ours.” Turns out it was for a lock that is long gone from my life.

    On the plus side, now I have: car key, house key, work key. Plus eighty gazillion of those little store cards… but at least they don’t jangle.

  28. posted by Xamonster on

    Amazing. This is one place where I’m quite uncluttered. I have two keys: office and house. I don’t drive a car, have a safe box, or really anything else that needs locking up. In fact, I more keychains than keys. Two of them are hand made of felt, though, so they take up malleable space …

    Great articles!

  29. posted by Transblawg on

    […] / Schlüssel Unclutterer thinks we carry too many keys with us. Sure enough, I have one on my keyring that I can’t even […]

  30. posted by Bert on

    I recently cleaned up my keyrings (inspired by the philosophy) and applied some of the advice I now read here.

    I also have multiple keyrings: one with the backdoor and car key that I need the most (car is parked at the back), one with the keys for classrooms and a locker at the college where I teach that I keep in my briefcase, one with keys needed at the front of the house (front door, mailbox, parent’s front door key – they live next door), and another one with keys for the back of the house: garden shed, parent’s back door and garage key. The last two keyrings are stored in a central and easily accessible place in the house.

    This trick I learned from my grandmother: keep the keys in an order that makes sense, e.g. the locks you pass when walking through the house from front to back. It makes it much easier to to find the correct key, in particular when you have different keys that look very much alike.

  31. posted by Frank on

    Uncluttering your keyring is very useful. However, I want to make a suggestion for an addition to your keyring: a single spare key to your house. This way, if you want to give someone access to your house (e.g. for a place to crash or clean up) you don’t need to give them the original key.

  32. posted by Sarah on

    1. House key
    2. car key
    3. lockbox key
    4. dorm key
    5. wallet w/college ID, city transit card, suburban train ticket, cash

    All of this is on a giant lanyard. Sounds like a lot (and it can be bulky in a purse), but while I’m at school, I just need the lanyard and a phone when going out or to class.

    At my school, we have to touch our ID to the touchpad to get in the gate to our building and again to get in the front door. We still need a room key, though, which bothers me.

  33. posted by Jason P on

    Jonathan Wrigley wrote:
    “I have come up with a solution though – imagine combining your keys with something similar to a Swiss Army knife…”

    Here’s one made with a mini Leatherman. Not bad at all….

    Also, I installed a keypad/PIN deadbolt on my front door, so no keys necessary for that. I highly recommend it.

  34. posted by Olga on

    I’m a little neurotic about my keys… At the age of thirteen, I was given my very first set of house keys, now that I was going to be a Big Kid and go home by myself instead of staying at my grandparents’ after school. I kept them in my front right pocket, on a little plastic coil-thing that attached to my belt-loop, just like my grandfather did. For a time my greatest fear was locking myself out of my house (no cellphone then).

    Five years later, now that I occasionally wear skirts, I sometimes find my hand going to my hip and then panicking because OMFG MY KEYS ARE GONE.

    And even though I’m in college now and only need one key (my dorm room), I still carry around my old house keys in my right front pocket…

    I think (and this is true for many people) that my keys, my watch, and my glasses are just plastic and metal extensions of the self.

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