Simple strategies for marking items

After Saturday’s simple tape suggestion, PJ and I have been talking about our favorite tricks for marking items. Here are a handful more tips for identifying items in your home and workspace:

  • Separate new and used sponges by cutting off corners — straight from the package is good for dishes, one corner missing is good for counters and the table, two corners off and it’s perfect for cleaning spills off the floor.
  • Reader CatServant recommended in the comments section to Saturday’s post something similar to the sponge method, but for other cleaning supplies: “I put a band of duct tape around the handle of any cleaning object that has been ‘demoted’ to ickier jobs: old toothbrushes now used to scrub the bathroom, old dish brushes now used for scrubbing out plant containers, etc.”
  • After folding the top and bottom bed sheet and one of the pillow cases, many people will then use the second pillow case as a sack to hold the other three pieces. It makes storage simple, and it’s easy to grab the sack from the linen closet when it’s time to make the bed.
  • We continue to love Alex’s suggestion of putting removable dots on small kitchen appliances to track which items you use over a six month period, and which ones you don’t. Label all small appliances and then only remove the dots when you use an item. At the end of six months, take to charity any appliance that still has a dot on it.
  • Reader DG e-mailed recently to suggest using strips of blue painter’s tape to label fabric items. Great for labeling sets of sheets so everyone knows which set works with which bed, great for putting reminders on backpacks, and great for marking clothes to identify which ones you haven’t worn (like the kitchen dot suggestion). Since the painter’s tape can be pulled off the item, stuck to the lip of a shelf, and reused for many months, it’s an extremely low-cost marking system. One roll of tape can last for many years.
  • If neighbors, co-workers, and/or friends have a tendency to borrow tools and not return them, scratch your initials into the metal with the tip of a screwdriver.
  • Large families often benefit by using colors for each child — a simple dot on an item’s label made with a brightly colored Sharpie instantly says whose item is whose. Older children should be lighter colors (yellow, orange) so if an item is passed down to a younger child, the dot can easily be colored over with the next child’s color (red, blue).

What simple marking strategies do you use in your home? Share your marking methods in the comments.

44 Comments for “Simple strategies for marking items”

  1. posted by Karen on

    I’ve been using a suggestion I saw in Lifehacker a while ago. At the beginning of the season, turn all your clothes hangers in your closet backwards. At the end of the season, it is easy to tell what you haven’t worn so you know what to toss.

  2. posted by Dorothy on

    I’m organizing all the tools and gadgets in my new quilting studio (and, of course, de-cluttering and reducing the excess at the same time).

    I got some inexpensive small bins for the Metro-style shelving in the closet the were meant to organize school lockers. They’re opaque so they need labels. For the time being I’m using masking tape and a Sharpie. I may add more elegant labels later, but for now these are functional.

  3. posted by Sara on

    I saw this tip online once and have tried to incorporate it. If you have a magazine subscription that more than one person in the house likes to read, the first person should make a tear in the cover (or tear the cover off) when he/she has read it. Then the second person knows that it is ok to throw the magazine away when he/she is finished reading. This helps keep magazine clutter down (although the torn covers may bother some people, so I’d love to hear other suggestions).

  4. posted by Claire on

    When we get holes in our socks we relegate them to the rag cupboard. The socks would sometimes find their way back into the sock drawer so now we mark an “x” on them with a Sharpie. If the socks are black we cut them in half.

  5. posted by karen mcgowan on

    with four kids, we’ve used a variation on the dot method to mark clothing and other property that gets handed down. we use one dot for the first kid then add a dot as the item goes down the line (two dotss for kid two, etc). works like a charm!

  6. posted by Kris on

    Years ago, my mother would put a check mark in the upper right-hand corner of a magazine cover after she had read the issue. That meant that she could give it to someone else to read or toss it at the end of the month.I started doing the same thing, and now my daughter does it too.

    As for old sheets and towels, I use a Sharpie marker to make an “X” on the label. Then I know that the sheets can be used by young visitors to make a tent in the living room, and the towels can be used to wipe off the dirty paws of visiting dogs.

  7. posted by MissPrism on

    I gathered all my “I am definitely going to read this someday” books onto one bookcase (no, they didn’t fit on a single shelf) and put a post-it note on the title page of each one. Anything that still has a post-it note in a year’s time goes to the charity shop.

  8. posted by Paula on

    I used to work in an office where 6 of us needed to read the professional magazines we received. I would write all 6 names on a post-it note and tape that to the cover. As each person finished with it, they would cross off their name and pass it on to the next person. When all the names were crossed off, it was thrown out.

  9. posted by priest's wife on

    Love the idea of using a light color for the older kids- my sister simply added a dot for each kid (she has 7!)

  10. posted by Ramblings of a Woman on

    These are FANTASTIC ideas! I am going to share this post on fb! And then I am going to determine which ones I can put into practice right now!

  11. posted by Nicole W. on

    That sponge idea, and other ideas listed here, are so simple yet so genius! THANKS! Keep the great ideas coming!

  12. posted by Susannah on

    Tape can be removed, and initials scratched into a handle can be covered up or buffed out. But I learned years ago that no matter how much some macho guy craves my tools, lawnmower, etc., he won’t walk off with my stuff if I have decorated the handles with pink nail polish. Hearts and flowers, if possible. Yeah, it looks a bit silly — but my tools don’t disappear.

  13. posted by Nana on

    When my girls went away to Girl Scout camp, and everything had to be name-taped, I got last-name-only nametapes. A little thing, but a time-saver.

    Dear 91-year-old aunt writes her initials on the top right corner as she finishes a newspaper section or a magazine. Although uncle died a few years ago, she still does it (‘just in case’ someone wants to borrow and read)

    In my office, Post-its tend to come off…we staple a Routing Slip (printed on the back of old paper) to the cover. Easy to cross off your name when you’re done.

  14. posted by Lee on

    I hang some clothes on different colored hangers – sleepwear, long and short sleve shirts and tees, etc. This reminds me to put them together and I immediately know when something is out of place so I don’t lose it. It also reminds my husband to put like things together, too.

    I put a dot of pink fingernail polish on the top of medicine bottles that need authorization for more refills, so I know to call them in early so the doctor can be called and respond before I run out of medication.

    I also use pink nail polish dots or numbers on keys that need to be used in a series – 1st key – 1 dot, 2nd key – 2 dots…..We used to own a duplex and my tenants appreciated not having to keep trying keys.

    Before reading these posts, this morning i used the labeler to designate where the emergency mini flashlights go. I’ll also be doing this on scissors and tape measures and anything else that seems to wander between rooms and cars. Replacement tape is pricey, but we think our labeler was an excellent investment. I’m sure it cost less than the duplicate items we have purchased because we couldn’t find the originals.

    Note when decluttering – don’t decluttter ALL of the pink nail polish.

  15. posted by on

    I put a rubber band around a drinking cup which indicates I‘m the only family who drinks out of out it. It also keeps me grabbing a new cup every time I want something to drink. Of course, I wash it like every other day.

  16. posted by Austen on

    Whenever I downgrade use for an item, towel to dogs towel, dish cloth or tee shirt to rag I make a cut with scissors. No confusion ever.

  17. posted by jrochest on

    Sheets for different sized beds: Mom always used to buy striped sheets for queen sized, plain for twin and flowered for double.

  18. posted by Larissa on

    I’m currently trying to pare back my CD collection, but was unsure which ones I listen to most. So I put a piece of cardboard at the top of my CD rack as a marker. Everytime I listened to a CD (even one song) I put it back at the front of the marker. I started in June and will continue for a year (seasonal CD’s will be used soon). Once I make it to June whatever is left behind the marker untouched will be donated to charity the others will be digitized when I buy my first MP3 player or Ipod! (yes I still own cassettes and even records, but can’t work out how to digitize them!!!)

  19. posted by cammy on

    Growing up in a family of 7 kids, my mom labeled or color-coded everything. Towels were color-coded–mine were light blue, my sister had pink, the boys had red, dark blue, green, brown and purple. Same with toothbrushes, sheets, suitcases and the like. The boys’ socks were colored coded. They all wore white tube socks, but one had red stripes and one blue stripes, etc. Mom used the add-a-dot system for the boys’ clothes–saved trying to find the right color marker for the right kid. We even had plastic cups in different colors, so that we would each use our own cup all day and not use all the glasses in the house.

    To this day when I need to buy new towels, I am Irresistibly drawn to light blue towels.

  20. posted by Megan on

    My mother used to put a bit of red tape on every single item we took to school, from backpacks to pencils. The idea was that everything marked that way would be returned to us or we could challenge a fellow student if we saw the distinctive red tape. As the youngest of four children who all passed through the same elementary school, all my teachers knew about the red tape and would participate in getting my things back to me.

    It was slightly embarrassing for us, but our school supplies certainly never migrated to our neighbor’s desk.

    (Like cammy, we also all had designated colors for towels, suitcases, plates, cups, etc.)

  21. posted by Katha on

    When I was growing up, my father was the one doing the laundry in our house. To not confuse underwear between my mom and me, she only had white, I only colored or patterned underwear.
    Sometimes she would pass things down to me – I drew on them with fabric markers or did a nice design with fabric paint to distinguish them from what was still hers.

  22. posted by Karen (scotland) on

    Gosh, some of these are so simple yet so useful (sponge corners, tape on old brushes etc). My family of four are all colour-coded from water cups through to swim bags and (soon to be purchased) bathroom towels.
    Love the dot idea for kids clothing too – one dot, two dots.

    I once purchased a pack of electrical plug labels – they had little pictures or a word to say what the plug belonged to. I was only 18 so my friend’s thought it was a hilarious purchase but they saved me so much time and frustration. They’ve all been used up now so I just use a small paper label with a word on them now. Not so pretty much cheaper and just as effective.

    Most of what I was going to suggest has already been suggested above so I’ll just say thanks to everyone for the new ideas.

  23. posted by Rachel on

    We have finally (this past week) implemented a towel-identification system that seems to be working.
    As my husband and I both use the same set of towels, it is very different to keep track of which one is mine or his at any given time. Designated hooks didn’t work for some reason, and neither did having some towels that only I used and others that only he used. And I was forever doing laundry because I couldn’t work out whose towel was which. Finally, I brought two colours of clothes pegs, one each. You hang up your towel, you attach your coloured peg. You need a towel, you take the one that has your peg on it. Simple as that.

    As a child, I remember having a wooden clothespeg with my name written on it, for clipping together my wellington boots when I arrived at school and changed into normal shoes. In a class full of wellie-wearers, this solved the ownership and the pair-finding problem in one go.

  24. posted by Louise on

    Our magazine system is this: When I finish reading a magazine but want to cut out an article before it is thrown away, I fold in the lower right corner of the cover. If I don’t want to save any part of it, I rip that corner off completely. My husband does the same with the upper right corner.

    So if I finish a magazine and it has his corner folded, I can give it to him to cut out his piece then toss it. If his corner is torn, I can recycle it immediately.

  25. posted by gypsy packer on

    @Susannah–Times change. I lent my flowered utility knife to one of a roofing crew, and the #&%! stole it. Never thought it would happen.
    @Larissa–Windows Media Player has a tutorial. Look it up. Failing that, if you intend to download files as mp3 or AAC, download iTunes and it will allow you an option to load to it as default. Problem with that, is that you may want another format. I have files saved in WMA, mp3, and AAC. Mp3 definitely has the best sound quality of the formats they use. Check other media players out on the Web-almost all are free, and some allow downloads to FLAC, a lossless compression, for your computer files, and later conversion to whichever format your portable music player uses.
    Audacity will convert your cassettes and records, and it is free from SourceForge. YouTube has plenty of tutorials.

  26. posted by Joanne on

    When my dishcloths get too unattractive to use for dishes, I serge around the edges with black thread, and these become my cleaning rags.

  27. posted by Annette on

    In our house we color code for people. Our daughter was green, hubby was red and I am blue. Calendar notes, appointments, hangers, emergency to go bags (72 hour bags full of anything one would need in an emergency for three days, including food and drink). If I can glance at the calendar and see a green note on today, I know my daughter has to be somewhere different than usual. Ditto Hubby and his red notes. As the gatekeeper for the family’s comings and goings, I had to have an easy method to schedule things. No one in my family aside from me liked the idea of organization, so I told them the colors were only for me and they were not to involve themselves in any of it. Took two weeks and they were checking the calendar for their colors AND writing appointments down in the appropriate color. Wonderful idea.

  28. posted by Carmen on

    My mother and I enjoy a lot of the same books. When I read a book and send it to her to read, I will put my initials inside the back cover. If just my initials are there, I want it back. If my initials are crossed out, it indicates I’ve read it but she does not need to return. I’ve done the same to the books she loans me (with her initials) so I don’t accidentally sell or dispose of a favorite book.

  29. posted by Steph on

    I have several roles of colored electrical tape that come in handy. I originally got them to label which plugs go in which sockets for the elaborate/confusing pre-lit christmas tree. But since have moved on to marking other things with them – blue stripe on handles of Phillips-head screwdrivers & red on flat, and different colors to distinguish between USB cords on my desk so I know which device I’m grabbing to plug in.

    As a child I was one of six and we each had our own colors – burgundy bath towel, red tooth brush and pink drinking cup were mine.

  30. posted by Ange on

    Love the sponge-snipping idea – I usually have two sponges near the sink (one in the little pull-down drawer in front the sink, the other in the suction-cup basket that lives in the sink itself). The pull-down sponge is for counters and tables, because I use cleaning spray on those; the sink sponge is for dishes ONLY (so my dishes don’t smell like cleaning spray).

    The sheet storage method is one that I’ve used for years, and it really works, especially for when I’m away and the family is taking over, or we have guests, or a little one has a nighttime nosebleed – it’s easy to just grab the “packet” and be good to go.

    One I’d add is buying two exact sets of sheets – one on the bed, one in the linen closet. Time to change the sheets? Pull out the “packet” in the linen closet, and you can stuff the old sheets in the hamper to wait for wash day. Since I line dry almost everything, this is a very handy timesaver. (Not sure if that’s a “marker” tip…)

  31. posted by Ange on

    Oh, I did forget one marking tip – I have two boys, only two years apart and very similar in size. To keep their socks and underwear separate, one wears boxers and the other briefs; one wears short socks and the other tube socks. We always know what underthings belong to whom when sorting the laundry.

  32. posted by Cher on

    I have embraced the sponge snipping tip, which I love.

    When I put away my grocery, boxes of pasta, crackers, cereal etc which are new are stored upside down, so I don’t accidentally open a new box when I have one already started.

  33. posted by Wendy on

    My mom used colored thread to mark all of our white socks, yellow for me, pink for my sister, and blue for her. We all wore the same style and this made sorting a breeze.

    We camped alot and every person had a colored dishpan for shirts and shorts with a matching duffle bag (made by my mom) for underwear and socks. The camper stayed organized and everyone could find their clothes.

  34. posted by WilliamB on

    All fantastic ideas! The best one for me is labeling tools by box, because mine sometimes migrate and I’m left wondering “Where is that screwdriver, darn it?”

    Rather than distinguish every person’s stuff, my family opted for interchangability. All beds were twins (parents pushed their together). I guess we didn’t care about towel color and each sibling had a separate towel rack. All children were responsible for their own laundry; I don’t remember how clothes were sorted before we were old enough to do our own.

    As an adult I like interchangability as well. I keep two sets of sheets for each bed and two sets of towels for each bathroom, putting the second set on when I put the first in the laundry basket. Guest towel sets are different colors so guests don’t get theirs mixed up. My kitchen towels are all the same color, they’re easy to rotate by putting the clean ones at the bottom of the pile. When the set gets ratty, it becomes the kitchen rags and I get a new set in a different color.

    Y’all should be sterilizing your sponges at least every day: Consumer Reports has run several reports about this – cleaning sponges are the worst harborers of bacteria in the home. Fortunately sterilization is easy: put a wet sponge in the microwave for 2-3 min; or boil it for 5 min. Consumer Reports showed that the other popular methods – bleach, dishwasher, soap – don’t work.

  35. posted by Keira on

    I can’t believe I never thought of storing sheets in their pillowcases. I’m going to start doing that immediately. I also adore the idea of putting clothing hangers backwards to track what clothes are worn during a season.

  36. posted by WhoWhatLogos on

    Get your own personal logo and have stickers made for smaller items. You can even make your own luggage tags, or get creative with marking. Then, use the same logo for your own stationery, parties, and digital use such as an avatar or email signature. Check out to get one in your favorite color.

  37. posted by WhoWhatLogos on

    Oh, and great idea about the sheets! Will implement that one today.

  38. posted by Lee on

    Such great ideas!

    This isn’t labeling, but I read a suggestion to store the sheets for a bed between the mattress and box springs. That may not help you tell who the sheets belong to, but if you fold a set of twin sheets, you know they go between the mattresses of a twin bed.

    If my boys were still at home, i’d have them put their dirty socks in a labeled lingerie bag that would go in the washer and dryer. That would save labeling them if they actually took them off and put them in the bag rather than leaving them on the floor, in the bed, etc.

    My youger friends use black sharpies to mark disposable cups at parties. No wondering if you’re picking up the one you sat down.

    My son unfolds a paper clip and wraps one end around the stem of a wine glass and the other around a magnetic letter (the little magnets for children that you often find on the front of someone’s refrigerator). This is how they label wine glasses at a party. If they were inexpensive glasses, I’d like to try Martha Stewart’s method of ecthing on glass and label the glasses with letters or numbers.

  39. posted by Elizabeth on

    I have synesthesia, and to me each day of the week automatically is its own color. To make sure the hand towels in the bathroom are changed every day, I bought seven hand towels in seven colors, one for each day of the week. If I walk into the bathroom on a Wednesday and see a blue towel, I know that I forgot to put out a fresh one that morning.

  40. posted by Mark on

    When we open a new sauce or condiment (BBQ sauce, pickles, mayo, half-used spaghetti sauce, etc.) we write the date on the lid with a Sharpie so a quick scan of the fridge door tells us what’s been open for a while and may not be so fresh.

  41. posted by Lila on

    When my eldest son gets a t-shirt, I mark it with a sharpie – a line is enough. When the t-shirt gets relegated to my second son, I add a second line. If it ever makes it to the next child, I add a third line.

    Thank you for the many new ideas, I thought I’m already marking-obsessed but it seems there is room for more!

  42. posted by Leah on

    as a kid, my family labeled a lot of our things with different colors of electrical tape (like, say, our water bottles or soccer shin guards).

  43. posted by PH Test : on

    i very much prefer bath towels that are made of cotton or polyester, they are very soft and easy to dry”’

  44. posted by Sandy on

    Great tips throughout the comments! I use nail polish to mark any old toothbrushes for cleaning, etc.

    My boys are 2 years apart and the youngest gets hand-me-downs, so I started marking socks with a small dot of colored fabric paint on the toe — I have 4 colors, so the colors are by size, not necessarily by which kids always wears them since they outgrow them so fast.

    My boys also have the same first initial and last name, so I had labels made with first initial last name so hand-me-downs don’t have to be relabeled.

    After reading the comments, I think I’ll go label my old washcloth cleaning rags with a swipe of fabric paint too to cut down on confusion!

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