Reader Question: Where should I store stuff?

Reader Peter wrote in with the following question:

My biggest source of clutter is random, one-off, or novel items that don’t correspond to a clear category and that I don’t use often for example, a box of push-pins I use for routing cable, a spare 12V battery, the replacement cleats for my soccer shoes, the replacement blades for my rotary cutter, an extra travel toothbrush (because they come two-to-a-pack but I only need one when I travel), the spare house-key I sometimes give out to guests, or my vacation light timers. We’ve all heard the phrase “A place for everything and everything in its place” so I want to be able to specify what the correct place is for such items so that 9 months from now I’ll be able to find them again. I’m afraid if I put them “away” I’ll forget where I put them. Are there underlying principles that one should use to decide where to store something?

This is a really good question. Let’s start by discussing categories.

The purpose of putting objects into categories is so they can be identified and distinguished from each other. The classical view of categorization, suggests that categories should be clearly defined and mutually exclusive — there should be no similarities between items in each category. Items belong distinctly in one category or another.

The problem arises when distinctive features belonging to only some items of a given category are the same as those belonging items in a different category. For example, if we say birds fly and lay eggs, we have to make exceptions because reptiles also lay eggs and neither ostriches nor penguins can fly. The classical view of categorization then becomes very complicated!

The prototype theory of categorization can help. In this theory, “the task of the category systems is to provide maximum information with the least cognitive effort” (Cognition and Categorization). This suggests that some aspects of a category are more important than others. For example, if I was shown a picture of an American robin, I’m not going to examine the minute details of its anatomy and physiology to put it into the genus Turdus. I’d say it has feathers, wings, and a beak, so it would go into the “bird” category.

In other words, you need to establish what specific cues or features must an item have in order to fit into a specific category. The cues that you use may be different from someone else’s cues so you’re welcome to create your own categories that are logical to you. This may seem like a daunting task but there is no need to reinvent the wheel. You could use a set of cues that have already been established and that make sense to you.

Consider your favourite department store. All of the personal care items are located on shelves in the same area of the shop. Creating an area in your bathroom, even just a small bin under the sink, for extra toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss would prompt you to “shop” in your bathroom for those items when you need them.

If it makes sense to you, you could store the push-pins for your routing cable in your home office area with your pens, paper and other office supplies. But if they are special push-pins specific for cables, you could include them in an “electronics” area in a closet or on a shelf to store all of your equipment for that specific purpose. A set of plastic drawers is ideal for keeping all of these items organized.

In a designated “home improvement” area, perhaps in your basement, garage, or hallway closet, you could store items such as tools, electrical items (extension cords, light timers), light bulbs, batteries, etc. A “sports and leisure” section of your home could be created wherever you store your sports gear, in a bedroom closet, hallway closet, or laundry room.

Remember there are no hard and fast rules for how to categorize your stuff. You’re welcome to store things where they make sense to you. You can change the location of items at any time if you’re not happy with the original location where they were stored. However, frequent re-arranging may lead to more chaos so give yourself a bit of time to get used to the new layout before you make extensive changes.

For more advice, check out Jeri’s great post about the many ways to categorize your stuff to see how scientists categorized candy.

Thanks for your great question Peter. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.


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3 Comments for “Reader Question: Where should I store stuff?”

  1. posted by Danielle on

    It sounds like a lot of stuff Peter wrote in about is useful when he’s on vacation (either for himself or someone staying at his home). I have a similar problem and my solution has been to store this stuff inside my carry-on luggage bag that I use for such trips. I also store my packing list, small toiletry containers, and notes for anyone staying at my home and taking care of my pets in the same bag.

  2. posted by Jimena on

    for stuff that I don’t access often, I send myself an email with the storage location, when I can’t remember, I do an email search and get the clue

  3. posted by [email protected] on

    Store things in categories. Cleats should go in shoe compartment/bag with cleated shoes even if you have to put them in a ziploc and staple/tape them to the shoe organizer. Rotary blades go in with the rotary tool.
    I keep a box for occasionally used HBA items: electric toothbrush heads and, presumably, travel brush would be stored there.
    Harbor Freight and other tool suppliers will be happy to sell you a vinyl box or a shelving unit for your batteries or you can pick up a cheap set of drawer organizers and set up battery space in a drawer. If it’s an extra smoke detector battery though, I’d just tape it to the top of the unit where it will not get lost.

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