How high should you go?

I instinctively follow this rule when stacking things in my home:

If items are alike in every way, stack as high as the shelving and item itself safely allow. If items are different, stack only three high.

Dinner plates, towels, and rolls of toilet paper get stacked as high as the cabinets in my home will let me. (Dinner plates=8, towels=5, toilet paper=4) If I need any of these items, I just grab from the top of the stack because they’re all the same.

Pots and pans, board games, and sweaters, on the other hand, stop at three in a stack. I do this because I know that if I remove the lowest item I will take the time to properly replace the two on top of it. If there are five varied items in a stack and I need the fourth item, I may put everything back in order a few times, but inevitably the stack will become a mess.

I don’t know why this is the case, or how I came to make this realization about myself, but it’s the way of my world. To some people it may be obvious, but it may be a helpful tip to others. Take a look around your house and see if you tend to have a mess erupt in one location. Is a stack of items to blame? If so, you may want to consider reducing the size of the stack if the objects in it are different.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

12 Comments for “How high should you go?”

  1. posted by endeavor on

    I have always done that myself but never thought about it till now! It’s easier for me this way and for the same reasons you mentioned.

  2. posted by SuperChuck on

    My girlfriend is a stacker. Makes me crazy. It’s almost compulsive. Everything I own ends up in a random stack. The kitchen has taken the brunt of the stacking. Appliances are so hard to get to, they’re just not worth using.

    In an area like a kitchen, accessibility is king and stacking makes me crazy. If I can’t reach the tool I need, it doesn’t matter if things are stacked 2 high or 10 high.

  3. posted by Zach on

    You should also be careful stacking some objects…the extra weight can damage them. Boardgames are a good example, as the weight can eventually deform and damage the box (if it’s a bunch of small, lightweight games, it’s probably fine)…if you’re a game collector (like me), it’s better to spine them like books…

    …just a little tip I picked up from the Obsessive Collectors Desk part of The Spiel podcast… 🙂


  4. posted by mamacita on

    That’s a great idea — I never thought of it that way.

  5. posted by Debbie M on


    I find that things that nest in an obvious way can be stacked pretty high so long as the resulting stack is lightweight enough to deal with. I do this with pans and measuring cups, for example.

    If the nest isn’t so obvious, and you often have to try more than once to find the spot where something goes, or if it’s so heavy that pulling the whole stack out and removing one of the items and putting the whole stack back is difficult, then it’s better to break it up into more stacks. My pans are light, unlike the expensive pans everyone else seems to love, so I can stack them all together.

    Hmm, shirts. Well, I don’t have enough room to put only three shirts in a stack. Or at least I’d rather have too many shirts in a stack than not enough shirts. But I am thinking of folding them a new way that’s narrower and lets me fit three stacks into a drawer instead of two.

  6. posted by Erin at Unclutterer on

    @Debbie– I agree about the measuring cups–I stack them even though they’re different. It must have something to do with their inherent nesting quality. Hmmmm. Interesting. As far as t-shirts are concerned, I don’t usually “choose” one when I wear it. I just pull the one on top, so they get stacked seven high in my drawer.

  7. posted by jmanna on

    Debbie, Try rolling your shirts with a good part of the visual on top so you can easily identify them. You should be able to stack several rolled t-shirts on top of each other and you’ll be able to fit more length-wise once they’re rolled.

    Some alternatives to stacking:
    1) put shelving on your shelving: It seperates stacks so they’re shorter and it means awkward items that can’t be stacked don’t take up a section of a cabinet with a bunch of wasted space above it.
    2) hooks on the inside of cabinets and doors: More wasted storage space. Small pots or lids fit nicely on the doors.
    3) Metal sheets and magnets: You can install the metal sheeting anywhere. You glue the magnets to the inside of tuperware or jar lids and label them on both the sides and the under side. Or you can store batteries and other small household items.
    4) Drawers instead of shelves: Store your games in a short dresser with deeper drawers. It looks a bit odd in the livingroom because of everyone’s expectations that a dresser be in a bedroom. But games can be stored on their sides, which makes them way easier to remove, and it closes for a cleaner look. The top also makes a nice little display area. You may have to look around for a dresser with deep enough drawers.

  8. posted by Debbie M on

    Wow, thanks for the t-shirt advice.

    I’ve found that rolling my shirt makes it more wrinkled than just folding it, so I just fold them now. I do still roll my shorts, though.

    And just picking the top shirt only works if I have coordinating pants, socks and jacket clean (I wear different colors of solid knit shirts to work). Of course I could simplify my life by making my socks match my shoes, and making all my shirts coordinate with all my pants and jackets, but I’m not that good yet!

  9. posted by Jasi on

    Weird. I stack jeans and pj pants in my closet. Tanks always topple. I stack them in smaller piles in my dresser drawer with a divider.

  10. posted by jmanna on

    Yah, not sure what to do about the shirt thing Debbie. I just hang all mine up in the closet. I roll stuff when I travel, so that’s my only experience with it.

    Maybe an extra fold in the middle so they are thicker? Less in one pile but you fit more piles. Not sure if that would work as I don’t know what kind of space you’e dealing with. And there might be a wrinkling issue.

  11. posted by J T on

    I actually have a completely different solution to this problem.

    Basically, in my method, whenever you “load up” (which means you got stuff back from the laundry or you just came back from grocery shopping), you put stuff at the bottom of the pile. (Move the stack, put the new items in, move the old stack back on top of the new.)

    Whenever you “use” you take stuff off the top of the pile.

    This way, there is a constant rotation. Otherwise you use the top few items all the time, and the lower ones rarely/never get touched.

    Also, since you typically do laundry or go shopping when you’re low on stuff, you’re putting stuff on the bottom of the stack at its lowest point and so its not as difficult. Less stuff means lighter and easier to move out, put fresh bunch, and then move them back.

    My mom always instilled a habit in me to rotate, coz otherwise you easily end up with some items with a lot of wear and some with very little. Except, she just made it a habit to periodically shuffle the stack.

    I came up with this alternative. It requires me to consciously put stuff away, but when removing stuff I don’t think twice.

    Hope this helps.

    – JT

  12. posted by TheGardenGoddess on

    Marie Kondo has a great way of stacking shirts. Instead of vertical piles, she goes for horizontal. Of course, you have to fold them one or two more times, but it keeps the drawer forever neat as you can easily pick the shirt you want without disturbing the rest. I believe she has a video online on how she does it. With her method you can actually fit more into each drawer too. Also, if you have really deep drawers, you could just put a shallow box on the top of the lower layer and stack two deep…

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