Advice from the Storage Doctor

Daily clutter and disorder getting you down? Here's a prescription guaranteed to cure what ails you.

Overall Home Organization

Q. How can a well-organized home affect a homeowner's overall mood and performance in various aspects of everyday life?

A. We all lead busy lives, and if you're in a muddle at home, looking for things you need can waste a lot of time. If you have a place for everything, putting away clothes or filing everyday paperwork becomes less of a chore. And whether we realize it or not, we all feel more relaxed sitting or sleeping in a room that is calm, tidy, and well-organized. If you have children, your organizational skills will rub off on them, and they will learn good habits from the start.

Kitchen Storage on a Budget

Q. What's the best way to improve kitchen storage if there is no budget or space to expand or remodel?

A. The key is to reorganize the interiors of the cupboards you already have. Scrutinize the entire contents of your kitchen cabinetry and make a list of categories: from pantry-shelf foods to fresh vegetables, cooking implements to crockery, and so on. Then strictly allocate particular cabinets, drawers, or shelves to each category, ensuring that the things used daily are in the most accessible places.

Media Storage

Q. I am planning to purchase a media-storage unit for my family room. How can I make sure that what I buy keeps up with changing technology?

A. The most versatile choice would be a freestanding media cart. Many discount stores sell inexpensive versions, including trendy designer-style varieties. Choose a piece with a top shelf for the TV and one or more narrow shelves below to accommodate elements such as a DVD player and video game consoles. Coordinating shelf units can store other items such as board games, DVDs, and toys.

Basement Storage

Q. My bedroom closet is tiny, and the only place I have to store off-season clothing is in the basement. What's the best way to do this?

A. Invest in zipper bags and storage boxes so your clothes are neatly put away in the basement until next season. Clear shoeboxes make it easier to spot what you have, and hats, handbags, and accessories such as scarves should be neatly stacked into smaller boxes and labeled for easy access. Remember to include some mothballs to prevent problems.

Hallway Storage

Q. I don't have an entryway, and mail, purses, school bags, cell phones, and chargers all wind up on the kitchen table -- until suppertime, when they get shoved to the counter. Is there a simple answer?

A. The best place to keep these items -- where they'll be ready to go in the morning -- is in a hallway. If you have enough space for a narrow console table or even a dresser in a hall, then this is the place to store them. If you have narrow hallways, the best solution is to install a small, wall-mount cupboard or galvanized-metal racks.

Catchall Room

Q. I'm thinking about converting my guest room into an office. I'll still need to accommodate my mother-in-law when she visits. Any ideas?

A. First, you will need a single bed permanently in place. Rather than keeping it made up, consider a divan with a few pillows so that most of the time it looks like a smart daybed. This can become the perfect spot to sit and think when you're not at your computer. Of course, it will be essential to have a desk and an office chair. Just ensure that your work stuff can be put away when your mother-in-law arrives.

Home Office Organization

Q. What can I do about the countless items littering my home office?

A. Because most home offices haven't achieved a paperless state of mind, I'd suggest the following the "like with like" rule. Empty your drawers, clear your desk, and sort supplies into similar piles. Toss what you no longer use. If you're short on space, find a modest-size rolling cart, stack of drawers, or pull-down shelf to attach under a desk or upper cabinet.

Holiday Decoration Storage

Q. Whew! The holidays are finally over. How should I store my seasonal stuff until next year?

A. Think of your holiday trappings as heirlooms, and protect them from the forces of nature -- sunlight and water. Use boxes in good condition, using any original ornament boxes, and wrap loose ornaments in tissue paper. Store neatly wound garlands, lights, and dried wreaths in separate containers. Remember to label each box, and keep everything in a dry environment not subject to extreme temperatures.

Storing Household Chemicals

Q. I have a curious toddler at home. What is the safest way to store hazardous household chemicals?

A. If any item is a danger to family members or pets, keep it in a securely locked cabinet or high out of reach and away from food. Leave products in the original containers with lids tightly sealed. Read all labels, and store flammable materials away from heat sources and corrosive products. Items with vapors and fumes need ventilation.

Safeguard Linens and China

Q. I entertain infrequently. How do I safeguard my good linens and china?

A. Linens should lie flat, which is easy for place mats and napkins. Larger tablecloths and runners can hang straight over coat hangers made for pants or draperies as long as you keep acid-free tissue between the fabric and cardboard. Keep china in zippered protectors, and separate each platter or plate with a paper plate to protect from scratches. Use soft paper, such as coffee filters, between stacked cups.

Multipurpose Closet

Q. How should I plan a multipurpose closet that must hold many things?

A. Divide the space according to function. For instance, use one shelf for cleaning supplies and another for sporting equipment. Give each child a basket or shelf for personal use. Most important: label, label, and label. Clearly note the contents of each container or shelf to stave off the excuse of "I don't know where this goes!"

Crafts Storage

Q. Where can I store crafting supplies if I don't have a dedicated crafts room?

A. You can still organize "creativity central." Invest in a portable storage container with shelves and/or drawers. Stock the shelves with clear containers that let you see what's stored. Store only materials you use all the time. Love scrapbooking? Keep your supplies where you can reach them whenever inspiration strikes. Gave up sewing? Sell that space-grabbing fabric at a garage sale.

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