Nancy Kalish

According to one recent survey, almost 60 percent of us feel guilty and stressed out about the state of our home. The main reason: “Clutter!” says organizing expert Donna Smallin, the author of A to Z Storage Solutions (Storey Publishing), who conducted the survey.

It’s easy to let clutter build to the point where the problem seems too mountainous and time-consuming to tackle. And who has the cash for lots of expensive organizing paraphernalia?

“You don't have to spend a lot of time or money to get organized,” insists Smallin. “Like anything else, the secret to success is consistent, focused effort. If you spend just 15 minutes a day, that adds up to 7 hours a month. Imagine what you could accomplish in 7 hours!”

One of her favorite fast and cheap (or free) strategies: Use simple containers you probably already own to corral your clutter in new ways. Here are some of her inventive ideas.

Clutter problem:

catalogs, magazines and junk mail everywhere

Cheap storage solution:

a gift bag

First, make it your practice to open your mail over your recycling bin and immediately dispose of anything you don’t want to read. Then, stash all the magazines, catalogs and other materials that you do want to peruse in a pretty (but sturdy) leftover gift bag or shopping bag (the laminated kind is best), and place it by your couch or bedside. If you don’t want as many catalogs in the first place, visit for free help in eliminating any you no longer wish to receive.

Tip: A gift bag is also good for holding ribbon and rolls of wrapping paper or for keeping manicure/pedicure supplies in one place.

Clutter problem: piles of muddy shoes and boots by the door

Cheap storage solution: a laundry basket

Keep wet and dirty shoes off the floor and all in one place by having family members toss them in a strategically placed laundry basket in your mudroom or entryway. Voila -- no more dirty floors or missing sneakers!

Tip: A laundry basket is also good for collecting sports equipment or recycling products. Just use separate ones for paper, glass, plastic and metal.

Clutter problem: scattered keys, phones and personal items

Cheap storage solution: A beautiful bowl

Place a bowl on the kitchen counter or on your dresser or nightstand for depositing all those everyday items that usually end up scattered around the house -- and frequently misplaced.

Tip: A bowl is also good for holding all the remote controls in one spot on the coffee table or decks of cards and other small games on a bookshelf.

Clutter problem: those thousands of tiny toys you’re always stepping on

Cheap storage solution: an old lunchbox

It won’t hold thousands of teensy items, but it will store a surprising number of them -- and give your child an easy way to transport them from room to room.

Tip: A lunchbox is also good for holding small kitchen items, such as cookie cutters or napkin holders, or for storing seed packets or sewing supplies.

Clutter problem: a plethora of pet necessities

Cheap storage solution: a shoe bag organizer

Hang one on the inside of your front closet door to hold Buster’s leash, treats, plastic bags for pickup, medications and toys.

Tip: A shoe bag organizer is also good for storing hair brushes, straightening irons and other toiletries on the back of the bathroom door or for holding socks, underwear and pantyhose on the closet door.

Clutter problem: copious craft supplies

Cheap storage solution: An old dresser

Use each drawer for a different type of material, such as fabric or paper. Keep scissors, crayons, beads and other small items in labeled egg cartons or shoe boxes tucked inside the drawers.

Tip: An old dresser is also good for storing extra linens in a hallway or out-of-season clothing in your garage.   

Available at

A to Z Storage Solutions

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