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Conquering clutter

Stylish containers put everything in place
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Even in the electronic age, most consumers amass more stuff than their space can hold. These days, however, there are cool products specifically designed to control clutter and make it look nice. In cyberspace, you have an added advantage: You can shop directly from small home furnishings stores that stock the latest in stylish storage devices.

You've probably seen those collapsible, plastic barrels sold at gardening supply stores. Perhaps you’ve even considered using them to store household items. But you’ve never been sure what would happen if you dragged them indoors. Would the worms and insects follow?

Now there are collapsible barrels designed specifically for use in the home, at umbra.com, a housewares shop with offices in Toronto, Hong Kong and Buffalo, N.Y. In contrast to the outdoor barrels, which are typically made of polyvinyl, the crunch cans are 100 percent cotton canvas and laminated with waterproof vinyl. “The lamination process stiffens the material so it will ... stand [on its own], but it’s still soft and flexible enough to be able to ‘crunch’ down to a pancake shape for storage,” says Paul Rowan, the product’s designer and co-founder of umbra.com.

The crunch cans exude a certain “elegance and attitude,” Rowan says. “The creasing effect created by the ‘crunch’ gives the container the feeling that has been created with a Japanese Origami technique.” The natural materials, shape and texture are perfectly suited to store winter comforters, freshly folded linens or kids’ toys.

The natural-colored (off-white) barrels are available in three sizes. The smallest barrel measures 11 by 14 inches and costs $7.99. The 13-by-17-inch canvas can sells for $9.99. And the largest container, 17 by 25 inches, is priced at $14.99 and has a soft canvas handle. The company also makes the barrels out of denim or a mocha-colored fabric. If interested in either of these shades, you can order them by e-mail or call the toll-free number, (800) 387-5122.

The company recently introduced a corner crunch, a crunch laundry hamper and a rubber crunch, none of which are pictured online. The corner crunch, priced at $14.99, is shaped like one-quarter of a circle and fits neatly into any corner. The crunch laundry hamper, also $14.99, has two canvas handles and measures 11 by 22 by 13 inches. The 11-by-14-inch rubber crunch has a plastic liner and sells for $9.99.

Store upward

Are you tired of the messy piles of magazines on the coffee table or even on the floor next to the bed or couch? If so, Canadian manufacturer puredesignonline.com has a solution: the Julip magazine rack (product 9406). The freestanding magazine rack, which looks like a curved ladder mounted on a metal base, is designed to withstand the weight of all those literary or “National Geographic” magazines you can’t bear to throw away.

The steel rack, priced at $74, is an expensive way to store old magazines but makes smart use of vertical space. Since style is key, the rack is available in three finishes: chrome, black texture and clear coat (gun metal). The company also makes a Julip towel rack for $74 (product 9407) and several freestanding CD and wine racks, ranging in price from $46 to $166.

Everyday things
If you crave new ways to store old stuff, take a look at the museum and shop at theMUT.com (The Museum of Useful Things), located in Cambridge, Mass. The museum’s online exhibits encourage consumers to look at everyday objects in a new light. One exhibit, “cleanliness and inventiveness,” shows how function defines form. A hand-cranked cylinder that produced soap shavings in public places is not considered sanitary these days, but the metal device certainly had a lot more class than those cheap, plastic containers filled with liquid soap.

The museum shop stocks a collection of chic, streamlined containers that take both form and function into account. The “Custodian Basket,” a rectangular aluminum tray priced at $36, has a sturdy handle and is light enough to haul supplies around the house. You can even separate cleaning supplies by room, type or task in the 10 1/2-by-20 1/2-inch container, which is divided into three compartments. The woven steel “Swim Locker Baskets” are designed to store wet bathing suits at the gym. But the shiny metal containers are also suited to hold files, papers or magazines. The 8 1/2-by-12 1/2-by-8-inch basket sells for $20, and a 12-by-12-by-8-inch container costs $24.

Other useful storage items include the canvas hamper-on-wheels for $106; a sleek stainless-steel cutlery tray, priced at $26.50; and a plastic cable turtle ($15), used to store excess electrical wires. The cable turtle, available in lime, black, red and tangerine, is made in Holland of recyclable materials. To locate a specific product on the Web site, just click on an image on the conveyor belt at the bottom of the screen, or go to the “fast browse” and look under the appropriate category.

Just the basics, please If you’re just looking for the basics, you have several options online. The store that offers the most variety is the containerstore.com. The Dallas, Texas-based shop stocks everything from inexpensive till baskets, made of poplar wood — 1 quart for $1.19 or 2 quarts for $1.29 — to textured steel trunks, priced at $89-$99.

Variety, smart products and hard-to-find items best define the range of goods you’ll find at containerstore.com. For variety, just check out the hanger department. I counted 10 wood, 11 metal, 14 plastic, 12 specialty and four children’s size, plus a special hanger holder and non-slip hanger strips (a package of 24 strips sells for $1.99). The company prides itself on the plastic tubular hangers at 29 cents each. The brightly colored hangers — made of a heavy-gauge, 52-gram plastic (compared to 34-gram or less found elsewhere) — are strong enough to hold a heavy pair of jeans yet smooth enough to hang a delicate silk blouse. If you buy them in bulk, the price goes down. A 72-pack costs $18.72 — 26 cents apiece.

One exceptionally smart product is the streamlined refrigerator jug, which holds one gallon of water but only takes up three inches of shelf space.

The Container Store also stocks a huge selection of simple containers, which are hard to find in regular housewares shops. For example, ever try to find one of those clear plastic boxes divided into compartments to store sewing notions, office supplies or jewelry? I have, with no luck. The container store has 24 varieties of clear compartment boxes, priced from $1.99 to $9.99.

With careful planning, at The Container Store you could organize your entire house, or at least a room, for less than $100.

More one-stop shops Other one-stop shops include Richmond, Calif.-based stacksandstacks.com and getorginc.com (Get Organized), a cyber-and-catalog company in Paoli, Pa. Stacks and Stacks carries more than 5,000 products on its Web site, ranging from a simple canvas bag ($9.99) that slips over the edge of a bed or couch, called the “sidekick home organizer,” to king-size bed risers — 10-inch posts, priced $72.99, used to elevate a bed and increase the storage area underneath. The site itself is extremely well organized.

Get Organized has a smaller selection of products online yet offers several Web-only specials, another advantage to cyber shopping. In addition to “specials of the week” and “specials of the season” posted on the Homepage, customers can sign up for periodic e-mails, which contain super bargains for Internet customers only. “Web shoppers are super savvy and will shop around anyway, so you have to give them a reason to shop online [at your store],” says Carol Lynn, the company’s Internet manager. The Web site is easy to navigate with neatly organized departments headed by colorful file tabs.

Teri Goldberg is MSNBC.com’s shopping writer. Write to her at