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Get organized and shop smart

The start of the year is the perfect time to keep that New Year's resolution and get organized. By Teri Goldberg

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions but the last week of every year — also known as “dead week” — I take on all the mundane organizational tasks I pushed aside in the first 51 weeks. Of course, ever year, the very same tasks spill into the next year, and then the cycle repeats itself. This year, I’m determined will be different.

Let me say upfront. It’s not that I’m disorganized. It’s the opposite. My house is like “a filing cabinet,” is how a former editor described my humble abode. I have a file for everything, from stories I wrote in elementary school to a file for each story I’ve written for MSNBC.com. I also can retrieve almost anything I’ve stored at a moment’s notice. But in the end, there is just too much stuff.

The incentive to de-clutter, of course, is buying cool new organizing products. And these days, there are almost as many cool products to de-clutter as there is clutter. The key, as always, is to shop smart.

Piler or filer?
So before you invest in cool, new containers or hire someone to design California closets, analyze your physical space. Start by looking at old spaces in new ways, says Mona Williams, senior merchandise director at Dallas, Texas-based The Container Store, which stocks more than 10,000 storage and organizational products.

Williams suggests consumers should first think of ways to maximize already existing space. For example, install shelves near the ceiling to store items you use infrequently, such as Christmas decorations or extra blankets. Hang storage units over doors. Stash shoes on the closet floor. “If you have air in your closet, then you are not maximizing the space,” jokes Williams.

It’s not only important to sort out external space issues but also consider how you relate to/deal with clutter. “You really have to understand the person you are … to set up a system that fits your personality,” says Williams.

One of the first questions to ask is: Are you a piler or a filer? says Williams.Pilers organize tasks into loosely organized piles. Filers, like me, have developed intricate filing systems for each task, sub-task and sub-sub-task.

Bins work well for pliers. And bins made of all sorts of materials, in many sizes and shapes, are everywhere these days.

A bevy of binsHold Everything, a division of San Francisco-based Williams-Sonoma, just set up shop online this past November and has a variety of bins that easily stack to hold, well, everything. Rectangular canvas-covered cardboard boxes are natural receptacles for those loosely organized paper piles. Available in natural, red or orange, the 13-by-14 inch bins are now on sale for $14.99, reduced from $32. In contrast, round baskets with lids make great storage units for bulkier items, such as linens, sweats and socks. Crafted from natural abaca fibers, the baskets come in three colors — blue, chocolate and white (natural) — and three sizes, priced at $14, $28 and $48.

The Museum Of Useful Things

If you crave new ways to store old stuff, take a look at Cambridge, Mass.-based The Museum of Useful Things. The museum shop stocks a series of metal carts, originally designed for industrial purposes, which can easily be transformed into sturdy storage containers.

Carts suited for pilers include simple steel bins for $34, which measure 10.5-by-16.5 inches; a mesh shopping cart with a handle for $22; and a metal laundry cart on wheels for $112, similar to the kind found at the local laundry mat. (Serious shoppers may want to check out the exhibit, “Use a basket for easy shopping”  in the online museum. The cyber exhibit explains how the hand basket developed into the shopping cart on wheels.)

Functionality for fliersThe Museum of Useful Things also stocks functional products for filers. The “custodian basket,” a rectangular tray with three compartments, even lets filers separate cleaning supplies by room, task or some other system. The aluminum bin, with a sturdy handle, is also light enough to haul supplies around the house. The 10 ½-by-20 ½-inch container costs $36.

Lillian Vernon

An especially useful organizer for filers is the daily organizer at Lillian Vernon, the mail order-cyber company, traditionally known for its personalized products. The wooden letter file can be initialized but the appeal to filers is the series of the slots. The organizer has 31 slots, which lets filers sort papers and/or tasks into different days of the month. Available with a walnut or natural finish, the desktop organizer costs $39.98. It also has two small drawers at its base to stash office supplies.

Other one-stop container shops include Richmond, Calif.-based Stacks and Stacks, Hanover, Pa.-based Improvements and Space Savers, the Web site for a chain of home storage and organizational stores in North Carolina. Also, keep in mind Rubbermaid and Tupperware for simple stackable containers.

Trendier, streamlined containers can be found at Canadian-based Pure Design and Left Coast shops Design within Reach and Offi.

January is also the time for sales. The Fairfield modular collection for closets and dressers is reduced 15 percent at Hold Everything. The sale ends Jan. 31. Elfa products, the popular European-designed shelving system, are now reduced 30 percent at The Container Store. The annual sale runs through Feb. 6.

If you don’t shop online, expect long lines. January is the busiest month of the year, says Williams about The Container Store. Apparently getting organized tops many New Year’s resolution lists. It’s a lot easier than losing weight, concludes Williams.