And everything in its place

Storage & organization… sort of

Like most folks, I’ve got a lot of bits and bobs lying about. While working on the HPi, I collected a whole mess of screws and standoffs of different sizes and types; another project I’ve got in the works has me loaded up with assorted small toggle switches and electronic components. I’ve also got small cables to keep track of — cellphone cables, extensions for Raspberry Pi ports, audio cables — and they are easy to lose and get in the way if they aren’t organized. I had to admit to my dentist that I hadn’t changed my electric toothbrush head as I should have because, although I knew I had some on hand, I wasn’t sure where they were.

That prompted me to do some cleaning and reorganization and I am happy to report that I found the brushheads and put a new one into use. Better still, I won’t lose them again because now I have a specific, labeled place to keep them. Yes, this is all about storing and organizing your stuff. As if I were some sort of expert and not Oscar Madison reincarnated.

First, however, let me digress. I want to talk about Pizza. There is a pizza place that opened up in the mall near my house called Blaze pizza. They make a decent pizza and are very popular with the kids from the two nearby high schools and the university next door. This is, in large part, because their pizzas are relatively inexpensive (about $10) and you get to put whatever toppings you like on it. You walk down the line telling the person making the pizza what you want as you go. It is then cooked in an open front oven in just a few minutes. Personally, I like my pizza with a lot of sliced ham and grape tomatoes. It just works. I don’t go there often, but when I do, I always pick up a couple of the boxes they have for leftover pizza.

A stack of Blaze Pizza half boxes filled with cables and connectors.

When you order a pizza to go, they put it in a normal square box. If you have leftover pizza, however, they have half-size pizza boxes you can take. I usually get take out and get two of the half-size boxes. They’re nice because they don’t take up as much room in the fridge but they’re nicer still because they are great for storing miscellaneous cables, connectors, and, yes, toothbrush heads. I have a stack of them in my office and another in my bedroom. I use a sharpie to write the contents on the front and the top so I can find the one I want quickly and easily. They stack well and will fit on even the narrowest of shelves. They’re not terribly tall so they won’t hold larger items or too much of something; they pretty much hold the right amount.

Plastic Storage Boxes with Multiple Compartments.

For smaller items, such as screws, LEDs, and standoffs, I have become quite fond of the Plastic Compartmented Storage Cases sold by Dollar Tree. At a buck apiece, they’re hard to beat no matter what, but they actually have some features I appreciate as much as the price. First, they’re completely clear, not frosted or cloudy as some others are. I like that because it makes it easier to see the contents. They’re a relatively small size, but not too small. They fit nicely for storage without being too small for most components. Some compartmented boxes like this come with removable dividers you can insert to make smaller compartments or remove to make larger sections but these have fixed dividers. I don’t really care for the removable dividers but even if I did, I would happily give them up for the other big feature of these boxes: The bottoms are actually round.

When you have a container with straight sides and a flat bottom and you want to get out a small screw or bead or other item, it can be difficult because the items get caught in the corner between the side and the bottom. With these boxes, however, there is no corner on the front or back of each compartment so it is very easy to slide an item up to the top of the divider and grab it. To me, working with small parts, this is definitely worth not being able to customize the layout. And, given the price, I can always just buy an extra one and use multiple sections for the same item.

Storage boxes with labels describing the contents.

Labeling the cardboard pizza boxes with a sharpie works well, but that’s a bit too permanent for these reusable cases. So instead of writing on them, I turn to some handy-dandy labels I actually bought for another purpose — labeling USB flash drives and SD cards. I was getting quite annoyed at having to put a bunch of thumb drives in the computer to find the one I was looking for, even if the one I was looking for was one I could re-use. Enter these removable 0.5″ x 0.75″ labels from Avery. I bought a thousand of them for well under $10 and I’ve used them all over the place. They’re great for labeling these multi-compartment cases: I put one on the lid above each compartment that’s in use as well as one on the end with the type of items in the case so I don’t have to sort through them to find what I need.

All in all, I’m feeling pretty organized these days, between my stacks of pizza boxes and my labeled parts cases. But I’m sure there’s plenty of room for improvement; what are your tricks and tips for keeping clutter in check?

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