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My Housekeeping Book!

Smart Housekeeping
The No-Nonsense Guide to Decluttering, Organizing, and Cleaning Your Home,



Smart Housekeeping




Cleaning and Cleaners




Built-In Storage

Storage Furniture

Basements, Attics, Garages

Storage Tools

Special Storage Problems

Special Storage Needs

Cleaning and Cleaners

Cleaners, Natural and Otherwise

Handheld Cleaning Tools

Thoughts about Clutter -- Storage and Clutter

The Mice Step Out! Apple Picking

Book Reviews

Product Reviews



There's a story, or maybe it's a joke, about an old man who lived in the mountains. He didn't own much, and except for daily necessities, he kept everything in a barrel in the corner. If anyone asked him where something was, he'd say, "It's over in that there bar'l." And it was.

He had storage down.

But unless you have so few possessions that they'll fit in one container, it's helpful to have a system for storing things. Saves quite a bit of time and frustration.

Storage has to be convenient, or it won't be used. It has to be intuitive--where things are kept should be the first place you'd think to look if you wanted them. It has to be easy to open the container objects are in, if there is one, easy to get the object, easy to put it back when you're done.

That's not always possible with everything you own, but you can also arrange storage based on how often things are used. That will vary with seasons, and also over time. I used to travel quite a bit for work, and my travel gear had to be handy. Now I rarely do, and it's in the most inconvenient back corner of the least-used closet. Something has to go there, so stuff I'll rarely use is the best candidate.

Built-In Storage

Built-in storage is a great thing to have. Who wouldn't like to have a floor to ceiling teak bookcase or a full-wall Craftsman sideboard?

Even if it's not that elegant, even if it's something knocked together by an almost-carpenter out of lumberyard framing wood, a built-in still uses the space as efficiently as possible.

A built-in does have a few drawbacks. Everything about it is fixed, and short of demolition, you just have to work around it. Shelf heights may be inconvenient. Drawer sizes may be inadequate. Fixed glass doors make cabinets into displays, but maybe what you want to store in them isn't particularly attractive.

If you're a renter of course, you can't change built-ins. And even if you're a homeowner, it may not be feasible. Not everyone has cabinetmaker skills, and even if you did, you might not have the time, or might have other priorities than rebuilding shelves and cabinets.

So you modify them in simple ways. If shelves are too deep, you can use baskets or folding canvas drawers to organize your stored items. If shelves are inefficient because they're too tall, you can get "helper shelves," which are small, usually metal, freestanding shelves that split a shelf in two horizantally. For glass doors, static cling window film will reduce the view without leaving any residue. This is far better than adhesive products. (If you have to scrape off adhesive paper that's already there, use a razor paint scraper. Try smooth peanut butter on the residue before resorting to chemical removers like Goo Gone. Peanut butter doesn't have nasty fumes.)

Storage Furniture

Less efficient, more flexible than built-ins. At least you can move furniture from one room to another, or even get rid of it.

Shelving and Cabinets--Some medium-size shelving units are foldable, or can be completely disassembled and reassembled, which is convenient for renters. I particularly like "Metropolitan" or "Seville" type metal units, because the shelf height is adjustable.

Cubes and Cubbies--Metal storage cubes and cubbies can be reconfigured any way that works, and some cubbies are made to fit folding fabric drawers, so you can customize any combination of shelves and drawers that works for you. Wood cubbies can't be reconfigured, but you do have the option of using any division as a shelf or a drawer.

Chests of drawers--Often, top drawers are smaller, bottom ones are larger.. As with built-in furniture, drawers are often exactly the wrong size for what you need to store. There's not much to be done about the too-small ones, but larger drawers can be subdivided so that everything doesn't end up in a heap.

Basements, Attics, and Garages

If you seldom move, and especially if you own your house, basements, attics, and garages can fill up like a personal landfill. Broken things, things you might want someday, things you're saving for your kids, or storing for someone...

I've read that many homeowners can no longer park their cars in their garages because the junk has taken over. I don't know how common this is--I do know one person who has so much stored furniture, in the garage and elsewhere, that she has no idea where even large items--such as a dining room table--might be.

I disagree strongly with some schools of thought about everyday possessions. I don't think you have to love everything you own, or even use it once a year. But they may have a point when it comes to stuffed basements, attics, and garages. If you've reached the point where you don't even know what you have stored, it's time for some radical action.

And that goes double for offsite paid storage. Do those first--stop the monthly rent drain. You're paying for those possessions over and over.

Experts in this kind of cleaning recommend devoting one or two weekend hours per week to the project until it's done. Work in a systematic way, once small area at a time. Cull out the things you don't want and put them in boxes. Trash or donate them immediately so you're not just moving junk from one side of the room to the other. Box or label the things you want to keep, and group them. Don't put off any decisions until later.

And whatever you do, don't add anything new to your storage area until you're done. If that means you have to work longer or faster, so be it. But don't make things worse while you're trying to make them better, or you'll stay stuck forever.

Once you've weeded out the items to get rid of, you should have room for shelves, or tubs, or whatever it takes to keep the stored items dry and accessible.



Yard Sales--Some people can discipline themselves to have a sale, but a sale in the future is just a distraction if you're not going to get to it. I recommend just taking the loss once, giving things away, and being done with it--unless the items have significant value, which ordinary "used stuff" does not. If you do have a sale, donate or trash unsold items immediately afterwards--don't save them for another sale. That can go on forever.

In some communities, it's legal to put unwanted items in the alley or on the parkway with a "FREE" sign on them--and they promptly disappear. Freecycle listings are another alternative. Both have the advantage that there's very little for you to do. There's a real value in getting this stuff out of your home.



Storage for Others--This kind of storage can take over basements, attics, and garages. If you have a large house, and particularly if you're the parent of one or more adults, you might begin to feel a little like you're running a storage facility. If you have several friends or relatives storing possessions with you, set up some rules and methods, or chaos will take over quickly. Assign each person a color, and have them tape their boxes with that color and label them so contents can be identified without moving things around. If items won't go in boxes, they still have to be labeled with the owner's color, so you'll know what belongs to who. Keep all of each individual's possessions together.

On a personal level, you may want to set a maximum time that you'll keep their things. Also, your homeowner's insurance may not cover other people's stuff--it's best to find out, and to find out if they have, or want, insurance of their own.


Storage Tools

Containers--Books about decluttering and organization often seem to promote fancy containers of various sorts. Trendy things in this year's colors, all from the right stores and costing a bundle. I'm all for having containers you like on open shelves--you have to look at them. But what's the point of spending serious money on containers that go in cabinets or closets, where you never see them?

So, I get pretty things for some locations and scrimp on others. The more basic, the more efficient, and ideally, the less expensive, the better.

One basic kind of storage container is various sizes of plastic totes, from small shoeboxes and food containers to storage boxes of 24 gallons or more. These have tight lids, and are easy to move and stack. But because of the way plastics are made, almost all plastic containers are tapered from top to bottom. This means that there's wasted space, and the shapes are not necessarily efficient. Filling them with soft goods like blankets is fine, but objects packed in cardboard boxes may not fit well. Plastic containers are waterproof and probably insect proof, but the sharp teeth of rats and mice can cut right through them. And they will trap any dampness that's inside them.

Small plastic storage baskets are easy to find in dollar stores and thrift stores. They work just as well as this year's decorator baskets, at a fraction of the cost. Easily washable they make it easy to organize food in cabinets, or even in the refrigerator and freezer.

For soft items like pillows and blankets, vacuum type storage cubes can save a great deal of space. They're also good for storage of woolens, because moths can't get in.

Cardboard boxes are only slightly more secure than no containers at all, but they do keep things together. To make a cardboard box easily reclosable, stick Velcro dots to the flaps. This will also make boxes stack much more neatly than if the flaps are simply folded together.



Items like chicken feed or dog kibble should be stored in clean new galvanized garbage cans with tight lids, or other completely secure containers. If you don't make it nearly impossible for rats and mice to get into things like this, they will disappear faster than you'd believe--not to mention your surprise when you open the container and little animals pop out like popcorn.

Smaller secure food storage containers for kitchen use include mason jars and metal canisters. Hard plastic tops are made for mason jars--they're more convenient than the two piece metal tops, and probably thick enough to be secure. If you use mason jars, try to stick with either the regular or the wide mouth--it's a nuisance to have tops in both sizes.

Dividers--Drawers and some cabinets are much easier to organize if you use dividers--baskets or boxes, or--my favorite--cut down, washed paper milk cartons. Anything to separate the contents into categories and keep them from becoming a tangled heap. You can also use shelf organizers that split cabinet shelves horizontally.

Vertical storage--Don't forget wall and door hung containers as possible storage solutions. Shoe bags are great for small items of all sorts, and they can be hung on walls or over doors. Wall hung baskets can hold utensils right at the location where you need them most. Small wall hung shelving units and racks can add a lot to the storage capacity of a room without taking any floor area.

Magnetic hooks can store things handily on the side of a refrigerator, washer, dryer, stove, stove hood, or microwave oven. Small magnetic baskets are handy in most of those locations as well. Get the high strength ceramic magnets. I don't use magnetic items on the refrigerator door, as the impact of opening and closing tends to make them unreliable.

Hooks and different kinds of organizers are made to hang over swinging doors. However, there does have to be enough clearance for the door to close. Over the door storage works with some doors and not with others.

Canvas shelves, cubbies, and drawers are made to hang from closet rods.

Various kinds of storage helpers are available for hanging over cabinet doors. They're useful if they work with a particular style of cabinet door, but they're not "one size fits all." Try one of a particular brand and style to make sure they work with the shape of your cabinet door before you go all-out.

Hacks--Since I see no point in spending money on things I never see, I use small boxes, zip bags, and--my favorite--cut down, washed half gallon milk cartons for dividers. Other possibilities include ice trays, egg cartons, paper beer carriers (good for rolls of foil and wrap), food storage containers, and just about any likely looking object that crosses my path.

S-hooks, hooks with ceramic magnets, tension shower curtain rods, and vertical file organizers are also useful.

Thrift stores are full of odd and interesting objects that can be used for storage, sometimes as intended, sometimes as hacks. I found a small painted wood "peg board," probably intended for neckties--but I use it for my measuring spoons in the kitchen.

Do an Internet search for "household storage hacks" for thousands of ingenious suggestions for inexpensive DIY solutions.

Special Storage Problems

Dampness--Dampness is a huge enemy of stored items. It enables mold and mildew to take over. It also makes many materials more attractive to insects. Good air circulation is helpful. Make sure there's no way for water from roof or pipe leaks to affect your storage. If you have any doubts about the humidity of your storage area, get an electronic device and measure it. Ideal humidity for stored items varies somewhat with material, but it should not be less than 30% or more than 50%. Never store anything in a space that's at risk for flooding--even if the items have little value, cleanup is a nightmare.

Temperature-- Heat and cold can both be a problem in unoccupied areas. Ideal temperature varies depending on what you're storing, but as a guideline, if it's much hotter or colder than occupied areas, that could be a problem. Attics can get very hot.

Animals--Insects and rodents are also a challenge in unoccupied or lightly occupied spaces, or where boxes of paper are stored long term. Roaches and silverfish are particularly attracted to paper, so avoid setting up bug condos.

Rodents also eat things that might surprise you--candles, for example. And of course, food and pet food items must be sealed in metal or glass--plastic is easily "opened" by little ratty teeth.

Special Storage Needs

Paper--There are two kinds of paper storage. One is temporary storage of papers you're going to discard eventually, like tax returns and appliance warranties. The other is archival storage of photo prints and artwork, things that you intend to preserve indefinitely.

For temporary storage, all you need is file folders and a box. Use a box that fits the volume of your files fairly well--if the box is too large, the files will slither to the bottom, and you'll never find anything.

Temperatures should be moderate, with reasonably good ventilation. Take precautions as listed above to avoid dampness and animals. Silverfish, roaches, and other insects eat paper, and rodents use it for nesting material. Don't store books in boxes that have been used for food.

Books -- Get professional advice for storing rare, valuable, or antique books. In addition to the precautions mentioned for avoiding dampness and animals, books should be stored away from direct intense light. Books should be stored either completely upright or completely flat, not leaning. And never store books with the spine pointing up; it will crack the binding.

Photos -- Use acid free photo boxes or archival quality photo albums. Consider scanning treasured photos as a backup for your physical copies.

Music and Videos--Store in relatively cool, low-humidity areas away from direct light. You can minimize the space needed for storage by using CD "wallets."

Textiles -- Fine textiles should not be stored in a basement or attic. They need to be in a space with good temperature control and ventilation. Store textiles flat or roll them up with archival quality paper padding. Do not fold.

Rugs are not made to hang on the wall--it stresses the warp threads.

Antiques and other fine textiles should be stored per the advice of professional fabric conservators.

Ordinary linens like sheets, towels, and tablecloths may be stored folded. If you're short of storage space, use roll-out underbed boxes for extra linens. Have enough bed and bath linens for ordinary household needs, plus a set for houseguests if you're likely to need them. I keep a couple of old towels for emergencies like dishwasher spillovers, as well.

Clothing -- Hang most crisp or tailored clothes, and dress clothes. Fold knits--hanging will stretch them out.

Rearrange clothes by season, with the ones you'll be wearing most in the most accessible part of closets and drawers. Make sure to put items made of natural fibers, especially wool and silk, in mothproof containers. Out of season clothing should be put away clean.

Clothing that isn't going to be washed after each wearing, like coats, should be aired before being returned to closets or drawers. Make sure outerwear is completely dry before putting it away.


Dishes--If you stack dishes, use separators between them to prevent scratching. Paper plates are adequate. Some people use coffee filters. I use circles of white felt.

Silver--Store in tarnish resistant cloth. Do not store silver in plastic.

Cleaning and Cleaners

When you're cleaning, music is your friend. If you can put on some loud music with a steady beat without disturbing anyone, you'll get a lot more done. If you can't, a portable music player with a headset is almost as good. I like classic rock myself, but whatever gets you moving.

Cleaners, Natural and Otherwise

Use good judgment about ventilation and hand and eye protection with any cleaner, even the natural ones.

Natural Cleaners

Many people prefer natural cleaners. However, you have to know what they're good for--none of them are all-purpose. They're also the subject of conflicting claims, sometimes with the same authority claiming that a cleaner works well for a particular use, and then saying it doesn't. Experiment and take notes about what works where--you may be quite happy with the results.

Before trying any of these products, I suggest some Internet research. Run a search including the name of the cleaner and the task you're considering it for. Be careful about which sites you consider--web sites of major manufacturers are reliable, as are those of national magazines. Avoid anything that seems to be a fad, and avoid sites that are trying to sell you something.

Vinegar--Household vinegar is diluted acetic acid. White vinegar is the kind I use, but I've seen some recommendations for apple cider vinegar as well. Its odor at the time of use is not enjoyable, but it actually helps to remove odors.

Vinegar cuts grease, which makes it a good general cleaner.

It also removes soap scum and leaves no residue of its own.

Vinegar with newspaper is often recommended for washing windows. I've tried it on mirrors, and would grade it about a B. It is better than Windex, but not streak free, and does not clean completely without some elbow grease.

Sometimes touted for removing gummy residues from labels, but I haven't had good luck with this (I've done much better with smooth peanut butter or a blow dryer).

Microwave a 50-50 mixture of vinegar and water to the boiling point for an easier job cleaning out the microwave.

Sometimes recommended for softening laundry. I haven't tried this, because you have to add it to the final rinse, and my washer isn't set up to do that automatically.

Vinegar has been found to be effective at reducing microbes, but some users feel it requires more scrubbing and "elbow grease" to remove dirt than many other cleaners do.

Vinegar does a good job of cleaning stainless steel.

Some recommend it for repelling cats, dogs, and ants.

It shouldn't be used on stone, and many sources recommend against its use on wood floors.

Lemon Juice--Lemon juice is another weak acid. While it is recommended as a cleaner by some sources, it is extremely expensive unless you own the lemon tree. (If you own a lemon tree, and it's a Meyer lemon, you probably know that this cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange is much less acidic than ordinary lemons.) Lemon juice certainly has a better odor than vinegar. It also contains some sugars, and may leave a sticky residue. On the basis of the expense alone, I would not consider it a satisfactory cleaner.

Baking Soda--Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is excellent at removing odors, and is used on musty clothes and carpets for that purpose. Some users make a paste with baking soda and water, and use this for general cleaning. I've found it hard to deal with the residue with this method. Use of baking soda on aluminum is not recommended.

Salt--Salt is used as an abrasive for cleaning, and also is recommended for cutting suds in soap and detergent solutions. It's also used in mixtures with vinegar and flour for polishing metal, although almost any real metal polish works better.

Borax--Use a mixture of 1/4 cup of borax and 1 cup of powdered sugar to kill ants. This is just strong enough that the ants take it all the way back to the colony before it kills them, so it wipes them all out, rather than just the ones who find it. A borax solution can be used as a multi-surface cleaner in bathrooms and kitchens. It's also good for removing odors from laundry.

Diatomaceous Earth--Diatomaceous earth, which is actually made of the shells of prehistoric marine algae, is an effective insecticide. It is apparently abrasive rather than poisonous. It can be used in carpet to kill fleas, and also to repel other insects. It's also effective for odor control, and can be used to deodorize cat litter boxes.

"Otherwise" Cleaners

What is and isn't natural is a gray area sometimes. I'm listing some marginal items as non-natural because they're stronger than the natural ones I've listed, and perhaps less familiar in general.

Generic non-natural commercial cleaners include many chemicals that are the active ingredients in nationally advertised brands. If you're interested in frugal cleaning, and are willing to dilute them yourself, you can save quite a bit by substituting and skipping the pretty packaging. Here are some cleaners that are available as generics or as simple chemicals.

All these cleaners should be used with protective gear on your body. Definitely gloves, and seriously consider goggles as well. Also, wear a good apron and old clothes when using strong cleaners. One problem with using straight chemicals is that they may not come with directions, so if you're in any doubt about dilution, safety procedures, storage, or appropriate uses, do some Internet research. The amount of money you save on these things is not worth the risk you take if you don't know what you're doing.

Sodium Hypochlorite (chlorine bleach) --A strong bleach and disinfectant. Various brands of household bleach range from 3% to 8% sodium hypochlorite, so you need to know what the concentration is before you can compare prices. Chlorine bleach attacks natural materials, which makes it good for extreme stain removal, but it also attacks natural fibers, so it has to be used with care. Never mix with ammonia. I use it on white laundry, but only if milder bleaching products haven't done the job. Many dishwasher detergents contain chlorine bleach. Liquid dishwasher detergent with bleach can be used undiluted for heavy cleaning of hard surfaces, or for removing burned food from the bottom of pans.

Ammonia--A strong cleaner (with breathtaking fumes). As it comes out of the bottle, it will eventually strip paint and varnish. Dilute before using--depending on what you're cleaning, the ammonia should be anywhere from about 1/5 to 1/2 of the total volume. Add the ammonia to the water, not the other way around, and you'll get less fumes. Used as a general cleaner and especially for cleaning glass. Also used as a jewelry cleaner (not for pearls!), mixed with two parts of water to one of ammonia (but do some reaseach for your particular type of jewelry before trying this.)

Oxalic Acid--A bleach and rust remover, good on some stains. This is the active ingredient in Bar Keeper's Friend, and I've seen it touted as a great replacement, much cheaper. It is much cheaper to buy straight oxalic acid. However, it has to be handled and stored as a hazardous chemical, and I don't think the economy is worth it.

Washing Soda--Washing soda (sodium carbonate) is more alkaline than baking soda, and should be used with more caution. Don't use it undiluted with bare hands. It's called "washing soda" because its traditional use is as a laundry booster--it's a helper for soaps and detergents. The manufacturer also recommends a solution of washing soda as a bathroom cleaner, for cleaning greasy kitchen items such as stove hoods and outdoor grills, and for cleaning venetian blinds and outdoor furniture. Also grease on garage floors. Follow the directions on the package to achieve good results.

Sodium Percarbonate--This is the active ingredient in OxyClean and similar products. In effect, it's solid peroxide. Used as a paste or diluted with water. If you do dilute it, you can't save the solution in a closed container--it could burst. Used as a stain remover and for removing heavy soil from hard surfaces.

Hydrogen Peroxide--Removes some stains, and is especially good for blood stains on fabrics. Some people use it as a general cleaner--I'm a bit wary because of its use as a bleach. It is antibacterial, so is often used as a cleaner for bathroom fixtures. Once you open a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, it begins to deteriorate, and will be ineffective in about a year.

Isopropyl Alcohol--This is available in various strengths, from about 70% alcohol to somewhere in the 90s. Surprisingly, the weaker version is a better disinfectant--the stronger kind evaporates too fast to work as well. Alcohol is flammable, so keep that in mind. Used for cleaning mirrors, stainless steel, kitchen sponges, dry erase boards, and stains on microfiber. Because of its fast evaporation, the stronger kind is used for cleaning electronic items.

Epsom Salts--Used for cleaning crusted pots and pans, as well as for removing soap scum from tile and grout.

For recommended proprietary cleaning products, see Product Reviews below.

Handheld Cleaning Tools

Note: Larger floor care tools will be discussed in March.

Probably if you asked ten good housekeepers for a list of favorite handheld tools, you'd get ten different lists. Partly, that depends on what jobs need to be done in your household. I don't pretend to be the last word on good tools, but here are some thoughts:

Manual Tools


I've used feather dusters and lamb's wool, and one or two synthetics that were billed as dust magnets. I prefer the lamb's wool. If you have high ceilings, it's helpful to have a duster with an extension handle.


I find ordinary flat scrub brushes to be clumsy and not very effective. The brushes I use are:

Brushes that look like toothbrushes, but with very stiff nylon bristles. You'd probably be most likely to find these in the paint section of a hardware store. They're good for narrow spaces.

Bottle brushes--I have a couple of sizes. Good for bottles and other hard-to-reach items.


I use a lot of cleaning cloths. They're inexpensive, washable, and will clean most things that you can reach them into.

Dishcloths--Kitchen use. I don't use them on dishes, but for wiping down counters and cabinets, general cleaning.

Bar mop cloths--I use these for cleaning cloths in the bathroom. Their distinctive texture signals me where to store them when I sort laundry.

Utility terry cloths--I get these at the hardware store, and use them for heavy cleaning. They are rough terrycloth, so they're somewhat abrasive. Since they're white, they can be bleached.

Flour sack towels--These are what I use for kitchen towels, and when they get stained, they get demoted to the box of heavy cleaning cloths.

I tried a patented cloth made of nylon and polyester microfiber, and was very impressed. I was able to clean a fairly messed up oven with just the cloth and water. However, I felt it was too expensive to use regularly, considering that ordinary cloths were serving me well 95% of the time.


Mesh--These may be nylon, stainless steel, or copper. They work well enough, but if they're used on food, they're very hard to clean.

Fiber Pads--Sold under trade names such as "Scotch Brite." Effective enough, but awkward to use and store.

Steel wool pads -- Available with or without soap. You can get soapless steel wool as fine as 0000, which is smooth enough to clean glass, if you're careful. The soaped kind are very effective cleaners, but they are also heavy duty and rough, something I'd use as a last resort.


Either plain or with a scrubbing pad on one side. Sponges absorb germs and dirt. You can either soak them briefly in a mild bleach solution, microwave them for a minute or two saturated with clean water, or put through the dishwasher with a heat-dry setting. You can also soak them in full strength vinegar for five minutes. I prefer to soak them overnight in water with a squirt of liquid dishwasher detergent in it--that contains bleach, so it disinfects them, and it removes stains, too.

Some writers suggest putting sponges through the washing machine, but that's not very effective, and I always forget and run them through the dryer, too, which is probably not a good idea.

White melamine sponges are great for removing marks from walls and woodwork, cleaning outdoor furniture, and numerous other tasks. They don't last long, though, especially if you squeeze them much. I keep them on hand for jobs where cloths and regular sponges aren't working.

Electric Tools


I love battery powered scrubbers. They come in different sizes, and with sets of brushes that will go just about anywhere. They spare your hands and wrists, and are well worth the money. Some are available with long handles for scrubbing showers and similar hard-to-reach places.

Handheld Vacuums

I go back and forth about these. For my purposes, they don't seem to be worth the storage space. You probably do need one for vacuuming your car, though.

Handheld Carpet Cleaners

Essential if you have both pets and carpet. Even well-trained pets sometimes have accidents.

Thoughts about Clutter -- Storage and Clutter

Storage space and clutter are related in obvious ways. You have to have a place for things, or there's no "away" that goes with the need to put them away. The place should be the first place you'd look, so that you don't wonder where the item is.

There's a little more to it than that, though. One thing that tripped me up a time or two--it has to be easy to put the object in the place you've chosen, or you won't. I had some office supplies in a little box with a hinged top, and the box just fit in a drawer. It seemed like a good solution. But to open the box, I had to slide the drawer all the way out, because it did "just fit." When I slid the drawer out, it usually fell out of the chest, because it wasn't very well built, and it had no stops. So then everything fell out of the drawer...

When I was in a hurry, which was usually, I'd just dump things in the drawer instead of going to the trouble of dealing with the box. I finally took the whole mess apart and substituted an open box for the one with the hinged lid.

Toyboxes for kids are another place where it's important to think about convenience. Kids probably aren't going to be too meticulous about toy storage. If they have to dig to the bottom of a toybox to get what they want, they may leave toys scattered all over the floor once they do find it. On the other hand, a toybox does make it easy to put things away. Some people prefer low shelves so the toys are more accessible and easier to put back. So you have to consider what works for your child.

Something that looks convenient--and isn't--is the way housekeeping books and magazines sometimes display towel storage. They'll show open shelves filled with lush looking stacks of brand-new towels. All folded neatly and identically, with the edges lined up perfectly, the whole photograph arranged by professional stagers. Do you have any idea how much time it would take you each week to fold your towels that perfectly? Or how much it would cost to replace all your towels that have a little puckering or a little fading, but still do a fine job of getting you dry?

The more often you use something, the more convenient the storage space should be. High shelves are for things you use infrequently. Also, you should be able to see what things on high shelves are without climbing up and taking them down, including what's in boxes. Label any boxes so the contents can be identified without handling the box. It's a good idea to put smaller, lighter things on high shelves--it's not easy to wrestle with large, heavy objects that are above your head, and using a ladder to reach them doesn't make it a whole lot easier.

If your storage is inconvenient, it won't be used. And then you get confusion. And clutter.


The Mice Step Out! Apple Picking

Click here to see the Mice's fall trip to an apple orchard.


Book and Magazine Reviews

Most books about storage are clearly for homeowners--homeowners with lots of time, money, and carpentry skills. And huge houses. And maybe an interior decorating consultant on staff. Books about tiny house living may contain a few tips, but none that I saw were especially helpful. These books are more realistic for the average person who's trying to get some order in an ordinary home or apartment.


Garage, Attic, and Basement Storage
Sunset Books

Many useful suggestions. Recommended.


Clutter Rescue
Good Housekeeping
Hearst Books

Practical suggestions for affordable storage solutions. Recommended.


Organize Your Home
Better Homes and Gardens
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

My first impression was negative. Pretty pictures of expensive organizing solutions. A second look revealed some very practical suggestions. Recommended, but beware of the glossy photos.


The One-Minute Organizer A to Z Storage Solutions: 500 Tips for Storing Every Item in Your Home
Donna Smallin

Great advice. Organized in alphabetical order of item to be stored. Recommended.


Speed Cleaning
Jeff Campbell and The Clean Team
Rodale Press

Campbell owns a company that sells cleaning products, and to some extent, the book promotes his products. However, his methods are so good that the book is far more than an advertisement. Excellent source, and you actually don't have to buy his products to benefit from it. Recommended.


Homekeeping Handbook
Martha Stewart
Clarkson Potter

Covers both storage and cleaning topics, as well as many others. Encyclopedic in scope. Recommended.


Do I Dust or Vacuum First?
Don Aslett
Adams Media

Good advice on a wide variety of specific problems. Recommended.


Who Says It's a Woman's Job to Clean?
Don Aslett
Writer's Digest Books

Good basic information for beginners, delivered with humor. Recommended.


Cleaning Plain and Simple
Donna Smallin

Good cleaning tips. Recommended.


869 New Uses for Old Things
Real Simple

A book of storage hacks and other improvistions. Recommended.


Consumer Reports Magazine (and Books)

The best authority on household products of all kinds. Publishes yearly summaries. Most libraries have both books and magazines. Some articles available online.


Design Ideas for Home Storage
Elaine Martin Petrowski
Creative Homeowner

Too construction oriented and too heavy on professional interior design to be practical for most of us. Not recommended.


Sidetracked Home Executives
Pam Young and Peggy Jones
Grand Central Publications

Didn't really work for me. Not recommended.


Sink Reflections
Maria Cilley

Another book that I didn't find helpful. Not Recommended.

Product Reviews

I have no financial interest in any of these companies, and have not received anything in exchange for my recommendations.

Recommended Products:

Moisture Absorbers--These are containers of moisture absorbent crystals that come in tubs or in bags with a hanger hook. They're better than nothing, but expensive and inconvenient to dispose of. Good for emergencies like moisture from broken pipes, but if you have a chronic moisture problem, a dehumidifier is far more effective. The moisture absorber brand I've used is Damp Rids. They're moderately effective, but the scented ones smell like gas station restrooms. Fortunately, they do make them fragrance-free.

Glass Cleaner --I've used Invisible Glass, Armor All Auto Glass Cleaner, and Glass Wax. All are superior to grocery store glass cleaners such as Windex.

All Purpose Cleaner--Greased Lightning

Mothers Mag and Aluminum Polish--Works well on all metals, including silver. Much better than most other metal polishes I've used, but the fumes are a problem. I'm most likely to use this on secondhand pieces I buy that have been abused and neglected. I've used several polishing products from this manufacturer, and this is the best by a small margin, but they're all good.

Twinkle Copper Polish--Works fine for regular maintenance of metals, and the odor is unobjectionable.

Black and Decker Power Scrubber--Comes with large and small brushes and with fiber scrubbing pads.

Rubbermaid Reveal Power Scrubber--Smaller than the Black and Decker, with brushes for crevices.

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser--Works very well on walls and plastics.

Bissell SpotLifter Cordless Carpet Cleaner

Supplier: Brushes, Other Cleaning Tools, and Cleaners--The Clean Team


Not Recommended:

Blitz Silver Care Polish

Hagerty 10080 Silversmiths' Silver Polish

Any Windex glass cleaning product, along with knockoffs and generics. Regardless of advertisements, they are all hopelessly streaky.

Command Hooks - They stick when you want to take them off, and fall off when you need them to stick.

Anything held on by suction--I've never yet had one work for long.


Felted mice by Diyana Stankova

Toy Chest by BlueBonnetLadies

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