How to Organize Your Stuff

Learn how to organize all of the stuff that accumulates while working on a project.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #112

A reader has a problem storing stuff. His name is Alex, and he writes:

I’m studying photography and electronics. I have all kinds of items laying around in my room. Some are closely related, like lenses and camera bodies. Others are totally unrelated and I only have one of each. I bought some bins, thinking it would make sorting stuff out a lot easier. But guess what--I'm wrong! I can't think of what labels to put on those bins. Can you help me out?

Alex has a problem. He’s a student studying photography and electronics. In fact, he’s even building a steam-powered robotic arm. Or he would, if he could find the parts. He has all kinds of items laying around. Some are closely related, like lenses and camera bodies, whereas others are totally unrelated. He bought bins, thinking it would make sorting stuff easier. And it would, except for one small problem: how should he label those bins?

How to Organize Stuff

I feel Alex’s pain. I was once a student, too, in a single, cluttered room. Now I’m a professional with an apartment that has six cluttered rooms. It makes me a really good consumer. Since I can never find anything, I just buy new stuff whenever I need it. Like umbrellas. There are between 10 and 20 of them laying around. If it weren’t for me, umbrella manufacturers would be petitioning for a bailout.

What we both need is a place for everything and everything in its place. If we need a piece of paper, we should know right where to go. When we want our books, we go to our book place. When we want email, we go to our computer hutch. When we’re trying to hatch chicken eggs for a biology project, we go to our incubator and make an offering on the altar of Heket, the Egyptian fertility frog god.

How to Organize Stuff with Bins

First of all, buy bins to keep stuff in. Don’t get bins that are too big, or you’ll waste space. Don’t get bins that are too small, or you’ll have robot arms and legs sticking out everywhere. You don’t want them coming to life to strangle you in your sleep, so you may even consider bins with lids.

Put everything involved with a single project or class together in one bin, or in bins that are side by side. That way, when you decide it’s time to work on that project or class, everything you need is at your fingertips. If it’s photography time, your camera and lenses are right there.

In your follow-up email to me, you said your steam-powered robotic arm needs a boiler from a coffee maker, gears from old watches, and a laser out of an old burner.  You want to put all of those together in one bin, so they are all there when you need them. That way, you won’t accidentally disassemble your working coffee maker at the end of an all-night assembly marathon; you’ll need that coffee to make it to class!

How to Organize Stuff with Labels

Label your bins so you know what goes where. When you first put stuff in the bins, you’ll remember what goes where. In six months, though, you’ll be walking back to your room through the rain, after a bad breakup that’s the direct result of a misguided Tequila dare and you won’t have any idea which bin stores your weekly supply of hangover-B-gone. Write your labels neatly, in big letters, so you can easily read them through the tears. There’s no better way to drown your sorrows than assembling a robotic arm.

And by the way, use removable labels, so you can re-use bins for future classes.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.