Craft supplies. Let’s be honest, we all have them! Whether we’re talking about a glue stick and a pair of scissors in the drawer or a big tub full of supplies or a desk so laden with bits and pieces of this and that…there should be a desk surface under there somewhere, right? Whether it’s taken over a room, whether it’s taken over a closet, whether it lives in that bin shoved in the corner or whether it’s taken over the dining room table…
We all have craft supplies to varying degrees. But what on earth do you do with them when you’re not actually using them?
Craft supplies are probably some of the trickiest things to get organized and keep organized. I wish there was a quick and easy answer to this one, but the truth of the matter is, there’s not! So refill your coffee because we’re going to tackle this tricky task one phase at a time…
Phase 1 :: Define
Before you get overwhelmed, let’s start with the basics. And I mean really basic! Start by answering these three questions:
- What type of craft supplies do you have? Sewing? Scrapbooking? Paper crafting? Children’s art supplies? Painting? Jewelry making? Rubber stamping?
- Where do you want your craft supplies to live? Do you want them all in a specific room? Or in a specific closet? Or perhaps you have multiple categories of craft supplies and each one lives in a different space. If that’s so, where do you want each category to live?
- Do you have any containers, bins, drawers, shelves, or anything else you specifically purchased to hold craft supplies? Or any containers designed to hold craft supplies? For example, if you work with a lot of small beads perhaps you have a container that’s subdivided to keep the colors separate. Or if you work with paper crafting, perhaps you have a drawer set or a shelf set with very shallow drawers or shelves to hold paper flat and separated out by color.
Okay, do you have the answers to the three questions above? Great! Do you know where all those specific containers you purchased to hold your crafts are? Do you at least know they’re somewhere in that pile of craft supplies? Fantastic! On to Phase 2!
Phase 2 :: Where to Begin
It’s tempting to sit down in the middle of all the craft supplies and get started, isn’t it? Can I tell you a secret? That’s a great recipe for overwhelm! (Yup, been there done that!) Before you sit down and start sorting, you need to take a moment and figure out where to begin.
Go back to your answers from the questions in Phase 1, specifically the answer to number 2: Where in your space do you want your craft supplies to live? Is that space cleared out? If you’re anything like me, that space is probably covered in craft supplies!
Here’s what you do: Start in that spot. Start in the spot where you want your craft supplies to live, even if that spot is the middle of the craziness right now. You see, it’s going to get really frustrating if you begin working on this massive area of craft supplies, starting from the outer edges, organizing and putting everything neatly away in containers. But if you don’t have a spot to put your supplies and containers, they’re just going to pile up behind you as you move deeper and deeper into the craft supplies. There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling like you’re making progress only to look behind you and realize the stuff behind you feels as messy as the stuff in front of you!
Now, you might be thinking: This is impossible! I want to organize the desk but the desk is buried in all the craft supplies! I want to use this closet for my craft supplies but it’s overflowing so much I can’t close the door! How do I start in a space I can’t even get to? I get it! Can I tell you a secret? Sometimes things have to look a bit messier before they get fully organized!
Don’t worry about how you’re going to get it done just yet – that’s what the rest of these phases are for! Just worry about identifying where you want to start.
Do you have your starting spot yet? Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave you in the mess! Let’s move on to Phase 3…
Phase 3 :: Sorting the Craft Supplies
You’ve your framework, your big picture by answering the questions in Phase 1. You have your starting place that you identified in Phase 2. Now it’s time to start organizing those supplies!
To get started, you’re going to need a few things at your side (or in your back pocket). They are:
- Trash container (or bag)
- Sharpie (a pen will work, too)
- Masking tape or Sticky Notes
- Containers (all those empty, specific containers you have for holding your craft supplies)
- Extra boxes for sorting (Tip: Cardboard boxes – even cereal boxes- make great holding containers until you can find the nicer ones. And, if the cardboard boxes are not beat up too bad, they make excellent free containers themselves!)
- A large cardboard (or plastic) box
- Music! (Who wants to work in complete silence?)
Now that you have your supplies, here’s where you start:
You’re going to use the large cardboard (or plastic) box as your ‘holding zone.’ In other words, clear off the starting place you chose in Phase 2 – your desk, closet, shelf, corner, or wherever. Take all the items out of this area – off of the shelf, out of the drawers, off of the desk, you get the picture. Place all these items in the large box to await their sorting and new home.
Now that this area is clear, pick a small pile or section of craft supplies right next to that area and start sorting. Use the extra boxes you collected to hold the groupings of supplies while you sort.
But how do you sort it? Well, you put like with like. What I mean is, put all the spools of ribbon in the same box and only the spools of ribbon. (Remember those containers you found and the extra cardboard boxes you grabbed in Phase 2? These are the containers you’re using right now!) Yarn goes with yarn. Yarn tools (knitting needles, plastic canvas, etc.) go with yarn tools. Rubber stamps go with rubber stamps. Markers go with markers. Paint goes with paint. Fabric goes with fabric… You get the picture!
Here’s where the beauty of Step 1 comes in: As you start sorting your supplies and creating your temporary boxes, you have a clear space to set the boxes! If you cleared off a few shelves in your closet, place the boxes on the shelves! If you started in a drawer, you can place things directly in the drawer where they belong.
Now, keep in mind that where you place these boxes is still flexible. In fact, you may not have found the final box where you want to keep these supplies yet! But this temporary box will help you keep this pile contained until you find the right bin for those supplies.
Don’t forget: You’re starting to bring order to the chaos by gathering your craft supplies into boxes by category. This box or that box might not be in the exact right spot at this moment, but you know where it is and what it’s holding as you continue sorting through your craft supplies. And when that perfect spot for those supplies is clear, you can move them into their new home.
When you use a box, label it using your sticky notes or masking tape! This allows you to remember what category is in that box and it’s really easy to relabel the box if you need to shift your piles around. If you love labels like I do, never fear! You’ll label everything at the end, promise! The big idea behind these temporary labels is to make sure your craft items are in their permanent homes before you put the permanent labels on the boxes!
This is the ‘rinse and repeat’ part. They key here is to keep sorting. To keep going through all those supplies bit by bit and place them together with the other supplies in the correct category.
Every time you pick something up, make sure you place it in the box where it belongs. It’ll be very tempting to start a pile of ‘“random” things. But here’s the thing: If you allow yourself to build up a pile of random items, you’ll end up in the same place where you started. You’ll end up with a huge pile of random craft supplies that you have to sort through all over again. So even though it might feel hard, do your best to put each item you pick up into the correct spot right away.
Phase 4 :: Where does it all go?
Now that you have the big idea for how to sort through your craft supplies, what happens when you start actually sorting through the supplies? How do you know what goes where? How do you know what to keep or what to get rid of? Let’s talk through some specifics…
When you come across things that are unusable, don’t be afraid to throw them away! I’m talking about those tiny bits of paper that collect or a broken tool or maybe glue spilled on something and it just got gross. Your goal isn’t to simply keep everything, but to keep the things you use and organize them in a way where you can find them and use them!
What about those items that are in your stash, but you’re just not using? Well, if you haven’t used it in a long time and you have no plans or desire to use it in the future, it’s time to lovingly release it. Grab a box or a bag and start putting the supplies you’re ready to release in this container. Perhaps you have a friend who could use those supplies or perhaps you could donate them to a local school or community center or GoodWill. If the supplies are in good shape, but you’re not using them, why wouldn’t you bless someone else with them?
As for the rest of your supplies, keep sorting them into their piles or boxes with the other things like them. Now, keep in mind this will take a different amount of time for everyone! Some people have very few craft supplies and can accomplish this is a few hours or less. But if your craft supplies have taken over a room of your house, this is going to be a project that will take some time! Don’t be discouraged by the amount of time it takes. Instead, be encouraged as you see organization breaking through the chaos of your craft area!
Phase 5 :: Get Creative with Your Containers
Once you have things sorted into your holding boxes, you want to begin to put them into a container that makes sense for their size. You wouldn’t want to put a handful of straight pins in a refrigerator box, would you? No! You want a container that will reflect not only the amount of items you have, but the size of those items. For example, 5,000 straight pins are going to take up a lot less room and need a much smaller container than 5,000 jars of paint.
Now, before you run out to the store or jump online and see all those incredible, drool-worthy organizing boxes and subdivided containers that can (and do!) help you contain your craft supplies, stop and think. It’s so easy to go out or click and buy these containers on impulse because it feels like they hold the answer to your organizing struggles. But here’s the question: What if they’re not the right size for your supplies? What if you get the container home only to find out that it’s too big or too small for the space you have to hold your supplies? What happens then? Well, those lovely, cute, amazing, helpful containers turn in to clutter. Ouch! That’s the opposite of your goal!
So, what do you do? You stop and think. You sort through your supplies and you use the containers you have on hand, the ones you already own, first. When you’re all done sorting and moving your craft supplies from the holding containers into their permanent containers and you need some more containers, by all means, go and get some! But when you purchase containers, do so knowing what will go inside them and the space you have to hold them. (And, yes, this does involve a tape measure!)
The key here is to be creative and think outside the box on this one. (Yes, I do see the irony of thinking outside the box as we’re talking about placing things into boxes. I’ll refill my coffee while you enjoy that one!) Here are some of my suggestions on ways to use “standard” containers to contain craft supplies:
- Spools of ribbons, when neatly rolled up, can fit beautifully into a shoe box (cardboard or plastic).
- Spools of ribbons can also be lined up on a dowel rod for easy access and then placed in a box and suspended in your space.
- Writing utensils (pens, markers, pencils) can fit into a clear pen pouch so you can see what’s inside before opening the container.
- Writing utensils can also be placed into a jar or tall box or a container that spins, allowing you to see all the colors as they stand up.
- Straight pins can fit into a small plastic container.
- Spools of thread can fit into a drawer or a shoebox (plastic or cardboard)
- Ink pads can be stacked up in a drawer or on a shelf.
- Ink pads can be neatly stacked into a shoebox or even a smaller box (depending on how many you have).
- Stencils can lay in a low, wide plastic container to keep them flat (similar to a container that holds 12”x12” paper).
- Yarn can be rolled up neatly and stored in a plastic shoebox or a plastic shoebox designed to hold boots. This will hold more yarn and the clear plastic allows you to see the colors.
- Yarn can be rolled up neatly and stored in a large basket. This keeps it easily accessible as well as making it a decorative piece!
Phase 6 :: Keeping it Organized
Now that you’ve taken all this time and spent all this energy to organize your craft supplies, you want to keep them where they are right now, right? Absolutely! Hands-down, one of the best ways I know to keep things where they should be is to use labels!
Remember how you started labeling all the boxes and bins with sticky notes or masking tape back in Phase 3? This is your chance to get rid of those temporary labels and create beautiful ones that will last. The only question is, what type of label will you choose?
- Print out labels onto plain white stickers from your computer
- Purchase fancy stickers and print on them from your computer
- Hand write labels onto plain white stickers
- Purchase pretty, scalloped stickers and hand-write your labels
- Go for a chalkboard look and hand write your labels
- Handwrite or paint the label onto the box itself
The only thing that limits you here is your imagination! Make them as pretty or as plain, as simple or as complex as you want. The biggest thing to remember with labels is this: You have to be able to read it! You see, the label gives you a guide to know what’s in each container without having to open the container and to know what to put back into that container. This simple act of labeling will help you tremendously moving forward.
And it also help other people who use your craft supplies! They won’t have to constantly ask you where things are. They can read the labels and know where to find things and where to put them away!
The second big tip on keeping things organized is this: Put your supplies away where they belong as soon as you’re done using them! I know, I know, this one sounds so incredibly simple. It sounds almost too simple, doesn’t it? Yet it’s so often overlooked! The simple act of putting a few supplies away when you’re done using them saves all that clutter buildup. It keeps your workspace clear. It allows you to walk over to your space and start creating right away without having to first find a space to work in. It allows you to know where your supplies are without any guesswork. And it can even save you money! If you know where your supplies are and what supplies you have, there’s no need to run to the store simply because you can’t find that thing you know you had at one point but you just can’t find now.
Phase 7 :: Really thinking outside the box
Did you know that just because a craft supply container is made to organize one specific type of supplies doesn’t automatically mean it’s the right type of container for you? We talked about this one a bit in Phase 5. You see, this one can get tricky. It’s like there’s this unchallenged assumption that the people who created these containers know what they’re doing and they know best, so you have this desire to buy what they create without considering your unique situation.
Now, I’m not doubting that the creators of these containers know what they’re doing. If they didn’t know what they were doing they wouldn’t be selling their containers! However, the designer of the container hasn’t been to your home! They don’t necessarily know what’s best for you and your space. They can make suggestions, but it’s up to you to determine whether or not what they designed is best for you, your space, and your supplies. And this goes for small containers as well as large containers. Let me give you some examples to explain better:
A painter likes to paint outdoors. So, she purchased a toolbox to hold all of her paint supplies. Brilliant, right? The tool box has trays for the brushes, a large space underneath for the paint, and more. It’s compact, comes with a handle and works beautifully. However, it was created as a tool box! I’m guessing the creator of that toolbox was thinking about tools when they created it, not paint and paint supplies! Yet, by thinking outside the box, this toolbox became the perfect container for this painter.
A scrapbooker wants to have a place to put all her scrapbooking supplies. So, she purchased a valise on wheels thinking it will hold everything. Sadly, when she got the valise home and placed all her supplies in it, not all of the supplies fit. On top that, it was very difficult to get to the supplies in the valise without taking most of them out. In this case, the purchase of something that was created specifically to help organize scrapbooking materials ended up in wasted money and causing frustration.
A mom of young children wants to keep craft supplies for her children to enjoy. She wants to keep some things (drawing paper, colored pencils) accessible at all times while keeping other supplies (paint, play-doh, scissors) nearby but restricted. After thinking through this challenge, she purchased a piece of furniture that was intended to be used as a wardrobe to hold all these supplies. The wardrobe had double doors allowing a child lock to hold the wardrobe shut. (And keeping the walls safe from the paint without adult supervision!) One side of the wardrobe came with shelves, however, the other side had only one shelf at the very top and a clothing rod. She chose not to install the clothing rod and instead asked her husband to make a custom shelving unit to fit inside the wardrobe. She measured the containers she wanted to place in there to be sure they would all fit. Once the custom shelving unit was made, all the bins she wanted to fit in the wardrobe fit beautifully.
My goal here is not to make you jealous or to tell you how to store your craft supplies. My goal is to help you see that sometimes you need to challenge yourself to think outside the box to come up with the right solution for you and your family. Your solution could include purchased items, hand made items, or a combination of both. The key is, does it work for you and your family? Will this way of organizing your craft supplies serve you well?
Remember: this is your organizational system. You determine what it looks like.
You’ve heard me say this over and over before: The best organizational system for you is one that you help create and one that you can keep going. Your system will be unique to you! It will not look just like anyone else’s.
You can do this! It may take time. It may take a long time depending on how big your craft stash is, but keep going. You will love the end result. You’ve got this!
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Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.