Cheap Storage Solutions From The Non-Consumer Advocate

by Katy on February 28, 2013 · 21 comments

If there’s anything I love more than my husband and kids, it’s attractively stored stuff. Matching containers holding easy to find and logically corralled tidbits? Katy like!

And before you get all “that chick be crazy,” let me defend my thesis, as I know I’m not alone.

Attractive storage is huge business, whether it’s for kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, cars or offices. The Container Store holds such a draw for me that I have deliberately never step foot on the premises, even though the Portland location sits just a few short blocks away from my favorite Goodwill. Why? Because I know I would posses pretty much zero self discipline once I passed their threshold. (I just spent a few minutes looking through their website, and literally felt an endorphin release that tingled the tips of my toes.) It’s better I just stay away from their wallet emptying and cleverly designed products.

Luckily, I’m still able to get my organizational rocks off while shopping from lowly thrift shops and free piles. The key is to keep a consistent storage aesthetic that is also functional. In other words, not a plastic bin next to a wicker basket next to a metal tin.

My medicine cabinet recently underwent an organizational makeover due to someone’s Goodwill donation of a sh¶tload of sugar packet containers. I already owned one from a free pile awhile back, so I knew they fit perfectly in my medicine cabinet, while also providing perfect storage for odds and ends like Q-tips, alcohol wipes and such. (Note that I keep Bandaids in vintage tins, which I consider to be the height of sophistication!)

Cost of this upgrade? $2.97.

The Non-Consumer Advocate: Medicine cabinet


The recent makeover for my 17-year-old son’s desk also included a few storage solutions, including a standing paper organizer. It’s hard to tell in the photo, but it’s Isaac Mizrahi for Target. Of course for me, it was Isaac Mizrahi for Goodwill. 

Cost? $1.99

The Non-Consumer Advocate: Desk storage


Art supplies: My house = Godzilla: Tokyo. So when I spied this drawered organizer on someone’s curb, I screeched to a halt killing a family of squirrels who were crossing the street without harming anyone. The drawers were labeled with a Sharpie, but a minute or two with alcohol wipes erased all memory that the top drawer was for “Pokemon cards.”

Cost? Free!

The Non-Consumer Advocate: Organizer drawers

My now high school sons’ elementary school lunches were organized using some awesome Korean-made containers that I picked up during a 2005 trip to New York City. I fell in love with their perfect and adjustable food cubbies! Unfortunately my sons both lost their lids within a few years, which pretty much made them useless for their intended purpose. Luckily, I am an alternate use ninja, (real thing, I promise!) so I now utilize the lower halves for my kitchen junk drawer. They work so perfectly for this purpose, you’d think it was their original design.

Cost: Free! (Otherwise would have been garbage.)

The Non-Consumer Advocate: Junk drawer storage

The last organizational porn item I’ll share today is familiar to many of you, although I love it so much you can’t stop me from sharing it over and over again. Yes, it’s my Mod-Podged fabric drawer organizer.  (Made from cereal boxes, leftover Goodwill/Ikea fabric and Mod-Podge.) It’s still hard at work keeping my desk drawer organized with love and logic.

Cost? The price of the Mod-Podge. Maybe 75¢?

The Non-Consumer Advocate: Drawer organizer

So if you’re like me and get overly excited about a well organized home, please know that it can be accomplished using thrift shops, other people’s discards, stuff you already own and a dab of creativity.

And I will still continue to stay out of The Container Store, as I know it would be my Kryptonite.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Betty Winslow February 28, 2013 at 10:54 am

I have wanted to go to The Container Store and Ikea for years…. but now, I’m having second thoughts, since I too am a storage junkie. Must…. stay… away…..


Katy February 28, 2013 at 10:58 am

I do go to Ikea, and have bought a couple sets of their clothing drawer organizers, but only from their As-Is section. (The ones I bought were display pieces.) Somehow, it’s a different category for in my mind.



Katy February 28, 2013 at 11:00 am

Stay strong my friend, stay strong.



Denise February 28, 2013 at 10:54 am

I used to tease my mom that she had organizers for her organizers, but now I totally get it! I especially love your vintage Bandaid containers.


Joy @ Joyfully Green February 28, 2013 at 11:05 am

Katy, sometimes I feel like we’re channeling each other–I just posted about this topic last week: (Not about finding thrifty storage containers, but about not getting sucked into the trap of buying containers for your stuff.) I will one-up you in staying away from The Container Store (very good idea, by the way) by saying I don’t even want the thrift store storage–I just want to donate stuff that no longer fits into my house and stop buying more stuff in the first place. I’m all for being organized, but for me, it’s come down to getting rid of things (responsibly, by donating whenever possible or giving to consignment shops), not organizing the stuff I already have and really should get rid of.


Katy February 28, 2013 at 11:12 am

Please don’t think that I’m advocating for holding onto excessive stuff. But my life does require a lot of things, and those things needs homes.

I’m far from being a minimalist.



Reese February 28, 2013 at 11:28 am

I’ve been decluttering like crazy due to a nasty case of carpet beetles in my apartment. So far I’ve managed to donate 10 20-gallon tubs full of just..random stuff from every room of the house. I’m hoping to squeeze out two more tubs full of stuff (I could easily, but my husband is holding on to the few items he has left with an iron fist….).

That said… I still have a lot of stuff in my house. I’m comfortable with it for the most part, but the organizational stuff will help me keep what I do have in better shape.. meaning I’ll get more use, know that I have it (and not need to buy another!), and ensure I’ll extend it’s usage for more years.

So I totally understand what Katy means in posts like these. I’m not a minimalist either… just trying to manage my stuff better! And cheaper 😉


kate@organizationforthetypb February 28, 2013 at 12:55 pm

I had a bad case of carpet beetles a few years ago. I got rid of a lot of stuff they infested our mattress !! Good luck with that!


Joy @ Joyfully Green February 28, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Got it! And I totally agree that if you don’t organize your essential stuff (bathroom stuff, etc.), then you just end up buying ten of the same thing because you can’t see it or even find it!


Katy February 28, 2013 at 1:09 pm

I try not to do that, but I certainly have in the past.



One Day At A Time February 28, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Coveting that art organizer. COVETING. It’s lucky I don’t live close to you or it might vanish. I love the way you repurpose and reuse.


Katy February 28, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Ninja style!



Kailey February 28, 2013 at 3:54 pm

I immediately started saving our cereal and cracker boxes when I first saw your modge-podge organizer. I had a junk drawer that needed some serious attention. So I saved my boxes and found some old wrapping paper to make it look nice and told EVERYONE what I was doing. When I was finished assembling and gluing and pulling everything out of the junk drawer it was just a touch too deep
🙁 I was so focused on making sure the width was ok I didn’t even consider the depth. I managed to shove it is but now my junk drawer looks even junkier than it did before.


Katy February 28, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Just re-do it. You’ll get it right the second time.



Jean February 28, 2013 at 10:12 pm

I’ll bet you just caused a run on those sugar packet containers at the thrift stores! Love that idea but will try to remember to test the one holding my husband’s Splenda packets in our kitchen in my medicine cabinets before scouting out more! I love glass storage containers–have repurposed many canning jars and french jelly glasses, but have never looked beyond the obvious use for the sugar packet container.
I did allow myself one splurge-on sale-at the Container Store (luckily I have to travel 225 miles to the nearest one so I only get there when I visit my sister). I invested in their shoe boxes–closet space in our 85 year old house is at a premium, so they have to be uber-organized–and these and some inexpensive shelving have made for a beautiful solution that makes me happy every time I open my closet door and see those perfectly matched boxes! Four years later, I still consider it money well spent .


JD March 1, 2013 at 5:57 am

I love the idea of using packet holders and am using your method of finding storage containers whenever I hit a thrift store with some pretty good success, but I have to admit I was chuckling at one thing about this post — is that Sponge Bob toothpaste?


Renee CA March 1, 2013 at 7:15 am

I had a square glass votive candle. Cleaned it out and use it to hold……Splenda packets


Pollyanna March 1, 2013 at 8:12 am

One time at one of my Goodwills I found brand new The Container Store items, still with their tags on! Yes, I took armloads up to the counter (multiple trips) — lined woven baskets, felt lined jewelry trays, I was SO excited. When I asked the clerk about it, she said TCS had dropped off unsold sale items. I repeated my visits weekly on that same day of the week, hoping it was a habit from TCS, but never was to happen again. So I struck gold once, ah fond memories!


Diane C March 1, 2013 at 9:22 am

OMGoodness! Had I not finished my tea just before reading this post, I surely would have snorted it all over my computer screen!

I am putting my house of 12 years on the market in TWO days (aaack!) and am organizing/purging like crazy! I have found a number of similar solutions without resorting to the use of actual cash. I find that if things are the same, it provides a certain cachet. Some of my best scores are sturdy boxes from Home Depot, originally used to display Schlage Door Hardware. They’re very sturdy and all the same size. I just inverted them for perfect, uniform brown boxes that are low in front and crazy strong. They look awesome lined up on my pantry shelves. Makes all those random-size items look tidy and neat. The cardboard compliments the rows and rows of recycled canning jars that hold all my neatly labeled bulk bin staples from WinCo. The jars look especially beautiful as they are artfully arrayed on 3-tier cabinet risers found at a garage sale. Heaven!

My bathroom drawers are lined with small Nordstrom gift cubes. I used to (A) work there and (B) collect gift boxes, both of which I am now cured of, thankfully. I just nestled them snugly and their shiny, reflective surfaces look lovely every time I open a drawer.

So yeah, I feel your vibe, but that’s not my whole story. I once made a retail purchase of an Elfa Closet Organizer System at The Container Store. I have a personal guest house attached to a vacation rental. It had just one tiny closet and I needed it to be extremely functional. I measured, planned, configured and re-configured for ages. I finally came up with the optimal arrangement and pulled the trigger during the annual Elfa sale. Now, every time I open that closet door, I get a little shiver of pleasure at how great it looks and how well it functions. That endorphin release? It lasts and lasts! Maybe it’s willingness to use free/scavenged items when it doesn’t matter that allows a very occasional (eight years ago) guilt-free splurge when it does.

Thanks for the laugh and the break, Katie. Now I’m off, freshly inspired, to pack, purge and organize some more.


Annie March 1, 2013 at 10:36 am

Love the bandage tins. I have one and refuse to part with it, I just refill it when needed. I wish they still made them.

I reuse glass jelly jars and similar containers. I eat a lot of dried fruit/nuts and it keeps best in glass. Mott’s applesauce jars make me swoon because they look cool, hold a lot, and the lid is metal. I also don’t have to worry about the applesauce making the lid smell funny like with pasta sauces. Dried apples?-yum! Garlic flavored dried apples?-not so much.


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