Bins, totes, and baskets abound in most family homes. They’re a great way to keep stuff out of sight until you need it, but BEWARE.

Yes. It is that serious. Beware. That cute little woven basket from Home Goods may seem like the perfect answer to all of your storage needs, but you’re a few missteps away from losing all of your junk in the depths of a container that wasn’t made for your intended purpose.

To avoid a dysfunctional, inconvenient, or unattractive storage system, consider these 4 things before reorganizing.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but a lot of people go wrong here. People tend to either choose bins that are too small or large for their stuff – or try to fit too many objects (even if they fit) in their containers. Follow the Rule of 20 and you can’t mess it up.

GOAL: Leave 20% extra space for new stuff, and fit no more than 20 items* in the container
*exceptions to the 20 item rule: small hobby items (think legos, screws, and stickers), and attic storage items – as long as they are sorted by category.

May I just say? Lids are awful. They are annoying, they get lost, they don’t fit if one single Barbie leg overflows. If you need your storage to stack, go for drawers rather than multiple stacking containers with lids. The only time I like a lidded container is if it’s going in long-term storage (gotta keep the dust out). Even then, your best bet to avoid an attic that looks like something off of “Hoarders” is to put your lidded tubs on shelves – like the customizable ones from Lowes or Home Depot.

GOAL: Make the stuff in your container as easy to get to as possible. 

What’s going inside? If it’s going in your attic for long-term storage – or in a closet where only your eyes will be searching, TRANSPARENT IS THE ONLY WAY TO GO. The quicker you can find what you’re looking for, the less likely you are to dump the entire contents onto the floor in a fit of rage (Anyone? No? Just me?) If the basket is sitting out in your living room, you may prefer to choose something opaque with a decorative pattern – so unattractive stuff stays “hidden” inside the box. Just follow the Rule of 20 and you’ll be set.

GOAL: Use transparent storage unless you need the aesthetic appeal of an opaque container.

If not, congrats. You’ve just purchased a glorified junk drawer.

Not sure how give your bin a purpose? Sort all your stuff into categorized piles (example: in the mudroom – cleaning products, outdoor games, sunscreen/bugspray, grill supplies, outerwear…) Then use the Rule of 20 to decide whether you need to COMBINE categories or further SEPARATE them.

You got this.