How to Embrace a Stationery Obsession with Organization

~TL;DR~

From fountain to rollerball to Frixion pens; highlighters to markers; A5 to B5 journals; A6 to flip-over pocket size notebooks; and, the BFFs of pens/mechanical pencils dubbed refills — the need for order cries out from the buried home office desk. Conjuring organizational nirvana involves (1) thinking through how you spend your time with assorted tools; and (2) devising a scheme embracing your workflow. This article details one woman’s roadmap to DeClutteredVille.

Some helpful gems lurk in unexpected forms- checkbook boxes, meat trays, spice racks ...

Some helpful gems lurk in unexpected forms- checkbook boxes, meat trays, spice racks …

Cost

90% of the items discussed below were already in my home/garage, but I include approximate today pricing. Only a few items discussed exceed $25 and even then, the maximum falls under $35. Many organizational helpers live disguised in your kitchen, e.g. grocery store meat trays and cereal boxes. When that fails, DollarTree smiles.

Organizing Aids

A wide variety of products provide a hefty assist for implementing a global organizational scheme. Because the following items continue to prove their usefulness, I share. (No affiliate links.)

✧︎︎︎ ClosetMaid Horizontal Stackable Shelves

● 24″ W by 12″ H by by 12″ depth; 5-inch shelving space per divider
● same except 32″W
● $10–$15, depending on length

Multiple wood-like colors, plus black and white

Multiple wood-like colors, plus black and white

Home Depot, Lowes & Target run frequent sales. Images below reflect one 3-stack of the 24″ organizers, and one 4-stack of the 32″ (against the wall). This is strictly plywood, so lining books or heavy items WILL cause a bow effect. Work-around: place a true wooden board over the shelf desired, but measure carefully!

Cords, writing instruments, index cards, stickies, etc ... out of sight

Cords, writing instruments, index cards, stickies, etc … out of sight

Despite decades of searching, I’ve found nothing coming close to the organizational prowess of these stackables. Different “pood” (pretend wood) colors are available, as are cans of spray paint. These guys have been in use throughout my home for well over two decades, underscoring their longevity quality.

By the way, you may be tempted to place containers atop the organizer. Thought: wouldn’t you prefer a few eye-pleasing and air-quality enhancing plants? 🤔

✧︎︎︎ Bundle of 25 Storage/Corrugated Cardboard boxes, $22/ Amazon

The ideal box size for the 24″ organizers = 10″ in width and length, with a maximum height of 4″. I use the same boxes in the 32″ long organizers, leaving adequate room to, e.g. stack junior size legal pads.

Oddly, the $19 10x10x4 pack I purchased from Amazon last year is now available only in bundles of 100 or more. Thankfully, a substitute is available. The magic phrases for searching purposes: corrugated boxes or shipping boxes. Your shortcut to the mother lode page: Select-a-Size: Partners Brand. For roughly $20, you can grab your pack of 25 10x10x4 boxes.

10″x10″ L + W, and 4″ height

These arrive flat, so you’ll need a box cutter and wide clear shipping tape. Slice off the box flaps otherwise forming the top of the box. Neatness counts— hence, the box cutter. Note: the 10×10 size allows turning the box so that the taped section parallels the organizer’s sides, leaving a clean front/appearance. If you skip to, say, 10×11, you may have no choice but to show the taped side—not good!

You can disguise the boxes with ease. Scour the spray paint section of Home Depot or Lowes, focused on textured paint. My someday/maybe project list includes a textured paint simulating the color of sand. But even without paint, the repetition— multiple same-boxes lining the shelves— yields a net effect shouting orderliness. Pretty dang good for a buncha corny boxes, eh?

✧︎︎︎ Containers—to Place within the Boxes

At the start, go grab your longest pen; measure it. This will tell you the minimum length of containers needed. I’ll revisit this subject in the section below, discussing a rolling cart.

● 👋🏽 Hi Grocery Store!

Pay attention when grocery shopping. The bottom of cereal boxes, trays holding meats and fruits, and similar smaller containers prove quite friendly to this organizing venture. The tray should be at least two inches high— hey, stationery nerds pack a serious collection of pens, so we need borders to hold the guys in place! 😜 These mini containers welcome repurposing to corral pens, highlighters and other writing instruments. We don’t care about appearance, since each will be buried within one of the shipping/corrugated boxes.

● Around the House, DollarTree, & Target

Those boxes containing checks? Perfect for storing highlighters.

Many Dollar Tree stores offer long narrow baskets, each capable of embracing a couple dozen writing instruments. Everything in DollarTree is either bundled (e.g. 3 for a buck), or a straight $1 bill. I grabbed these goodies at 3 for a buck a few years ago. Amazon also carries the same baskets, but at one heck of a mark-up: 6 for $9. I include a pic here so you’ll know precisely what to look for while prowling DollarTree aisles:

No Poindexter, Amazon does NOT always carry the best prices

No Poindexter, Amazon does NOT always carry the best prices

If you want to relieve the monotony of seeing those boxes in the shelves, a 30-minute browsing session at your local Target will prove a worthy time expenditure. The wide variety of baskets await a chance to compliment your decor. Take a tape measure with you, to ensure a desired basket will fit within the organizer.

✧︎︎︎ 6-Drawer Rolling Cart

Typically under $25, the current pricing for the Iris 6-Drawer Storage Cart is $32.

This is a good time to alert you to the goodness that is CamelCamelCamel.com. In addition to presenting a detailed pricing history on any item, you can set the amount you’re willing to pay, and receive an email notification when the item drops to that price. Of course, you’ll need to register for a free account as a requisite for such notifications. Don’t wanna give your true eMail address? No problem; here’s an easy free way to enjoy unlimited disposable addresses.

Small enough to roll under a desk, yet a powerhouse for organizing

Small enough to roll under a desk, yet a powerhouse for organizing

My all-things-writing joyful obsession includes fountain pens, introducing their own mountain of clutter: nibs, by type and manufacturer; cartridge refills, ditto; and, bottles of ink. Multiply that sad reality by mechanical lead pencils and rollerball pens. Ugh!

3 of the described long narrow baskets fit within each drawer! Think about it— 6 drawers x 3 baskets per, for a glorious 18 stash-it receptacles. Those baskets also fit within the corrugated boxes we discussed.

✧︎︎︎ Fountain Pen Lovers’ Delight: 3 graduated-step width-adjustable stand

Since we’re on the subject of bottled fountain pen ink, let’s focus on a related sure-fire organizational method. Found in the kitchen (!!!) section of Amazon’s virtual shelves, the “steps” seem tailor-made for fondling bottles of fountain pen ink. It’s too tall to fit within a divided ClosetMaid shelf, but an excellent fit when the dividing horizontal shelf is eliminated.

The best options, at Amazon:
Madesmart 3.6 by 9.6 by 14-1/2 to 25-3/4 Inch Expandable Shelf Organizer

This lives in the top shelf of my 32

This lives in the top shelf of my 32″ ClosetMaid organizer


Seville Classics 3-Tier Expandable Bamboo Spice Rack Step Shelf Organizer, similar measurements

I'm LUVin' that bamboo vibe

I’m LUVin’ that bamboo vibe

Be sure to check out Seville’s variations. A smaller version is $13.

 

My Cobbled-Together L-Shaped Desk

I live within easy driving distance of this country’s alleged furniture mecca, Hickory Point, North Carolina. Discovery: sturdy desk furniture looked like it should be surrounded by cigar smoking big-belly bankers → too big, put-the-u-in-ugly eyesores. Staples and crew offer modern desks, each destined to bow within weeks. Exception: glass desks. Because I have no inclination to polish glass on a daily basis, I passed. Conclusion: old-school quality good-looking desks are found in homes, not in stores.

Everything needed/desired, at my fingertips

Everything needed/desired, at my fingertips

Tip, regarding the black desk pad visible in the image: I learned there is such a thing as a soft desk pad, lovingly embracing forearms. The details: Extended Gaming Mouse Pad,Large Size 31.5 x 11.8 inches (World Map Edge), $5 (nope, not a typo; priced 4.27.2017); Cmhoo XXL Professional Large Mouse Pat & Computer Game Mouse Mat 35.4×15.7×0.1IN, Map, $15

The primary desk, secured from Craigslist for $40, is a disguised lab table. The sucka personifies solid construction. Hubby, a neighbor and I could all climb on top and the thing would not blink. The legs, made of steel, have evenly spaced holes along their length, allowing adjustment to any height imaginable. The back has a cut-out tray, hiding cables and cords. That cubby tray area, nestling 2 USB hubs and cables galore, runs the 6 foot width of the desk. I share these details to emphasize a point: if you’re desk shopping, widen your search to include: lab table.

The second desk, a $25 purchase from a local mom & pop Goodwill-style store, is as sturdy as its mate. The big thrill here is twofold: the light wood matches it’s companion, and it has two wonderful spacious drawers.

Left drawer, L to R: Kuru Toga and TwistErase mechanical pencils, EnerGel pens, Uni Signo 270 pens, awaiting .38mm & .5mm Pilot Frixion pen-pack deliveries, Pilot G2 pens

Twirling my chair for the left-side of my L-shaped desk - ready access to its drawers

Twirling my chair for the left-side of my L-shaped desk – ready access to its drawers

 
Right drawer: fountain pens crying “Me next, mommie, pleeeease!“; my beloved Platinum “always writes” .38mm Preppy fountain pens; Varsity fountain pens; assorted brown-ink only rollerball/gel ink pens; and, a set of Frixion stamps, tailored for the bullet journaling crowd. By the way, that container holding the Frixion stamps? In a former life, a tub of margarine.

Yep, Frixion stamps, tailor-made for bullet journals

Yep, Frixion stamps, tailor-made for bullet journals

✧︎︎︎ Rolodex Shelf, for the Desktop

I’ve learned, the hard way: every item must have a designated home. Otherwise, I’ll wander around in a Where’s Waldo parody. This explains the multiple cell phone, iPad, and laptop stands situated around the house.

This Rolodex stand adds a shelf, with a depth friendly to many device stands. My iPad lives here during the review sessions of my Evening and Morning Routines.

Excellent for smartphone and tablet stands

Excellent for smartphone and tablet stands

An Amazon Dot is hard-wired to the puck-like controller for the Bose computer speakers. Both round devices sit underneath that shelf. A tiny microphone, used to dictate some writings, is clipped to the front drawer of the Rolodex shelf. In short, the shelf yields twice as much space, taming an otherwise super-cluttered appearance.

Curing Lighting Woes with an “Outdoor Flood Light”

My home office sits within a portion of our Family Room. The addition of an enclosed backyard deck stripped the room of natural lighting. After going through several desk lamps, finding each lacking in NON-GLARE lighting output, I resolved to pinpoint a worthy replacement.

Situated atop a tall bookcase, with the light diagonally aimed to hit the wall. The light bounces back for full room coverage, withOUT glare/shadows

Situated atop a tall bookcase, with the light diagonally aimed to hit the wall. The light bounces back for full room coverage, withOUT glare/shadows

One late winter evening while out on the enclosed backyard deck, I marveled at the backyard floodlight turning night into day. Seconds later, I tapped out an order at Amazon, for flood light #2, targeting my home office. There’s no on/off switch, a problem cured with a Pivot Genius or WeMo switch, married to Amazon Dot’s Alexa. “Alexa, turn on the office light” signals this writer is ’bout to git wid it! Guess what? Best dang lighting in that room evahhhhh! No glare; no shadows cast on the writing surface; just glorious “day light.”

A Quick Word About KnickKnacks & DooDads

Most writers know: at some point, we’ll stare at a screen wanting to write, but the brain refuses to cooperate. I purchased my Lego buddies and porcelain birdies to weather-proof photo shoots. Torrential rains? Attack these guys and guyettes with my lens. But a secondary purpose materialized.

Yet another weapon in my be-productive arsenal

Yet another weapon in my be-productive arsenal

When a writer’s block blossoms, I lean back in my chair and turn toward what I now call Inspiration Lane. The sight sparks internal giggles → relaxation ← sufficient to break the block. Hey, who knew?!

Inducing Fidelity to my Morning/Evening Routines

As mentioned earlier, I end each day as I begin—with a review session. That means sitting at my desk, for optimal concentration. The problem: I didn’t always want to visit that desk at the appointed time. It wasn’t a question of furniture—my home office high back chair is ultra comfy. Rather, it just wasn’t …. um, inviting: dark and dingy, cluttered, more pain than gain. The lighting situation was resolved, as was the clutter. But I know me. I needed a “draw,” something inherently powerful enough to pull me to the area on a daily basis.

Spending considerable time in an easy chair, tootsies propped up as I stared off into space, I mentally listed each of my habits falling under the “every day” category. Finally, I realized my bingo.

I drove to Walmart, where I purchased an $11 manual/”switch” “4-cup” coffee brewer. The cheap price reflects the absence of features, such as auto-off— a necessity for automation. Clarification: more like a 2-mug brewer. The machine is small enough to sit atop the rolling cart, located to the right of my desk. My rationale: I’d rely on my morning coffee jones to pull me into my home office. Once there, I’d sit to sip, with review tools sitting before me atop the desk.

Months later, I’m delirious to confirm: it worked! And, my evening routine now includes replenishing the brewer for the next day, to accommodate my “Alexa, turn on office coffee” command around 4:15a. Since the last step of the evening routine requires returning the brewer to its designated home, next to my desk, the big problem—getting into the area each evening—was also conquered.

End result: if I skip either of these daily review sessions, it’s a deliberate choice, i.e. I already performed the review.

WrapUp

My home office is now hallowed ground, warm and inviting. Once I sit at my desk, any and everything I could possibly need or want is within my immediate reach. The highlighters dedicated to plotting the next day’s timeblocked agenda remain in view, and my primary writing instruments sit within two elongated pencil cups.

Why so many highlighters? Some refuse to ghost in my EDC (Every Day Carry) Hobonichi Cousin Avec bullet journal (dubbed Hobo BuJo 😎); others bleed, ghost, and just act da fool 😡. Some emphasize handwritten notations as desired; others are so dark they hide the writing. Most perform well with my Passion Planner’s (where I plot monthly overview goals/projects) weighty paper. So take that, as there IS a method to the madness! 😜

Every pen/pencil has a home, within arms reach. When a fountain pen runs out of ink, my bottled inks are close as are towels used during the ink refill process (top drawer/ rolling cart). Journals, of varied sizes, hues, and type (dotted, dotted lined, graph/grid, lined at 6mm or 7mm) rest behind me, lining a bookcase. Bonus: no more “oops” buys, sparked by mistaken Rats, I’m out! declarations, e.g. refills for a certain pen, found on the 31st day after ordering.

I took the time to sit, stare and study the entire desk area, “watching” myself move back and forth on a typical day. That formed the basis of what should go where. I ate a weekend pulling it all together. My darlin’ grandmother’s admonition proved correct, yet again: “Baby, in this life you either pay on the front end, once, or pay on the continuum on the back end; but, you WILL pay.” In this instance, I spent a finite period of time imagining, plotting, planning, and executing. Therefore, I won’t pay on the continuum through countless coerced where-the-#%^# is the thing episodes, losing time looking-for instead of doing.

 

Call to Action

Even the non-stationery addicted experience a build-up of supplies, leading to clutter and too-frequent Where’s Waldo excursions. Questions:
● Is the top of your desk friend or foe?
● Are like items sorted with like items?
● Can you now get your hands on what you need/want, within seconds?
● Do you wish an I Dream of Jeannie counterpart would rescue you?
It may be time to take time to save time. Think. Imagine. Plan. Execute. My hunch? Once the deed is done, you’ll have earned one heck of an atta dude/dudette! 👍🏽 to add to your WIN! column. Bonus: your home office will surface as your hallowed ground, the productivity-enhancing self-gift that keeps on giving.

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Til later…