Spring cleaning our craft supply area

Is your garage a place to park your cars?

clean garage

Yep, we can fit two cars and a scooter in here when it's cleaned out.

Or, is it a place to park your junk?

garage packed with boxes

This was our garage shortly after moving, but in our walks around the neighborhood we've realized that many have garages that look like this all the time.

We are park-your-car-in-the-garage people (not because we’re careful stewards of our vehicles, but because we hate scraping ice off our cars on cold mornings). We had enough space cleared by fall to park our cars in the garage–victory!–but much of our junk still had no real home.

messy garage workbench

And it bugged us. A lot. When our junk has no real home, we can’t find it. And when we can’t find our junk, we waste two things we don’t have an abundance of:  time and money.

Time looking for the junk, and money to buy more of the junk we can’t find.

mod modge bottles

I knew we owned that tall bottle, but I couldn't find it when I needed it for our recent desk renovation project.

A few weeks ago Cane took the workbench bull by the horns and organized all our tools and we actually, finally had a clear workbench for the first time since we moved in (which I promptly filled with tile for our bathroom project).

clean workbench

That left only the very back of the garage, a little Bermuda triangle I’ve been referring to as “the craft stuff area.” Things fly into this zone never to be seen again.

garage craft area before pic


Behind those cabinet doors were boxes we’d never unpacked (and a bunch of other stuff).

messy craft cabinet

messy craft cabinet










The drawers were no better:

messy craft cabinet drawer

messy craft cabinet drawer










And let’s do a little close-up on those nifty plastic drawers which seem like they should just organize themselves:

messy storage drawers

So, when I opened an email on Friday telling me about a spring cleaning challenge, I put my other projects on hold. I knew the time had come to finally be done with unpacking.

Saturday morning, while the rest of the family snoozed, I got into the garage and got to work.

Actually, I didn’t.

First I got onto Pinterest and started looking for craft organization ideas.

Image via I Can Teach My Child 

craft room from My Aim Is True

Image via My Aim Is True

kevin and amanda craft room

Image via Kevin & Amanda

And my personal favorite, which is not just a craft room, but a whole craft playhouse!

thistlewood farm craft house

Image via Thistlewood Farm

Here’s what I want to say about this rabbit hole:


I mean, you can go down it if you want to. Because it’s a really fun hole to fall into. But if you want to actually get your crafting area cleaned, I don’t recommend it.

Instead, I recommend that you dive right in.  For me, that meant hauling everything out of the cupboards and drawers and opening up those moving boxes so I could really see everything we had.

boxes in garage

The other reason to haul everything out? Makes it easier to clean all those spaces. Wiping out the cupboards and drawers and cleaning the grime off the front of the storage unit took only about 5 minutes and required nothing more than water and a little all-purpose spray cleaner.

It wasn’t too long after that was done (about 30 seconds) before I realized I was going to need some organizing principles to get me through this project–because I needed them to know what to do with all that stuff.

My principles evolved with a little bit of trial and error. I’ll spare you that part and lay them out as if I knew exactly what I was doing when I started.

Principle #1:  Purge, baby, purge.

When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of stuff. When I was a young adult, I didn’t have a lot of money. I learned early to hang onto things because I might realize I needed them someday. 

Thus, I found such “treasures” in my craft stash as:

  • Tiny little fabric scraps from a quilt I made in 1992
  • Gel pens (dried up) from probably 2001 or 2002
  • Curtains from our old house that haven’t been hung anywhere since 2008–because I don’t like them anymore

While it’s great to hang onto things you know you truly will use (and so I kept the many, many, many writing pens I found–purchased because we never knew where they were) it’s better to let go of those you likely won’t. I tossed the large stash of half-dried up markers I found and kept just one basic new set. We really don’t need all those colors.

pens and markers

As I worked, I had three containers going:  one for trash, one for donations, and one for recycling. The trash bag ended up being the smallest, which felt great.

Principle #2: You don’t need more stuff to organize your stuff.

I had this one in mind before I started. On Friday, I checked my bank balance and realized that as fun as it would be to go buy a bunch of cool stuff to organize this area, I just don’t have the funds right now. (Bathroom project, anyone?)

Besides, we get a much bigger kick out of getting rid of stuff than we do from bringing it in. I decided that whatever I did, I had to do it with things we already own.

coffee can pencil holders

Vindication for Cane, who saved these coffee cans even though I said months ago that we should get rid of them.

Principle #3: It doesn’t have to be beautiful to be perfect.

Yes, I stole (and twisted that) from The Nester, who says that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. While I would love to have a beautiful craft area, full of color-coordinated containers adorned with cunning little labels, I don’t need that. What I need is for us to be able to find our supplies when we need them.

This principles applies to the larger space as well as to what occupies it. I would love to have a beautiful crafting room (or even closet) like so many that I’ve seen in other blogs. We don’t have that.

Our craft supply area is in the garage, which is often cold and doesn’t have space for a big table. It’s not beautiful. But I can’t tell you how excited I was to finally have one, consolidated place to store all of our crafty things. In our old house, they were spread out all over the place–a cupboard here, a drawer there, and the shelves of several closets.

Our craft supply area is not beautiful, but having everything in one spacious place is. And while I could go to some trouble to pretty up what we’ve got (I originally considered painting those cabinets), I decided not to spend my time that way. It’s in the garage, not a living area. Making this kind of choice meant I could actually finish this project in the weekend I’d devoted to it.

Principle #4:  Organize by function

I’ve organized all our small kitchen doo-dads by function, and it works so well. Sorting through our craft junk, I realized that they fall into a few big functional categories:  school, sewing, art, paper crafts. Of course, there’s some slop-over in these categories, but this really helped me figure out a system for figuring out where to put things.

We have one cupboard just for school supplies and another one for art supplies (paint, canvas, brushes, gesso, etc.). One 3-drawer unit has only sewing/needlework supplies (thread, other notions, and tools such as embroidery hoops and knitting needles).

school supplies cabinet

All the school supplies are located in this cabinet. Luckily, the bottom section has a slide-out shelf, so it's easy to reach items I've put in the back.

I did have to do some fiddling around with this. My original space for school supplies wasn’t big enough for all of them. As you’re working, we think its helpful if you plan to revise as you go.  Which leads me to the next principle:

Principle #5: Don’t label anything until you’ve found a place for everything.

I can get lost in the details. That’s where the most fun is, and labeling containers and drawers is a detail. But I resisted the urge to label anything until I had it all figured out.

labeled paper drawers

These labels were a bit of a pain. Glad I didn't have to remake any of them.

And now I’m realizing that there’s another principle that really comes before this one:

Principle #6: Put everything in clear containers if possible. If not, label them!

If I can’t see it, I forget we have it. If I have too many containers with invisible contents, I just don’t take the time to look through all of them until I find what I want. I’m pretty dedicated to the idea that I will never again buy a storage container unless it is see-through.

fabric drawers

This set of plastic drawers isn't pretty, but it's great for storing fabric. Drawers are big enough to hold quite a lot, and I can see exactly what's in each drawer.

In the meantime, though, I want to make use of the storage containers I have. That means labeling things.

This isn’t just for me; our kids seem to be seriously deficient in look-for-it skills. But now, the next time someone wants to know where needles are, I can say: “Look in the drawer labeled ‘sewing.'” If someone wants to know where the ribbon is, I can say: “Look in the ribbon drawer.”

labeled cupboard doors

Principle #7: Labels don’t have to be pretty. They have to be functional.

Mine aren’t color-coordinated. Sorting through the various papers we have, I discovered lots of scraps. If I were more ambitious (or had more time), I’d have tried to do something visually cool with my labels. But I’m not and I didn’t. I used a scrap until it was gone and then I found another.  That’s why some labels are blue and others are green.

And I didn’t need fancy stick-on labels. I used some of the approximately 50 gajillion stickers we’ve accumulated since about 2001 to attach the labels to cabinet doors and drawers.


Principle #8: Don’t make it hard to get to things.

In those cabinets we have some big, deep cupboards. It’s easy to fill those right up. Problem with that is, you can’t see what’s in the back, and even if you can, it’s a pain to get to it. Here’s how I resolved that:

1. I only put in the back of cupboards things I know I won’t want often. I do have a stash of curtains I want to keep (as we haven’t made all our window treatment decisions yet). I did stack those neatly in the back of one cupboard.

cupboard with curtains

2. I didn’t put too many things in front of other things. I originally had those coffee cans full of pens neatly lined up at the front of the school supply cupboard, until I realized the kids would have to move all of them to get to the paper stored behind them. So I found a basket to hold all of them. (And then the basket moved to the back of a shelf:  See principle #5.)

Principle #9: Finish!

When I was nearly-but-not-quite-truly-done, I really wanted to quit. It took me the better part of two days, and I was tired of working on it. I made myself finish anyway. (Actually, this post made me finish. I couldn’t stand the idea of taking pictures that had some small, random items cluttering them.)

I was so glad that I did. Here’s why:

The Big Reveal

To refresh your memory, here’s our before:

garage craft area before pic

And here’s our feels-awesome after:

craft organization after

craft garage after

(Please ignore the random cord hanging down from the ceiling. Guess I forgot to look up!)

sewing drawer

Found this old divider, and it fit perfectly into this drawer. Great for keeping a lot of small things neat and tidy.

art supplies cabinet

All of the art supplies (paint, brushes, gesso, Mod Podge, canvas, etc.) are located in one side of the cabinet.

 craft supply drawer

 craft drawers

ribbon drawer

Finally, all the ribbon in one place, nestled into drawer organizers I already owned.

I started seeing the benefits of all this right away, before the project was even finished. When I got to the part that involved making labels for the doors, it was so easy to find what I needed: the markers, the paper, the scissors, the stickers. Being able to find what I needed (and to have a clear place to put it back) made the project so much more fun.

Even better was the great feeling I got when I put the last of our moving boxes into the recycling container. Now, I finally, truly feel that we are all moved in.  

full recycling bin

How about you?

Is spring cleaning part of your plans? How do you do it? If you want some great ideas, check out the Spring Cleaning Challenge, which you can find here. We’re linking this post up there today.