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Are you guilty of collecting too much stuff? It may be because you buy too many catch-all containers to corral it all. Our writer blasts these inanimate clutter enablers.

 catchall containersPhotoCredit: Corbis

Like a lot of people, I collect way too much "stuff." My New Year's resolution is to take care of the clutter once and for all. Really, this time. I know it's February, but still, I'm determined.

I'm all for clever, useful storage solutions. In fact, I'm known to get a little overzealous in the presence of some of the latest and most stylish storage items (I mean, have you been to The Container Store lately?). But there is one that drives me crazy: the catchall container. To me, catchall containers are little more than glorified junk collectors.

catchall containersBeware of the catch-all storage system: it can cause more chaos than good. Platinum, Flickr

Take for example, Merriam-Webster's definition of a catchall: Something that holds or includes odds and ends or a wide variety of things. And my definition: Any box, basket or other container that is intended to serve as a dumping spot for random junk.

Yet design magazines, websites and showrooms use catchalls as perfect accents and accessories for any room. Sure, they're attractive from a design perspective, but they lack real-world functionality. They only serve to give the buyer a false impression of utility. For instance, the basket featured in the entryway of a show home or the pages of a website stylishly houses an antique letter opener and small set of keys. But in your home, it ends up home to junk mail, receipts, odd mittens and any other bits of front door clutter.

Personally, I've used a variety of catchalls throughout my life: an old wooden crate, a crystal serving dish, pottery dishes, a big wooden bowl and some decorative boxes. The expanding containers eventually become so overwhelmed that I'm forced to stash them away in the basement. Plus, once I've tossed something in a catch-all, there's a good chance that it will never see the light of day again. Sure, catchalls might keep the junk off your floor and counter, but the concept just promotes moving a mess from one location to another, as opposed to actually dealing with it. Ultimately, this just creates a bigger mess, more stress and wasted time.

So why would organization gurus recommend a storage system that so clearly worsens (or at best delays) the problem instead of actually solving it? I asked an organization expert to weigh in on the catchall quandary.

"The concept of catchall containers is to collect items when you either enter the home or during a quick tidying up session," Dana H. Korey of Away With Clutter, Inc. explains. She acknowledges the key component to making a catchall basket system work is to periodically sort through it at least once a week and put items back where they belong. "If you don't, then the basket becomes a confined archaeological dig and you haven't solved any of your issues."

Apparently, the very disciplined among us can manage a catchall storage system that is routinely edited and emptied. I learned that to optimize the usefulness of catchalls, you should assign each container a specific category, instead of tossing random items into all of them without rhyme or reason. For example, place your bills in one container, toys in another, and junk mail in a third. With multiple containers designated to specific categories, you will know where things go if you are in need of a short-term "dump" before dashing in or out.

Ultimately, this makes cleaning and organizing easier when you actually get around to it. The caveat: you have to be disciplined enough to stick to the system.

Maybe Dana's clients are more disciplined than myself, but I never sort until I need something -- and even then, the clutter doesn't actually get dealt with. Despite my disdain for catchalls, I've pared down my collection to a manageable few: a basket to collect keys, as well as magazine racks, toy bins, stationery baskets and other catchalls with clear designated purposes. But I've abandoned the catchalls that were accumulating random things and giving me an excuse to postpone actually organizing items.

Want to get rid of clutter in your home and save time? Here's my golden rule: handle everything once, and only once. This means you don't stack papers in a basket for sorting later. Instead, sort and file as soon as they come into the house.

What are your feelings about catchall containers? Let us know in the comments below.

And for more about clutter control, check out this short video:

Magic Tricks of Professional Organizers
12 Ideas for Organizing with Baskets [HGTV]
Organizing Tip: Use Baskets [Apartment Therapy]

  • Marcy Shamb

    I am one that goes by the rules of a place for everything and everything in its place. I also believe in being well stocked for any emergency or need. Unfortunately I am the only one that picks up and puts away. So, I rely on containers for storing things by catagory and use, but also for catch all. I first gather everything up in the catch all basket..and then, make the rounds of the proper storage areas with the catch all, dropping stuff where they belong. I don't know what I would do without my walk in Pantry,
    my bureaus, draws, closets and shelves, nor all my storage containers, color coordinated to each
    rooms decor of course. Of course if I didn't keep it all up, there would be a massive mess throughout the house, and to go out, just for one day, is to return to a house in need of my making the rounds with the catch all picking everything up that is where it doesn't belong. Don't think I haven't said something to the other menbers of the house. They just think this is MY job... LOL... and with the lack of 'practice', they aren't very good at it when they try.. so, I do it, or suffer with a messy house.


  • sue ellen

    Marcy, I had the same situation. But you'll be glad to hear
    this...when the kids grew up and moved out, they got used to a clean,
    neat home. And now, keep their homes the same way. My youngest (22 yr
    boy) lives with 3 roommates. Comes home and complains that "they are
    such slobs!". He picks up and keeps his room & areas clean & neat. He
    says they hang out in his room because the rest of the place is a mess
    and they don't want to be in it. I'm smiling as I write this....

  • 2 Comments / 1 Pages

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