Organizing services and products are a huge business in America, and sometimes it’s hard to know where to spend your money. Do you go for the help, the cool containers, the heavy duty file folders or the floppy cheap ones? It depends on two things: your budget, obviously, and where you are on the organizing spectrum.

If you suspect you are a hoarder, avoid the impulse to stock up on containers and first have a look at the Hoarding Scale ( and answer the questions very honestly. If you are a Level 3, 4 or 5 hoarder, the first investment I recommend is meeting regularly with a therapist who specializes in the disorder. Alternatively, you could try a 12-Step program like There are no meetings in the Napa Valley, but there are meetings in SF, Berkeley and Davis. I have heard many times that 12-Step groups are the best therapy you will ever get, and they are free.

I also recommend work with a therapist if you are not a hoarder but have what is known as chronic disorganization tendencies. Chronic disorganization varies from person to person, but it can manifest as always being late, never being able to find what you need, constant late fees on bills, difficulty prioritizing and having trouble completing projects—good old-fashioned procrastination, but to a higher degree. A life coach or time management specialist or even something as simple as hiring an accountant who will take financial matters off your plate could provide the key. But again, containers are not the answer.

The more orderly your life, the more value you will get out of A) Hiring a professional organizer for the fine tuning, or B) Buying just the right container for your well-honed systems. Until you know what works for you, try repurposing shoe box lids, small gift boxes, check boxes or sunglass boxes for drawer dividers in the bathroom. Try shoe boxes to organize your photos until you decide whether to leave them in boxes and invest in archival photo boxes or put them into photo albums.

When you buy containers, think about function and maintenance first, looks second (but a close second). For bathroom drawer dividers and under the sink, plastic is queen because it is easy to clean and can get wet. For the garage, containers should be no bigger than one person can easily lift. For a kitchen trash can, do you need to have a hand free to open the lid? What if your hands are wet or dirty? Think through the entire scenario for the space before making your purchases.

There are a few places I recommend making a solid investment in supplies. One is clothing hangers. I used to be a fan of heavy, beautiful maple hangers, which start at about $6 apiece, but now I would save those for heavy items like coats and suits. I use the Huggable black velvet-covered hangers exclusively now. They are nearly as thin as wire dry cleaner hangers but have a tiny bit of padding to protect clothes and the velvet grips slippery fabrics.

Another place to invest is file cabinets. Don’t waste your money on cheap file cabinets. If you can’t afford a super-solid, full extension drawer file cabinet, look on craigslist for a used one or keep your papers in banker’s boxes until you’ve put away enough money for a cabinet that will be a pleasure to use. Otherwise, you will either resist filing or grit your teeth every time your drawers jam, screech or the whole thing tips over.

Of course, I think every home should have a labeler, and I like the mid-sized Brother P-touch labeler. I’ve given them so much free advertising over the years I think I should get royalties! But then, if you read my column regularly, you already knew that.

Items I discourage investing in? Home shredders are at the top of the list. Home shredders jam, are a fire hazard and have small bins that fill in five minutes. Let your bank, broker or an office supply store shred for you. Just mark a paper bag “SHREDDING” and take it in when it is almost full.