Some of the most satisfying and successful organizing hacks are uncomplicated and inexpensive. Although I am a fan of The Home Edit, and love a good Container Store bin as much as the next person, it makes me happiest to repurpose things a client already has and to use the simplest everyday items as tools. If you’ve ever used a dime as a screwdriver, you have probably experienced this type of satisfaction.
Recently a client wanted to create an outdoor kitchen but the only storage for her metal spatterware dishes was a woven IKEA console. The pros: woven from a plastic material, the console is perfectly fine to leave outdoors in any weather, is good looking and is large enough to hold plenty of dishes and entertaining items. The cons: the woven design allows dust and water to get into the piece, making it impractical for outdoor storage.
My client had the terrific idea to use black garbage bags (humble tool) to line the interior of the console. Since the piece of furniture was black, this choice was also aesthetically pleasing. My advice was that she use thick construction refuse bags, easier to work with, stronger, and they don’t wrinkle like thin kitchen and leaf bags. There was a nice frame on each wall of the console to tuck the cut garbage bags into for security. Here’s where one of my favorite tools came into play.. She was trying to tuck the bag under the frame with her fingers when I pulled a plain butter knife with a lovely silver patina out of my tool kit. Slipping the plastic garbage bag between the frame and the woven walls with the dull knife worked brilliantly.
The humble butter knife is one of my all-time favorite tools although I never apply one to its primary purpose, as a jam or peanut butter spreader, since bread is not allowed within 20 yards of my person. But wrapped in a thin rag to scrape dirt out of a sliding door track it’s a miracle worker. I think of it as the reliable soldier of the silverware drawer—unpretentious and always ready to serve heroically without complaint (unlike the fussier fork with its delicate tines or the lazy spoon daydreaming about its next encounter with some comfort food).
Other simple tools I can’t live without are razor blades (especially for carefully scraping cooking residue from my glass stove top), black Sharpies (often excellent cover-ups for scrapes and chips on anything and everything black) and binder clips, which I use to tighten dresses and skirts for photo shoots, hang unframed papers and art, etc. Cardboard from shipping boxes as well as thinner “chipboard” from cereal boxes make great filler and shims for all kinds of things.
Tools I dislike: anything too complicated. I once bought a really slick tape measure that had a memory and other features and I can’t stand using it, it’s too complicated.
I also hate stuff that seems to work well but later bites you in the butt. Gorilla Glue makes me crazy because no matter how careful I am, my repair always ends up a hot mess. I thought I was so smart gluing some favorite sandals whose soles had started flapping and went to bed with my nicely glued sandals set out to dry.
The next morning, I woke up to rabid sandals—the Gorilla Glue had frothed out between the sole and the uppers. For a few moments I tried to employ my little razor blade sidekick into scraping off the froth, but it also scraped off some leather and I was in imminent danger of scraping off some of my own skin. Razor blades are great but you have to know your limits with sharp objects. My poor sandals got the Ol’ Yeller treatment—taken out and, with a tear in my eye, disposed of. I hurled the bottle of Gorilla Glue into the trash too.