Frugal Order: A Tightwad's Guide To Getting Organized

get organized and save money

Getting organized! For many, that phrase is synonymous with "Buy Me!"

Savvy retailers know that "Get Organized Fever" breaks out at predictable intervals, and tailor ad campaigns to capitalize on the desire to create an organized home. Too often, professional organizers hear the cry, "But I can't afford to get organized!"

No doubt about it, there are many marvelous products on the market to help achieve better home and personal organization.

But getting organized doesn't necessarily require spending money. Try these tips to get organized without becoming a spendthrift.

Don't confuse "getting organized" with "buying stuff"

Pick a yard sale, any yard sale. Chances are, some pretty pricey organizing products will be included in the seller's merchandise.

Rotating plastic turntables. Bathroom shelf units. Specialty organizers like can holders, tie racks and shelf extenders. All on sale for a tiny fraction of their retail price--and all mute witnesses to a would-be organizer who confuses "getting organized" with "buying stuff."

There's a difference between organization and the products you'll use to achieve that goal. Organization is a process, not a product. It involves time and thought, motivation and effort--and you can't buy these factors in any store. No tangible item, no matter how useful, can set you on the road to better organization all by itself.

The moral is: nobody ever got organized by buying stuff. Instead, they ended up holding a garage sale.

Organize first, measure next, buy last

People who are frugal and organized understand how the organization process works: they organize first, measure next, and buy--if they buy--last.

Take a common problem: magazine storage. Too often, our home manager will say to herself, "Oh, I have to do something about those stacks of magazines." She'll eyeball the stacks, grab the car keys, and head to the store.

At the store, she'll buy a set of 12 nifty plastic magazine organizers in a pretty color to match the family room drapes. Home she goes--only to find that the organizers are one-half inch too tall to fit in the family room bookcase, and that she'll need 8 more containers to hold the entire pile.

Wallet drained and energy depleted, she drops the whole project. The plastic magazine organizers are thrust in a dark closet where they join the household clutter awaiting the next yard sale.

Frugal organizers know the steps required to solve the magazine problem. First, they assess and sort the magazines. They'll keep only 20% of the pile:. those periodicals which they read each month and to which they refer back often.

After recycling the rejected 80%, the frugal organizer will plan and measure available storage areas. Can the collection of Family Fun be shelved in the existing bookcase? Out comes the tape measure.

Only after having assessed and sorted, planned and measured, does a frugal organizer shop for organizational products--and she does it with a list.

Our frugal friend now knows that she needs four magazine storage boxes, each at least 3 inches wide and no more than 12 inches tall. Next yard sale, she'll buy just what she needs--and no more--to organize the magazines. Problem solved, frugally.

Watch for freebie finds and recycling candidates

Tightwad organizers know that organizing solutions are everywhere. They keep their eyes out for free sources of organizing materials, and don't hesitate to make creative use of found or surplus items.

Warehouse stores--where packing materials are recycled to hold purchases--are a frugal organizer's bowl of cherries. If you have to store it, so do retail stores. Warehouse stores give the goodies away, free, each time you shop. To pick the cherries, eyeball the box pile and make your selections before you begin shopping.

Reinforced cardboard magazine holders masquerade in the guise of office supply display boxes. Boxes designed to hold cold cuts serve to stack cleaning towels in the utility closet.

Two-part produce boxes hold stored clothing in the attic. Recycled wine cases (with dividers!) organize the wine cellar at home just as well as they did in the warehouse store--and do double duty storing delicate Christmas ornaments or surplus glassware.

Don't like seeing the hotdog label each time you open the utility closet? Paint the boxes or cover them with surplus fabric. The price is right!

Recycled packaging can give organizational efforts a frugal boost. Mothers of young children recycle baby wipes packages to hold toys-of-a-thousand-pieces.

Thinking about family preparedness? Empty bleach bottles store water and purify it at the same time, as long as you don't rinse the empty container first.

Boxes that first hold bottled water moonlight as containers for newspaper recycling, and are themselves flattened and recycled on trips to the recycling center. It's a win-win!

Use creativity, not cash

Frugal organizers think past the label and outside the box. Even when they must purchase an item to complete an organization project, they make creative--if unintended--use of common products.

Why buy a pricey "thread organizer" from the crafts store, when you can store tall spools of thread in a lipstick holder from the Dollar Center?

Ever notice that the same item, say, a plastic box with dividers and a lid, can have three different prices when labeled as (1) a box for fishing tackle, (2) a box for small hardware items, and (3) a box to hold cross-stitch thread? 

Is there a cheaper alternative? Tightwad organizers cross-check before they shell out.

Frugal organizers aren't shy about adapting ideas, either. Our frugal friend admired a cross-stitch pattern organizer she'd seen at the crafts store. Each pattern leaflet was threaded onto a plastic bar with three holes. The whole unit could be stored in a large three-ring binder.

At home, the frugal organizer realized that the expensive plastic holders weren't necessary, if she simply used a three-hole punch on the pattern leaflet itself.

Hit the yard sale circuit

Organizer products are like curtains--they go with the house. The nifty wall-hung mop-and-broom rack that worked so well in one home gives way to a smaller version after moving to another state. Shelf racks that worked wonders in an apartment closet are too narrow for the pantry in a new, more spacious house. The hanging shower organizer that was just right in one bathroom slips right off the shower head in the next.

Result? A whole set of homeless organizing products.

Between moving house and unplanned, impulse purchases, organizing products are a yard sale staple. If you know what you need, you're likely to find it at a yard sale sooner or later.

Don't be put off by dust and stains; plastic products clean up nicely in the dishwasher.

Make your list and hit some yard sales. You'll get organized . . . for less!