Organizing With Recyclables


As a professional organizer, I confess that a stroll through The Container Store makes me drool. There are many beautiful & functional organizing products available today, and I love them all. However, if you don’t have either the time or money to buy a bunch of products, don’t despair!  A lot of my favorite tools are items you probably have lying around the house. They may not be pretty, but they can function very well.

First, a few general principles when choosing items to reuse.

1. Only use what can be thoroughly cleaned. You don’t want to smell old milk in your drawers!

2. Square trumps round. Although jars are pretty, they waste a lot of space in a drawer. Only use them on narrower shelves.

3. Go for sturdy over pretty. Tools which are flimsy just don’t work well.

4. Fit the recyclable to the need, not the other way around. Before you go fishing in your recycle bin, identify what you need.

5. Always label containers so everyone knows what should (and hence what shouldn’t!) be kept inside.

Now you are ready to get started. Identify an area to work on, such as a pantry, a drawer or a deep shelf.  Empty the contents, wipe the area clean, and sort through the pile. This is the time to get rid of what you no longer want!

In order to get organized, you need to subdivide the space. A deep shelf needs smaller containers that can serve as drawers. A drawer needs shallow containers that can fit inside. A tall space benefits from having “stairs” so you can see all the items when you look inside. When you subdivide, you give yourself the ability to assign a very specific home for each itemThis is where the recyclables come in. Take a few measurements and then hunt through the house to find containers that will fit. Here are a few ideas to get you going:

For subdividing a large space or deep drawer

  • Shoeboxes/ corrugated cardboard boxes (remove the lids)
  • Milk crates

For inside a shallow drawer:

  • Plastic trays from cookies
  • Plastic shortening containers
Crisco organizers
photo credit: Sew Many Ways
  • Lids from boxes
  • Cereal boxes (cut them down to size)
Organize with Cereal Boxes
photo: The Stonybrook House
  • Egg cartons
  • Ice cube trays
  • Altoid or other mint containers
  • Swiffer floor wipes boxes

To hold small items on a shelf:

  • Old plastic ice boxes
  • Baby wipes boxes
  • Large plastic containers with screw on lids (e.g. Mixed nuts from Costco)

To hold round items (e.g. headbands, bracelets) :

  • Oatmeal container
  • “Pringles” style potato chips
  • Old soda bottles

A few other tips:

Original containers (e.g. the box of trash bags) work well as a “drawer” on a shelf.. just remember to tear off the cardboard lids.

Cut off top of the box to organize


An empty tissue box can be tacked to a wall/cabinet door to hold plastic grocery sacks.

Tissue box to hold plastic bags


Old buttons can be great for keeping earring sets together, especially for travel.

Old plastic bag closures (e.g. from a loaf of bread) can be used to label cords or mark the edge of a roll of tape.

Bread clip to mark tape

Rectangular boxes (e.g. from aluminum foil) can work well for storing spools of ribbon (again, tear off the lid).

Aluminum Foil box to hold ribbon


Toilet paper rolls, cut lengthwise, work as a clip to keep wrapping paper rolls from unfurling.

Toilet Paper roll organizer


Old cardboard wine cases (with the dividers inside) can be turned on their side, put on a shelf and used to store items such as yarn or electronics cords.

The possibilities are endless, so get your creative juices flowing. For more ideas, check out my Pinterest page on Organizing with Recyclables. If beauty is important, you can always cover an old box with fabric or contact paper.

Have an idea not listed above? Please share it… we’d love to learn from you!

52 thoughts on “Organizing With Recyclables”

  1. I love these tips. My mom was the first one to show me about using shoeboxes in drawers! I use them for my makeup/perfume drawer. And I have never been to the Container Store but I wish I could have a shopping spree there!

    1. I wish I could have a shopping spree at the Container Store too… but I’m happy with my boxes and recyclables – makes me feel like I’m helping the environment and ordering my life all at the same time:)

  2. What great ideas! I never would have thought to re-use the trays from cookie packaging. I always feel bad tossing things like those study plastic coffee containers, because it does feel like I should re-use them. I need to try to do that more.

    1. The coffee containers are another great idea, Colleen. They are squared off so a good use of space. Throw a label on them and they would be perfect in a workshop or craft room!

    1. Thanks Tayla. I love them too because they are shallow enough for my drawer and clear, which is always ideal. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    1. SITS is such a terrific community. I’m having a wonderful time hearing from everyone. As for the toilet paper, it just is so simple and so effective I wish I had known earlier!

  3. We have a large container store in our city, but I haven’t been to it yet. I think I’d need a huge credit line and a large truck to haul all my purchases. I hope you are enjoying your SITS day. Have a blessed day.

    1. I’m having a wonderful time hearing from the SITS community, Vicki. Such a special group! I always say a gift card to the Container Store is a great holiday gift suggestion:)

    1. I’m so glad you like it — I’m having fun hearing other ideas from readers as well. Free is just too good to resist!

    1. So glad you stopped by, Lauren. SITS is such a wonderful community – I’m having a great day:) I’ll follow you back on Pinterest…

  4. Wow! These are really good ideas! I would have never thought of cookie trays – for example – as a drawer divider. Yet now that I think about it, they’re PERFECT! Thanks for these tips!!!

    1. Thanks so much, Mona. The cookie containers have turned out to be one of my best finds for the extra shallow drawers. Hard to beat free:)

    1. That’s the beauty of SITS, isn’t it Alex? We all have our areas of expertise and can learn from each other. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    1. Thanks so much, Stacey. Getting organized and going green at the same time seems so rewarding, doesn’t it? And it can be done little by little, so no pressure! I’m having so much fun with the SITS community today. Thanks for being a part of it:)

  5. You have great ideas! I am staying with my parents, confined to my childhood bedroom, and being that I have ADHD and am already super organized, the clutter is at an all time high! I feel like I should read through your blog and memorize it! Maybe you should come to my house. 😉

    1. Living in a tight space is definitely a challenge! I totally “get” the discomfort of the clutter. I hope the blog helps, but hang in there… thanks so much for your comment:)

  6. Great tips. I am spending working through the toys and clutter. I agree with you, when everything is a jumble it is hard to think (for most people). My six year old son is having a difficult time staying focused and I believe now that it is because he needs a very organized space to help with his anxiety. Wish me luck because I am horrible at organizing.

    1. Good luck Herschel! It is very insightful of you to see your son’s need for a clear space. Many children struggle with this and their parents don’t see it, so good for you! One step at a time:) If you feel like you want more help, you can follow me on FB or Twitter where I give lots of easy little tips to try. Thanks for your comment!

    1. Moving into a new space provides a great opportunity to start from scratch! It can be a busy time, but an exciting one as well. Best of luck, Jessica! Thanks for your comment:)

  7. you have just blown my mind woman…wow!!!!! I am beyond amazed and want to smack myself for throwing away such great tools not even realizing what I could do with them.

  8. Pingback: Challenge #2- The “Junk” Drawer | The Seana Method

    1. Those plastic trays work so well in the super-shallow drawers which I often find in bathrooms. And you get to enjoy the cookies too, so it is a “double treat”!

  9. If I wasn’t thinking about moving out of my tiny apartment with nearly zero storage space, I’d have you over immediately. It’s been such a challenge during the past 7 years…moving from over 2500 sq. ft. in Nashville to 1200 sq. ft. in Norwalk to my current 900 sq. ft. Obviously MUCH was sold and donated at each move….some of which I should have kept because since March, I’ve started cooking again and I realized I gave away items I hadn’t used in several years. This is a good reason to give away things but who would have predicted a pandemic???? Clothes are my biggest issue. Yikes. Thank you for these great tips. Vis a vis The Container Store….I could LIVE in The Container Store.

    1. Someday we should do a road trip to the Container Store LOL! I think nobody could have anticipated the pandemic, or the shortages and restrictions it would bring. That said, I have been impressed with discovering how much I can flex and adapt. You really did experience a couple of significant downsizes, Jan. 900 square feet isn’t much, so every item really needs to “justify its real estate.” At every stage, we need to be very clear on what matters most, be sure to keep that, and eliminate whatever we might have that is getting in the way.

  10. Pingback: Challenge #2- The “Junk” Drawer | The Seana Method Organizing & Productivity

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.