The Ultimate Guide to Getting Organized on a Budget

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I’ve struggled over the years with wanting to “organize” all our stuff and get it in nice Pinterest-worthy order. I don’t usually have the inclination or the budget to pull it off. Today Life as MOM contributor Prerna shows us how to organize on a budget.

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Organized on a Budget

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This post was originally posted on May 14, 2013.

As someone who tries to get the maximum bang for her buck and believes in “doing more with less” as a mom and an entrepreneur, organizing is one area where I am often tempted to just jump in and buy everything on display. Seriously.

However, luckily, better sense — or my husband Mayank — prevails, and I tend to look at how I can get organized and yet NOT buy yet another product to help me streamline that which I already own. Sounds familiar?

This post {a really long one!} is all about how I organize, streamline and keep clutter at bay by stretching my imagination and using Google.

Organizing on a Budget? And How to Know When to Spend

Seriously, we own too much stuff. All of us.

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Organized on a Budget

As folks who’ve been decluttering pretty much all this year, Mayank and I are amazed by how much we still own that is no longer needed or used. In the last few months, we’ve sold a baby bottle sterilizer {our daughter is 5 and has NEVER been on a bottle. Sigh!}, a tennis racquet that she’s outgrown, and an old cellphone. We’ve given away TONS of stuff, including 6 hand bags, SO many old clothes, books, a printer that didn’t work and was eating space for the last 12 months {!!}, and I am sure a lot more that I no longer remember.

Any way, the point of sharing all the ugly details of our decluttering is that we all own a lot of stuff and buying more products to organize all of that just doesn’t add up.

Having said that, I also realize that sometimes you do need things to neaten up the home and make it easier for you to manage your routines and lives.

How do you decide when to break open the wallet and when to hold tight?

You ask yourself:

  • Can I use something that I already own to corral the clutter instead of buying this “organizing product”?
  • Do I really need the stuff that I’m buying this organizer for?

For instance, do you really need 10 rolls of giftwrap, a pack of labels, 15 different ribbons? Unless you’re professionally gift wrapping things or have a VERY large family and social circle,  and a TON of gifting all year round, my guess is you don’t.

If you only keep 2-3 rolls of gift paper and a few ribbons handy in a drawer or basket, you don’t need to fork out a tidy amount for a giftwrap organizer.

Ask yourself these two questions and chances are you’ll end up NOT buying that organizing product. Ask me how I know that.

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Organized on a Budget

How to Get Organized Without Spending a Penny

Now that we know that organizing is more about streamlining and less about getting more “stuff”, let’s get down to brass tacks and learn how to get organized without spending a penny. That is right.

You may already own EVERYTHING you need to help you corral all those bits and bobs.

To start with, here are 10 organizing products and their homemade substitutes:

1. Meal Trays = Drawer Organizer

Here’s a look at my office desk drawer organized with a metal meal tray. If you don’t have one, you can easily use a simple plastic serving tray and add a few small bowls or muffin tins.

2. Cheese or Plastic Boxes = Drawer Organizer No.2

My second favorite go-to for drawer organizing is the small square plastic boxes I get when we buy blocks of cheese. I’ve used them in my daughter’s dressing table drawer to organize her hair accessories.

You can use just any plain plastic box, preferably square. Combine a few in a variety of sizes, tape them with double-sided tape to the bottom of the drawer and voila’ , instant no-cost drawer organizer.

3. Plates = Countertop Clutter Buster

I’ve used a couple of breakfast plates whose counterparts had long since been shattered to corral bathroom counter clutter. You can do the same for the dining table and keep all those bottles of peanut butter, ketchup and jelly organized.

4. Ice Cube Trays = Jewelry Organizer

This is a cheap trick I’ve been using for years. I have a stack of 3 ice cube trays holding my junk jewelry earrings. Easy-to-see and absolutely free!

5. Glass Jars = Pens and Pencil Holders

I’m a HUGE fan of glass jars { and yes when we decluttered I gave away a ton of these as well!} and using them to hold pencils, crayons and pens is  a great way to NOT buy a pen holder. Here are 10 more ideas to reuse glass jars.

6. Shoe Boxes = Storage Boxes

I have covered shoeboxes in newspaper and leftover giftwrap and then used them for stationery storage as well as Christmas decorations storage. Covering them in paper is a fun craft activity that my daughter loves to do and getting nice, big storage boxes for free is my idea of fun!

7. Cloth Grocery Bags = Book Bags

The stores we go to often hand out cloth grocery bags if we forget to take our own. The spare cloth bags then become book bags or bags for holding garbage liners. See, you don’t need to buy a garbage bag dispenser.

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Organized on a Budget

8. Bowls and Baskets = Catch-Alls

Every time I have a spare bowl or basket, I look for ways to use it as a catch-all. On my daughter’s study table, it holds all the random stuff she collects – leaves, twigs, paper cuttings. You get the point. In the master bedroom, on the night stand, it is a handy place to keep the cellphones or some mints.

9. Hanger= Outfit Organizer

I was really drawn to a snazzy looking outfit organizer the other day and then I realized I can do the same with a bunch of hangers. Simply put my whole outfit together and hang it up. I can do this for the whole week and every morning just reach out and pick out a hanger with an outfit all set.

If I wanted to go further, I’d label my hangers Monday through Sunday as well, but I guess that would be too much even for me.

10. Go Digital = Paper Management System

Finally, we’ve minimized our need for a file cabinet in our home office simply by going paperless as much as possible. Client contracts are signed via Echosign, documents are shared via Dropbox and not postal mail, most of our reading material for research and learning is on Kindle, receipts are managed via Shoeboxed. Yes, going paperless can be the best gift you can give yourself for getting organized on the cheap.

Check out these other ideas to help inspire you to keep up with organizing without spending a penny.

  • No-Cost Cheap Hacks to Cut Clutter and Organize Chaos: Consider 5 go-to strategies for organizing on a shoestring budget.
  • Make Things Do Double Duty: Learn more DIY, no-cost hacks for toy storage, bathroom storage and double duty décor.
  • 30 {more!} No-Cost Organizing Hacks: Find out how to use egg cartons, tinned food cans and more to get organized.
  • 13 Ways to Get Organized for the Year: Seriously, start now and have a stress-free rest of the year!
  • How to Organize Just About Anything for Free: More goodness to help you streamline your life without spending a penny.

Learning As You Go

The best part about frugal organizing is that you can learn as you go. Each time I have an organizing dilemma, I turn to my trusty friend – Google and you can be sure that I have a bunch of ideas and tons of inspiration to help me save a buck and get organized as well.

What do YOU find the toughest to organize when on a budget?

Share with me in the comments!

Prerna Malik posing for the camera.– Prerna Malik is a mom, a wife, a writer and woman who believes in parenting with love, being postively productive, and creating a home that invites you to put your feet up and relax. Check out her free eBooks on organizing and productivity to get literally, hundreds of ideas on how to get organized on a shoestring budget, right now.

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  1. Ha! just yesterday I cut up two cereal boxes and made trays for inside a bedside table drawer. Worked great. Am now trying to figure out how to organize my fashion scarfs without them getting all dusty or wrinkled. Any ideas?

    1. I use a plastic clothes hanger and put some plastic shower rings on it. Then I hang my scarfs on the shower rings. You can hang 4 or 5 scarfs on one hanger. Works pretty well.

  2. Thanks for this really great post. We are trying to organize our home on a budget and definitely needed to learn more. We do use boxes for storing things in our cupboard, that my daughter decorated with scrapbook paper. After reading your post, I’m going to look around my house for more things I can use to help organize. Thanks!

  3. I don’t have glass jars floating around; however, I do have an excess of coffee mugs. I get two coffee mugs a year where I work. I don’t drink coffee and I don’t drink a lot of hot cocoa. I use these mugs to corral my pens, pencils, dry erase markers, scissors, etc. I was able to empty out a plastic box for my daughter and put all of her markers, crayons, etc. in there. My mom’s work was getting rid of their paper journals (since they are all digital now) and they were throwing out the magazine holders. I had my mom grab some and my daughters coloring pages and coloring books are in them, and magazines I have (for a multitude of reasons, I can’t do the digital). A lot of the things I have were all free. You’d be surprised at what you can find if you just ask around. 🙂

  4. when we really started to learn how to live below our means by changing the culture of our household one day at a time, i became a ‘use what i have’ maniac.

    it was amazing how much i started to appreciate our income by learning how to re-purpose almost anything, from bins, boxes, and frames/art work. eventually i learned how to let go of things that weren’t my favorite things. before i bought something at the store the first thought that came to my mind was ‘how hard do we have to work to earn the money to buy this?’ ….. answer? i could usually put it back on the shelf and thought of something we already had that could do the job and be content to boot.

    i like the list of ideas above. my favorite new habit is to buy a roll of brown shipping paper for gift wrap and then personalize it by searching for and buying cute gift tags or ribbons when they are the right price.

    1. Thanks so much, Annie for sharing and I love the “”use what I have” maniac”.. SO me.. LOL! and that brown shipping paper idea is such a cool thing.. What I sometimes do is to get my 5-year old to paint the paper with string or even, handprints and it just personalizes it instantly.. PLUS gives her a fun craft to do:)

  5. These sound like great ideas, but some pictures would really help. When I think about what I have around my house like this, it sounds like it would look like a bunch of junk holding my junk…I’m sure it doesn’t, but I need visuals!