Simple Stuff: A series devoted to talking about the stuff that might prove useful or helpful or otherwise necessary while making a home in a small apartment or anywhere. Its aim is to provide a bit of inspiration for simplifying your space sustainably and stylishly. Its contention is that what’s useful can be beautiful, and that you might already have everything you need.
If you’ve ever endeavored to do a proper clean out of a room, you know that the little stuff that filters out can be the most perplexing of all. Where to put it? How to organize it? How to keep it from accumulating?
As I’ve said before, part of the answer for me is a handful of pouches, bags, and other soft-sided vessels for keeping everything tidy. And as I’ve also said, the secret is keeping like with like. Cramming true miscellany into one bag isn’t a route toward organization, it’s a route toward hiding things and, possibly, unwittingly repurchasing something you already have. This is serious business, after all, and we must stay vigilant.
Suffice to say, I’m not a stockpiler. Don’t ask me for a spare toothbrush, in other words, I probably don’t have one. But there are items in the world of bathroom and kitchen supplies where having more than one of something is either helpful or unavoidable. For those things—mason jar lids, and nail grooming supplies, and essential oils, and hair elastics—small bags are an answer.
The bags are helpful for keeping these kinds of things organized, but they’re also helpful for creating a bit of visual order. Opening my closet door and seeing a series of similar bags neatly tucked into a basket feels better than opening a closet and seeing a jumble.
They can also function in the same way that keeping only a limited number of hangers in your closet might: by staving off the accumulation of things you don’t really need. Impulse nail polish buys (or hoarding nail polishes that are long past their prime) might become more rare when you know you have a finite space back home to keep them in.
As you all know, order can be achieved regardless of the design on the outside of the bag. Choose whatever you love, or gather whatever you already have, and put small bags to use for a bit of organizing. I especially like to use plain old cotton or canvas, but I have a few old favorites (like the embroidered pouch from India in these shots) in the mix, too. Many of the bags that we use are the same kinds of small drawstring pouches that find their way into our lives via gifts (and that I recently talked about being nice for toting around snacks). As it happens, they’re also nice for storing bobby pins, or extra bars of soap, etc.
If you’re hoping for a fresh start or you’re otherwise bagless, here are a few other options:
+ Linen Fred Pouches from Fog Linen come in subtle stripes or plain gray. They have wide gussets that allow for ample storage room and easy propping in a spot like a closet shelf or cabinet.
+ I recently bought a few of these plain jane Natural Canvas Pencil Cases (pictured above) in an assortment of sizes for better tackling my bathroom-related clutter that I actually need to store in my clothes closet. (#lifeinatinyapartment). I personally love their simple shape and customizable size.*
+ Alternately, this set of four Cotton Canvas Zipper Bag would also look neat and uniform.
+ If you’re afraid of leaks or spills, this First Aid Ditty Bag is made of natural linen and it’s lined with water-resistant fabric. It looks like a lovely option for first aid supplies or essentials oil.
+ For folks looking to make your own: This Purl Soho Simple Lined Zippered Pouch Pattern looks simple to follow (and then you get to make all the decisions about color and size you’d like!).
+ Most small drawstring bags of the sort that gifts sometimes come in can be purchased very cheaply in very large numbers. I’ve never found buying this sort of thing to be particularly valuable, but if you have a need for a larger number of bags (but still not an order in the hundreds), these Cotton Muslin Bags are a sturdy choice (pictured above!).
+ If you have the need to stash anything quite a bit bulkier, the Field Bag from Fringe Supply Co. is one that I’ve long admired. It’s designed to stand upright on its own, and it’s made especially with knitters in mind, but I think it could be handy for all kinds of sorting needs. Plus, it looks built to last an actual lifetime.
+For folks looking to make your own drawstring pouches: Consider making a set of Drawstring Bags in Linen Grid. Simple and pretty.
*A note on labeling. I babysat for a family in college who had the most immaculately organized home of any I’d ever seen. Everything in the house had a spot to live in and those spots where labeled with an old fashioned label maker. It struck me as a combination of smart and wacky (a favorite combo). While I haven’t gone so far as to label the contents of my linen cabinets or my pouches, I can understand the impulse. At least occasionally, it’s nice to acknowledge that you share a house with other humans who might not also be mind readers. Colored ribbons on zipper tabs, fabric marker notes on a corner, or a bit of rustic embroidery, would all make for easy distinguishing factors. (Brightly embroidered pouches brought to you from a best friend in India work too.)
I love these. My 10 year old niece got a sewing machine for Christmas last year and she made me a couple pouches. I never thought of using them this way. I usually use them for travel or to store stuff in my work handbag. Never really to store things from around the house. Thanks for the idea! She will be glad to make them for me (at a cost of course, haha).
Another idea for labelling while allowing reuse of the pouch or bag: attach a key tag to the fabric loop, zipper pull, etc… https://www.amazon.com/Avery-Split-White-Diameter-11027/dp/B000BQO42I/
I love the natural canvas pencil cases that are pictured. The link takes me to pencil cases without the zipper puller. I assume the design changed slightly. Still gorgeous!
Hi there! An unexpected little touch from the seller!
Going to purchase some soon. Excited about getting more organized with these–they are lovey!
I meant lovely, sorry!
I remember making drawstring pouches as a child for my mother one year for Christmas- to keep her breakable tree ornaments from breaking when packed away in the box with all the others- instead of using tissue paper or paper towels. When we were going through her things last year before moving her to an assisted living facility, I set them aside with a smile to use for my own special ornaments!
Such a sweet story! And such a good use!
For more designy zippered pouches and other small cotton goods, check out bookhou.
Oh, yes! I was focused on purely utilitarian pouches for the purposes of this post, but I love these, too!
Huge bookhou fan here, too. I use them for everything. So pretty and such good quality.
Ooo, I do love a good zip pouch! Thanks for sharing the links.
Love these suggestions Erin. Thought you might be interested in these felted wool pouches from http://www.byrdandbelle.com and http://www.carry-okubo.com. The craftsmanship is exquisite and the felt is thick and high quality. I use them to store my knitting notions and such, but they could be used for so many things.
Lovely! Byrd and Belle is an RMTL sponsor and I love their tech cases for my computer and kindle!
I love a good canvas/linen pouch.
Hey Erin, I love these type of posts. Little bags and pouches for organization warm my heart…and I love my label maker. 🙂
I have a question I’ve been meaning to ask you regarding those snack bags that you posted about last month. My youngest child is starting school this fall, and I will need to pack her lunch. I have some various reusable containers, but I’m afraid she’s too small to remove the lids. So I thought the little bags that you posted about would be a good option for her, and I’m wondering if you’ve any problems with food going stale in them? I plan on packing sandwiches and a few crunchy snacks like pretzels and crackers, etc. Do the bags tend to keep contents fresh for several hours?
We haven’t noticed any problems! Granted, we typically snack on things like nuts, which might not go stale in the same way that pretzels or crackers do.
I thought I recognized that pouch!
I’ve been traveling for a few months an devised a similar system of pouches to keep all of my purse/backpack/beach basket (depending on location) contents straight. One for self-care-y lotions and potions, one for tech chords, etc., one for reusable snacking supplies… and so on. It has made un-packing and re-packing myself for various excursions so much easier! I wound up using little thin cotton zippered pouches that I bought at the co-op for bulk food shopping in addition to some more structured options and they’re great! I think I may have to implement this system for more things once I’m settled in back at home 🙂
My daughter made such clever pouches for a school project. Just plain old pouch, but where the zipper might be, she inserted a cut piece of metal tape measure on each side. Enclosed in fabric, the metal ‘snaps’ shut! They are brilliant.
The only problem with labeling every last item in your house (I feel) is it makes us less flexible to all the shifting that happens in small space storage. We have one closet for the bulk of our storage and things rotate in/out and move shelves so often that I think labels would be aged out every week, and I might even mentally think I couldn’t move something. Maybe it’s just not my cup of tea, but I would feel really hindered with everything being labeled. I tend to use clear boxes that I can quickly see through–a self-lable ish.
Absolutely love your blog!
Keep up the amazing work x
I love this post. What is it about organizing that is almost romantic? As for the labeling I have found wooden gift tags (available on Amazon… https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005TKYHCS/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1) tied with a bit of twine look pretty nice. I recently used the muslin bags you featured along with these wooden tags to organize my daughter’s art supplies and baby clothes. Then I could label them, for example, “crayons” or 18-24mo clothes so I could avoid opening each bag to see its contents.
Anyways, thanks always for your beautiful blog and the endless inspiration it has given me!
While it’s not as pretty to look at, a collection of thrifted wet bags (also known as toiletry bags here in Australia) also works quite well (and is environmentally friendly in terms of re-used) for organising bits and bobs. I figure they sit inside my bathroom and bedroom drawers anyway, out of sight.
I love your simple stuff series!
Great advice; using the cotton bags that pillowcases or sheets come in is also useful as they are washable!
I ♡ your book & this storage solution. The only thing is, well, storing jewellery this way means you can’t see what you have and this tends to result in not wearing much more than a few daily pieces, and special occasions happen every week: surely you could make room for a jewellery box? Organisation is key to use, it protects, and I have a really easy time of it deciding what to wear with a well designed four drawer jewellery box I have nicknamed “the vault”. It brings me daily joy.
Glad to hear you’ve found a solution that works for you!
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