small improvements: tiny parts storage.

June 15, 2023

Q: Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

A: To sort plastic beads into tiny plastic drawers.

I hate the stranglehold that clear plastic storage solutions have on the organizing and shelter media world, which is why I feel compelled to confess the deep personal satisfaction I recently got from sorting my children’s extra large mason jar of beads and pipe cleaners into the clear plastic drawers of a vintage hardware box.

I have organized a drawer for perler beads and one for tri-beads. Heart-shaped beads and star-shaped beads are mixed together in one drawer, as are an assortment of alphabet beads. I stopped short of separating the pearlescent pony beads from the solid-colored pony beads, but I did not resist the temptation to give the clear, glittery ones a drawer of their own. There are more faceted beads than any other variety and so they fill their own drawer nearly to the brim.

Generally plastic beads make their way into our apartment via daycare, where the serious work of beading is executed by my extremely prolific children. Over the past few years, one, and now another, have quite often, and sometimes daily, brought me custom bracelets. The style of their work, I’d say, has been avant-garde. The presentation, always requiring of fanfare. But the artists aren’t overly attached to the end product. I slide the fuzzy pipe cleaners over my wrist, and try not to visibly wince when the wire end scrapes my flesh. I wear the bracelets while I make dinner and read bedtime stories and when the requisite period of fawning is over, I slide the beads off their pipe cleaners and into a large mason jar that my kids can dig into when the beading urge strikes again.

A mason jar full of beads and pipe cleaners is a perfectly reasonable storage solution until someone might soon perish without the purple dolphin bead they spy at the very bottom of the jar. No amount of wriggling tiny fingers can wrest it from underneath the mass of once and future microplastics layered on top, and so the contents of the jar are dumped into a tray and across the table and onto the floor and I am forced to take some deep breaths in the kitchen, cursing a plastic dolphin and the bracelet it rode in on.

Suffice to say, I’ve spent some time looking into alternatives to the jar o’ beads. There are roughly eleventy billion sortable, close-able, stackable options on the market, many of them designed for precisely this purpose, and to absolutely no one’s surprise, I hate all of them. I briefly considered buying the steel containers with lots of little compartments of the sort electricians might use, but they’re heavy and designed with nuts and bolts in mind, not low-density polyethylene. I wondered over cheap balsa wood containers but I knew they wouldn’t hold up. I entertained the idea of folding twenty paper boxes from magazine pages, but even I am not naive enough to think paper boxes in the hands of a three-year-old would be an improvement over our particular predicament.

I lost interest. I moved onto more pressing matters. For instance, everything. And then, when I stopped looking, I spotted a vintage hardware box at the little secondhand shop around the corner. It has clear plastic drawers that I have filled with multi-colored plastic beads. If I had my druthers, I would have neither the plastic beads nor the attending plastic drawers, but my druthers have seemingly rolled off the table and onto the floor. Anyone care to make a bracelet?

Q: Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

A: Well, everything except for plastic beads, which will stick around for-just-about-ever.

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Laura June 15, 2023 at 5:53 pm

    With a small baby I haven’t found much time for reading blogs lately, but this sweet post (and really just a visit to your site) was just what I needed. You always have the right balance of pragmatism, positivity, and humor. Just the salve this anxious perfectionist needed.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 16, 2023 at 1:19 pm

      I’m so glad to hear that Laura! Talk about a salve!

  • Reply SJ June 15, 2023 at 6:13 pm

    Relatable content! lol. Cry out loud? But seriously this is genius. Never shall a plastic bead be thrown away again in my house! Thank you Erin!

  • Reply Michelle June 15, 2023 at 6:48 pm

    Oh Mary Oliver-I do miss you & also think the old drawers are about as perfect as one could hope for!

  • Reply Andie June 15, 2023 at 6:51 pm

    I realized recently that I’ve been following your blog and writing for over 10 years (from the lofted studio days). I continue to find your voice and approach to life inspiring, fresh, and real, this little meditation on plastic beads no exception. Thanks for sharing with us 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 16, 2023 at 1:19 pm

      Thanks so much, Andie! This means so much!

  • Reply Maggie June 15, 2023 at 8:00 pm

    I love the feeling of finding that “just right” thing — often on my Buy Nothing group, sometimes at a secondhand shop. It feels like a treasure hunt!

  • Reply Becca June 15, 2023 at 10:29 pm

    I’m an elementary school art teacher and this makes me feel seen but also sorry to be part of the problem. There are those few kids who, like you and i, seek to salvage every precious bead from the floor, under the art room sink…. Then there are the majority of kids who don’t give a crap that in their artistic process, they left the art room floor as a veritable ball pit of beads. And then there was the day a special needs preschooler found the beads and dumped them by HANDFULS into the heating grate whilst cackling with glee. Those beads are still there, in the heater, sparkling with malicious chaos.

    • Reply Suz June 16, 2023 at 3:46 pm

      My child (well one of mine) is the student saving all the leftover beads on the floor! And also any other paper or art supplies left behind. So please know there are children and their parents who appreciate your work and the supplies you provide! I also loved how you turned around the beads in the heater…I love the visual of them sparkling! I work as a sub. Nurse in several school districts across all grades, so this last visual will be great for me to think about when a student’s behavior doesn‘t appear to be at it‘s best.

  • Reply Maureen June 16, 2023 at 6:05 am

    Lovely! What do you do for storage/organization of all the other art supplies, and more importantly the artwork?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 16, 2023 at 1:22 pm

      We keep a ream of mixed media paper in the desk shown here and each kid has a roll-up pencil case for colored pencils and a watercolor set (well, only two of those). Other things like scissors, erasers, etc. go into a wall caddy that I made! IMHO though, the ream of good quality drawing paper is the absolute best investment. It’s not as expensive as watercolor, but you can still really use it to create something beautiful! I save favorites in a little folder and recycle the rest (v liberally!).

      • Reply Maureen June 16, 2023 at 2:02 pm

        Thank you! Love all your stories and advice and refer to your blog and book often 🙂

  • Reply Julie June 16, 2023 at 11:56 am

    Many a chuckle was had!

  • Reply Madz June 16, 2023 at 1:11 pm

    Erin, this is a truly great piece of writing (in my humble opinion). It is funny and amusing and gosh that’s a cute set of drawers – but captures the pain of living in this moment. In a world where we know so much about micro plastics and yet still have plastic beads. It holds space for a lot of different feelings and ideas. I wish there was more of this kind of environment conscious writing out there.

    p.s. Have you read Braiding Sweetgrass? Sometimes your writing reminds me of hers.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 16, 2023 at 1:17 pm

      Oh gosh. Thank so much! I adore Braiding Sweetgrass. Highest compliment.

  • Reply Sid June 16, 2023 at 4:12 pm

    This just might be my favourite thing you’ve ever posted 🙂 Thank you for sharing your beautiful writing, pragmatism, humour and honesty.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 16, 2023 at 4:23 pm

      thanks so much, sid! so glad to be here writing!

  • Reply Anna June 17, 2023 at 10:03 am

    Erin- Where did you get your perpetual calendar? Really want to get one!

  • Reply Paula June 18, 2023 at 7:25 pm

    Ha ha! This is great and very relatable.
    I love an article where I come by a new to me word. (druther)
    I hope you write another book one day.

  • Leave a Reply

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

    Comments are moderated.