If keeping a tidy home or office seems hopeless, part of the reason may be that not EVERYTHING has a home.  Some categories are obvious – clothes go to the closet, books go to the bookshelf, and used coffee cups go to the kitchen sink – but what about  that spare switch plate?

After years of organizing homes and offices, I have come up with a checklist of consistently overlooked storage needs and solutions for them.  Here they are:

bill-organizer-329512x1. Bills to pay. This might be the most important one and no, that pile of mail on the dining room table does not count.  Solution: A small dedicated structure with slots like the 31 Day Bill Organizer keeps the bill paying challenge limited and that’s a good thing.   Reserve it ONLY for bills to pay, not other to-do’s.   Discard the outer envelopes and inserts as soon as the bill comes in.  If you pay online then you can discard the return envelope as well.  All you need is the reminders to pay.  That will visually limit the task of bill paying and make it seem more manageable.

2. Owners Manuals and warranties. Boy, I find these things everywhere!  Often an effort is made to file them, but I don’t recommend that.  They get very bulky and waste valuable filing space. Solution:. A good sized clear plastic bin or drawer.  Owners manuals and warranties fall under the just-in-case category, which I think is a mistake to over organize.  As long as they are always in just one place, you’ll find them in the rare event you need them.

3. Gifts to give. A good way to determine where something belongs is to first ask WHY you are keeping it.  Many is the time a client decides he or she is keeping something because it would make a good gift, Great! Solution: Designate a box or a drawer for just gifts, so you always know where to go when you need to give or store a gift.

4. Keepsakes. Everybody’s got ‘em.  They’re those items that bring back special memories that you have no intention of ever wearing or displaying again, but you can’t bring yourself to toss them out.  So don’t, but do give them a special place. Solution: I keep these irreplaceables in a trunk.  You might call it a treasure chest.   For a larger item, consider taking a photo of it and disposing the item.

5. Travel Items. Do you have a place for those European outlet adaptors or travel sized toiletries?  A suitcase is not bad, but it’s easier to have a separate designated container. Solution: A medium sized clear plastic box should do the trick.  Store it near your suitcase.

6. Reading Material. If you display your magazines on your coffee table in the living room you never use, then that’s exactly where they’ll stay, unread. Solution: If you like to read in bed, keep a small reading basket on your nightstand.  If you like to read on the train, keep your magazines in your work bag.  When these locations get full, toss the older items from the bottom.

7. Reference Material. It’s important to distinguish reference from reading because it makes your reading pile more manageable. Solution: It pays to simply organize your reference pages in binders with simple categories, so you can always find WHAT you want WHEN you need it, but be ruthless.  We tend to keep far more than we actually reference.

8. Return Items. Library books, friend’s casserole dishes, and redeemable bottles all need a designated spot near your exit door.  Solution: I recommend a spot that sticks out like a sore thumb, so it compels you to take the item with you as you leave.

9. Items to fix. One of the biggest reasons people hold on to questionable stuff is that they intend to fix it.  This may be a false priority. Solution: it’s a good idea to put all the items to fix, together in one spot, perhaps a set of workshop shelves to see just how much there is what tops the priority list.

10. Tools/Utility. You may not think you need this category, but everybody does.  Some common orphan items I find are duct tape, furniture pads, a door stop,  glue, extra Ikea fixtures, and a measuring tape. Solution: All these items can go in a tools/ utility box or drawer.

11. Electronics. We live in an electronic world, so electronic odds and ends need a home.   Got a spare switch plate, plug adaptor, electrical tape, or safety outlet plug? Solution: These can all go in a small clear drawer or clear plastic shoebox.   You might want to keep batteries here too.

This month’s key to unlocking clutter: Surface areas like your work desk and dining table are your most important tools in the war on clutter, because they provide a runway for processing.  If there is that last 10 percent that you can never seem to clear off, perhaps it is because there are some less obvious categories that you hadn’t considered.  This checklist of eleven homes could make all the difference.