Jewelry boxes keep desk drawers tidy.

Story highlights

Combat clutter with ordinary household items used in unexpected ways

Wrapping is a snap with unused coat hangers and a paper towel holder

Votive candle holders and jewelry boxes can save your junk drawer

Real Simple  — 

The experts at Real Simple have a knack for recognizing under-used household items as clever clutter-busting tools. Here are some new and unexpected ways to organize your home with things you may already have lying around.

Real Simple: I need help organizing my…

Use jewelry boxes: Those little boxes are so sturdy and trim that you hate to throw them out. So don’t. Instead, clip them together to create tidy divided storage for pens and pencils, lipsticks, plastic flatware, whatever it is that clutters your drawer (maybe jewelry?).

Use glass jars: “Grandpa’s wood-shop solution of attaching glass jars underneath a table or a shelf is tried-and-true,” says Ted McCann, a Brooklyn-based custom woodworker. This trick works in the garage, the basement, and the craft room (or even possibly the home office, if you have an appropriate area): Nail or superglue the lids to the underside of a surface near where you store your tools, then twist the jars into place. Put like-size nuts and bolts in one jar, wood screws in another, nails in another. Also attach an empty jar so that when you’re working on a project, you can gather the necessary hardware and stow it there.

Use shower curtain hooks: If space allows, place hooks on a closet bar and hang purses from them to keep your carryalls at eye level. Say good-bye to a mess of accessories on your closet floor.

Solve your purse storage dillema with a few S-hooks.

Real Simple: A bedroom closet makeover

Use a tissue box: Dispense plastic grocery bags with ease by stuffing empties into an old tissue box stored under the sink; simply pull out one when you need it. For a slimmer solution, try a cardboard paper-towel tube.

Use a paper towel holder: Marathon gift wrapping? For easy access to ribbon, slide spools onto a paper towel stand’s post. Stack them from largest to smallest, bottom to top. When done, tape the ribbon ends to their spools to keep them neat.

Use a dish-drying rack : Keep coloring books and art supplies organized in a dish-drying rack. Stack the books, like plates, between the prongs. Store markers, crayons, and pencils in the utensil caddy.

Real Simple: Systems for managing your mail

Use spice containers: These squat, clear-topped jars (sold at kitchen supply stores) can keep the loose bits that accumulate on your desktop and in your drawers – stamps, Post-it notes, paper clips, rubber bands, etc., etc., etc. – under control.

Use velcro tape: There are plenty of cord organizers on the market, but Carrick Rowe, an interior designer in New York City, suggests using Velcro tape ($5 for a 15-foot roll, to keep electronic cords in check. “I’ve screwed a small hook into the bottom of a desk and hung bundled wires up and out of the sight line,” she says. Another idea: Make your own cable binder from a stretchy trouser sock with the toe cut off.

To keep tabs on which cord belongs to which machine, attach adhesive file-folder labels with the names of the cords’ owners (lamp, TV, DVD, phone) near the plugs.

Use a tension rod: To keep pot lids from rattling around and getting lost in kitchen drawers, position a short tension rod to create a divider. Stack pots and pans in the larger section and lean lids against the rod on the smaller side.

Use a coat rack: Hang your best-loved (and most frequently worn) necklaces and bracelets within easy reach on a wall-mounted coat rack. Bonus: They’ll stay tangle-free when not decorating your neck. Or mount corkboard – available in various sizes – on a wall and drape necklaces from straight pins.

Plastic bags are a cinch to tame with a tissue box's pop up delivery system.

Use hangers: Keep individual sheets of wrapping paper crease-free by clipping them to a pants or skirt hanger. Do the same with gift bags, or loop their handles over the hook of the hanger. (You can also use a shoe organizer: Stash scissors, tape, gift tags, and other decorating supplies inside the compartments.)

Real Simple: 31 ways to makeover your closets

Use a pegboard: Keep sports equipment of all shapes and sizes tidy with an adaptable pegboard. Tim Fooks, a designer for Home Depot, recommends buying a pegboard with 1/4-inch holes, which will hold more weight than other sizes. The holes will also be able to accommodate hooks in the three common sizes: 1/8, 3/16, and 1/4 inch. Be sure to hang only lightweight items on the skinnier hooks, so they won’t pull out of the pegboard, says Fooks.

Use zipper-sealed bags: Keep sets of napkins and place mats in large sealed plastic bags and label how many are in each bag.

No more knots to untie when it comes time to dress a present with ribbon -- just use a paper towel holder.

Use a desk organizer: Sort cookie sheets, cutting boards, and jelly-roll pans in the kitchen for easy access (and no more cymbal-crashing sounds) in an overstuffed cabinet.

Use votive-candle holders: Put empty votive-candle holders to work: Fill them with toothpicks and offer along with appetizers. Or put them on a desk or inside your junk drawer, and give small items like paper clips or bobby pins a place to call home.

Real Simple: Organizing new uses for old things

Use clear boxes: For scissors, glue sticks, crayons, and the like, Lucite or other plastic containers provide smart storage and consolidation (no more forcing crayons back into a disintegrating cardboard box to make a matched set). Kids can easily see what each container holds, and they can find the right shade of green at a glance and put back what they’ve taken out when they’re done.

Use a desktop organizer : A standard desktop organizer can hold bathroom essentials, such as makeup, cotton swabs, brushes, and combs.

Use colored bins: Assign a colored bin or basket to each family member to hold items they’ll want to grab as they leave the house (keys, permission slips, mail, umbrellas, gloves, etc.).

Color-coded bins also work for sorting recyclables (green for glass, white for paper); instead of letting junk mail pile up, dump it directly into the appropriate bin. (To curb junk mail, sign up at, which charges a $10 fee to get your name and address removed from many marketing lists.)

Real Simple: Purge your pantry