The Clutter Manifesto

My basement workshop is so crammed full of stuff I literally can’t use it. My workbench, a sturdy hardwood library table, is covered in junk to the point that I couldn’t find a square foot that didn’t have two layers of detritus on it — the top layer is big things like old projects that no longer work, boxes of stuff, fragile but light things perched on top. Underneath is the magma of bent resistors, snippets of LED strip, #4 screws, mystery fasteners I’ll never use, purple circuit boards from old versions of projects, and a surprising number of SparkFun and Adafruit breakouts that have filtered down from higher up in the heap.

When work on something I bring the parts up to the dining room and work on the table, which is great for many reasons — more space, better light, and superior noms access top the list. The down side is that I don’t devote any time to making my real shop into a viable working place, and it becomes a cluttered store room by default.

I am therefore focusing on a four-part plan to reclaim my work space from heaps of junk.

1. Have a System, Not a Gimmick Fix

Most workshop clutter articles involve “clever tricks” category, you know, grandpa’s jam jars on the ceiling kind of thing. It usually boils down to, what’s a cute and fun way to store the stuff currently in your workshop?

In short, it presupposes that one system will be all that it takes to get your work area in order. I am reminded of those old-school pegboards where the owner drew outlines for the saw, hammer, clamp, and so on. Inevitably old tools were lost and new ones added, and from that point forward, the pegboard sucks. You get to look at a saw outline with a hammer hanging in front of it, barring repainting. No one would blame you for zeroing out at that point.

This is not to say that those organization ideas can’t be used — they’re just not a panacea. A few months ago I wrote a piece on using peanut butter jars to store LEGO and metal hardware, with laser-cut wooden trays allowing me to stack up a bunch of jars in a relatively small amount of floor space.

I tried to build that in with modularity, the trays can accommodate seven small or four big jars each. More to the point, I definitely need multiple shifting, flexible solutions so that my system doesn’t become a hindrance.

2. Only Work Goes on the Bench

There’s a reason why it’s called the workbench, because I work on it. When people talk about clutter they shouldn’t be referring to the stuff one’s currently working on. That’s not clutter, that’s just work. But it becomes clutter when I’m not working on anything on the bench and it’s still messy. Then the bench has become storage, and that is a dangerous and fraught path, at least within the realm of cleanliness.

If you have to set a project aside, either for reasons of time, parts, or boredom, box that project up. If nothing else it will save your stuff from getting dusty or damp.

It never hurts to maximize your real estate by take advantage of Z-space. I have a bunch of old 2x6s in my garage and I had an idea for a low shelf along the back of my table, and I could put my meter, adjustable power supply, power strip, and so on there. But in the end, the more stuff that’s not the project, the worse off I’ll be.

3. Set Up an Overflow Area

There will always be stuff that ends up in my workshop that doesn’t have a place. Most of the time it ends up on top of the workbench. Putting it there is supposed to make me want to work on it, but instead it prevents me from using the bench as effectively, and contributes to it becoming an intriguing but frustrating junk heap.

I want to set up a backup storage area — a shelf, maybe — where I can put stuff temporarily. Nothing will stay on that shelf stays longer than a year. That way I can hold on to something interesting while still recognizing that it’s on borrowed time, and either it gets used in a period of time or it gets donated or recycled.

Not coincidentally, the local hackerspace has a wonderful junk shelf — though much neater than it used to be. Now it has strict policy for not letting anything stay forever, no matter how juicy. Sometimes you just have to be ruthless.

4. Give it Away, Now

I’ve come to accept that I’m totally a ‘tronics and tool hoarder. I have 25 DC motors right next to me, but I’ll still spend two hours disassembling a broken toy to harvest yet another. I have to acknowledge that I have too much stuff, and I need to get rid of it, and that’s really at the heart of all clutter problems, a surplus of crap.

I experiment in areas outside of my core interests and acquire the infrastructure for it, but sometimes it never takes hold. For instance, I have a fairly robust set of chemistry glasswork on my desk, but haven’t had time to play with it in forever. Some of it is left over from my gunpowder-making youth, so there is a nostalgia factor as well. If I don’t think I’m going to use it in the next year or two, why not just donate it? All those DC motors could do some elementary schools some good. If I haven’t used it in a year then it goes on the free shelf at the hackerspace.

Please share some ideas you have for keeping your hackin’ game in order. How much does a cluttered house connote an uncluttered mind?

121 thoughts on “The Clutter Manifesto

    1. This thread is full of hopes and ideals, tips and solutions. At 90 Comments, I haven’t yet seen one person claim pride of their inability/undesire for organization. Messy and disorganized space invasion is fine and should be embraced as a freedom even if luxurious.

      1. If you can’t find your stuff because the stuff is too messy and disorganized, it’s not doing you any good. That certainly isn’t any sort of freedom, unless your hobby is building piles of junk.

        My space is a lot like what the author describes above. And what’s worse is that I’ve made half-hearted attempts to fix it over the years, that have really only compounded the problem – which “storage solution” is the particular piece of junk I’m looking for in?

    2. Surface mount components are their own nightmare.

      If you can avoid taking them out of the strips/reels, you’re far better off.

      If you cant, each compartment must seal. Really. The suckers are tiny. And the caps are not marked.

      I use these:

      http://www.smtzone.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=store01&Product_Code=SK128B&Category_Code=111

      At $25 each, they are not cheap, but they don’t loose anything when you knock them off the shelf either.

      1. No need for expensive boxes. Use just any cheap classer box, but put an tight-fitting thickness foam leaf under the lid, to prevent components migrating from one bin to another when the box is flipped over or shaken. The down to it is that you need to open the lid every time you need to inspect the contents, but OTOH your box has no transparent lid either.

  1. Speaking of organization… I have a large supply of 0805 surface mount resistors and capacitors that I keep in bead containers, which works great. Recently I decided to buy up a stock of 1/4 watt resistors to aid in prototyping. I’ve been looking around for a way to keep them organized but haven’t been coming up with much. I’d love to keep them stored in some sort of compact form but haven’t found anything that fits the bill yet. Surely someone here could point me to some sort of storage container that could hold 50 or more values of resistor without the chance of them becoming mixed up…

    1. For through hole resistors I keep like-values connected together, usually by the tape they came with or I add masking or painters tape if they didn’t come that way. Then I put them in containers with dividers from a craft store, probably similar to your bead containers. I separate them by wattage and powers 10. One spot for values > 100, another for 100-999, another for 1000-9999 another for 10k-99k, etc… This way If say I need a 10k resistor, I only have to paw through the 10-99k container to find my bundle of 10ks.

      I don’t have a lot of SMD parts yet but if I did I would probably use the same method only instead of tape I would use small baggies. I have a whole bunch of baggies, probably about 2x3cm for sorting small screws. That would probably work for SMD parts.

      1. For my resistors I have five drawers, sorted by the third band (majority leaded, a few loose smt and strips of smt): 1st is silver-gold-black, 2nd is brown, etc. Drawer five is for every other resistor (100+ Mohm and large power resistors)

    2. What about those hotwheel storage cases? I don’t know if they still make them, but they come with several compartments of equal size. Or a maybe a simpler idea would be a jewelry kit box, they are like bead containers but have several compartments.

      Also, depending on your size, what some companies will do when they send you tuning kits is send you a box with a styrofoam insert with holes punched into it. In the hold is a small container for parts, like a tiny pill bottle. It’s not the best solution but it worked for small 0201 parts.

    3. I have a box with small sized ziplock(?) bags stored as a card index. The value is written on a piece of tape pinched over the side of the bag. I don’t know if the descripton makes sense but it is a very compact system .

    4. I have shoeboxes full of envelopes, each one contains a given value component. Sorted in order of size(value). Works exactly like an old card index system. When I notice one get empty/nearly empty, they go in the order book. Resistors in one, capacitors/diodes in another etc. Then they are stacked.

      1. I’d like to put in a second vote for envelopes. That’s the only system I’ve ever seen actually work. Business envelopes for larger things like strips of SMD chips, through-hole resistors, and diodes; small business-card sized envelopes for short strips of SMD passives. Envelopes can either be printed with part number info or just written on for quick storage.

        If it takes longer than 30 seconds to set up storage for a new part, most of the time it’ll never happen.

      1. This is the technique I use. It works pretty well if you are careful.If you are not careful, the resisters tend to want to jump out and fall on the floor.

        (The other problem is that I have trouble finding flat empty space where I can fully open the binder. “Oh, look, that chair I was just sitting on….”)

        Literally baseball card holders were not a good size for me, but there are all kinds of those plastic sleeves for photos and whatnot.

    5. for all of my TH components I use those movable divider storage bins. I can usually keep 20-40 components in each bin, so I divide them by category. Resistors 0 – 99, 100 – 1k, etc. Transistors, FETs, sensors, etc. Label them and the system works great.

    6. I use matchboxes glued together like a set of drawers.
      Lowest value starts at lower left, values printed on cheap labels stuck to the front of the boxes.
      Each box easilly holds 50-60 1/4W resistors.
      Been using this system for the last 25 years.
      If I buy larger bulk of resistor I just store them in one of the boxes with electronic jubk arround the house and I just replenish the matchstic ‘drawers’ when needed.

    7. 12mm test tubes and 6×12 test tube racks.

      I have e12 series resistors from 1R through 100M (97 values) in 0805 and 0603, plus a couple dozen off-series values in both sizes. They all fit in three racks: rack 1: 1R-820k in 0805, rack 2: 1R-820k in 0603, rack 3: overflow.

      Rack 4 holds e6 series 0805 capacitors from 10pF through 10uF, plus oddball values
      Rack 5 holds diodes (silicon, Schottky, LEDs in 0805 and 0603)
      Rack 6 holds SOT-23 BJTs, mosfets, and JFETs
      Rack 7 holds SOT-323 and SOIC-8 op amps, switches, and comparators
      Rack 8 holds other SOT-323 chips like voltage regulators, TL431s, single-gate logic, etc

      Rough estimate, I probably have about 400 distinct parts organized and in easy reach.

      Inside each tube with the components are a paper label with the part ID and a strip of static-dissipative film (low-value capacitors pick up a lot of static charge on their own). For ICs, I just cut the appropriate part of the label on the bag the tape is shipped in.

      On the bench, I dump a few parts from the tube into a 50mm weighing boat so I can pick and place with tweezers. When I’m done, I hold the tube over a 100mm weighing boat while I dump the excess back. Any parts that miss the tube go into the 100mm boat, which I can dump into the 50mm boat and try again.

    8. I got an old typesetter’s drawer set. 24 drawers about an inch deep and each divided into various sections. It totals about 9 square meters of drawers! The whole thing is 55×90 and 110 tall. If you can find a good deal, Stanley Vidmar cabinets are great. The standard assessment is that Vidmar cabinets reduce square footage of floor to 1/3 compared to shelves and boxes. The printers cabinet is more like 6 to 1.

    9. I use a DVD storage folder for all my components that come in their little bags.
      It’s wonderful, I never have to dig through boxes again!
      You have to keep it horizontal or upright though, otherwise things may fall out. But in honesty, that never really happens. The folder also allows pages to move to a different location, and adding of pages.

    10. 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 watt I store in the 24 compartment boxes from Harbor Freight or the like.

      https://www.harborfreight.com/24-divider-storage-container-94458.html

      When set up as 12 compartments, they hold a full 12E resistor assortment (10% tolerance – 10,12,15,18,22,27,33,39,47,56,68,82) either all together or a few bins, (10-82,100-820,1k-8k2,10k-82k,100k-820k,1M-8M2 are logical choices)

      Caps come in E12 assortments too, so I use the same scheme, but separate bins for ceramic, electrolytic, tantalum, etc.

      They stack nicely or you can build some shelves that will hold them. An MDF frame with masonite back, some hardwood strips that hang them is a quick and easy afternoon project. The MDF can be cut in the home supply store, the strips held on with brads, a few screws and it is all done. I put a couple of pictures on http://www.correctivephrenology.com/blog. Maybe someday I’ll document making more of them.

    1. Best part of boxing up idle projects, it allows you to keep all the parts together, so you don’t have to go hunting for that oddcable or bracket the project requires if/when you get back to it.

    2. Plastic wrap makes it easy to bundle odd shaped things together. Even regularly shaped things. It also makes handling much nice since you don’t have to worry about pieces slipping out.
      Boxes and bins are nice but sometimes you don’t have the right size, or you put a couple half finished projects in the same box and everything gets jumbled.

      1. Also ziploc bags of course. My bench is a carbon copy of the author’s. There are at least five interrupted projects on it that I won’t be getting back to for months, and they all have several (dozens) of small parts & hardware. Ziplocks for anything small should go into the box (or plastic wrap) with each project needing it so those tiny, important pieces don’t get lost to the ether.

    3. An important detail here is to put some notes with it. If you’re not in the habit of keeping a notebook, at least sketch out some pinouts and a note about where you left off, and stuff that page into the box. It’ll save you a lot of time when you pick it back up.

  2. Storage bins for major categories, with minor sub-categories inside separated by appropriately sized and labeled ziplock bags. ‘Snack bags’ work great for sorting small components, and then bags go into other bags.
    Splitting projects you are working on, but have put aside for now, into dedicated bins with a similar organizational strategy works well also and helps to keep them off your work-bench.

      1. I have enough trouble with the concept of *my* workbench, leave an empty surface and something gets put on it…. apparently the alternative to using that particular space would have been shooting puppies…

      2. YES. THIS.

        I have a little plastic shoebox called “labeling and bundling”. It contains 3 sharpies, 2 rolls of masking tape, two boxes of different sizes of Ziplock bags, a fistful of rubber bands, a few rolls of Velcro One-Wrap, a twist-tie dispenser with cutter, and NOTHING ELSE.

        It’s not for parts, it’s not for notes, it’s not for random hardware. It’s not for other tape, it’s not for cleaning supplies. It’s just for labeling and bundling, period. This little change made such a difference in my clutter, by lowering the effort required to get things under control.

    1. Biggest quality of life improvement to my shop was when I sorted all my cables by type into large ziplock bags, and put all those bags in storage bins. Imagine never having the frustration digging though a big cable snarl to find a USB-B or 3.5mm audio extension cable.

        1. I’ve been known to use over-the-door shoe holders (clear pockets on a canvas backer) for frequently-used cables. You get 24 pockets for about ten bucks, they’re clear, and you don’t need to bind/bundle a cable before stuffing it in, because the pocket will constrain the cable itself.

          We also use a shoe holder for safety glasses at our hackerspace. 23 pairs of glasses and one pocket for hair-ties. :)

  3. Hoo boy, share my ideas (dreams, wishes). Here are a few.

    There is some optimal stuff to space ratio. Well never mind optimal, beyond some ratio there is no efficient way to store stuff. What I am trying to say is that for a given space there is a limit to how much you can store and have any hope of finding efficiently (or at all). People try to organize their way around this, but end up spending more time organizing and never do anything.

    I have tried for years to deny this, but if you can’t find something you may as well not have it. I set a time limit and beyond that time, I just go out and buy it – even though I know I have one someplace. And in frustration I say, “it may as well be on Mars!!”. A friend points out that it may be more optimal to let the store organize things and go there and buy what you need. On the flip side of this, I hate running to the store.

    I have boxes of stuff on my shelf that haven’t been opened in years. Why are they even wasting my space?

    I will look forward to the rest of this series. Good suggestions already.

    Balance is key. Utter tidiness indicates you are spending all your time being tidy and not doing anything (maybe), but total chaos means you want to do things but are drowning in clutter.

    1. Yeah, my problem isn’t so much that I mind re-buying things, it is more that:
      A) I hate useful, working things going into a landfill because I don’t have a place to put it.
      B) The stores that will have proper parts at a decent price are likely closed on the evenings and weekends when I have chances to work on my hobbies.

      Surplus shops used to be good for this kind of stuff, but property prices around here and online competition mean they are disappearing or moving further and further away.

  4. I personally find that de-junking is the most effective strategy… it doesn’t matter how much space you have, you will always fill it to capacity (and then some). I am (now) ruthless in getting rid of stuff. Yes, there are times that I find that I could have used something that I got rid of last week, but its not that often. Further, I remember that keeping stuff has its own costs – if you keep too much you need to spend money on storage, organization, etc, plus the mental stress of clutter. If I have to re-buy some widget, the cost of that is likely less than the cost of everything else listed above.

    1. For that reason I refuse to get a storage unit. Junk expands to fill the space that you keep it in, no matter what. I’m trying to get better about sticking to the one year rule, if I haven’t touched it in a year it’s gone…sold, donated, whatever.

  5. I have one word of advice, having moved from NJ to TX, losing my basement in the move…

    Don’t get a storage space for big/bulky things. No matter how well-intentioned you are about winding it down into a more manageable pile ‘some day’ rest assured, ‘some day’ never comes and you keep paying the monthly rent.

      1. Because of his business that required the parking of several t twin screw trucks and assortment trailers, my dad own half a small city block, on a prime spot on the highway everyone took to the nearest larger reservoirs in the area where many go to camp, fish and ski. Dad scoffed at my suggestion when he retired he should use the prope rty for storage units. Unfortunately he made an oral agreement to s to someone where they could purchase the property when dad died. The unfortunate part was by the time dad died the property was worth way more than the agreed on price. Dad though he was getting his affairs in order,but he didn’t understand how bad a local economy is real estate value rises. My mom would be better off if dad retained the property so mom could lease it out to supplement her income. The property was such in addition to leasing the shop and office area, there was room construct at least 30 storage units. At that time there was only one facility in the town, and all units where rented out. The downside I see, is that one has to have thicker hide when, seen as a jackass by dead beat clients when one is forced to lock them away from their possessions

    1. I calculated out that I spend like, $5,000 over the course of several years for my storage unit, could have spent a fraction of that on a large shed to stuff everything in until I got a house, and then I could have moved the shed to my house and had a decent area to store lawn tools and firewood and other stuff that’s taking up room in my garage.

      1. Sheds in this small town sheds are allowed on most rental properties, even housing the the disabled, elderly, and low income if they don’t already have storage for seasonal items have the space to construct them. Then again there’s reason why the axiom that the accumulation of stuff grows to fit the space provided, came into being.

      2. I bought a 20′ container 20 years ago for $1200 delivered – with a lock box welded on. I put a dehumidifier in it. Waterproof, rodent proof. Proof against all but determined thieves. However, it is full of old books, computers, instruments, etc. Wish I had two more.

        One great use is how hot it can get without ventilation. If I load it up with books that have gotten damp and smell musty, I can let them bake all summer with the dehumidifier running and it does wonders.

  6. I save this random piece ‘X’ because it is unique and someday I may need it. Perhaps that day comes but I’ve been storing it for 10 years in the mean-time. Was it worth it?

    Meanwhile, You have piece ‘Y’ with pretty much the same story. Meanwhile I also have a ‘Z’. Fred needs an ‘X’ right away and has a ‘Q’ that you need and I need a ‘Y’… or something like that. But none of us will ever know this.

    How about a website? At first thought I imagine an auction site, something like eBay for junk. But… it has to be free to list. For how many years are you going to keep paying to re-list that little screw with the funny specialized head waiting for someone to snatch it up for 5 cents?

    Even then is it worth your while to list it? When I worked in the electronics shop of a radio station we actually kept an inventory of components in a spreadsheet. What if this thing functioned as an online inventory system? You would put all your stuff in it then later when you want to find it run a search. If you have it you see how many and where you keep it. If you don’t then you can get a search of other people’s inventory that are willing to sell or trade.

    For any particular item you could list it in your inventory as public or private so you don’t have to worry about receiving a bunch of requests for something you do not care to part with. Whether new listings are public or private by default could be a setting.

    Should sales be for money? Everyone likes money! But… do you really want to sell your junk? What if I sell that cool gadget and I can’t get another cool gadget because my wife spends the money? I used to work in a web shop and we built a site for someone where users traded CDs, DVDs and Games. Instead of real fiat money the ‘seller’ received in-site points or money, whatever you want to call it that could only be traded through the site to get other CDs, DVDs or games. Would that be more fun? If you sell that dev board you have had for years and never got around to doing anything with you get points you can spend on some other toy (that you probably will also never get around to using…). How cool is that? New kit and the wife can’t even say you are wasting any money!

    And of course… the web site would be secondary. Primarily this has to be an app because come on… it’s almost 2018!

    So… does this sound like fun to anyone? Would YOU be likely to sign up and use this? I have been toying with the idea for years. I didn’t have time to implement it then and I don’t now. Maybe you will and then I can sign up as a user.

    Another thought… KiCad integration. Imagine if during the design process KiCad told you… hey… that one part that you don’t have yet.. so and so down the road has one he is willing to part with. How cool would that be?!?

    1. That would be pretty cool, but KiCAD might be a longshot; KiCAD still doesn’t have footprints for 90% of the non-discrete, non IC-packaged parts that you’ll use. Inductors, potentiometers, switches, connectors…it might have trouble matching my custom footprints library with 100,000s of other peoples’.

  7. workshop clutter enters my life because I start a new project without finishing an old one. and the thrill of something new outweighs the joy of completing something…

    My rules are: every project has a ‘finished’ condition — if I want to tinker with it later, that’s a new project.
    no more than 3 ongoing projects.
    every project has a shelf life — if no work has been done for 3 months, that project is dead.

    All these rules have an exception… all I have to do is tell my wife that I decided it was worth breaking my rules. easy, right? It works really well, because even self-imposed accountability makes me stick to my rules.

    btw, wife is chill and amused by this — all she does is ask “is project worth breaking the rules for?”
    I no longer feel that I might end up on an episode of hoarders now.

  8. For the problem of pegboards and repainting – just use a normal permanent marker, and a quick wipe with acetone or isopropanol will easily get rid of it when the tool changes. I usually don’t bother with a pegboard though, screws on a random piece of old shelving or old ikea table or similar does the job well.

  9. I’m a fan of zip lock bags of all sizes, i put project in bags, then store them in boxes, every so often I go thru the boxes and purge older stuff that I never got around to using. I have a tendency for collect boxes that i never use and end up throwing away.

  10. My brother’s method of controlling clutter is he has a tub for projects, and a tub for parts and such. He limits himself to those tubs. If he gets something like a broken printer to harvest parts out of, and the parts won’t fit in the tub, he will dump it out and recycle the stuff in the “parts” tub that he doesn’t need anymore. With the projects tub, he just forces himself to work on what’s in the tub before he starts a new one.

  11. I can find anything in my workshop within seconds. Its all organized by category. Even the fasteners are sorted by size and head type etc into different bins, and located on a wall mount board next to each other in numerical order, let alone the tooling for various machines.
    I try to keep the tooling for a machine next to that machine, if a spindle chuck takes a 27mm spanner to snug its holder, a 27 gets purchased and hung on a hook next to it seperate to the main drawer of spanners itself. Ditto for ER, QC, L00 spanners etc.
    The overflow shed though… There be dragons. There’s a hotrod parked in mine currently and a mid engined sports car, and a old bike project half done…

    1. > keep the tooling for a machine next to that machine

      Yes, this is huge. It means you end up with a fair number of duplicated tools, but you’re TONS more productive.

      I have a big toolbox, a medium toolbag, and a little tool-roll. Most of the tools in the smallest are duplicated in the larger ones, so yes I own 3 of some things. Maybe more, since spares go into the big box.

    2. Mid engined sports car…. heh, I very very nearly went and picked up a free Lotus Europa… some philistine had made a very poor attempt at starting to “tub” it… and a lot else was missing inside… I finally clued into the fact that it would cost double what it would take to turn it into a merely ratty runner, never mind cosmetics, than it would to buy a half decent one.

  12. Getting my stock organized works pretty well. Organization, however, tends to fall apart in direct proportion to the size of the project at hand. It’s NOT a problem, it is merely HALF of the hobby. Nobody will escape it.

  13. I had an older woman bring me a couple boxes of electronics parts at one time in my life. Her husband had died and left her with clearing out all this “good stuff”. Her quote to me was “Do your wife a favor and get rid of this stuff before you die”. Shortly after that I decided to move to another country and all I could bring with me would be in 2 suitcases….so much for my stuff.

  14. Years back I snagged these round, stackable ESD safe parts trays. They have a center round area with a ring of removable pie slice shaped bins. They’re kinda nice for small stuff. Like I said, as long as you don’t stack parts taller than thtrays, the bins are stackable. I wanna say they’re about 2 feet in diameter, maybe slightly less (just under 2/3 meter).

    I also made a shelf out of cheap materials I snagged at a garage sale. The trays are long try I got for next to nothing at a ham fest. They are ESD safe trays long enough to store chip tubes.. I had some fiber board (like peg board, but with no holes) in pre cut squares approximately the same depth as the drawers, and a bunch of one half by one inch (about 1.5 x 2.5 cm) wood pieces (another garage sale find) about the same length (actually, I think I got them together). I just predrilled and screwed a panel onto 6 strips of the wood, leaving gaps for 5 of the drawers, and then added another layer on top of it. For all of… free… I made a stack of drawers that can easily contain every chip tube I own, and then some! My original plan was to build it much taller, and have some beefy tool chest caster wheels on the bottom. Sadly, the remaining drawers got tossed out prematurely, and I just ended it at several layers deep. The nice side effect, is those round trays nicely stack on top of it, and are at a reasonable height when all the trays are present on top of the chip tube drawer. I have the round trays at my apartment, but since moving, I’ve left the chip tube drawer in storage. Just not enough room. If you can justify the cost, Storage units are an option to declutter your work space, at the expense of… well expense, and having to travel across town to get certain parts.

    As for my actual workbench, I have a Ton of those ESD safe parts drawers, but only a fraction of the drawers are actually in use and labeled. If I get a part, I tend to grab the label maker and give it a drawer, but it’ll be a long way before there is any sense of organized there. The work surface itself was quite cluttered, till three days ago. I had several projects on it… My number pad for my custom mechanical keyboard. The “DSKY” styled digital display for my Kerbal Space Program instrument panel. The analog meters I’m modding to support backlighting, for the same project, and a hybrid digital/analog meter I’m building, that has a moving pointer carriage with a digital display in the moving pointer (it’s my ∆v readout). Desk was a mess, and I just separated the four projects, set them aside, and cleaned up the desk, so I could earn some dough doing some assembly work for my job. Nothing like a paycheck to light a fire under you! :D

    1. They make SMD part boxes nowadays; I have like 4 or 5 by now, you really can’t get a much more compact way to store small-medium amounts of parts.

      I’ve been using ones made by a company called ‘AideTek’ – they make a few sizes, but the small 72-well SMD ones’ wells each fit about 1,000-1,500 0805 parts each, or up to maybe half a dozen stacked 10x10mm QFP chips in the ESD-safe versions. They advertise it as working with parts as small as 0201, but personally I’ve only gone down to 0603.

      I mean, a shelf full of reels does look pretty cool, but…

  15. I am into ultralight backpacking. The surprising lightest option for a given piece of gear is not to take it at all !! So applying this to dejunking and organizing, the best option is to just get rid of something.

    I need to learn to be more brutal. When I see a printer next to a dumpster, I am learning to say no and pass it by. And besides, someone else who is wandering down this path ought to grab it instead of me.

    Weird misplaced emotions and “sympathy” are big enemies. This is the road to hoarding.

  16. I consider myself a bit of an expert in catastrophically messy work areas. My grandfathers bench was a mess, as is my fathers, as is mine. :-). I didn’t see anyone mention the ‘back-to-school’ pencil boxes available at Walmart for 97 cents each. They come with colored lids (magenta, blue, orange and black) and are perfect for small parts. Components in snack backs also fit really well, and the boxes stack really nicely with room for labels too. Another thought, when working on a project or boxing for storages, those week-long pill cases are great for small screws. The ones with a S-M-T-W-T-F-S printed on the top. -ok, back to work! I’m trying to get cleaned up around here…

    1. I have a decent stack of those pencil boxes too. One for LDOs, one for switchers, one (soon to be several probably) for microcontrollers, one for LEDs, one for SSRs, etc… Discrete storage is a bit more of a challenge, as I have several Ikea tubs full of unsorted (and still heavily packaged in most cases) resistors, capacitors, inductors, etc. I have some drawers for SMT resistors, but I have so many random strips from various projects and contracts that haven’t been sorted out…. For cut tape, I write the value on the back (several times along the length) and store them by decade (and soon size) in Akro-mils(?) drawers.

      I’ve recently started large-scale acquisition of Ikea tubs (Samla) because they come in power-of-two units in all three dimensions and inter-stack well. Old projects get consolidated into them and labeled for storage.

  17. One problem I had ever since I got into cryptocurrency mining was that with my mining setup setting a much higher budget than I did for electronic parts, my lab has been filling up with loads of spare electronic parts. And I don’t want to stop mining because it’s fun.

    The recent situation with Naomi Wu offered the solution – redirect the miners. (At least the ones that would make sense to redirect, as in the ones where the mined coins can readily be converted into a currency she can use.) That kills three birds with one stone: I still get to experience the fun of mining, the mined coins go to someone who can make real use of them, and others no longer perceive me as driving up mining difficulty purely for my own profit. (To be pedantic, I do the conversion so that’s one less thing for her to do.)

  18. back in the days i always needed to use this special screwdriver with wolfram carbid tip, stored in a full sized case. after thinking about it i realised that most of the time i dont need such a bombastic tool for the current job. now i always got my leatherman at hand. the most important tools needed are now stored in a lunchbox.they might not be THE tool, but all of them get the job done.

    1. On the other hand, if you use the screwdriver that’s so “extra” instead of any old driver, do you now need to have thousands of replacement fasteners to replace the ones you strip???

      1. right, taking out the nice screwdrivers is sometimes not worth the effort because its sometimes only 1 fastener. if i need to drill some more holes there is for sure the need for taking it out or the electric drill. it saves a little bit of time not having to go back and put everything in the drawer. sometimes i risk the fasteners life i have to admit, but yes, cutting a new slit with a dremel can be a nice activity. another suggestion for a “survival box” is a step drill. very practical.

  19. I think the important thing is to be mindful of what the specific function is that I expect of my workspace. If the workspace isn’t single function it is (of course) going to have clutter.

    My brother and I have both acquired wheeled 19″ racks, around worktop height. I am planning on building some tool and part drawers 1U high and filling them up. Its the little stuff that drives you crazy.

    Also, 5S is what the philosophy we use at work is called.

  20. My last workshop and shed was so cluttered I pretty much couldn’t do anything. All the shelving got taken up but still didn’t use the space in the most efficient manner. When we moved house I brought lots of those 52L storage tubs with lids. I have probably around 60 of them in my temporary shed before we move into the new house with a much bigger shed. They stack well if they are not too heavy. The problem is accessing them. Next step is to buy shelving that is just wide and long enough to fit these tubs without having anything else on them. Then have them on wheels, perpendicular to one wall with rails on the floor. They can then stack up against each other like the archive shelve systems in libraries.

  21. Some good ideas here. As for organizing parts, components, and so forth, I have been using several variants of «Put the things in boxes», and a couple other approaches. What works for tiny SMD components does not work as well for tubes of ICs or large capacitors… so there are several ways that I’ve been able to store things and find them when needed.

    There are two parameters here: the size of the items themselves, and the size of the collection of items. Some items are large, such as panel meters, power transformers, mains plugs and sockets, so these all go into 15L or 31L plastic tubs, with lids, with a label on both ends, so that when stacked, I can immediately see what is inside. Similarly, while indivitual M6 nuts for example are not very large, and although I could conceivably use a smaller box for the total amount I have of M4 hardware, the amounts of M6 and M8 hardware that I have do warrant separate boxes for each — makes it very easy to find when needed. So there are tubs labeled M3, M4, etc. for everything of that size inside.

    I also have begun using such tubs to hold unfinished projects, the hardware and the booklet I made for it goes into the tub for later retrieval. Each project has such a booklet, I started doing this long ago: a folded sheet of A3 as the cover, then pages of A4 with notes and schematics and so forth inside that, then one of these Slidebinder things to hold it together. Then adding new pages as development goes on is easy, and there will be that documentation later, when the project is finished and in use.

    Then there are the tubes with ICs in them. I bought some pieces of 0.5m long sections of 110mm drain-pipe and some end caps, then these are on a high shelf with the open end forward, and with the various tubes of chips sticking out. There is a bit of organizating here too: one of the pipes have all the analog circuits for example.

    Then there are the cabinets with small drawers for all the smaller resistors, capacitors, transistors, all those ICs that are not in tubes, etc. As time has gone, the way I organized resistors and capacitors started out as one drawer per decade, then later the most common values such as 10k and 100nF, etc. got their own drawers — over time the resistors now all have one drawer per value (yes there are about 120 drawers in that stack of cabinets) but this has scaled well upwards.

    I also use such a cabinet for storing all the various thread taps, loose drill bits, and similar tools, on a wall near the drill press.

    Finally, the really tiny objects, such as SMD capacitors and drill bits smaller than about 2mm, go into plastic tackle boxes.

    Still, keeping the clutter off the workbenches is an ever-present problem. But when tidying it, all the various things that might have been left there, has another place to be, so that job doesn’t seem impossible.

    There is also the matter of where to store the collection of larger items, old radios, instrument cases, nice cabinets with nothing in them yet. So even if I have things organized so I can find them, it doesn’t really look that way…

    1. As an EMT, I have gotten to know the storage rooms of a number of local hospitals. One of the more brilliant schemes are wire rack shelves on wheels. They are all lined up in a row, long faces against each other, about 15 of them. In the row, there is enough room to move them two shelf widths apart. You need to get into shelf 5, slide 1-4 to the right. There are similar storage systems used in the back rooms of many retail good stores, but these are much smaller. The wheels are set into a pair of tracks set into the floor so they never swivel.

      I adopted something similar @ home, except I pull the shelving unit out from the row.

  22. I did a tour of my workspace a few months ago with tips such as Purgatory and having just two areas for tools and still able to find things easily. My favorite container are transparent plastic shoe boxes. They are stackable, you can see what’s in them, and just the right size for collection of things. If you got more of X that would fit in a shoebox, you probably have too many :-)

  23. Use some logic here

    1.Pareto Analysis. What is used most often be accessible within arm’s reach found within 15 to 30 seconds.
    2. Next level stuff “findable” within I to 2 minutes.

    Organize to make the job efficient make it much more enjoyable.

    J used a notebook with a plastic sheet full of slots to quickly find resistors and other components. I find it within 20 seconds.
    office Depot sells plastic drawers where I pout secondary stuff to find within one to two minuteS.
    shoe boxes do the rest

    J give myself a time limit on finishing project. It’s a hobby, so I am in no hurry, but I do want to finish
    If it need to be delayed, no stress. It’s a hobby

    If I am not enjoying the hobby because I am not organized, the in I should go to Step I.
    Otherwise, this hobby is not for me and I dump everything and find Something else to d0.

  24. So, this entry hit me at a particularly appropriate time.

    I have a number of hobbies/occupations that tend to accumulate ‘stuff. I collect and race cars, so I have a big garage. I’m a ham, so I have radios. I do electronics, so I have test equipment and components. I’m a woodworker, so there are woodworking tools, a machinist, so mill, lathe, tooling, a diver, so suit, tanks, etc, a reader, so shelves upon shelves of books, etc. And I’m married to a similar person. I’ve always been proud to have a well stocked ‘storeroom’ that lets me work on any project when the ADD strikes and not have to wait for parts. I founded a makerspace that grew from 1500 sq ft to 18,000 sq feet. Many of things in it from my house initially.

    A few weeks ago, a got a call from a guy. Three separate, uncoordinated, unrelated people had pointed him in my direction. He had bought a house, complete with contents, that had been owned by a guy who died a year or so earlier. He had little/no family, certainly none who were interested in his stuff.

    He was a hoarder. And a ham. And electronics. And a diver. And a woodworker. And collected German cars. And the whole house, basement, first floor, second floor was floor to ceiling with stuff. The ‘isles’ were 20″ wide. There was a tiny room with a chair and TV that had enough room to move around in and a tiny bedroom in similar shape. Every other room was packed. There were metal shelves lining every wall on the 2nd floor. Every shelf was packed with stuff. Every flat surface was covered with junk. The dining room table was a misture of papers, Christmas lights, model trains, nuts, bolts, screws, and radio parts.

    It was a nightmare. And a glimpse into a possible future. This guy had a ton of trash. A bunch of great stuff. And never got to use it. It all just sat there.

    It was a wake up. I dug in and helped the guy out. We had 5 people one day. I said ‘dumpster’, ‘Yard Sale’, or ‘keep’. The keep pile went to the second floor. It was still packed, but the isles were up to a few feet and you could actually see what was there. And we had filled an 11 yard dumpster. Two weeks later we had a mini ‘hamfest’. The majority of the stuff went in the first couple of hours, but it still a lot left. We took in a bunch of money. Next week is the ‘yard sale’ for the rest of it. That should make a few dollars as well.

    The suggestion of ‘keep projects for a year and then pitch them’ is a good one. So is get rid of things that you have not opened or used. I’ve been looking at the piles of things I’ve been saving for one reason or another and have come to realize that, even with a good 30+ years of life left, I’m never going to get to all of these ‘projects’, or even put a dent in all the parts I own.

    So the day I came back from looking at this disaster I started throwing stuff out, selling it off, or giving it away. Soon there will be room in the garage for my car again, space in my office to think, and maybe, just maybe someone will find what they need to get that next project done. Now if I need that special widget that I pitched, guess what? With all the money I got selling off the crap, I can buy one. Just one. (Or a more modern version of it.) Not one for the project and one for ‘stock’. And the interesting thing is, I’m getting more done. Projects are finishing. The workbench is cluttered, but usable. Yes, I’m also getting better at storing things (see previous comments), but it’s now to keep just enough. It’s going to be a long process, but it’s getting easier every day.

    And my wife won’t have to find someone like me to help get rid of it.

    Oh, and if you have it, but can’t find it. You don’t have it.

  25. Thank you so much for this article. I live with someone who has created the exact electronics clutter conditions you have described…and over the years I have seen time and time again how his ‘mounds of stuff’ have overwhelmed this person to the point that he can’t tackle and complete even just one design idea in his work space. And when his work bench spills out onto our dinning room table, the clutter then not only affects him, but now it is cluttering my space and my life as well. My guy read your article – and I know you reached him at some level. So again, on behalf of all people trying to help their loved ones get organized so they can be more creative and productive, Thank You!!

  26. Looks like a split consensus. Buy more stuff to stuff your stuff into, or just throw out your stuff.

    IMHO the winner is to skip collecting stuff and just go to the campsite next door to “borrow” stuff.

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