How to De-Clutter (and Organize) Handbags - Husbands

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Handbags (see also Clothes, Cosmetics, Keys, Wallets)

Whenever I think of the clutter in handbags, I am reminded of the old Art Linkletter television show, “People Are Funny.” Art used to go through women’s handbags (with their permission). He would pick someone at random, and his TV viewers would watch as he looked on, supposedly stunned, at the contents of the woman’s handbag. It was all very funny. Sometimes I think women today still think it’s amusing to have a handbag full of just about everything but the kitchen sink. The fact is, the average onlooker does not think it's amusing to stand and wait while someone paws through her purse searching for her card, money, or keys. The average person finds this annoying and probably makes an unflattering judgment call right then about your competency — only because you’ve got a handbag bursting at the seams with clutter.

You can begin to correct this clutter problem (and at the same time clean up your image) by cleaning your handbag out and redistributing what you find there. The inventory in the average cluttered handbag can include:

  • Appointment book
  • Address book
  • Aspirin
  • Bills
  • Birth control devices
  • Business cards
  • Change purse
  • Checkbook
  • Cigarettes and lighter
  • Credit cards
  • Grocery list
  • Hairpins and clips
  • Hairbursh and /or comb
  • Handkerchief or tissues
  • Keys
  • Lotion
  • Makeup
  • Mirror
  • Note pad
  • Paperback book
  • Pens and pencils
  • Other purses to organize things inside the handbag
  • Receipts for purchases Rolaids, mints, or gum Safety pins Scraps of paper with ad dresses, phone numbers, or other miscellaneous information
  • Sewing repair kit
  • Sunglasses
  • Tampons
  • Wallet

A glance at that list explains why some people think women are stronger than men. Between bearing and caring for babies and hauling around a twenty-pound handbag every day, women have got to be either as strong as, or as stubborn as, a mule. A mugger would likely think twice before heisting one of these handbags—the weight of the thing would make a quick getaway on foot practically impossible.

A handbag need not serve as drugstore, stationery store, and portable office. A handbag should hold essentials only—money, a credit card or two (you don’t need to carry all twenty-two of your cards), driver’s license, checkbook, and perhaps a comb, lipstick, and blush for makeup. If you’re carting around three lipsticks, four eyeshadows, cream base makeup, powders, and blushers by the numbers, it’s time to get an overnight bag or a facelift. Aspirin, mint, gum, and candies all play havoc on your stomach and teeth, so cut back to the bare essentials (there’s that word again). Discreet personal items should be carried if you’re going to be away for the evening, but a minimum quantity should suffice — no need to lug around dozens of anything — from birth control pills to tampons. Your appointment and address book should be combined in one easy-to-use planner that you carry separately from your handbag, so that your handbag is home only to your cash and personal items. (If you carry a briefcase, you can either carry your appointment/address planner in your hand or in your briefcase.)

You can keep your receipts, business cards, grocery list, etc., all in this planner, leaving your handbag that much more clutter-free. If paperwork from your profession spills over into your daily life, get a briefcase and put it there, with your appointment book. Nothing is more disconcerting than to have a professional woman hold up a meeting while she searches for something in her bag. Keys can be kept at your fingertips by hooking them with a key clamp to the inside strap of your bag.

Paperback books also should be carried separately. If you start carrying things instead of stuffing them in your handbag, you’ll reevaluate the need to haul it around in the first place.

Finally, to cure yourself of the cluttered handbag syndrome, get small handbags. Big handbags invite clutter; smaller bags demand discipline. Smaller handbags can also be worn bandolier style, which means that purse snatchers are more likely to pass you by, and it reduces the chances of setting your handbag down and forgetting to pick it up again as you walk out the door.

Hardware (see also Gadgets, Electrical Supplies, Junk Drawer, Tools)

Hardware can cover everything from gadgets to screws to tools. For our purposes, hardware means nuts, bolts, screws, picture hangers, wire, and all of the other small assorted handy-Dan stuff that lands either in a box somewhere or in the dumping ground of last resort — the junk drawer.

If it doesn’t land in the junk drawer (usually because the junk drawer is already full to bursting), the hardware starts mating indiscriminately in coffee cans, cigar boxes, shoe boxes and on work tables. Tools, gadgets, electrical supplies, glue, pieces of wood and metal, nails of every description, and assorted other pieces of unnamed hardware commingle, until eventually it turns into one big mess that means at least fifteen minutes of digging before the required doodad is located and retrieved.

Whatever method you use to store these items, weed out those odd pieces that have been lying around for years, waiting to be used for “something.” If it has rusted, if you can’t imagine what it goes with or could ever possibly be used for, get rid of it. Useless pieces of hardware, contribute to a clutter problem that even the handiest Dan or Dan idle could well live without.


Here are some suggestions for organizing and storing it all so that when you need a particular screw you can lay your hands on it without examining every screw in the house (see also Storage: Clutter Containers section):

  • Metal Parts Cabinet — These cabinets have plastic drawers that are sized to hold screws, nails, nuts and bolts, and the like. Assuming you have the patience to put the nails or screws into the proper drawer when you put them away (as opposed to tossing them into a box or drawer), these can keep your inventory nicely organized.
  • Glass Jars — Glass jars of all sorts can be used to store hard ware by size, and provide an instant view of what lies within the container. Baby food jars or sample jelly jars are small enough to perfectly store those tiny pieces of hardware that might otherwise get lost in the shuffle. To cut down on the space these jars occupy, install a shelf in your garage or basement and put some of the jars on the shelf. Attach the lids of the remaining jars to the underside of the shelf with a lock washer so that it stays fixed to the shelf. When you need something in one of those jars, unscrew the jar instead of the lid, and replace it in the same manner.
  • Drawer Dividers — If a drawer is your choice for storage, try to keep some order with cutlery dividers. Small sample jelly jars also fit into drawers, and you can even put cigar boxes (without the lids) into drawers to serve as containers for certain categories of items.
  • Boxes — Boxes, including cigar boxes, gift-type boxes, coffee cans, and tea tins can be used to hold hardware and can be stacked on a shelf. Be sure you mark the outside of the boxes on all sides —screws, wire, large nails, etc. — so you don’t have to check every box to get to the one you need for any given project.

Hats (see also Closets, Clothes, Collections)

Depending on your fashion sense, personality, and the climate, you’re likely to have any number of hats. There are winter hats, ski caps, Easter bonnets, baseball caps, boating hats, tennis visors, rain hats, and funny hats — like that hysterical cap with the huge antlers on it that you got from the gang on your thirtieth birthday. Multiply these hat possibilities by the number of people in your family, and the potential for headgear clutter is virtually unlimited.

First, go through all of your hats and eliminate anything that's damaged, stretched, or so stupid that you never wear it. If you have trouble getting rid of some of those hats — like that cap with the antlers on it, or the humongous sombrero that you carted back from Mexico — try reminding yourself that you are an adult, and unless you plan to wear it on Halloween, get rid of it. Ditto old turbans, outdated Easter bonnets, and sports caps that have seen better days. A word about hat collections: If you can’t bear to part with it, a collection should be displayed, so get those hats up on the wall or get rid of them. If they are so funny and /or fabulous, you should let everybody you know see them.


You can organize the hats you wear on a fairly regular basis in several different ways:

  • Drawers — If you’ve got any drawer space, knit hats and caps can be stored flat inside.
  • Boxes — A Lucite sweater box serves as good storage for out- of-season hats and caps. Put it under the bed or on a shelf.
  • Baskets — Winter caps and hats — especially the children — can be stored in a basket by the door. Establishing the habit of dropping hats in the basket as soon as they’re taken off should mean fewer missing hats and no more frantic searches for hats on the way out the door.
  • Pegs—Hooks and pegs that you can install yourself also do a good job of holding hats. One simple peg system is an expanding wooden mug rack that can be installed on the back of the door or in the entry area.
  • Coat Trees — These oldies but goodies are terrific in a corner of the entry and can hold coats and hats right where they are most needed — by the door.
  • Wig Forms—Wig forms can be nailed to a closet shelf and dressy hats can be placed on the head, insuring that the hat keeps its shape and doesn’t get smushed.
  • Hat Boxes—Hat boxes are back and are available through catalogs and organizational retail outlets. They can hold just about anything, but are especially good for holding, would you believe it, hats.

Heirlooms (see also Antiques, Dishes, Furniture, Jewelry, Linens, Photographs)

“I inherited this, what could I do?” is a wail that I’ve heard time and time again from clutterbugs. If you’re like a lot of people, you pack it, stack it, and do everything but use it. Stuffed in basements, garages, and attics, and hidden in trunks and the far reaches of closets, heirlooms go unused and unappreciated. Inherited treasures cover the gamut from Grandpappy’s golf trophies to furniture that you wouldn’t be caught dead sitting on. Throw in that silver service for twelve (that you never use because you never entertain) and that wooden butter churn (when did you last churn butter?) and suddenly all those heirlooms reveal their true purpose: clutter.

Perhaps you’re afraid if you use it you’ll damage it. Yet, many antique items were crafted by hand and are sturdier than anything we could possibly find today. If your heirloom is too delicate to be functional, use it to display something else. A delicate piece of furniture can hold plants or family photographs rather than serve as a table for daily meals or as a chair to sit on. Antique clothing can be remade into jackets, blouses, or christening gowns for the babies born today. Jewelers can often repair antique jewelry; antique letters and photographs should be preserved in an acid-free environment and stored appropriately or put into family albums. If you aren’t interested in any of these ideas, why not pass the heirlooms along to your family today? Somebody near and dear to you doesn’t have a set of silver, so this holiday season why not pass Grandma’s monogrammed silver along to them so they can use it for their special occasions? Heirlooms should be passed to family members with love, not stored out of sight, to be forgotten until someone (you) passes on.

HOARD: A storage place, especially of treasure; a hidden reserve; that which has been accumulated. Or, what you do on a daily basis to keep your collection of clutter intact and growing.


Boxes — People tend to save gift boxes thinking they’ll recycle them at a holiday. What inevitably happens, however, is that only a few get reused and the rest get pushed and shoved around in the closet. Save a half-dozen boxes if you must, but make sure that they all fit into one another to cut down on the storage space they require. Beyond that, it's far cheaper to buy gift boxes as the holiday approaches than it's to allocate expensive square footage for storing them.

Paper— The amount of paper kept on hand could be reduced substantially if people wouldn’t buy only Christmas paper for Christmas and only birthday paper for birthdays, and so on. Check out the large selection of all-occasion wrapping paper that has no message printed on it. Glossy white paper with a pretty ribbon will do at Christmas, for a wedding, and a birthday; a red- striped paper will cover all of those and Valentine’s Day as well. By having neutral paper, you won’t have to store Christmas or birthday paper until the event rolls around again. But since you can actually use all-occasion wrapping paper throughout the year, store it so it’s accessible. You can put it in the closet in a gift wrap organizer, (made of heavy cardboard and available at variety stores or through catalogs), or you can stand rolls up in a small round wastebasket. Flat paper can be stored in a plastic sweater box and put on a shelf, or if you have drawer space, that can serve as storage as well. Keep an extra pair of scissors and tape with the paper so you don’t have to search high and low for them every time you need to wrap something.

Miscellaneous Decorations—Other decorations, such as streamers, scenes, paper skeletons, and wreaths need to be stored in a box and labeled clearly, by holiday, if possible. You can store boxes under the bed, or, if you must, in the garage or attic—but only if those areas are clean. Make sure the decorations are put back into the box neatly. If they are thrown into the box and put away, when they are pulled out again they will probably be a useless mess. Special candles can be stored near the dining room or kitchen in a covered basket or on a higher shelf. These candles might be usable for other special occasions, if you think about it, so the closer they are kept to the table, the better.

Ornaments—Although you can pack your ornaments with newspaper in a carton, most of the time this means at least one or more broken ornaments. Why? Mainly because these delicate items need special packing, and regardless of how carefully they are packed, it’s usually not good enough and something gets squished. It is much better to pack the ornaments into ornament boxes, which offer extra protection because there is a compartment for each ornament. (You can buy these at variety stores or through catalogs.) Next year you’ll be less likely to be unpleasantly surprised with a broken ornament when you open the box.

Lights — Untangle the lights before they are packed by looping them around a piece of cardboard. Consider replacing any burned out lights now, since after the holiday they’ll probably be on sale. When it’s time to put them up again you will have saved yourself a trip to the store.

Holiday Decorations (see also Boxes, Candles, Packing Materials)

Holiday decorations, including wrapping paper, ribbons, ornaments, and other special items—from mangers to Halloween skeletons—tend to get stuffed into a box, drawer, or closet. When they reemerge they are squashed or broken, necessitating a last-minute trip to the store to replace them.

Other decorations accumulate, year by year, until you find yourself with five times more than you’ll ever use. Yard figures that you never put out anymore, ten more strings of lights than you have time to put up, Easter baskets and bunnies that you keep even though the kids are grown, angel hair, fake snow, and Thanksgiving turkey cutouts all grow into a mountain of decorations that you can’t bear to deal with when the holiday comes around. Face the holiday facts. Weed out the stuff that you never use and organize what’s left, so that decorating at holiday time can be an event to look forward to, rather than an event you dread.

Proper storage can cut down on repeat purchases, and can make getting the decorations down and putting them back an easier task to face. The Clutter Checklist offers some storage ideas, but however and wherever you store your decorations, be sure to clearly mark all sides of the boxes by holiday, and keep them all in one place, if possible. By doing this, you can help reduce the digging that occurs before every holiday, along with the aggravation that goes along with what is supposed to be a pleasant event.


Putting one’s spouse in the same category as clutter can be a bit misleading. After all, strictly speaking, he’s not the clutter exactly; but in a lot of cases, he is the originator and /or creator of vast quantities of clutter that eventually can't be overlooked or even tolerated. Since tossing one’s husband (or live-in mate, boyfriend, or roommate—you know—the other half) out with other clutter is generally not a viable solution, the question becomes more focused:

“How can I make him clean up his clutter and get organized?” Answer: You probably can’t make that person do anything about his mess, particularly once it has reached an advanced state. People get organized when they are good and ready, and not a moment before. You may think it’s a problem, but if he doesn’t think it’s a problem, the situation won’t change. He’s happy with the clutter, and is convinced that you are the one with the problem. In this case, just about the only possible solution to this common domestic scenario is the Yours, Mine, and Ours Rule.

This philosophy holds that, contrary to traditional beliefs, it's not really all ours. There’s yours. There’s mine. And there’s ours. And, if you’re smart, you’ll set it up that way, and keep it that way. It can save you trips to the therapist’s office and /or the divorce court.

Here’s how it works: He wants to make and live in a mess, fine. That’s his mess. He can have it. Map out an area—a room, the garage, the dining alcove — and call it his. If you can shut the door on it, all the better. If you can’t — say it’s a corner in a too-small apartment—learn to wear blinders when you pass by that area. Remember, it’s his. Then, there’s yours. Pristine and perfectly perfect. Yours. As in, keep your disorganized self away from this part of the house. It’s mine. Then there’s ours. This is where you actually commingle and compromise. The other person will have to tidy up a bit; you’ll have to loosen up your standards a bit. Compromise in the name of the relationship. You don’t have to sacrifice all of your organized ethics, but you’ll probably have to let go of some of them. And the other person in your life will have to incorporate a little shaping up into this (dis)orderly routine. Thus you come to that all-loving state known as ours.

Sooner or later every relationship, in my opinion, hits a crisis point over how things are kept up around the place. I believe that those couples who opt for the Yours, Mine, and Ours method of environmental matrimony pass through the crisis with not only more wisdom and love in their hearts, but a sense that each person has actually won the battle to have it their way. Since each of you thinks you have won, each of you will head into the next twenty years with a satisfied, albeit smug, little smirk on your face and in your heart.

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