Fifteen Minutes In the Notions Box

Here’s a suggestion for organizing something dreadful. Do you have a sewing task that’s so overwhelming it scares you to even think about tackling it? For me, that’s my notions box. It’s a disaster!

I used to have small boxes, one for each type of notion. Somehow I ended up tossing everything into one large box when I moved into the office last year. In the last year and a half, the box has been stirred up and tangled. Notions have been added and instantly lost. There are bags within bags, empty containers and unattached tags. It’s at the point where I buy a new zipper for my next project rather than wade through the disastrous box of tangled trims!

So, I decided to tackle it, one fifteen-minute chunk at a time. Everything’s more fun when it’s a game, right? I set a timer for fifteen minutes and started organizing. Honestly, I seem to love competing, even when it’s against myself. I took photos as I went, and here’s how my first Fifteen Minutes in the Notions box went!

As the countdown began, I started to relax and enjoy myself. Weird, right? It’s like as soon as I had an end time in mind, it didn’t matter what happened. I only had to get through the next fifteen minutes and then I could do whatever I wanted. Not a bad deal!

I dug through the box, wondering where to begin, and pulled out packs of seam binding. They were easy to identify by feel, so that’s where I started!

Once I’d pulled out what I thought was all of the seam binding, twill tape, bias tape and any other tape that gets packaged the same way, I started sorting within the category.

It’s more fun where there’s a time limit! (Or I just love games.)

Once they were sorted, I looked for a place to store them. An old envelopes box did the trick!

It’s hard to tell from the photos but they’re sorted by category within the box. Now it’s easy to find all the rick rack (so much rick rack!) and all the twill tape at once.

Probably if there hadn’t been a timer going, I would have been pretty pleased with myself and moved on. But there was still time on the clock!

Wow, I had no idea I had so many zippers. It took a while to pull them all out of the box!

I found a few wayward packs of seam binding and knew exactly where to put them! (That teal lace is so pretty. I’ve been saving it for the inside of a special dress but I’ll never remember to use it if it’s buried in the box..)

Finally. All the zippers are out, three minutes to start sorting them!

I did it simply, invisible zippers on one side, regular zippers on the other side.

After fifteen minutes in the notions box, here’s how it ended.

I now have a little box of all my packaged tapes: bias tape, twill tape, stay tape, seam binding, lace tape, rick rack. If I need any of those things, they’ll be easy to locate!

I am halfway through – or perhaps a third of the way through – sorting my zippers. I have way more zippers than I imagined, plenty of multiples of the same length and colour, and a ton of randoms. (Electric purple 22″ invisible zip – what on earth was that intended for?) But even though they’re not organized completely, I can still pick them out from the pile and use them if needed!

Best of all, that was actually kind of fun! I turned something I’d been dreading into a bit of a game. I like games. I like puzzles. I dislike sorting out a big mess that I’ve made. I turned the mess into a game and then it was fun! (I’m sure it wouldn’t always be fun, but I like that there’s a definite end in sight and not just when the entire thing is done.)

Why am I showing you this? Well, if your notions box has never gotten to this stage of disaster, you get to be pleased with yourself. You’ll never be re-buying the same thing over and over as it gets lost in the black hole I call a notions box. Your method works! (And you might be having a laugh at how disorganized and messy my notions collection has become. I don’t mind, it is a bit funny!)

However, if you’re like me, and sewing and life takes priority over perfect organization – especially when it’s neatly hidden out of sight – then try the fifteen minutes game! I’m going to devote fifteen minutes to sorting that box every week. It’s never too arduous of a task broken down like this, and it’s rarely impossible to spare fifteen minutes.

I thought I’d also show you my less-than-perfect notions box, in case you thought I was a beacon of organization. (I usually am, I do like to be organized in most cases. It’s when you can slap a lid on it and tuck the box out of sight that it’s possible to ignore such disorganization.)

What do you think? Do you think this is a good approach to tackling unpleasant tasks? If you do try it, I’d love to hear how it works for you!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

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53 Responses to Fifteen Minutes In the Notions Box

  1. Janette November 2, 2012 at 6:18 am #

    I need to do that method on my closet! My stash is bad but my closet? Disaster area. I avoid going in there because it stresses me out. Great idea!

    • Tasia November 2, 2012 at 9:27 am #

      Ah yes! It would work on a closet too.. as long as your 15 minutes doesn’t run out just as you’ve piled everything on to your bed :)

  2. Vicki Kate November 2, 2012 at 6:30 am #

    That’s a great idea! My notions aren’t that bad but that’s due more to lack of space than organisation skills… I’d love to know what the purple zipper was for if you ever remember – maybe something with a print that included the colour?!

    • Tasia November 2, 2012 at 9:29 am #

      You know, I think it may have been given to me! You know when someone finds out you sew and they give you a pile of random sewing-related crap? :)
      I can’t imagine actually picking that colour, I don’t like purple that much to wear it in such a big garment! Maybe plum, not electric purple..

  3. ChrisLoves2Sew November 2, 2012 at 7:01 am #

    Great job! Zipper storage suggestion – put all the same length into a sandwich zippered bag, then put in an envelope box. If you wantto take further, put a label on outside and write 55cm, 40 cm etc. Hope it helps for your next 15 min stretch!

    • Tasia November 2, 2012 at 9:30 am #

      That is a great idea!! I actually read your comment before I left the house this morning and snagged a bunch of ziploc bags from the kitchen. Now I’m prepped for the next 15-minute organization session. Thanks!

  4. June Lovell November 2, 2012 at 7:13 am #

    i cleaned out an old ‘tower’ of plastic drawers i once used for craft supplies, cleaned it up (with hose and scrub brush–it was in the garage for about 100 yrs), brought it in and started sorting. one drawer each for tapes, thread, misc machine accessories, etc. such a feeling of accomplishment. and i used the 15 min strategy AND i set my ipod stopwatch. i was feeling so good about it all i even went beyond the 15 min. YAY for us!

    • Tasia November 2, 2012 at 9:35 am #

      Awesome! That’s great when you get past the time limit and still feel like organizing! I know what you mean about the tower of plastic drawers. I have one in my storage locker and it’s become a catch-all for crap. Funny how the things we buy for organizational purposes become so disorganized!

  5. Sharon November 2, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    I really need to organize my sewing space but the thought of it seems so overwhelming! I’ll try your 15 minutes at a time method. Thanks!

    • Tasia November 2, 2012 at 9:36 am #

      Yup, this is a good way to tackle something overwhelming – one little bit at a time!

  6. Tasha November 2, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    Very smart idea. When we moved in March I basically threw everything that was in the craft dresser I had into a box. However I got rid of the dresser, so it’s all lived in various states of unruly-ness in baggies in the box. I now even have a new dresser to put it into and haven’t started organizing it yet. Terrible! You’re inspiring me to sit down and tackle it a chunk at a time.

    • Tasia November 2, 2012 at 9:45 am #

      Oh man, I can relate to the ‘toss everything in a box and close the lid’ thing! I ended up with less desk drawers in this office, so all the things I meant to put back into desk drawers all of a sudden had no home.
      One chunk at a time, then it’s not so much of a chore. Hope it works for you too! (I’ve only done it once but it seemed like an idea I could stick to!)

  7. Tessa November 2, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    I have a three drawer plastic cart with wheels in about the same condition as your box in the beginning. What a mess! I tend to have good knowledge of what’s in there, but I’ve been in there saying “Whoa… I still have this?” My husband always tells me that everyone needs a 15 minute break every 90 minutes of working, or you will lose out on productivity and make more mistakes. It works, when I remember to take the breaks. :P

    • Tasia November 2, 2012 at 9:47 am #

      Ha, yup! That’s how it happens, you find all kinds of things you forgot about. Some have been in there for an embarrassingly long time.
      I like your husband’s way of thinking in general. I try to take a break from the computer every half-hour, get up and do something else or go fill my water. Long, long stretches of work lead me to errors too. Smart guy! It works, when I remember to take the breaks too. (Sometimes I ignore the timer and keep going..)

  8. Shona November 2, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    Your notions box looks a whole lot like my notions box! Plus we have the same expedit bookcase and boxes from ikea. My sewing room is such a disaster right now and it feels so overwhelming to try and tackle it all(plus I have things I want to make!). I’m definitely going to take your advice on this. Maybe I’ll give myself 30 minutes or an hour at a time since it’s such a mess. Thanks!

    • Tasia November 2, 2012 at 9:48 am #

      Ah nice! We’re sewing room twins, complete with messy notions boxes. 30 minutes will get you twice as far as I got! Good luck!

  9. Toni November 2, 2012 at 10:13 am #

    Same box, plus a plastic tote with tools like hands, sleeve rolls, etc & a stack of plastic drawers in storage. Quilting has taken over the garment sewing accessories totally! Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Tasia November 2, 2012 at 10:42 am #

      Any time! Quilting seems to have a ton of accessories.

  10. Andrea November 2, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    I know this is going to sound strange, but I actually love organizing stuff (by size, shape, colour, type of object, you name it!) so tackling your notions box would have been a pleasure to me. What can I say, I’m a bit OCD. I bet you feel much better reaching for notions now that they are all neat and tidy, eh?

    • Tasia November 2, 2012 at 10:42 am #

      Come on over! Just kidding. I don’t mind organizing, it’s making it a priority that I find hand. That and the fact that it seems like a big job, and then I think of my to-do list, and decide it’s more important than sorting, so the sorting which isn’t so bad gets worse.
      That is cool that you enjoy organizing! Just like some of us love hand-sewing and some of us hate ironing, there’s a favourite part for each of us.

  11. Michelle November 2, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    I decided I needed to impliment the 15 minute rule to restore some order to my house, then I read your blog post! So, are you able to leave the notions box as it looks in the last photo waiting for your next 15 minute session?

    • Tasia November 2, 2012 at 10:40 am #

      Oh yeah! I did the notions organizing a little while ago and it still looks like that on the floor. :) The joys of working all alone, no one to trip over my messes!

  12. Truly Myrtle November 2, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    I’m looking forward to see how you decide to store those zips. I have a mountain of them and they’re in such a jumble!
    I do like the box idea for your bias etc. Off to find a box for mine :)

  13. Wendy November 2, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    I have a notions box that is ‘sort of’ organised, with like things in different ziplok bags.

    However I thought I would share my zip storage idea – I keep them all on book rings.
    One ring for invisible zippers, one for dress zippers. With your pile there, you might need more than two, but you get the idea. It is easy to see which colors and lengths I have at a glance, and they look bright hanging up on a hook on the wall

  14. Marie November 2, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    I think this sounds like a great idea and you’ve shared it at such a great time…my sewing room is currently undergoing major surgery at the moment!

  15. nothy lane November 2, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    Oh, don’t get me started. One of my shelves fell a few weeks back and I manged to pick everything up and put it on my sewing table. I then moved my machine to the floor, which is how I have been sewing for the last few weeks. I would rather sew on the floor than tackle all the notions on that table! …I need to get back to it and I am interested in how you will store those zippers.

  16. Amy November 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    My notions are in great shape. It is the hoarded fabric causes me trouble. Have you got any tips for fabric organization????

  17. Dianne November 2, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    This afternoon I decided to sew some potholders for our hospital giftshop. Then I started looking for batting. Then found flannel fabric I had stored from last December. Now my sewing room and the bed are covered with new found fabric. I will sort tomorrow and try to find patterns to sew some sleepants for gifts.
    I did make four potholders too.
    Time management and sorting is a priority now!

  18. Katy November 2, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    Hi Tasia. Just to let you know that I organised my notions today after reading your post! I didn’t intend to and in fact I thought mine were already in a reasonable order as I organised them earlier in the year. The problem was keeping it up when adding new notions. I tended to just stuff them anywhere and so new things were all over the place. I’ve now put soft notions in separate bags (like elastic, zips, ribbon, tapes) and harder notions into another box, which I had previously organised into little plastic boxes (like bobbins, needles, pins, safety pins, hooks and eyes etc). I’ll try to keep everything in order now!

  19. Tasha @ Stale Bread into French Toast November 2, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    I think breaking up anything you don’t want to do into smaller chunks is a great idea! I have been slowly, slowly, reorganizing some things around my sewing space lately, and being Ok with it happening just a little bit at a time.
    I also just inherited a big desk where my machine can sit, which also has two drawers with vintage drawer dividers, so I can have one section of the drawer for lace, one for ribbon, etc. I totally love how it looks and how easy it is to find things. It also has a tray that slides over a drawer which is meant to hold pens and paperclips, etc. I put a little ruler, embroidery scissors, machine needles, and my walking foot in the sections instead – it’s the handiest thing ever!

  20. Rachel November 2, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    what a great idea. thanks for sharing it!

  21. Sarah November 2, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    oooh, good idea. My notions are in an even worse state I think, because I have a load of boxes with disorganize fabric in them as well as random notions and tools, and it’s starting to get out of hand. I’m sure I used my point turner less than a month ago, but now it’s nowhere to be found. I’m lucky enough to have two fairly large closets at my disposal, so I’m thinking what needs to happen is fabric on the selves in one, everything else in boxes on shelves in the other, and that way the fabric doesn’t continue to eat my tools, haha.

    My main problem with cleaning up is making myself do it, so I think I’ll end up using almost the exact opposite strategy from yours: just take an afternoon, put on some tunes, and not let myself stop until everything is sorted. The getting going is the hard part, but once I’ve started something like that I like to barrel through it (mostly because organizing tends to mean I cover every available surface with crap, and nothing else can be done until it has a new home!). It’s all about knowing how to trick yourself into productivity, hahaha.

  22. Debbie November 2, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    Great idea. I think I’ll try that to tidy up my sewing area. 15 minutes in the evenings before I start to sew doesn’t seem too bad. I probably spend more time looking for notions anyway!

  23. Turina November 2, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

    I use the 15 min cleaning idea when I remember to. But I was saved from organising my notions box when my mum came to visit, she took one look at it shook her head and set to work organising and categorising everything :)

    I would be interested in what you use to put things in like pkts of needles, etc., all the small things, they float around in my boxes and always get lost.

  24. Lorinda November 2, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

    Like anyone else who has sewn for a long time, I needed to square away the left-over/unused trims, notions, zippers, buttons etc that had gathered in a sewing junk stash. A little over a year ago, I purchased decorated boxes from a local craft store supply and started sorting buttons, elastics, zippers, bias tapes, trims, ribbons, thread cones for my serger, pins, measuring, marking, cutting tools. Once everything was sorted, I purchased the little stacking shoe holder shelves and a 2×3′ shelf unit that holds books and these boxes. It was so worth the effort I wondered why I had ever let it get to be such a mess. With everything labeled and in its place it is amazing how much less space is needed to store these items and how easy it is to find everything.

    The best part is it is so easy to keep things where they belong that the sewing area practically keeps itself organized now and I am saving because I do not have to repurchase silly little things I already have on hand. It is kind of like shopping at home.

  25. Woodencanoe November 2, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    Hi Turina, For all those little items, I’ve gone to the fishing tackle store where they have lots of see-through boxes with dividers that can be rearranged to suit. Also in a hardware store there are similar ones that are used for nuts and bolts, etc. Some have better clasps on the lids than others so test them out, if you can. All of these come in a variety of sizes. I have probably 4 or 5 of them with lots of bits and pieces related to each other in each box. The plastic towers with the drawers I use for the larger items. I like both of these because they are portable and I can move them to wherever they are needed.

  26. Linda November 3, 2012 at 6:19 am #

    Been there, done that!. I keep my sorted notions in plastic shoebox size containers, sorted by category.So far that’s working fine for me. As my stash grows i will move them to bigger containers.

  27. trumbelina November 3, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    My husband saw me reading your blog just as i was staring at the envelope box full of organized seam binding and said, “That really make you feel good doesn’t it?” to which I let out a sigh and nodded. I have to do this with myself every once in a while, but I usually keep going.

  28. Holly November 3, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    I love the 15 minute challenge idea! It’s fun to see what you accomplished in your 15 minutes! I bet you’ll save much more than 15 minutes once your notions are all organized and you don’t have to go out to buy something that you already own. I certainly need to use this method to clean up my sewing area!

  29. trish November 3, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    awesome, Tasia! Show that stash who’s the boss!

  30. angie.a November 4, 2012 at 4:35 am #

    haha, my notions box is EXACTLY like that . Except I have two. Oops. ;)

  31. Joanna November 5, 2012 at 5:34 am #

    Ha! What a great idea! :) Oflten I don’t feel like sorting and organizing things I have in mess (papers, notions, etc) , thinking that it takes me too much time and I don’t even start doing this. I’ll try your method. In fact it takes much less time than I imagine it would.
    Thanks Tasia :)

  32. Abi November 7, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    This is such a great idea! I actually recently downloaded an app for my phone called ‘Unfilth your Habitat’, which makes use of a similar strategy. You make a list of all the things you need to do and pick one to focus on. It then sets a timer, so you work for 20 mins and then get a 10 minute break. I tend to get overwhelmed by mess and think it’s going to take hours to sort so I keep putting it off, but I always find that if I focus, it takes far less time than I think! I’m trying to clean up my disaster of a bedroom (clothes plus sewing supplies plus crafting supplies plus costume supplies = CHAOS) so I split my room into bite sized pieces (eg ‘wardrobe’ and ‘dressing table’) and tackle one in my free evenings. Thus far, each section has only taken about 2 of the 20 min sessions to sort, which still works out to under an hours work! It’s such a good feeling to look at a clean section and feel accomplished!

    The funny thing is that despite my overall ‘creative chaos’, my OCD nature means that I’m great at sorting and keeping organised the *little* things. So when I bought a whole box full of vintage bias binding at an op-shop, I gleefully brought it home and sorted it by colour and size into a box and it’s still in perfect order! Though it needs to be sorted into a bigger box now, as there’s far too much of it! And I have some cute desk top wooden drawers that I plan to cover with pretty papers/fabrics to store all my buttons and other small notions. Though I’m definitely interested to know how other people store all their zips, because I currently have them split between 2 boxes and it’s so annoying to hunt through them all! I pick them up in grab bags at op-shops all the time so I’ve amassed quite a collection (and hope to get more for my workshop as I’d prefer to use vintage than always buy new!).

    • Abi November 7, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

      (I also realised this is my first comment! Oooh! I’ve been a long time reader (maybe two years or so?) and I thoroughly enjoy your blog (I too am a vintage-wearing cyclist AND I also just started up my own business with what I think would be the Aussie equivalent of the program you did, so I find your blog very relevant to my life!) but I’m always a bit shy about commenting. Though I’m trying to break that habit and comment more on the inspiring blogs I ready!)

      • Tasia November 8, 2012 at 10:53 am #

        Well hello there, fellow cyclist and lover of vintage fashion! And business owner – congrats! Great to hear from you!

        ‘Unfilth your Habitat’ – now that is a funny name! I didn’t know it was a real strategy, just something I tried to make organizing manageable. The idea of work for 20 min, break for 10 min, repeat sounds like a great method for bigger tasks. I might try that when I clean out my storage locker at home (it’s a whole room full of stashed crap – disaster!)

    • Cate09 November 17, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

      “unfilth…?” have to check it out. am currently avoiding sewing room where the walls are growing in on me from towers of fabric, furniture pieces to be upholstered, etc. When the chaos no longer inspires but prevents creativity it’s time to clear the decks. For zip storage [including fab vintage, still in package metal zips] I sort by length and use clear shoe box size ‘art box’ /tackle box stackables. For unpackaged collection – I sort through by visible/invisible, then length & pin together with oversized safety pin and store in boxes.So, now, I’m going to take the next 15 minutes and sort one thing [boning? piping? velcro? oh.my.] Thanks for the inspiration!

  33. Thea November 8, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    This is great – I made myself use this strategy twice today. Sadly, nothing sewing related – tidying the bathroom cabinet, and my emails. They just take over, but I managed to cull over 1000 in 15 minutes… If I do this once a week, I might just be able to keep it in check! Unlike you, I don’t race the clock – I just think, is it over yet? ;-) but at least 15 minutes is really short!

    • Tasia November 8, 2012 at 10:56 am #

      Oh man, I totally know about emails taking over. 1000 in 15 minutes??! I’m impressed. Maybe I can apply this strategy to other tasks as well. I’m strangely motivated when there’s a ticking timer! (Probably if I did this a lot, I’d get to the stage of thinking ‘is it over yet’ too..)

      • Thea November 9, 2012 at 7:08 am #

        I know, I was quite impressed – but I think sadly they were the easy ones! As in, I could just search for any on the mailing lists I’m on, and conclude I probably didn’t need them anymore. As I’m on about four different mailing lists from uni already, it adds up pretty quickly! I think it’ll be much slower from now on. And I absolutely hate having to sort them, so for me it really seems the only way to make myself do that! ;-)

  34. Kathryn November 11, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    I use this same method when I’m studying! I kind of schedule the time I have to achieve the things I need to achieve. I found an alternating schedule of 30 minutes study/10 minutes other (tidying, cleaning, facial, magazine article) worked really well to keep the study motivation up without missing out on some leisure or letting the state of my house get out of control!

    I hadn’t considered the idea for sewing or sorting generally – but I can definitely appreciate how it would help. I have to get into my sewing room and tidy it up (whilst studying, the sewing may have stopped, but the shopping didn’t) – this would be a great way to get it all done.

  35. Neeno - Sew Me Love November 14, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    My notions currently rest inside a show box so not so disastrous yet!
    There’s mostly zippers in there along with random off cuts of lace which I should throw out, and some bias binding.

  36. Deb January 31, 2013 at 11:52 pm #

    This post ended before I joined the blog yesterday, but on the subject of storing zippers, I think along the lines of cube storage, but inside a drawer. Think 5 cubes wide x 5 cubes high. A lot of storage places have sock or mens silk tie dividers that sit inside drawers. You can change the length of each “cube” so its a more rectangle shaped space. Then I sort out zips into lengths – jeans, skirts, dress sides, dress backs (which are longer than dress sides). Alternatively 5, 10, 15, and 20 inches, or the metric equivalent for those of us in Australia.

    The other easier thing (but not so neat) is a cutlery holder that slides into a drawer. Its already seperated into slots, generally one teaspoon sized bit, and a longer knife sized bit, along with 3 standard sized slots.
    I need a whole drawer for my zips!

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