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Best Ways to Organize Your Craft Supplies

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How can you nurture your future Picasso's budding talent if she can't find the paints and clean brushes when inspiration strikes? And let's not even mention those dried-out, capless markers jumbled together at the bottom of a drawer somewhere. The good news is that creating a child-friendly system for keeping arts and crafts supplies organized and neat just takes a bit of planning.

Clear Shoeboxes
These are great for holding anything from colored pencils and markers to paper scraps. You can even leave the lid off and use them to carry upright bottles of paint, advises Mary Pankiewicz, author of "Clutter-free & Organized" (www.clutterfree.biz).

Tackle Boxes
Try the type with multi-tiered racks for holding paint supplies and needlework, says Debbie Williams, author of "Organized Kidz" (and the site www.organizedtimes.com). Small divided boxes meant for fishing lures are a great way to keep beads, sequins, scrapbooking supplies, and other small objects organized. "Peruse hardware and sporting goods sections for organizing ideas. You'll be surprised what you can find that is just perfect for your needs and usually costs much less than one found in a hobby store," says Williams.

Recycled Containers
Empty shoeboxes, baby-wipe containers, and empty yogurt or margarine tubs can do a great job at keeping big and small items separated and easy to get at. Make sure to label all containers so you can easily grab what you need. If you want to make it easy for your pre-reading child to help himself to whatever supply he's interested in, create a visual "label" by taping a picture of the item -- or one of the items itself -- to the side of the container. For instance, a container that holds feathers might have a feather taped to the outside, and a box holding markers could have a picture of a marker stuck to its side. Or, you can let your child decorate the container using whatever's inside -- a marker drawing on the outside of the marker box, for example. That way both you and your child can quickly and easily tell what's inside.

Now that you've got what you need to keep your supplies tidy, follow these rules for making your system child-friendly.

Put Everything in a Logical Place
Put the supplies your child is able to help herself to independently -- say, crayons or washable markers -- on a low shelf where she can easily reach. That will help foster independence and help keep her from getting frustrated, while the items that can do real damage if used without supervision -- like glue and scissors -- can go on a higher shelf, for Mommy's or Daddy's hands only.

Simple Is Best
"I'm a big fan of keeping things simple, affordable, and easy-to-use," says Williams. Make sure the storage solutions you choose are easy for a child to open and close, so your child won't get frustrated or be forced to come running to you every few minutes for help. "Some of my favorite storage containers have handles to make the totes portable, which is wonderful because it lets your child carry them to and from the storage cabinet," says Williams. Clear containers are also helpful, she advises. "If you're using something that's not transparent, label it well so you'll know at a glance what's inside."

Keep Supplies Out of a Young Child's Room
"That's a recipe for disaster -- those permanent markers really are permanent, you know!" says Williams. Instead, as with any other household items, store the supplies where you're most likely to use them. If that's your kitchen table, for example, keep supplies in a tub or tote in the kitchen. If your children are older and can be trusted not to decorate the walls (and everything else in their rooms), let them keep crayons and colored pencils in bags or totes on their toy shelves.

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