“Trash Pickers of the world, Unite!” ~Two-bit Guru
As with anything, the key to organizing clutter is to define the broad categories first, then work down to the specifics. The broadest category of junk is one big pile of stuff with everything in it. You know everything is “There.” It’s easy to find larger objects like washing machines and bicycles, but if you’re looking for a #10-24 machine screw, you’ll find yourself screwed and unscrewed at the same time.
A pile of junk is a universal Hell Box.
Most Hell Boxes are more specific than a pile, such as a mess of various nuts and bolts. I think of my own numerous Hell Boxes as “Things I Might Sort Someday.” Clever use of the word “Might” alleviates me from guilt over not sorting any of it at all, ever.
The next broadest category down, or up, from Hell Box is Wild, as in Wild Plastic, Wild Metal, Wild Electric. Anything goes in Wild. Wild is unpredictable and adventurous, adding a bit of intrigue to what was once an amorphous bunch of scraps and parts. In Wild Plastic, for instance, bottle caps dwell with empty dental floss dispensers and random items of forgotten origin.
Sometimes function is a useful sorting tool. I have a shoebox labeled “Heating,” that includes heating elements, a heat lamp, an aquarium heater, and like that. There’s a banker’s box labeled “Air and Water,” which includes air compressor accessories as well as small pumps, valves, bits of tubing and more.
There is a banker’s box labeled “Tin Cans,” and another labeled “Pill Bottles & Other Small Containers.” A pill bottle or a tin can can be used to hold just about anything, but they’re not Wild because they are all containers. I have a box labeled “Broken Gizmos.”
Machine screws are sorted by size but not length or type of head. #10-24 screws are in a different parts drawer from #8-32 and #6-32. Sorting nuts and bolts is like a game where satisfaction trumps frustration, perhaps not as thrilling as playing high stakes Texas Hold’em, nor as cerebral as chess, but better than solitaire.
In fact, it’s all a game, this trash picking and junk saving. It’s a game of possibilities. Discovering the treasure, taking it to the trove, figuring out how it can be used, sorting it, examining it, and all with the satisfaction that the only cost is time well-spent. It expresses the simple philosophy that hanging on to things and making use of them is far better than tossing them in the landfill.