The ‘co-worker/cousin’ organizational hack that makes sorting obscure home items easier

The co-worker/cousin organization method finally put a name to the sorting hack I have been applying for years

Someone orgnzing things into containers in a pink storage unit
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Many home organization approaches focus on the larger, more obvious things that take up space in our houses, like clothes and kitchen goods. But what about the smaller, or more obscure items that are often the biggest sources of clutter?

I have been applying a like-with-like method around my homes for years. Storing obscure items that don't need a whole dedicated bin or drawer space with similar things that I might use at the same time or in the same way. As it turns out, there is a name for this method of sorting – the co-worker/cousin method. 

Here are 14 of the more obscure things I use this method for around my home and why it works so well.

The ‘co-worker/cousin’ organization method   

Organizing like-with-like things, or applying the co-worker/cousin method helps to sort stranger items like spare shoelaces, lint rollers, and appliances like pumps that often don't need a dedicated home or storage bin. 

Rather than getting lost in drawers, or left on the side or a shelf getting in the way, place these things with their cousins – similar things that may have a similar purpose to the item; or their co-workers – things you use alongside the item, to help create flow in your daily routine and make sure nothing gets lost in the process. 

Here are my examples: 

1. Extra shoelaces  

shoe storage in a closet

(Image credit: IKEA)

I am yet to meet someone with enough extra shoelaces to warrant a whole storage bin for them, so I opt for putting laces I often swap out with their shoe co-workers in my shoe storage or, alternatively, spare back-up sets with their co-workers in the shoe cleaning kit under my kitchen sink to keep shoe care accessories together.  

2. Cleaning cloths 

Cloths under a scrubbing brush

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When organizing under the sink it can be easy to throw all the cleaning cloths and rags together, keeping like-and-like items together. This can quickly become a mountain of unorganized rags, however, if not done with care. Instead, I opt for storing specific clothes with specific purposes with their co-workers.

Screen cloths go in my drawer organizers in my home office, while silver polishing cloths are kept in the bottom drawer of my jewelry box to buff up accessories. You could do the same with glasses cleaning cloths by keeping them in your case or in your bedside drawer to clean your glasses before reading or even leaving a microfibre cloth in the bathroom vanity to clean a mirror without streaks

3. Cables 

An open drawer full of organized cables

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cables are a common clutter offender in my house, and I am sure in many of yours too. When organizing cables, consider keeping them with their cousins, or other like cables such as keeping charging cables together in one bin, and extension cables together in another rather than lumping them all together in one area to be muddled up. 

Alternatively, keep the cables with what you use them with (their co-workers) as I do. For example, I keep my laptop chargers together with my laptops in the top drawer of my home office desk, and my phone charger on my nightstand, while my spare HDMI cables are left in the drawer of my media unit in the living room ready to plug in gaming consoles when friends come round. 

4. Inflator pumps 

design house mendham garage

(Image credit: Antoine Bootz)

It can be tempting when organizing a garage to throw everything into opaque bins and hide the clutter away, but keeping like-for-like things together is perhaps more important in this space than any other. 

Given the sheer variety of items and appliances, we keep in our garages, keeping things such as inflator pumps – both manual and electric, together with their ‘co-worker’ inflatables like air mattresses, or pools, can make using these items easier and your garage or even attic space more streamlined to navigate.

5. Rubber bands  

A desk with lamp and prints in closeup

(Image credit: Crate & Barrel)

Small fastenings like rubber bands are a common culprit for being lost or found scattered in bizarre places around my home. I like to sort these small stationary pieces depending on the room they are in.

In the kitchen, I store bands with their cousins’, bag clips, to make closing up opened packages a breeze. In my home office, however, rubber bands are put with their cousins' paperclips and staples to keep my desk drawers looking pristine.  

6. Lint rollers  

Clothes storage ideas with grey walk in wardrobes

(Image credit: Ham Interiors)

Lint rollers are a necessity in any household that has pets like mine. My black cat leaves her fur everywhere but especially on my clothing. For this reason, tools such as lint rollers are often stored with their co-workers in my closet to make freshening up my outfit easier each morning. 

It could be a good idea to store lint rollers and their sticky tape refills with their cousins in a drawer or bin with other types of tape, however, if you don't use them as often in your home. Although the link may seem tenuous, when you are looking for a lint roller, there is a simple association with sticky items. What’s more, tape wrapped around your hand can be used as a lint roller in a pinch, making it a less obscure pairing than you may first realize.

7. Vitamins  

bathroom with glazed freestanding cabinet , baskets, side table, bath in foreground, wallpaper

(Image credit: Neptune)

Vitamins have become a daily routine for my household, so storing them somewhere that is easy to grab and makes sense allows me to keep on top of my regime. While I store mine in my bathroom cabinet with their ‘cousin’ medications and my morning moisturizers, my partner keeps his vitamins with their co-worker, the coffee machine, to make taking them each morning a little easier.  

8. Hairpins and ties  

bathroom with mirrored medicine cabinet, wooden washstand with storage and marble worktop and marble walls

(Image credit: Seth Caplan)

Both my partner and I make frequent use of hair ties and pins, so you would think it is easy to find them laying around the house. But, more often than not, it is a struggle to keep them in check.

I have started to apply the co-worker-cousin method to these unruly accessories too, keeping them either with their co-worker's hairbrushes when organizing the bathroom or with their cousins, headbands. 

9. Lighters and matches  

A small candle on a dark wood bedside table beside a glass vase of white flowers

(Image credit: Mark Bolton)

Lighters and matches are more obscure household items that seem to float between locations around a house. I store them with their co-workers by putting them with my candles either on the table or counter or with the ones I have in storage, or even with their cousins by the torches and lamps I have spare in case of a power outage.  

10. Empty vacuum clothes bags  

Beige bedroom with light wood wardrobe by Sebastian Cox

(Image credit: Project by House of Grey / photograph by Michael Sinclair)

When organizing clothes it is easy to buy plenty of storage containers such as vacuum bags like these on Amazon to help contain out-of-season garments or transport clothes from one place to another. When these bags are left empty, however, they can cause awful clutter. 

I tend to switch between storage places depending on when I think I might use them next. If I think I will use them again soon, then I store empty vacuum bags in the closet with their co-workers, clothes. If I don’t think they will see much use in the next month or so, then they have folded away and stored with their cousins, storage bags and boxes in my attic or my under-bed storage

11. Nail polish  

An open bathroom drawer with organizers

(Image credit: Alamy)

Given that I don't paint my nails very often, I find it awkward to store the small and infrequent bottles. For these smaller, less obvious items, I often sort them with their co-workers when organizing a bathroom vanity and leave them with the nail care kit and nail clippers. You could, however, also sort them with their cousins in your accessory bins keeping your polishes with your jewelry, for example, as they add a nice finishing touch to a look too.  

12. Bookmarks  

Bespoke book shelves with mirror

(Image credit: Chris Snook)

I am an avid reader and have not yet moved away from physical books to a digital e-reader, so keeping bookmarks around my house is a must (even if I do sometimes still just use the receipt I got when buying a new one to mark my page). 

Bookmarks are perhaps a more obvious item to sort – keeping them with their co-workers in a pot when organizing a bookshelf or leaving them with their cousins like reading glasses and reading lights in a bedside drawer.  

Homes & Gardens have rounded up some of the best storage products professional organizers can’t live without, so you can keep a tidy home no matter its size, for example:

How do you store awkward items?  

There are two approaches to organizing and storing awkwardly shaped or sized items. For small items, storing them with like things in bags or bins can help to reduce how much space they take up and prevent them from getting lost or taking up unnecessary space when on a shelf or laying loosely in a drawer. 

For larger items, consider if you can dismantle them into smaller pieces and store them in a bag or box together or even fold them. If you cannot, then use larger boxes that you can pad out with like things to help keep clutter contained. A larger camera tripod, for example, could be stored with camera cleaning cloths, backdrops if you dabble in professional photography or videography, or camera bags for on the move. Alternatively, store long items like tripods, or even brooms, brushes, and mops by making use of vertical space. Use wall mounts and clips to hang these items on the walls of closets or in garages and utility rooms to keep them out of the way but also secure.

Chiana Dickson
Writer

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for a year, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.