Be careful as you enter any store selling housewares these days. You are apt to be run over by a customer shoving a cartload full of storage boxes.
That's what happens this time of year. People resolve to become better organized and are drawn to the containers that can help them.
To which organizing experts always say: Nifty organizing and storage tools are fine, but it is important to declutter first. Resist the temptation to go out and buy bins, baskets and boxes until you have gotten rid of the things you do not need, use or love.
As organizing guru Peter Walsh, of TLC's "Clean Sweep," has told The Buffalo News: The idea is not to store the clutter. It's to get rid of it.
That said, there is no shortage of organizing tools out there designed to store the things you do use regularly, whether it's in the linen closet or the trunk of your car. And new things are introduced all of the time.
For starters, while plastic boxes serve many purposes the new generation of storage containers are often so good-looking, you want to display them in a room -- not hide them in a closet or behind closed doors.
These go beyond the popular wicker-basket-under-the-coffee-table approach, and some of them come at a price. The Washington Post, for example, recently featured the Hotel box by Pure Nomade of Denmark, which sells for about $25 and works as both storage and furniture.
The unusually shaped box, which measures about 6 inches high, 18 1/2 inches wide and 12 inches deep and is collapsible, can be used to store cosmetics, scarves, small toys, shoes, etc. It comes in a dazzling array of patterns and colors and can be stacked tower-like up to 10 feet tall (fixed through a center screw at the top of the box) or set up as shelves along the walls. A covered window reveals its contents. Check the boxes out at www.yoyashop.com or www.purenomade.com
Similarly, colorful photo boxes -- some fabric-covered -- can be used for more than just photos. They are widely available, cost just a few dollars and are easy to stack and label. Fill them with greeting cards, stationery, stamps and labels, for example, and place on a shelf near your desk.
Another trend: The furniture industry is increasingly incorporating storage into its designs -- whether it's an ottoman that lifts to reveal hideaway space underneath or a storage piece that resembles a cabinet but features interior outlets for charging and stashing everyday electronics.
New from PBTeen, Pottery Barn's catalog for teenagers: A "smart" nightstand with two shelves and one drawer with a five-plug outlet for charging small items such as iPods and cell phones.
In fact, kids of all ages have never had so many storage options designed just for them -- from snazzy beds with roomy storage drawers underneath to fabric organizers that hang from closet rods and feature compartments for a week's worth of clothes. It's never too early to teach order in the house.
Some of the handiest storage solutions are often the simplest. Take the popular bag dispenser, which can be found for about $10. This corrals plastic bags from the supermarket into one neat place, as opposed to having them spill out of the broom closet or cupboard.
Feeling inspired? Here are some other products -- and ideas -- that can help make 2007 a very neat year.
*The Animal Bag. This oversized plush bag (think bean bag) was recently featured on the HGTV Web site in its "Daily Dose of Design." The bag can be filled with stuffed animals and then used as a soft seat. The bag, by Boon, is covered with large zippered windows made of transparent mesh. It's washable and comes in three sizes and styles, beginning st $59.99 (www.booninc.com).
*Automobile organizers. Whether it's groceries, sports gear or CDs you are always wrestling with, it may be time to bring a little order to your car or minivan. There are storage solutions for every area -- from the visor and glove box to the front seat and trunk -- and products are widely available.
Case Logic, one of the many order-obsessed companies out there, designs such automotive products as the Front Seat Mobile Office (with file sleeves, laptop zippered compartment and more) and the Trunk Organizer with Cooler (with compartments to contain grocery bags, camping gear, etc., plus a cooler for keeping perishables cold). The former is priced about $30 at Target, the latter is $20. Many other collapsible bins and organizing tools for your car are available, too.
*Lazy Susans. Order sometimes comes cheap. Better Homes and Gardens magazine recommends using a utilitarian double-decker lazy Susan -- the kind often used to hold spices -- for storing medicines. Store in a cool, dry place (out of reach of children, of course), such as a linen closet.
Another idea for the linen closet from the February issue: Use stackable sweater shelves and shelf dividers for easier stacking of sheets and towels when fixed shelves are too far apart.
And if a messy kitchen drawer full of plastic storage containers is getting you down, you might already own a simple solution at home: an old CD rack. Use this for the lids and stack the bottoms by size.