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posted: 11/23/2012 5:56 AM

Tips for taming your utility closet

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Do you have a utility closet, drawer or room? If you keep it organized, it sure can be handy in the average home. But with all the stuff one collects in this area, it quickly can become a black hole, which isn't very handy. Here are some tips to help you keep your utility closet in good shape.

• Evaluate the space first. If you have only a single drawer or cabinet, don't overload it. If you are lucky enough to have a utility room, don't go nuts and cram everything into it, either.

• Start by cleaning out the space, whatever size it is.

• Sort through items and edit out what you really don't have room for or items that can be stored somewhere else. Separate what's left into categories, like tools, cleaning supplies, dog stuff, etc. You can see what's in each group and figure out the best storage system for each. There are boxes, bags, bins and all sorts of super storage solutions.

• If you have only a drawer, a divider is a good way to keep it organized, and most are very inexpensive.

• If you have a cabinet or closet door, install storage right on the door. A spice rack or hanging shoe holder works well. You'll be amazed at how much extra storage this gives you.

• If you are working in a closet or room, add plenty of shelves for storing items. You also can install wall storage systems, like pegboard, for a variety of items.

• Add a dry-erase, chalk, magnetic or cork board for shopping lists, receipts and things like that. Even a small area can be used for this purpose. Add a calendar if you can use that, too.

• Closet rods, tension rods and towel racks can be used to organize lots of things from hooks or set behind the bar. You even can hang a paper towel rack on the wall so the towels will be handy.

Save your sawdust!

Saving sawdust when you work is a smart plan. It can be used for various cleanups in the workshop. If you have a wet or oily spill in the shop or garage, throw a handful of sawdust on top of it and let it be absorbed. Then you can just sweep it away. You also can use it to get grease and grime off your hands. Keep a bucket handy when working on your car. Some wood can even be used in a compost pile for your garden.

Hardware "piggy bank"

Money is valuable. That's why we store it in a bank. But hardware can get pretty expensive, too, so why not keep hardware odds and ends in a bank? Create a "piggy bank" for your hardware in an oversize container like a coffee can or plastic jar. You can put a lid on the container and just cut a hole in the top so you can drop these odds and ends into it when they are around. When you need a nut or washer, you can sort through this stuff and find what you need. It won't take any more time than going through a bunch of bin boxes or going to the hardware store and buying a whole package when you only need one!

Super hints

• The holidays are coming soon, so spend a day working on carpet stains. Use specific products to get stains out, then add protectors to keep carpets clean from the extra traffic you can expect.

• My old fiberglass shovel handle is starting to splinter, so I wrapped it with some decorative duct tape. It looked so good that I decided to use the rest of the roll on some of my other tools. Now my whole garage looks color coordinated. It was a quick and easy weekend project, and I'll even be able to find "lost" tools at my neighbor's house!

• If your lights are looking a little dim these days, perhaps they need to be cleaned off or dusted. A dirty light bulb will put out less light, so clean them and get the most for your energy costs.

Q. I have an older kitchen sink. I'd love to replace it but can't really afford to, and I don't have the know-how either. What can I use to paint it white?

A. Epoxy paint is the strongest paint and should work OK if you follow the application instructions. It won't last forever, so start saving your money for a new one. It will buy you a couple of years, though.

Q. Our older home has cast-iron floor grates that need to be repainted. Some of the old paint is peeling off, so I need to remove it, too, I guess. What should I use?

A. Be careful when cleaning them, because the original paint may contain lead. Test it first. Then remove any loose paint and use a metal primer, followed by a paint that can be used on metal. An oil-based product will last longer if these grates will be walked on.

Q. I have fluorescent lamps in my closet. The problem is that they don't come on some of the time. When they do, they flicker. I've replaced the bulb, but after a very short time, the problem starts up again. Do I have to replace the whole fixture?

A. Clean the contacts where the bulb fits into the fixture. Check all of the connections from the switch to the inside of the lamp (with the power to the circuit turned OFF). The ballast is inside the fixture and also can be replaced, although some are hard to find and cost more than a new fixture.

Reader tips

• I painted my front door, and it looks so much better. I used a slightly different color just to make it show up better, and I've already gotten lots of great comments from the neighbors. I couldn't take down the door to paint it, so I just opened it and put a dropcloth under it to catch any drips. It looks fine. I also painted the bottom by using a thin paint pad loaded with paint. It was a little sloppy, so the dropcloth came in handy, but I was able to coat it.

Good job! Painting the bottom of a door is critical to prevent moisture damage.

• I recently went to the hardware store to replace a tiny screw. I had to dig around in my pocket to find the old one. The lady who was helping me took out a roll of clear packing tape and stuck the screw to the tape, then pulled off some more and placed it on top of the screw, sealing it inside the plastic tape. I thought this was so smart, and have started storing some of my smaller hardware items this way. It's so easy, and you'll never lose them. If you need to get to one, the tape comes right off and even can be pushed back down over the rest of the hardware.

• I replaced the wax ring on my toilet. It was the second time I did it, so I was feeling like a seasoned pro. I think I even broke a record, too. I was just about to put the caulk around the base of the toilet to make things look good again when I remembered to test it first. I turned the water back on and flushed the toilet, and was just getting ready to pat myself on the back when I noticed a small leak around the base. I had to do it over again. It's a good thing I checked before caulking, or the leak might have been there, doing lots of damage, for a long time before I saw it.

• I have to store my boat in the backyard now that my son has a car in the garage. I bought a nice tarp to cover it but found that I needed to weigh down the edges to keep them in place during heavy weather. I made some great "weights" for this with empty milk jugs filled with sand. They work great, and when the season is over, I can throw away the plastic jugs and use the sand in the garden.

• I have set things on the top of my washer and dryer but find that some will fall into the gap that is behind the machine. It is not a lot of fun to fish them out. I added some plain, metal shelf brackets and shelves just over the top of the washer. The shelves are larger than the original storage space, and nothing will fall behind the machines now. It took only about 30 minutes to install, and it has been so helpful. I now can store all of my laundry products in one easy-to-reach space.


• Chip clips are great for chips, but for bigger bags of things, like cat litter and dog food, you need a bigger clip. The Handy Camel is the one to use. It's heavy-duty and stays in place. It even has a handle on top so you can pick up the heavy bag by the clip! It's also great for potting soil and fertilizer, floor grout, cement mix and plaster. If you reposition the handle, you can use it to make pouring these heavy bags easier. It won't slip, and it won't spill. To find out more or to order some for your home, go to and check it out for yourself.

• It's easy to add slip resistance and safety to floor surfaces with Rustoleum's Epoxy Shield Anti-Slip Spray Coating. The oil-based formula dries quickly and can be used indoors and out on metal, concrete, ceramic and wood surfaces. It's clear and has a matte finish, so it doesn't change the appearance of the surface much. One can will cover 14 square feet. You can find it at your hardware store or home center. For additional information, go to

• Write to Al and Kelly Carrell in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006 or visit the Carrells' website at

2012, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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