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Originally published Saturday, June 19, 2010 at 7:00 PM

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Eco-friendly shelves, bins and benches save space, too

To save space in your home and office, a variety of bins, shelves and benches do the trick in stylish colors and patterns; many are eco-friendly, too.

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Moving to a smaller place or making do with less space in your existing home is an ideal time to use organizing tools to help you live at peace in your surroundings.

It's important to purge what you don't need before tackling the organization piece, says Jennifer Winters, store manager of Storables in Seattle's University Village. She cautions against buying containers before purging, because people have a tendency to fill them before getting rid of what they don't use.

When you're ready to think tools, try to have a specific use in mind for each item you purchase. Have a list ready, bring your measurements and think about what each room needs to help maximize its space. Here are some suggestions for things that might work:

Seattle home organizer and interior designer Sara Eizen recommends families set up an established "command center" where house and car keys, cellphone chargers and mail can be dropped and not forgotten. If the basics for managing a family and home aren't easy to find, that can set the tone for a scattered, unorganized household, Eizen says. Three by Three Seattle offers an eco-friendly bamboo dry-erase wall panel with hooks for keys, a writing surface, and places to attach bills and other mail. Prices vary from $40 to $100, based on size and accessories, and are available for order at threebythree.com.

Eizen likes to tell her customers that furniture should aptly serve more than one purpose when used in small spaces. Ikea's EXPEDIT shelving unit fits nicely into that definition. It can function as a bookshelf, room divider and knickknack displayer, all in one. It comes in a variety of natural colors and goes for $159 at an Ikea store or online at www.ikea.com.

If you're in need of a dual-purpose, mudroom or entryway bench, check out Storables' Anji bamboo bench. This sturdy unit can seat adults and children needing to remove muddy shoes or soggy rain pants, and slots below can fit up to three storage baskets. Check out the $79.95 bench at a local Storables shop or online at www.storables.com.

Open-top, cloth baskets offer a handy, attractive option for stashing magazines, toys, CDs and office supplies. They also work well in closets for storing socks and undergarments. In rooms with little storage space, their attractive look lets the bins pass as room décor. Most home-organization stores carry their own versions, and The Container Store, with locations in Bellevue and around the country, offers eco-friendly newsprint bins made from hand-rolled, 100 percent repurposed newspaper. They vary in size and price from $9.99 to $19.99 at www.containerstore.com.

Most organization experts will tell you not to forget your vertical space. In a small kitchen, that might mean installing a wall rack to hang pots and pans, or shelving for spices, baking materials and pantry items. Vertical shelving also helps maximize closet space. Many organization shops and hardware stores have their own versions of shelving that can be purchased in separate pieces. Storables sells its line of Industrial Post Steel Shelving, and The Container Store carries a product called InterMetro Shelving.

If you rely on sticky notes to get through the day, you'll love Post-it Pockets, a 3M product that serves as a folder you can stick on a wall, refrigerator or shelf. They come in several sizes and handily collect stray mail, receipts and photos that normally would clutter counter space. All pocket sizes go for less than $10 and are available at local OfficeMax and Office Depot stores.

Stuff and storage needs change with the seasons, so it can be helpful to have storable containers, such as Bungalow Scout collapsible storage bins, available at www.bungalowco.com for $20 to $45 each. The bins, sold in colorful paisley and floral patterns and other loud designs, are water resistant and durable. Some come with zip tops and sport witty names like "Shoulda Bin There Collapsible Storage" and "Be-Low Me Underbed Storage." When you're not using them, simply collapse, fold and store away.

Michelle Ma is a Seattle Times online news producer.

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