How to keep life tidy: 18 must-have supplies

  • Wednesday, February 11, 2009 11:01pm
  • Life

An orderly existence is a noble goal, but it’s not easily attained unless you have the right supplies.

To help you come up with your list of essentials, my team and I have assembled our own. These everyday items help keep life tidy.

Resealable plastic bags

The uses for these modern marvels seem unlimited. Keep screws, nuts and bolts organized in snack-size bags. When traveling, carry toiletries. And put larger bags to use in the kitchen when you’re piping frosting or marinating meat or in need of an impromptu see-through spatter guard for your recipe cards or cookbook.

Label maker

Type and print a label to mark where linens go in the closet, distinguish phone from laptop chargers, and see which switch to flip when a circuit blows.

Multiple scissors

Because they’re so useful, invest in a few extra pairs and assign each one a purpose — cutting paper, fabric, flowers or food — to help preserve the blades. Use tie-on tags or labels to distinguish the pairs.

Packing blankets

With blankets stowed in the trunk of your car, you can transport things safely. Keep a few at home, too, to protect floors during light construction or to shimmy under a box to make moving it easier.

Oxygen bleach

Unlike standard chlorine bleach, this environmentally safe alternative will keep clothes and linens vibrant without yellowing or weakening fibers or leaving a lingering smell. Add oxygen bleach to the wash to brighten whites and colorfast colors.

Adhesive putty

A college-dorm staple, this helps you hang art without nail holes or chipped paint. A pea-size amount behind each corner will keep drawings or posters in place and will also ensure framed artwork hanging on the wall remains level.

Cast-iron skillet

A well-seasoned cast-iron pan can travel from stove top to oven to table, will last several generations, and cooks meat, fish and vegetables perfectly every time — for as little as $20.

Distilled vinegar

A solution of equal parts vinegar and water makes an effective, economical multipurpose cleaner. The nontoxic mixture disinfects floors and bathrooms and cleans glass without leaving streaks. The odor disappears as soon as the liquid dries.


Wooden clips (either the prong type or the more common spring version) can seal a half-empty bag of chips, keep pairs of mittens together, organize household lists and hold down frost blankets in the garden.


Use fewer paper towels and sponges by reaching for a washcloth when you do the dishes, wipe up spills and clean almost any surface. Buy white washcloths in bulk and keep them in constant rotation; colored ones tend to bleed.


Save spare sets of these take-out utensils and repurpose them as stakes for indoor plants and stirrers for paint.

Baking soda

Mix this household staple with a little water to form a paste to make an instant scratch-free cleaner. You can also sprinkle it in trash cans to quell odors.

Blue painters’ tape

Keep a roll of this slightly tacky tape around long after the paint has dried. You can use it to secure delicate objects wrapped in cushioned packaging material. Because it’s less adhesive than duct and masking tapes, it peels off easily, leaving the bubbles intact and ready to be reused.

Handheld vacuum

Portable and lightweight, a handheld vacuum fits into tight spaces where an upright model won’t, such as the front seat of your car. It’s adept at picking up dry spills, such as flour or dirt, and gets rid of dust bunnies and stray pet hair in seconds.

Surface protectors

These little surface savers keep your floors from getting scraped by chairs and your tabletops marred by vases and lamps. Available in a variety of materials.

Fishing line

Unsightly wires detract from even the prettiest hanging decorations. Instead, use clear fishing line, which is as sturdy as most wire and nearly invisible. When suspending heavier objects, use two strands or a double thickness, for added strength.

Microfiber cloths

Woven from superfine synthetic fibers, these delicate cloths safely clean computer screens, stainless steel appliances and other surfaces. Fingerprints and other small smudges can be rubbed off with a dry cloth; a damp one will clear away even stubborn marks.

Garment steamer

A quick steam can refresh garments between dry cleanings, perk up creased coats taken out of storage and smooth wrinkles from a rarely worn cocktail dress. It is also essential for delicate fabrics that don’t hold up well under an iron.

Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd St., New York, NY 10036. E-mail to

&Copy; 2009 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.

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