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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Lesson 9: Organization and Labeling

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labeling_products
 

Losing your keys, cell phone, TV remote, umbrella, or the screwdriver you had in your hand just moments ago is frustrating to anyone, but for a person with a visual impairment, losing items can consume a lot of time and can also be a safety hazard. By now, no doubt you can repeat the number one organizational tip: everything has a place and everything in its place. This should be the mantra and practice of every visually impaired individual. Benefits include eliminating unnecessary stress and improving your time management. If you always put your watch in your jewelry box, you can find it in a matter of moments. Keeping your umbrella or mobility cane beside the door lets you grab it on your way out. The specific location you choose for a given item isn't as important as always being consistent. Virtually everything in your home and office needs to have a designated place.

Lesson Goals

  • Organize every room in your home;
  • Choose whether to label or not label;
  • Select from more than 50 basic household items or high tech devices for labeling.

Click here to review the learning checks before reading the lesson.

This lesson begins with some general recommendations and then gives specific suggestions for organizing your bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, office, and desk (or wherever you maintain important papers). Most tips can be generalized to other situations. For example, baskets, small tool chests, drawer dividers, wall racks, and file cabinets are appropriate in any room. Keys hung on a key rack next to the door are easier to find than keys tossed on the kitchen counter or stuffed in a pocket. A wall rack for batteries puts the nine-volt needed for the smoke detector immediately at your fingertips. An accordion file folder in your file cabinet labeled "Income Taxes" lets you find and retrieve necessary documents during tax season. Zippered plastic baggies can organize related items in your purse or briefcase such as a slate and stylus or bold pen and index cards. Set aside unread mail in a gallon storage bag or in a basket designated just for mail, stamps, and the like. Your purse is probably the best place to store your pocket magnifier you use for shopping.

You may want to work on one room at a time. Begin by taking an inventory of each room: separate your possessions into things you use often, things you use occasionally, and things you never use. Even if it's difficult, get rid of things you never use. Seasonal items such as sweaters, coats, and blankets should be stored out of the way. Then find logical places for everything else.

Tips for Labeling and Identification of Items

  • Identification does not necessarily mean adding a label.
  • If you have usable vision, color may be used for identification in certain circumstances.
  • Shape and even location can help distinguish like products from one another.
  • Rubber bands, twisty ties, and tactile letters can be used to label items.
  • Letters and shapes can be made from black and white Velcro and electrical tape.
  • Label items you cannot identify by shape, color, or distinctive features with adhesive labels in large print, raised print letters, or braille.
  • If you have usable vision, try adhesive labels and a bold pen and write large, readable letters.
  • Expand your imagination to create labels that will work for you.
  • Reuse containers when possible so you don't need to create new labels.
  • Use a variety of techniques for identification and labeling. Sometimes it's faster to use the shape, color, or other simple identification system. At other times you may need to use a high-tech device. Magnifiers and electronic devices as well as many apps for a smartphone are described in several lessons throughout this course and specifically in Lesson 8 and Lesson 19.
  • Keep your labeling system as simple as possible. If it's too complex, then you probably won't use it.

Bathroom

using rubber bands to distinguish shampoo from conditioner

It is crucial to identify and organize items in the bathroom, considering the numerous cleaning products and medications generally found there. Shampoo, conditioner, and liquid body wash can be organized in a caddy hung on the shower door or over the showerhead. Purchase products in differently shaped containers and line them up according to use. If two products are in the same type of container, put a rubber band around one of them. Use decorative trays or baskets for cosmetics and toiletries.

Vitamins tend to come in large and small sizes of the same type of bottle. Some vitamins can be identified by shape, but if you take more than four, labeling is probably more convenient. Vitamins can also be organized on a tray, in a basket, or on a shelf in the medicine cabinet. Many over-the-counter medications come in similar containers. Make certain you can identify these and are able to find the expiration date. Throw away unused medications on the date they expire.

If you maintain a small supply of toothpaste, bath soap, aspirin, etc., keep them separated with drawer dividers or divided storage bins under a cabinet.

black cylindrical object pointed at two bottles of medication  

A low-tech device you may want to investigate in is the pocket size PenFriend. It's an easy to use audio labeling system for recording and re-recording labels to place on medication bottles and anywhere else you might need a label with an explanation. You simply touch the adhesive label with the PenFriend, hold down the recording button, and create a message as long or as short as necessary. To play the message, hold the PenFriend over the recorded label. Although this device is a little pricey, its uses are innumerable.

Several other talking devices specifically created for medication prescriptions are described in Lesson 8.

See the VisionAware Resources list at the end of the lesson for more information on labeling, marking, and managing your medications.

Never smell cleaning products to identify them. Attempt to buy products in containers with distinct shapes, but label them if you tend to forget which bottle contains which product. You can always use a magnifier if you have low vision or use an electronic device that will read aloud labels and cleaning information. If you keep separate cleaning products in the bathroom and kitchen, organize each in a caddy you can carry from place to place. Keep the caddy under the sink and keep the cabinet locked if you have small children.

See the VisionAware Resources list at the end of the lesson for more information on organizing your bathroom.

Linen Closet

In spite of good intentions, linen closets—whether maintained by a person with sight or not—often look like a disaster site. Choose a shelf for bath towels, hand towels, and wash cloths. If you have sets of towels, fold them together and stack them. If you use only white towels, then you just have to stack each type of towel in its own pile. Sheets and pillow cases should always be folded together in sets. Quilts and comforters should be folded with their matching pillow shams. Most people do not wash just one set of towels or one set of sheets at a time. If your vision is not clear enough to distinguish colors or patterns, then marking each set is essential. You can cut the labels out of one set, attach safety pins to another set, and not mark a third set. You may have no difficulty telling two quilts or comforters apart because of texture.

Laundry

Separate lights and darks into two laundry baskets when you change your clothes. (Clothing care is covered in Lesson 15.) Mesh bags are good for socks and hosiery. 

Organizing Your Wardrobe

Mother and daughter use marker to identify clothing color)  

This section will focus primarily on identifying and organizing your clothing and other items typically found in a bedroom closet and dresser drawers. Tips for organizing accessories and other items in your wardrobe are suggested as well.

Before organizing your clothes, shoes, and accessories, take an inventory. Remove from your closet anything you haven't worn or used in four years. Next, decide if your closet is the size and shape sufficient to handle all of your hanging items. Do you have enough closet space in your home to separate hanging items by season? Try several organizational techniques or a combination of techniques to see what fits your needs and space.

Hanging Clothes

Before losing vision, you may have arranged your clothing by type, hanging all of your shirts together, your pants together, your skirts together, and so forth. Or you may have organized everything by category, hanging all of your casual clothes at one end of your closet and all of your business and dress apparel at the other end. If you are retired, and your wardrobe contains primarily casual and sports apparel—jeans, sweats, shorts, casual and T-shirts—then a closet with an upper and lower rack may serve you the best.

If organizing your wardrobe is new for you, try hanging entire outfits together. Purchase hangers that will hold a skirt or pair of pants, along with a jacket or shirt. If the hanger has an extra hook, another shirt or sweater can be hung there. Accessories like socks, ties, or belts can be hung on the hanger or in mesh bags. Placing plastic or cardboard dividers between outfits can keep them separated. Modify this system to hang several matching garments together. You may have two pairs of pants that go with three different shirts and a sweater. If you have usable vision, but distinguishing colors or shades of color is problematic, this method may be ideal for you. Remember, these systems work only if you put the items back together after you wear or launder them. (Techniques for telling navy blue pants from gray pants are described later in the lesson.)

Jeans and T-shirts may be your frequent choice of outfits these days. If so, you may not care as much about matching your shirt or sweater with your jeans. However, you may like to keep your dark blue, light blue, and khaki jeans separated. Hang the same colors together, but alter the manufacturer's label in the light blue and khaki pairs. Hang special polo and T-shirts with the jeans you prefer to wear with them. Organize your remaining T-shirts in a shelf organizer or in a dresser drawer, separating dark and light colors with drawer dividers.

Shoes

Keeping shoes organized is an ongoing challenge for some people. It's easy to kick off your work shoes next to the front door or haphazardly throw your running shoes in the bottom of the closet as soon as you get home from work or a long hike. The rule "everything has a place and everything in its place" is equally important when discussing shoes, especially if you have more than six pairs.

If you have shelf space, keep your dress shoes in their original boxes, stacked by color and/or labeled on one end in large print, braille, or large tactile letters. Here is a good place to use the PenFriend: you can label a box with the description of the shoes: "red leather sandals with ankle strap and wedge heel." The recorded labels are really helpful if you have two pairs alike except for color. Even so, it's wise to mark one pair of the shoes under the heel with a line of clear glue or tape, in case they get stored in the wrong boxes.

Wire shoe racks that hang on the closet door hold eight to twelve pairs of shoes and help the shoes keep their shape at the same time. These work well for men's shoes. There are other styles of shoe organizers that hang on a clothing rod.

If you have two or more pairs of running shoes, always tie the shoelaces together when you take them off. That way, even if you throw them in the bottom of the closet, you'll be able to easily locate a complete pair the next time you need one. If two pairs are alike except for color, label one pair inside the heel with a tactile marking.

Dressers

Dresser drawers, where socks, underwear, sleep wear, and extra T-shirts are stored, may need frequent reorganizing. Drawer dividers are extremely helpful. Old shoe boxes or similarly sized containers purchased at a variety store keep socks and underwear separated. With four containers, you can separate dark socks from white and dark underwear from white in one drawer. Socks stay in pairs when folded together. Women's hosiery stores best when folded together and placed in plastic zipper or mesh bags.

Accessories like jewelry, belt buckles, hair clips, scarves, and gloves need storage containers with small compartments. If you have lots of jewelry, you may already have a large multi-drawer jewelry box, but it may be that your organization is not consistent. If you cannot afford a large jewelry chest, a large sewing box, a multi-drawer toolbox, or a fishing tackle box might meet your need. Ideally, you want something with lots of small compartments that can hold single items of jewelry or pairs of earrings, and compartments that can hold one pair of gloves or one scarf. Necklaces do better when hung.

Identifying Clothing

Now you have a big picture of ways you can organize your clothing, shoes, and accessories, but organization is only one part of the equation. You still need a variety of identification techniques in order to select a specific garment, to match items, or choose the exact outfit you wish to wear.

Remember, identification does not always mean attaching a label. In fact, your sense of touch can be your most effective and frequently used tool for identifying your clothing. As you practice examining individual garments, you will discover that most items except for T-shirts have distinctive characteristics.

Examine five different garments by rubbing the material between your fingers. Silk, wool, cotton, and denim all have distinct textures. Tactilely or visually search the whole garment and get a sense of its characteristics. Is there a collar? What is it like? Are the buttons unique in shape, texture, or size? Are there pockets? You may have three pairs of wool slacks, but the brown ones do not have a pocket, the black ones do not have belt loops, and the blue ones fasten with a hook. Brown, navy, and black are hard to tell apart when you have low vision. Looking for distinctive characteristics eliminates that problem for you. Elements like buttons, sleeves, pockets, cuffs, lace, and bows, along with texture, will help you identify most of your clothing. These same techniques will help you identify shoes, jackets, gloves, and sometimes even socks if they have a pattern. If you can still see colors well enough to match different garments, viewing your clothes in natural light from a window is often helpful.

Sometimes you may find a sale on shoes or sweaters or some other type of apparel. Don't hesitate to purchase three sweaters that are alike except for color. By altering the manufacturer's label in each, you can tell a black sweater from a navy one or red one. Leave the label intact in the black sweater; cut half of the label out of the navy one; and remove the entire label from the red one. Make these adjustments in alphabetical order, so it's easier to remember the system. Some shirts, dresses, and jackets may have the pertinent information stamped directly on the garment. To identify two turtlenecks that are exactly alike except for color, try sewing French knots in the neckline of one shirt and leaving the other unmarked.

A number of commercially made labeling items, such as braille and large print tags that can be sewn or pinned on garments, can be purchased from specialty companies, and ordered by phone or online. Match Makers are safety pins bonded to plastic covers with one to four raised dots arranged along the pin. You can designate what color you want each group of dots to represent based on your wardrobe. For example, you may choose to mark all red items with pins that have one dot, all blue items with two dots, and so on. Standard safety pins can also be used to label clothing. If you decide to remove the pin when you wear an item, don't forget to put the pin back on before hanging up the item or putting it in the laundry basket. A number of color identifiers are available through specialty companies. Even though they are not always accurate, they are quite popular. Cost, ease of use, product durability, and number of color choices can affect the usefulness of these identification systems.

Many people with low vision prefer to buy natural, full-spectrum light bulbs because they produce light similar to natural light, allow for more contrast, and reduce glare. Installing two or more of these bulbs in a track along the ceiling lets you focus the lights directly on specific areas of your closet. Hopefully, these lights will give you a sense of having a window in your closet.

See the VisionAware Resources list at the end of the lesson for more information on organizing your closets and labeling clothing.  

Kitchen

Organizing or re-organizing your kitchen may seem like a huge project, but it really can be fun, especially if you have some help! You may want to consider hiring someone to assist you. Getting assistance with any major organization project is a wise decision, but the kitchen especially poses some safety issues that make getting help almost imperative.

Safety issues include climbing on a step stool to rearrange cabinets or other high spaces. Some small appliances are heavy and, therefore, awkward to move. A lot of dishware is breakable. With so many small and large items to reorganize, it saves lots of time when at least two people are sharing the work.

Once again take inventory before beginning. Donate to a garage sale or secondhand store things you haven't used in years. Take an inventory of your space. Are you fortunate enough to have lots of cabinet and drawer space? Do you have a utility/laundry room where at least laundry, cleaning, and paper and storage products can be stored? Does it have room for baskets and trays, pitchers, and vases you use frequently?

Most of the suggestions in this section are common sense and possibly ideas you are using now. Things you use infrequently can be put on top shelves. Dishes or small appliances you use daily can go on the bottom shelves. Store coffee cups above your coffee maker. Store glasses near the sink, refrigerator, or water filtration system, depending on your source of drinking water. Keep spices in a spice rack, built-in lazy Susan, or small cabinet near the stove and the counter where you do food prep. Keep cooking utensils such as knives, spatulas, measuring cups, spoons, whisks, ladles, etc. near the stove. Attach labels for canned goods with a rubber band. When you use a can, keep the label to take with you when shopping, then reattach the label to the new can before leaving the store.

Store eating utensils in a drawer above or below where you keep your dinner dishes. The pattern here is to minimize your steps for each type of task and to keep like items together.

Make a trip to some stores that sell storage containers for utensils. Purchase as many as your drawer space and finances will allow so you can keep similar gadgets together.

If possible, set aside a catch-all drawer where you keep a pair of utility scissors, at least one screwdriver, a pair of pliers, and all of your labeling supplies: rubber bands, bread-bag twist ties, several kinds of tape, glue, bump dots, post-it notes—anything you find helpful for labeling and identification. Keep a bold felt tip pen and three-by-five note cards in a zippered plastic bag in the drawer. The specialty companies offer an endless variety of labeling ideas, but you don't have to rely on them. Make your own or look in discount stores for ideas. If you share your home with sighted people, use clear labels; don't cover up the print.

See the VisionAware Resources list at the end of the lesson for more information on organizing your kitchen.  

Office

Hopefully, somewhere in your home you have an office or at least a desk where you keep important household paperwork (such as copies of insurance policies, tax information, and medical files) and where you pay bills and handle other financial matters. Organization in this area is essential. Designate a drawer for banking items, where checkbooks, new checks, and old and new check registers can be kept. Try keeping bank statements in 3-ring binders with the latest on top. Then store them on a shelf in the desk or somewhere else nearby. From time to time, people are asked to provide copies of bank statements for two, three, or even six months. These are easy to reproduce if they are kept in an accessible location. Mark the edge of each notebook and the beginning of each statement.

If you have usable vision, keeping each set of files separate in color-coded file folders in a desk drawer or file cabinet can make it easier to find the papers you need. Organize the folders in alphabetical order and write the category across the top in bold lettering. Label each file in a folder in large print on brightly colored sticky notes. If you do not have usable vision, keep all of your important files organized by category and stored in file folders in alphabetical order. Label each folder with a raised print letter. This is another place the PenFriend can be helpful. File drawers or cabinets that hold hanging file folders are preferable.

Every appliance comes with a booklet that describes how to use and clean the appliance and how to contact the manufacturer if you have a problem. Label these and keep them in a single location, like an accordion file.

See the VisionAware Resources list at the end of the lesson for more information on organizing your home office.  

Conclusion

This lesson certainly has not exhausted the list of ways you can organize your home or label everything you might need to label, but these suggestions should help you get started. Once you have developed a working system and are using it consistently, you will join the parade of the people with visual impairments who know from experience that the three most important skills are organization, organization, organization!


Learning Checks

What is the number one rule for maintaining good organization in your home?

  1. Eliminate anything you haven't used in four years
  2. Everything has a place and everything in its place
  3. Label everything you own with braille, large print, or an electronic device
  4. None of the above

Answer: b

What are three non-labeling methods for identifying similar items like medications or bath products?

  1. Color
  2. Shape
  3. Size
  4. Pen Friend

Answers: a, b, and c

Before returning your blue and gray slacks to their designated hangers, which of the following techniques might you use to tell them apart?

  1. The texture of the material
  2. Pockets and belt loops
  3. Manufacturer's label
  4. All of the above

Answer: d

Which of the following is not a safe suggestion for maximizing your time and effort in the kitchen?

  1. Place frequently used dishware on lower shelves
  2. Keep food prep items like knives, spatulas, and measuring cups in racks, drawers, or storage containers
  3. Set salt, pepper, non-stick spray for pans, and a container of spatulas and spoons on the stovetop for easy access
  4. Designate a specific location for a variety of labeling tools

Answer: c

Which of the following statements does not fit with the organizational concepts covered in this lesson?

  1. Everything has a place and everything in its place
  2. Keep like items together
  3. To label or not to label, that is the question
  4. As a visually impaired person, your options for organizing your home are limited

Answer: d

Click here to return to the beginning of the lesson.


VisionAware Resources

The following links will take you to VisionAware online resources that support this lesson. Please be advised that information in these links may go beyond the scope of this lesson or this course.

Labeling and Marking

Managing Your Medication

Reorganizing Your Home: Room-By-Room

Bathroom Organization

Bedroom and Closet Organization

Organizing and Labeling Clothing

Kitchen Organization

Office Organization


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