The Best Ways to Organize and Store Beads and Jewelry Supplies
If you love bead stringing for making jewelry, you've probably discovered that collecting beads can be addictive—and that as your bead collection grows, keeping it organized can be a real challenge!
As someone who has been designing, creating and selling beaded jewelry for many years I've collected a LOT of beads and jewelry findings. I've also spent a small fortune trying out different bead storage solutions! Now I'm sharing my favorites, so you don't have to.
Got a Need for Beads... and a Good Way to Organize Them?
As a jewelry designer and avid bead collector, I own literally thousands of beads: vintage beads, Venetian glass beads from Murano, dichroic glass beads, seed beads and Delicas, bugle beads, Magatamas, pressed glass beads, gemstone beads, sterling silver beads, gold-filled beads, contemporary and vintage Swarovski crystal beads, etc. If I hadn't found a bead storage and organization system that not only worked with the way I design jewelry but also that I could maintain easily, I'd never be able to find anything in my collection!
One person's mess is merely another person's filing system.— Margo Kaufman (1954-2000)
I've tried dozens of different storage and organization solutions and some have worked better than others. Over the years I've also had to find new solutions to adapt my storage as my collection has grown. I'm sharing some of my favorite bead storage solutions with you that are suitable for both beginner beaders with small collections and professional jewelry designers with large supplies inventories like mine. I've had mine for so long that some of them have been updated with newer versions or in some cases discontinued, so I've researched for you the closest matches to my bead storage organizers that are currently available.
Once you get your beading supplies organized, you'll be able to spend less time looking for what you want and more time designing jewelry. And that's a pretty powerful motivation to get your beads and jewelry making materials organized!
Have you found the perfect way to store and organize your beads and findings yet?
Bead Storage Cases for Small Collections, Specialty Beads and Findings
When I first started buying beads and jewelry findings and didn't need the type of large volume storage I do now, I tried out a lot of different types of bead organizers and storage containers.
ArtBin Prism Clear, Transparent Storage Boxes
I love the Artbin Prism line of compact storage boxes for organizing small beads and jewelry findings. These hard polystyrene boxes come in different configurations that you can mix and match according to what you need to store. They have flat tops and bottoms so you can stack them easily on a shelf, table or workbench. Best of all, they're crystal clear, so it's easy to see exactly what's in each box even when it's closed. The only drawback to this line is that the containers don't have any type of latch and they open fairly easily, so if you want to carry them around I recommend slipping a wide elastic band around each box (or stack of two boxes).
There are multiple styles in both large and small sizes, each with different numbers and sizes of compartments to suit your needs. My small nine-compartment Prism boxes shown above have been discontinued, but there are several other options that work very well for organizing and storing jewelry making materials. Of the smaller size boxes, my current favorite is the ArtBin Prism 918AB 18-compartment box. It's extremely handy for organizing and storing jewelry findings, small beads, flatback rhinestones, hot-fix Swarovski crystals, chatons, etc. The individual compartments are a little less than one and a half inches square. (Note that the four corner compartments of all the models in this line are slightly smaller because of the rounded corners.)
The larger ArtBin 1106AB 6-Compartment Prism Box (11 1/2" x 6 5/8" x 1 3/4" ) has rectangular compartments that are great for organizing and storing headpins and long jewelry findings to be embellished, such as hair pins. This is also a good storage container for large or very long beads that don't fit well in square compartments.
Portable and Stackable Organizer Boxes with Carry Bags
Portable fabric tote bags fitted with stacks of bead organizers are extremely convenient, whether you have a small-to-medium size collection of beads and findings, have limited bead storage space, or just like to carry some beads and jewelry findings with you in the car, to classes or beaded jewelry making parties. The ones I own were ArtBin brand and have been discontinued, but Darice makes something very similar.
The Darice 1027-37 Nylon Carry Bag with 5 Bead-Ready Organizers is a blue nylon bag that holds five bead organizer boxes. Each box is divided into 18 fixed compartments. The tote bag has a detachable shoulder strap, elastic loops to hold pliers or other beading tools, and zippers for easy access. There's also a comfortable fabric carrying handle on top. However, since the top of the bag closes with a Velcro strip, depending on how full you fill the boxes and how heavy the contents are, I suggest using the shoulder strap rather than the handle to carry the bag around. (Trust me - I speak from experience!)
Small, Round, See-Through Containers
I often use Swarovski crystal 4mm bicone beads in a wide variety of colors to add some sparkle to my beaded jewelry designs. For many years I stored them in shallow aluminum boxes that held small round metal containers with clear see-through lids (see the photo, below). I put one color of crystal bicone bead in each container, and because of the glass lids, I could see which colors were in each container without opening it. The containers, which jewelers often use to store tiny watch parts, are about 1 1/4" wide and about 3/4" tall and they were practically perfect for my purpose. The only downside was that the lids were the lift-off type and didn't fit very securely, which meant I had to be careful not to pick up a container of beads by the lid. In fact, that's the only reason I stopped using them to store my Swarovski crystal bicones.
Clear, Screw-Top Containers to the Rescue!
Fortunately, you can now purchase small, stackable storage boxes fitted with secure, screw-top containers. Better yet, they also are entirely see-through (not just the lids)! These are available with different numbers of screw-top containers so you can customize your bead storage exactly the way you prefer. They also would be ideal for storing small jewelry findings like crimp beads, bead tips, and jump rings.
The SE 87136DB 30-Piece Plastic Screw-Top Container Set in a Clear Storage Box is great for organizing seed beads, findings, even small scrapbooking embellishments. The set includes 30 screw-top containers, each 1" wide x 1 1/16" tall. The see-through storage case that holds them is 6 1/2" long x 5 1/2" wide. You can stack several of these storage cases neatly to hold all sorts of different jewelry making supplies.
One of the real challenges for any beader is where to put small quantities of beads and findings—seed beads, sequins, odds and ends of leftover beads, and very small jewelry findings such as crimp beads, bead tips, clasps and jump rings. The Darice Jewelry Designer Bead Storage System with 30 containers is a great solution. The see-through jars with screw-on lids are just 7/8" wide x 1" tall, and they stay neat and organized in the clear plastic storage box.
Storage Boxes Fitted With Stacked, Screw-Together Containers
Another of the jewelry supplies storage solutions I've tried for small beads and findings is the popular system of small screw-together plastic containers. Small, stacking screw-together containers are handy for carrying around small amounts of beads and jewelry findings securely. I like to put the spacer beads, seed beads and other small beads I'm using for my current beading project into most of the compartments and reserve one to hold the crimps, clasps, jump rings or other jewelry findings for that project so I don't need to clutter my work area with lots of storage containers while I'm working.
Unfortunately, there are a number of downsides to using these screw-together container stacks. They don't let you use your limited storage space efficiently. It's also awkward to carry several of them at a time over to your work area. And if you need to take your bead supplies along with you when you go out, the cylinder shape makes them roll around in your tote bag or suitcase. And unless you're storing only a handful of items you'll need a lot of them. They're also easy to knock over on your work table ... and if that happens when one of the compartments is open you're likely to spend the next half hour trying to pick out tiny beads from your carpet!
Fortunately, I found a solution: stacking screw-together compartments that come in a handy, flat, rectangular storage box with a secure locking latch. An example is the Darice 2025-252 Bead Container with 28 Storage Jars, a molded case that holds the screw-together compartment stacks horizontally for storage and easy portability. It comes with 28 clear plastic screw-together jars, two that are 1 1/2" deep and 26 that are 1/2" deep. You can stack several of these flat, shallow storage cases on a shelf or table or in a drawer to make better use of your bead storage space. It's a smart, well thought out design.
Using Tackle Boxes for Storing Beads and Jewelry Findings
Fishing tackle boxes have lots of compartments and many beaded jewelry makers use them for storing and organizing beads and findings. Plano is one of the best-known tackle box manufacturers and their products usually are sturdy and well made. I have several very old Plano double-sided tackle boxes I inherited from my mother, who used to use them to organize some of her embroidery floss and supplies. The photos below show both sides of my largest Plano two-sided tackle box, which I use for storing findings for hair accessories and large vintage findings (mostly clip earrings with attached filigree that use for cagework beadery, and one of the individual utility boxes that I also use for findings.
The models I own have been long since discontinued, but Plano offers a large selection of current models to choose from that are even better, featuring secure ProLatch latches and some portable rack storage systems, and they come backed by a limited lifetime warranty, so you know they're built to last.
Tackle Box Systems w/ Adjustable Divider Utility Boxes
The is terrific for organizing a small or medium sized collection of beads and findings. It's designed to be portable, and the best features for bead storage are the carrying handle, the racks that hold four removable organizers with secure latches, and a see-through front cover panel that folds up and locks securely to keep the boxes from sliding out. Each 1.5" deep box comes with dividers that allow you to customize the number and size of compartments, and you can substitute any of the 3600-series utility boxes in different configurations for the 3650 organizers that come with this rack system. And the top compartment underneath the lid is perfect for storing beading wire, bead cord, pliers, crimpers and other jewelry making tools. Plano 1364 4-By Rack System 3650 Size Tackle Box
This portable case lets you can carry your beads, findings, and beading tools and supplies easily wherever you want, from one room to another or to a class, beading party, vacation or other travel destination.
Plastic Storage Organizers with Pull-Out Drawers
There's a much larger audience (read: market) for hardware and small parts organizers than for jewelry makers in general and beaders in specific. That's why some of the best designed, sturdy and sometimes portable storage organizers for beads and findings come from hardware or automotive departments or stores. If you have a small-to-medium size bead collection and a dedicated craft work space where it can live, then one or more small hardware parts units with small pull-out drawers might be just the ticket.
These terrific plastic storage cabinets with see-through clear polypropylene drawers are awesome and come in a variety of different drawer configurations, so you can buy one or several and also mix and match the different units for a completely customized bead storage solution. They can stand on a bookcase or other shelf or along the back of your work table against a wall, or they can be wall mounted. And these extremely versatile bead organization and storage units are made in the USA.
Here are two of the available configurations I think a lot of jewelry makers will find useful. To see other options, just click on the Amazon link to either of these models and check the additional items under "Frequently Bought Together" and "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought."
Akro-Mils 10144 D 20-Inch by 16-Inch by 6-1/2-Inch Hardware and Craft Cabinet
My mom used to keep her beads and jewelry findings in something very similar to this Akro-Mils Hardware and Craft Cabinet. She actually had several of these sturdy plastic storage cabinets lined up against the wall along the back edge of her craft table and dedicated to beads, jewelry findings, sequins, rhinestones, etc.
One of the things I really like about this model is that it includes 32 small and 12 medium pull-out drawers. Those 44 sturdy, clear polypropylene pull-out drawers also have convenient finger grips and rear stop tabs to prevent your beads and findings from spilling out.
Bead Storage Solutions for Organizing a Large Bead Collection
Whether you're a professional jewelry designer, an avid beader or an enthusiastic bead collector, it doesn't take long for your collection of beads to grow so large and eclectic that it takes over your beading space or jewelry making studio—and, in many cases, your whole house!
The larger and more varied your bead collection the more challenging it is to organize and store it efficiently so that you can easily see all your choices and access the items you want, or easily find a particular bead or jewelry finding you want or need. After 25 years, my collection is enormous and extremely varied.
I haven't yet found a one-size-fits-all storage and organization solution to this challenging problem that won't break the bank, but I have found an affordable storage solution and organization strategy that works well for my enormous and very varied bead collection.
Professional Small Parts Organizers with Removable Bins
I was desperate to find an organized, easily accessible and space efficient bead storage system, and I tried just about every type of case and storage box I could find, but nothing did the trick. Then, just when it looked as though I'd never find a good solution, my husband came home from a trip to an auto parts store with an unexpected gift: two large, sturdy, portable organizers for small parts that he thought might work for storing and organizing my beads. One of the cases was long and wide with shallow, removable bins, just the perfect size for storing and organizing beads. The other one had fewer, larger bins that were twice as deep. (More on that one in a bit.)
As soon as I started sorting some of my beads, findings, stampings and other jewelry making supplies into the shallow , I realized that my husband had found my perfect bead storage solution at last! small parts organizer with 25 removable bins
Here's why these small parts organizers turned out to be the best bead storage and organization solution for my large collection.
- Removable compartment bins Storage organizers with movable/removable dividers can be handy, since you can customize the sizes of the compartments to suit your needs. They're fine for larger beads, but I've found that small beads tend to slide underneath the dividers and getting mixed up with the beads in the adjacent compartments. But the small parts organizers my husband brought home have removable bins, so the beads stay nicely sorted and organized in their designated compartments.
- See-through lid The clear polycarbonate lid makes it easy to see the beads inside each case without having to open it.
- Sturdy, secure latches Nearly every beader has experienced the frustration of accidentally dropping or knocking over a box of beads (why are they almost always tiny seed beads???) and then having to search for and retrieve individually as many of the slippery devils as she can find within an unknown radius of where the container landed. That's why I much prefer bead storage that can be latched securely. The sturdy latches on the Stanley 25-compartment small parts organizer case keep the lid closed until I actively open them. I never have to worry about one of the cases opening unexpectedly while I am carrying it around. I've also accidentally dropped bead-stuffed cases quite a few times they have never come unlatched.
- A lid that keeps seed beads from "leaking" into adjacent compartments As long as the individual bins are not overfilled, the latched lid stays tight against them so there's no gap at the top for the beads in one compartment to end up in an adjacent compartment when you stand the case upright on edge or carry it around.
- Comfortable carrying handle The wide, contoured handles are comfortable for carrying and they're molded as an integrated part of each case, so no matter how heavy the organizer is after you've filled it with beads the handle can't ever come loose or tear off.
- Easily portable and extremely durable These rugged professional organizers are meant to be stacked, schlepped around, and subjected to rough handling. They stand up to abuse far better than any other bead storage boxes I've tried.
I bought some extra 25-bin parts organizers to accommodate future expansion (I don't ever want to be without these if this style is discontinued at some point!). I also keep at least one empty case on hand to use when I'm designing a new piece of beaded jewelry. I take the beads I want to use for my design out of the organizers, put each type of bead into an empty bin in the spare organizer, take the organizer over to my work table and arrange the bins around my bead design board so the beads I want are right at my fingertips. When I finish making the piece it only takes a minute or two to return the beads to their original bins. In fact, this system makes keeping my beads neat and organized so quick and easy that even someone as usually messy as I am can maintain "a place for everything and everything in its place," as my very neat grandmother liked to say. (Too bad I didn't inherit Grandma's "neat" genes!)
I tried several different ways of organizing my beads in these cases. Ultimately what has worked best for me is to organize my beads by color families, since sophisticated color combinations are a key aspect of my artistic "voice". The photo above shows how I organize my lavender colored beads.
Cases With 10 Double Deep Removable Bins Work Well for Large Beads (or Large Quantities in a Single Color Family)
When I have so many beads in a favorite color family that they won't fit into one of the 25-compartment organizers, I use a version with 10 double-deep, removable bin compartments.
Since the compartments are too deep to find an individual style of bead easily, I put smaller beads into small zippered plastic bags to sort them within each compartment.
At first, I was a bit skeptical about the other organizer my husband brought home, which has 10 larger compartments that are twice as deep as the ones in the 25-bin organizer. But they turned out to be ideal for storing both large beads and large quantities of beads in a single color family. Here is a photo of the case I use for my aqua/blue-green beads.
The beads are a bit less accessible in these larger, deeper compartments, so if you don't have a ridiculously large bead collection like mine I recommend sticking with the 25-compartment organizers with the shallow bins.
I currently own close to two dozen of these 10- and 25-bin Stanley professional small parts organizer cases—and even more if you count the smaller versions I purchased. Those are half the width of the 25-compartment organizer and I use them to store and organize my art glass focal beads, Bali silver beads, small precious metal beads and jewelry findings—clasps, ear wires, ear posts and ear clips, crimp beads, bead tips, pin backs, etc.
Organization, Thy Name is Labeling!
No matter what type of storage and organization system you choose for your beads and jewelry findings, labels are your friend. And if you use storage boxes with opaque sides, like the awesome professional small parts organizer cases that house the majority of my bead inventory, they're essential.
The following photo shows about 1/4 of my large bead organizer cases, each labeled with the color family or color range of the beads inside. I've labeled both the sides and the bottom of each case, so that whether I stack the organizers on a shelf or stand them up on the floor against the wall, I can easily tell which one has the color I'm looking for.
The label maker I use to label my bead storage organizers, jewelry making supplies drawers, etc., is a very old DYMO LabelMaker that I inherited from my mother. Even though it got a lot of use for many years before it came to me, it's still going strong! It's so old that they no longer make the label tapes it uses, and at some point, I'm going to have to replace it when I run out of label tape. When that happens I'll definitely replace my reliable workhorse with another DYMO label maker.
When I started looking for a currently available label maker to recommend to you, I was shocked by how much they cost now! Fortunately, I found the DYMO LabelManager 160 hand-held label maker. It doesn't have a lot of fancy bells and whistles, but it makes nice, easy-to-read labels in your choice of several widths and it's refreshingly affordable. And if it lasts even half as long as my mother's DYMO LabelMaker has, you'll have gotten yourself a real steal of a deal.
Questions & Answers
I'm overwhelmed with findings of this article, and I'm so discouraged looking through so many trays looking for one thing. Is it better to throw away unused beads and jewelry supplies? Should I dump them in a jar and sort out as I need them? I’d spend about the same amount of time looking for them out on a tray, and they would be easier to see. Should I throw them away and purchase new jewelry packs for each client?
I strongly recommend that you bite the bullet and spend as many hours as it takes to sort all your findings before you make another piece of jewelry. Reread my article and decide which type(s) of organizers you want to use. Then, buy as many of those organizers as you will need to organize your sorted findings. Also, buy a label maker and label each organizer. Going forward, take out only the findings you need and immediately put back any leftovers into the appropriate section of the organizer.
Do you throw away the unused leftover beads, or do you put them in a jar and sort them out as needed? Also, how do you work in a living room without losing everything?
I never throw beads away. Since most of my beads are in the hardware/auto parts cases, organized by color, I usually take out the removable rectangular inserts for the colors or beads I think I might want to include in the jewelry design I’m working on. Then, as I choose the specific beads for the design, I put several of each into the wells on my flocked beaded jewelry design board. When I’ve finished making my design, it’s easy to put away the leftover beads because they’re still separate in the beaded design board wells.
© 2014 Margaret Schindel