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 considerable challenge.
I have been designing, making, and selling jewelry for more than 25 years, and have amassed an extremely large collection of beads and jewelry findings. I also have spent a small fortune on a variety of types and sizes of bead storage solutions to organize my growing hoard. 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!
Bead Storage Containers For Small Collections, Specialty Beads and Findings
ArtBin Prism Clear 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 options, my current favorite is the (8 7/8" x 4 7/8" x 1 3/8"). They are 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.) ArtBin Prism 918AB 18-compartment see-through boxes
There is also a larger model of the same box (11 1/2" x 6 5/8" x 1 3/4" ), the ArtBin 1118AB 18-Compartment Prism Box, as well as a 6-compartment version with 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 perfect for my purpose, except for one significant drawback. The lift-off lids didn't fit securely, and because the metal was soft and thin, they quickly became misshapen, which further weakened the original friction fit. As a result, if I accidentally picked up one of the containers by the lid, I ended up with little crystal beads everywhere. Eventually, I accepted that I needed a better solution to store and organize my extensive collection of Swarovski crystal bicone beads by color.
See-Through, Stackable Storage Boxes With Screw-Top Containers
Fortunately, there is a much better alternative: sets of small containers with secure, screw-top lids in compact, stackable storage cases. Better yet, both the containers and the case (not just the lids) are see-through, so it's easy to spot exactly the bead or jewelry finding you need.
The SE 87136DB 30-Piece Plastic Screw-Top Container Set in a Clear Storage Box consists of 30 very small (1" wide x 1 1/16" tall), clear, screw-top containers in a compact (6 1/2" long x 5 1/2" wide) storage box. It provides a neat way to organize and store your seed beads, small bicone beads, small quantities of special or leftover beads from a project, sequins, crimp beads, bead tips, clasps, jump rings, and other jewelry findings, even fine glitter or mica powders. You can customize your storage configuration by stacking as few or as many of these sets as you need while still taking up very little space on your jewelry making desk or table.
The Darice Bead Designer System with 12 Small Containers has somewhat larger screw-top containers (2" tall x 1 1/2" wide), also in a compact (6.25” x 4.75” x 2”), stackable, see-through storage box.
There are also small, round storage compartments that stack together. I used them for a short time many years ago, but I found them inconvenient, especially when I needed beads or findings from two or more non-adjacent compartments. Some people really like them, however. If you want to try them, you can find them in several diameters and heights.
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 (shown above) were discontinued many years ago, but Plano's current, large selection of models have even better features, including secure ProLatch closure latches and portable rack storage systems. Plano has been making high quality products for many decades. They are made in the USA and backed by a limited lifetime warranty, so you know they're built to last.
Tackle Box Systems w/ Adjustable Divider Utility Boxes
The Plano 1374 StowAway 4-rack system tackle box 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. It measures 16.5" long x 12" wide x 16" tall and comes with four series 3700 utility storage boxes with adjustable compartments. The compartments in the boxes have adjustable dividers, so you can customize the number and size of compartments to suit your needs. You can also substitute any of the 3700 series utility boxes for the ones that come with this rack system. The top compartment underneath the lid is perfect for storing beading wire, bead cord, pliers, crimpers and other jewelry making tools.
This portable case makes it easy to bring your beads, findings, and jewelry making tools and supplies with you, whether you're just moving from one room to another, driving to a friend's house or a class, or traveling.
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."
My mom used to keep her beads and jewelry findings in something very similar to the Akro-Mils 10144 D 20" x 16" x 6 1/2" 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. (After I inherited them, my husband asked if he could have them to store his nuts, bolts, screws, nails and other small hardware, so that's their current use.) I subsequently bought several of these Akro-Mils with larger drawers for storing my extensive polymer clay collection.
The translucent polypropylene pull-out drawers feature convenient finger grips and rear stop tabs to prevent your beads and findings from spilling out. The drawers also slide in and out easily.
One of the things I like about this 44-drawer configuration is the two different sizes of pull-out drawers, 32 small (6" x 2 1/4" x 1 5/8") and 12 medium (6" x 4 1/2" x 2 3/16") to fit different quantities or sizes of beads or jewelry findings.
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.
Although I haven't yet found a one-size-fits-all storage and organization solution to this challenging problem that won't break the bank, I have found an affordable solution that comes pretty close and works perfectly for my enormous and varied collection of beads and jewelry findings.
Portable Small Parts Organizer Cases with Removable Storage Compartments
A signature of my beaded jewelry designs is my use of sophisticated, often unexpected color combinations. Given that key aspect of my artistic "voice," I needed a system that would let me organize and store my beads by color families, one that enabled me to quickly pull together a selection of beads in a specific color palette, and in a variety of shades, shapes, sizes, and finishes, to play with in a particular jewelry design. Ideally, this solution would also be easily portable and space-efficient.
Even after trying every promising option I could find, nothing did the trick. But, just when it looked as though what I needed simply didn't exist, my husband came home from a trip to an auto parts store with an unexpected gift: sturdy, portable small parts organizer cases in three sizes and configurations that he thought might work for storing and organizing my beads. He was right.
As soon as I began sorting my beads and jewelry findings into these cases, I realized that my wonderful husband had found the perfect solution for me at last.
Here's what made these portable small parts cases the best bead storage and organization solution for my large (and growing) 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 lids. 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 keep the lids on these cases closed until I intentionally open them. I never have to worry about one of them opening unexpectedly as I carry it around. Even when I have dropped a bead-filled case accidentally, I have never had one come unlatched.
- Compartments that fit snugly against the lid to prevent seed beads from "leaking" into adjacent bins. As long as the individual compartments 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 spill over into any of the adjacent bins when you stand the case upright or carry it around.
- Comfortable handles. 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 won't come loose or pull 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.
Stanley Professional Organizer Cases With 25 Shallow Removable Bins
I store most of my beads in the Stanley 014725 25-Removable Compartment Professional Organizer cases. Having a larger number of smaller, shallower drawers allows me to view all my beads in the same color family at a glance. As an example, take a look at the inside of my lavender bead storage case (shown above).
I purchased several extra organizer cases to accommodate future expansion, just in case these are ever discontinued. Sometimes, if I want to play with a lot of different beads for one of my jewelry designs, I put a few of each into the bins of one of my spare organizers. After I move the case to my work table and open it, I have all the beads I selected at my fingertips. Then, after I finish the piece, it takes only a minute or two to return all the beads to their original bins and storage cases.
This system makes it so quick and easy to keep a large collection of beads neat and organized 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 neatness genes!)
Stanley Deep Professional Organizer Cases With 10 Removable Bins
Great For Large Quantities of Beads (or Extra-Large Beads)
When I have so many beads in a favorite color family that they won't fit into one of the 25-compartment organizers, I store them in the Stanley 10 Removable Bin Compartment Deep Professional Organizer cases.
The bins are larger and twice as deep as those in the shallower, 25-compartment cases, so I can't view all the different beads in that color family at a glance. To make it easier to find smaller beads, I sort those by style into small, zippered plastic bags before storing them in one of the removable compartments.
Check out the photo (shown above) of the inside of the organizer case where I store my blue-green and aqua beads.
Since your beads will be a bit less accessible in these larger, deeper compartments, I recommend sticking with the shallower, 25-compartment organizers unless your bead collection is as extensive as mine.
By now, I own nearly two dozen of these 10- and 25-bin Stanley professional small parts cases. After many years of heavy use, they are still going strong. I can't imagine organizing and storing my beads any other way.
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 preceding 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 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 family 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
Hi! I’m just beginning to organize my smallish collection. I,too, am organizing by color, which I’m super excited about! I’m using clear containers with removable dividers. How do you add in a new purchase that fits into a color category for which you don’t have an empty compartment?
There are several solutions. You can break up the color category into two categories. For example, I have collected a ton of beads in the blue family, so I have organizer cases for light blue, dark blue and turquoise beads. Similarly, I have one for purple beads and another for lavender.
Buy larger organizers than you need at the moment. This leaves empty compartments for each color family so you can add new acquisitions. And buy a few extra organizers in case you eventually need to break a color family into subcategories. It’s very helpful to have cases that are all the same size and shape for your main bead collection, since they can stack/store more efficiently.
I bought the same small parts organizer cases in two sizes - mostly larger cases but also a few smaller ones that I use for jewelry findings, metal spacer beads and specialty categories (such as special artist-made, one-of-a-kind focal beads). You could also use the smaller ones for color categories in which you don’t currently have a lot of beads and then move up to one of the spare larger cases if your collection for that color outgrows the smaller organizer case.Helpful 3
What kind of containers are in the last picture? I think they are blue with red locking tabs.
They are actually black with red locking tabs. They were made by ZAG, which has since been purchased by Stanley. The Stanley version of the 10-compartment deep organizer is black with yellow locking tabs and compartments. I provided a link to it in the article. Hope that helps!Helpful 6
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.Helpful 5
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.Helpful 2
Is it okay to use tiny clear plastic jars to store silver, Swarovski and other “precious” beads? I’m worried about tarnishing. (I’m new to beading.)
Swarovski beads will not tarnish (with the possible exception of vintage Comet Argent color beads). Sterling silver beads will tarnish. (So will fine silver beads, but very slowly.) It's fine to store sterling silver in tiny plastic jars along with a small strip or square of anti-tarnish paper. High karat gold and gold-filled beads should not tarnish if stored in tiny clear plastic jars. Precious and semi-precious gemstone beads should not tarnish.Helpful 2
© 2014 Margaret Schindel