Of course, you may just be sorry you asked.
First of all, let's ask two obvious questions: a) Why is it so hard to organize stamps? and b) Why is it so hard to create an inventory of the stamps we have?
1. Stamps come in essentially three formats: wood-mounted rubber, unmounted rubber, and clear. If you only have one format, you're in luck because a single storage system will usually work. CD cases fit nicely in standard CD storage, clamshell boxes on a shelf, loose wood-mounted stamps fit in shallow drawers or trays.
If you're like me and have all three, however, storage and inventory are extra complicated to accommodate sets, individual loose stamps, and both CD and DVD cases, as well as clear stamps that come in clear folders of different sizes and clam-shell boxes of SU stamps that also come in different sizes.
2. Stamp sets are mostly hard to categorize. Take Papertrey's Everyday Button Bits set. It has stamps for birds, topiary, hot air balloons, birthday balloons, even a bicycle. The sentiments are also incredibly diverse. How could you possibly put it in single, meaningful category? Do you break it up? If so, how? All these decisions make my brain hurt.
3. Storing by manufacturer makes sense sometimes, such as when you are on a design team and need to make specific projects using just one manufacturer or if you frequently submit work for publication and need an accurate supply list. When I was on MFP's design team, I kept all their stamps and supplies separate from my stash for convenience. Now, they are mixed in.
Neither way is fully satisfactory, though. Companies with distinct styles make stamps that go together across themes and from different releases, and when you mix them with other company's stamps, you lose the ability to link different sets together easily. But what if you're making an ocean-themed card and then have to look through five or six different manufacturer collections just to find your ocean stamps? Annoying.
4. We're constantly adding to and (for some of us) deleting from our collections. Creating a system of storage and inventory that accommodates these changes is a pain in the butt.
Basically, all these problems make me wish I were a devil-may-care, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type stamper who doesn't give a rip how things are organized and relishes the serendipity of sifting through randomly arranged stamps to create to her heart's content. I want to embrace the chaos.
So here goes.
Organizing a Diverse Stamp Collection
My current stamp organization system consists of two parts: PTI sets (stored in CD cases in three bins from Target, sorted using tabbed dividers) and everything else (stored in plasic drawer units with labels on each drawer). There is minor cross-over between the two systems, in that a few Hero Arts' sentiment sets are with the PTI sentiments, and a few PTI sets are in the drawers. These accommodate how I actually use those sets. More on that later.
Part 1: PTI Sets
The PTI tabs are fairly basic.
1. Sentiments (just sentiments: Mixed Messages, Mega Mixed Messages, Signature Greetings, etc.)
2. Mixed Sets (sets with a mix of different themed images, plus lots of different sentiments: Everyday Classics, Simple Little Things, etc.)
3. Miscellaneous (single-theme sets that don't belong in the Nature category: Up, Up, and Away, All Booked Up, Quilter's Sampler, etc.)
4. Nature (plant and animal image sets: Turning a New Leaf, Friends 'til the End, Love Birds, Pond Life, etc.)
5. Background/Borders/Frames (Framed, Background Basics, Heart Prints, Text Style, Grunge Me, etc.)
|Click to see it bigger|
I'm not always consistent with set placement into a particular category, and there are fuzzy sets that don't fit exactly anywhere. Heart Prints, for instance, lives in Backgrounds/Frames/Borders, when it might more properly fit in Miscellaneous. Faux Ribbon is in Sentiments when it should be either in Miscellaneous or Background/Borders/Frames. A Wreath for All Seasons is in Christmas, not Nature. I don't have reasons for these deviations from the plan, but I always know where to find those sets.
I keep most of the PTI sets separate for one reason: it's a pain to look through so many CD cases stored in plastic drawers with my other stamps. They slide around untidily and make a mess. Flipping through the CD bins is SO MUCH EASIER!
Part 2: Plastic Drawers
The plastic drawers hold everything else, including DVD cases of unmounted rubber from SU and A Muse, clamshell boxes from SU, and loose wood-mounted stamps. The drawers have many more specific categories for sorting. My categories are dictated by how many stamps I have of each and what will fit primarily in one layer in a drawer. Your categories will be different, depending on how many and what you have.
Home (furniture, food, drink)
Seasons (includes all 12 Hero Arts month-themed clear sets)
Thinking of You (includes get well, sympathy, hello stamps)
Holiday (not Christmas)
Hero Arts Christmas
None of these categories is perfect, and my use of them is not always consistent, either. For instance, where would you put a pine tree stamp, in Trees or Winter/Nature? I put them in Winter/Nature because mostly, when I use a pine tree, I'm making Christmas cards.
In a few cases, I've put PTI sets in the drawers because they just belong there. Birthday Basics has only Happy Birthday sentiments for the outside and inside of a card, so it's in the Birthday drawer. A Day at the Beach is in the Ocean/Beach drawer. My tea and coffee sets are in the Home drawer. That way, I don't forget about them.
As you can see, the system isn't perfect. I make exceptions to rules all the time. For now, this works for me, though.
Other Storage Category Options
Pull out an SU, Hero Arts, or A Muse catalog and see how they organize in more general categories. These, or variations on them, might work better for you, depending on the size and depth of your stamp hoard.
A Muse Categories
Flora and Fauna
Young at Heart
Just for Fun
Elements and Sentiments
Hero Arts Categories
My first inventory was organized by manufacturer, and then roughly organized by themes. I put no more than two sets per page, which made it really easy to eliminate or expand the inventory as I deleted or added stamps to my collection.
I had all my PTI sets inventoried in one binder, all my Hero Arts and loose wood-mounted stamps from all manufacturers in another, and all my MFP, A Muse, Memory Box, and Clear and Simple Stamps in another. Here's a page from that inventory.
Visually, it's pretty appealing and easy to look at, with plenty of white space. Problem was, these binders were getting really full of all that white space, and having three binders was awkward, although less so than using a 3" binder...those suckers are bulky!
So in the spring I decided to redo the whole inventory and gave myself wrist problems and golfer's elbow as a result.
For the new system, there were essentially two broad categories: sentiments and themes. The first section was just sentiments, stamped by set. The themes section combined all manufacturers' stamps for each theme (categories were basically the same as the plastic drawer categories).
Here are some standard pages from that inventory. As you can see, everything is jumbled...which makes it hard to look at. These pages were making me squirm with annoyance every time I looked at them.
The new inventory was about 80% finished before I abandoned it from excuciating pain and sheer boredom. It would have been more compact, though, fitting into a single binder.
Then, when I purged about a third of my stamps last month, the new, 80%-completed inventory was worse than useless. I look in it now, see a stamp and think to myself, "Did this get purged? Can't remember...."
What would I do now?
Well, as my elbow still isn't fully healed, I'm not going to create another inventory anytime soon. But if I were to do so, I would organize it by manufacturer again and use as much white space and as many binders as I needed. Why? Well, here's my reasoning:
1. My stamps are organized by category as much as possible. I can pull out a drawer or grab some CD cases by theme pretty easily. So a themed inventory seems redundant.
2. Unfortunately, I've lost the concept of a single manufacturer's stamps working together for the greater good. Other than the Papertrey, everything is wodged together. An inventory by manufacturer would be a nice complement to the collection.
The Special Case of Sentiments
Sentiments in sets drive me nuts. I've got far too many sets to keep straight which sentiments are where, and it's extraordinarily frustrating when I know I've got a sentiment to fit on a particular card but have to look through a bunch of drawers and CD cases to find it. I think having a few pages in an inventory dedicated to the most frequently used sentiments might be helpful, even if a stamper doesn't have a full inventory of images. I may actually do this one day when my elbow is fully healed.
Some Sentiment Categories
The problem here is that you might have to label each sentiment so you know where it is in your stash.
And that's all I have to say about stamp organization and inventory.
Feel free to ask more specific questions if you need. I'll try to answer them as best I can.