Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On Stamp Organization and Inventories

This post is for those of you who want to whip your hoard of stamps into some semblance of order and system, with an inventory to match. The post is LONG, and there is LOTS of information here, as well as lots of food for thought. Every person's collection is a little different and requires a little different handling, but I hope my obsessive-compulsive blatherings help you!

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.

I cannot.

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.)

6. Christmas

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)
SU Flora
Seasons (includes all 12 Hero Arts month-themed clear sets)
Office Supply
Thank You/Birthday
Thinking of You (includes get well, sympathy, hello stamps)
Heart Occasions
Holiday (not Christmas)
Hero Arts Christmas
SU 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
Everyday Celebrations
Just for Fun
Elements and Sentiments

SU Categories
Growing Up
All Natural

Hero Arts Categories
Poly Clear

Inventory Ideas

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
Thank you
Get Well
Best Wishes
Merry Christmas

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.

For now.


Feel free to ask more specific questions if you need. I'll try to answer them as best I can.


  1. Great summary to the ever asked questions of what works best for storage :)

  2. This made for a great read and got me thinking. I am often asked how I organize my stamps-and mine is a lot like your drawer organizing. I do toss in notes to remind myself of things, such as the non-Christmas holiday drawer has a note to remember to look in the rabbit/bird drawer for Easter ideas (bunnies & chicks!). I have a bunch that deviate from the plan too. My desk has one little drawer that has stamps you use on the backs of cards and silly things you would stamp on envelopes along with what was once my most frequently used sentiments. I hardly use any of those anymore (sticking to the one special stamp for the back of the card). I keep thinking one of these days I'll change out that drawer to something else, but I don't know what.

    Ultimately a stamp organization system has to work for the person using it. What works for you may not be what works for the other girl.

    I think organization systems are dynamic, ever changing and evolving.

  3. Susan - thanks for sharing your thoughts about organisations and storage. I'm in the middle of a tidy/sort of my craft room. And, I'm having a think about how I store all my supplies. My stamps are currently stored in a number of Really Useful A4 boxes Check my blog here!

    My stamps are all mixed together - although I've got three boxes of Waltzingmouse Stamps and two of Stampin' Up! bits. The rest are a mixture of companies and themes. At some point in the future (soon I think) I'm going to rearrange them into themes.

    Thanks for your ideas.

  4. I don't think there will ever be a "one fits all" system that will work for everyone but its really useful to read your thoughts on it.

    I am just starting mine - been stamping for 5 years and NEVER done it before so its a task which is whey I've been "doing it" for the last 6 months and haven't got very far. So far I have managed to "file" everthing (apart from some new unmounted rubber waiting to be mounted) but the cross reference sheets are still frightening me off.

    My plan is to:

    Have all by wood mount stamps in plastic boxes, 2 layers fit in an A5 box so you can see one row from the top, flip over and see one from the bottom.
    All my unmounted rubber is now mounted on EZ mounted and stored on EZ mount panels in ring binders
    All my clear stamps are in CD cases which the images stuck or stamped onto the outside and then stored in CD boxes from IKEA.

    This bit is on the whole complete and I haven't stored any particuarly by company as I don't have enough of any one company (except for waltzingmouse and krafting kimmie) to have a whole file/box each. I have simply labled each one with a reference number - so all my WM CDs are B1WM1 (for box 1 WM CD 1 etc) Files are F1, F2, F3 and my Wooden stamps are Wood1, Wood2, Wood3 etc)

    My plan is then to have a cross reference system which is just based on categories - so if I have a heart stamp - I will stamp it under valentines, wedding, anniversary and shapes and write its reference number so I know exactly where to find it. That why I'm hoping that if I need to make a valentines card I will see every image and sentiment that fits that purpose and that it will be easier to flick through the paper files than it will the boxes.

    Give me 10 years and I might have it stamped up to show you. Then I just need to learn to PUT AWAY the stamps when I've used them.......

    Hope this was a helpful share
    Tara x

  5. This gave me lots of points to ponder before deciding on how to do my inventory. And I'll take heed from your injured elbow and do it very gradually over the winter. It will be great once it's finished!!!

  6. Good night you've gone to a lot of work!! You are so organized. Maybe some day.........

  7. I love seeing how other crafters organise their craft space and equipment. I have picked up loads of ideas from you and am now going to re-organise all my stamps. Thank you so much for all your hints and tips - Jacqueline xx

  8. Great food for thought Susan...I have some of those same questions. I am not organized!

  9. Susan, thank you for taking the time to share your organizational ideas. I need to better organize my indv stamps and my sets but first I need to do a purge and sell some sets.

    If I am not using them I may as well sell them and make more space and un-boggle my mind.

  10. Wow, thank you so much for taking the time to put this together. Its something I've considered doing for a while, but I haven't got loads of stamps really, plus I keep mine all in the original packaging so they're all together. I have recently put them in a filing system, but think I may do an inventory, and following your advice to only do sentiments!!!

  11. Wow!!

    I only inventory my sentiments...I stamped them out on pieces of card in their sets, one card for each set, and put them on a ring.
    Now when I need a sentiment I flip through the ring. When I find the one I want the name of the set is written on the card and so easy to find.

  12. Well THAT was interesting!! Not so sure I would re-do my system now --12 years (I have never sold my stamps! [gasp!] I also have a ring of sets (by company) - I do get tired of going through the ring looking, but it beats flipping through the sets I do have to say! I do like your sentiment idea though...hmmmm

    Actually, purging would be a really good thing..it just scares the pants off me though! LOL

  13. Susan, Wonderful post! Thank you for taking the time to share your organizational strategies with us. I love what your second poster, Princess Judy said, "I think organization systems are dynamic, ever changing and evolving". The changing and evolving hit home with me.

  14. such a wonderful post you sure have gone to a lot of trouble to help out fellow bloggers by giving these wonderful tips thank you so much :)

  15. Phew! My head aches just thinking about it. I store full plates and sets as they are but I have LOADS of loose, uncategorised stamps and some which can't really be stored by manufacturer since they're no longer in business. I do, however, tend to loosely organise so that they ARE arranged by manufacturer. I also have LOTS of stamps in bags, filed by theme. The problem is, I rarely go to these bags to find them and they don't get used. As you say, sentiments are a nightmare - I have so many I no longer use, simply because I can't be bothered to sift through and read them backwards, so those I really do need to make an inventory of... next job on my list after moving craft rooms, I think... thanks for your thoughts and ideas. Hope your injuries heal fast x

  16. This is so interesting, Susan. I love to organize, but these stamps...phew, they drive me nuts sometimes, heehee.
    Some things I learned in all those years are:

    1) go through your stamps maybe once in a year and sell the ones, you don´t use anymore (I never missed one single sold stamp and got some money for new stuff, heehee)

    2) unmount your stamps from those wood blocks, you´ll gain lots of free space and the work is worth it (Ez-Mount and Tak´n Peel are brilliant)

    3) keep a file with your stamps (pictures + set/company names) on your computer to make it easier to flip through all the stamps (saves a lot of time)

    To PTI: I love love love their stamps and have a lot of the sets. I keep them in the sets, stored in cd cases and have them organized by the set name. It works pretty well for me with a cd-rack right next to my table.
    But I think about seperating the sentiments, because I always struggle with the time I spent on finding the one I need. It´s not much time, but I hope it will become easier, if i seperate them. Well, we´ll see. I guess, we´ll never get finished with organizing, don´t we? :)

    Thanks for this post, Susan, it really keeps me thinking on my perfect way to the ultimative way of organizing.

    Hugs, Tina

  17. I started an inventory on my PTI stamps, but it all got a bit overwhelming so stopped. We all have different requirements, I find it much easier to remember what I have from PTI, Hero Arts, Waltzingmouse etc, but when it comes to SU, that's where the inventory would be most useful I think.

    Thanks for the time you put into this post, I will most likely come back and read it afew times and I am sure a couple of ideas that would work for me will come out of it.

  18. Interesting article !!
    i get informative ideas in here ....
    plastic card ideas

  19. Susan,
    I've been struggling with the organization thing for quite awhile. I used to keep a binder organized by category, but had stamped the individual images like your "cluttered" (and abandoned!) version. I got frustrated with the messiness of it, not to mention all the images that were crossed out when I'd purge my collection.

    On a lark one afternoon, I decided to see how many companies were represented in my extensive stamp collection. Over 130!! Yeoooowza! Granted, I've been stamping for 20 years and many companies have come and gone over the years. Needless to say, organizing strictly by company is NOT a good option for me.

    Right now, I think my ideal would be two reference binders with one categorized by company and the other by theme. I wilt at the thought of starting that project...

  20. Thanks for taking the time to write this up.

  21. Susan, thank you so very, very much! I'm so grateful that you are such a whiz at organizing. You are lucky that this comes naturally to you. I will proceed fearlessly on my own quest to get my stamps/sets organized.

    Thanks also to your other readers who were kind enough to share their organizing ideas.

    Thanks for noting that if stamps are categorized by theme, a printed inventory by theme would be redundant, but do you use such a printed inventory when you are shopping for new stamps so as not to purchase duplicates?

    Thanks so much for your help, Susan, and also to the rest of your readers!


  22. Carolyn, these days I primarily buy new-release stamps and rarely purchase at stores. It helps that I mainly buy from just four companies. Occasionally, I pick up a random stamp at a big box store, but I haven't bought duplicates in a long time.

  23. I am very grateful for your ideas that you have shared here today. My craft room is a jumbled mess. I can find things in there, but it might drive another person (like my husband) batty!

  24. Susan~ The answer to all your problems is a computer. I have more stamps and supplies than your average person or even your not-so-average fanatic stamper hoarder. I do the logical (for me) sorting into plastic rolling towers, bins & baskets, hanging peg boards etc., etc. I also have my stamping bible - a little like yours - with stamped images and tabbed sections for every imaginable embellishment and supply. But the one thing that keeps everything in order is my computer. If you keep your inventory (with pictures) on computer you can add, delete, sort and resort and locate with the touch of a button. Changes are a snap. Reprinting a revised inventory is also a snap. You can search for a stamp (or whatever) by any method you want: theme - style - who made it - name and so on and have the complete results and possibilities before you instantly. You do not need weeks or months to revise anything or everything - it only takes a few moments. Very easy to indicate on your computer where you keep a particular item and locate it in seconds. Of course it helps if you START with this method - but once its done its forever done.

  25. Well, you seem to be extremely organized. I use some of the same methods (plastic drawers for wood mounted). I keep my unmounted rubber stored by Manufacturer (makes it easier for DT work) in binders. I stamp a reference sheet and place the stamps ( with cushion and cling on them) in corresponding place on storage boards. Works go for me, except now I have quite a few binders and they have outgrown their space. LOL Oh, such is life. Now I need tips on storing my binders. LOLOL!! Have a great day and thanks for all the tips.

  26. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and ideas! It really is helpful to hear what others do. I have started unmounting my wood stamps so I can get a little uniformity with the storage. I have mostly SU and all the different size boxes drive me crazy! I love your idea about inventorying the sentiments. Some sets have only 1 or 2 and I forget about them. Thanks again!

  27. Clear stamps (mostly PTI) and unmounteds are coming out of the CD cases, and being stored in 5 X 8page protectors on clear binder cover sheets. These will be sorted by theme. I went to PTI's website, printed a small pic of each set to go in its corresponding page protector,then printed a larger pic to put in a binder alphabetically by company.

    Wood mounts are stored in a cabinet my hubby made; 28 trays, 1 layer each, so I can just pull out a tray and see what I have. I have them sorted by theme.

    For sets with images and sentiments, I am thinking about setting up a chart by theme, stamping the sentiment and putting the set's name beside it. This particularly applies to PTI, where so many sentiments are usable with other sets.

    Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!

    Some great ideas, Susan.

  28. Thank you, Susan, for sharing your experiences organizing your stamps. It is very helpful to know what worked and what did not and why. Hopefully, it will save the rest of us some time and effort. I have two pet peeves in this area. First, sentiments that are part of picture sets. Your sentiment inventory should solve that one. It's next on my to do list! Second, finding a particular image, most recently, a daisy. I know I have one or two, but which set? The picture images will take much longer to inventory, so I'll tackle sentiments first.

    I bought some empty clam shell boxes from SU to organize individual sentiment stamps I have purchased by category. I try to wedge them in tightly or fill excess space so they can't tip over on their sides. This has helped tremendously.

    I also have organized some individual image stamps this way, like "birds," "Riley Moose," and "cartoon characters" (for my grandchildren).

    Like Lori, the different size clam shells drive me crazy with SU sets. I cannot bring myself to break up sets, but I have found I can move some SU sets to smaller clam shells than they came in, and use the bigger ones to organize individual stamps. Your article and a quote from Steve Jobs ("focus and simplify") have me thinking today!

  29. I've been facing a similar struggle with my mish mash of stamps. I took apart almost all SU sets so they could be more easily categorized. I wrote the name of the stamp set on the side of each wood block and then put into the drawer by category.

    I have been wanting to do a sentiment binder inventory and think that I will choose a specific ink color for each of the major manufacturers that I have (mostly PTI, SU, CTMH, A Muse & Hero Arts). Then there will be a different ink color for the rest.

    Good luck with perfecting your system. :o)


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