Is there anything more inspiring to the creative mind than a clean and well-organized work space? For me, starting my day's work with a blank palette and everything I need within reach is a tried and true recipe for productivity.
When I worked on-site at From Nature With Love's headquarters in Oxford, CT I was able to take advantage of an excellent organizational system. The warehouse there was divided into massive sections where everything from essential oils to dried herbs were lovingly alphabetized and inventoried regularly. To tell you the truth, I was spoiled by all of that order, so much so that my home workshops never quite stacked up.
Over the years I have mostly had to make due with stolen pantry shelves and commandeered bedroom closets but I have lofty dreams of someday owning my own dedicated workshop, much like the one that Deborah Legg of Deda Notions now enjoys. Deborah generously shared the following photos of her amazing workshop with us. Just looking at the colorful stacks of curing soap and neatly arranged ingredients on her shelves has me itching to get to work.
No matter what size or space you have to work with, keeping things well organized can make a world of difference when it comes to sanity and productivity. After checking out a number of workshops and work spaces both online and in person I was able to round up the following pearls of wisdom that can help us all get our soap workshops and formularies (big and small) into good working order.
Take an Inventory
Start by making a list of everything you keep in your work space. It can help to divide the list into sections. For example, you might list your tools and equipment together, then your dry supplies, liquid supplies, finished products, and packaging.
Start With a Clean Slate
Whether you have an entire room dedicated to being a workshop or you are working in a small corner of your home it can help to empty that space completely before organizing it. Taking stock of the clean space will help you visualize the most efficient way to fill it back up again.
You don't necessarily have to hire a carpenter to build an entirely customized storage area, but it usually makes sense to invest some time and money into finding a shelving system that really works for your specific space. Pre-fab shelving from places like Ikea or Lowes offer a variety of solutions for large work spaces. For smaller storage, rolling carts, plastic totes, buckets, and milk crates can be good options.
Taking the extra time to label every last ingredient with a name, quantity, and date might seem like a bit of a chore - but this is one added step that really pays off. Knowing how old an ingredient is when you pull it out helps keep your stock fresh and your quality high. Strategic labeling can also help make finding ingredients easier. Consider placing round labels on bottle caps to make them recognizable from above, or adhering colored post-it-notes to bagged ingredients to make them easy to spot in a crowd. It can also be helpful to labels shelves and bins so that everything in your workshop ends up in its right place after a busy day of formulating.
Keep Ingredients in Plain Sight
Sifting through piles of bags or pulling out bottles one by one can be a frustrating, time-wasting, and entirely unpleasant way to begin a project. Clear storage containers, open shelving, and highly visual labels help make finding what you are looking for a simple and more pleasant task.
Suppliers usually ship ingredients in packaging that is designed to protect the product during transit. The packaging that an ingredient arrives in isn't always the best solution for long-term storage. Essential Oils, for example, should really be kept in glass or stainless steel containers for any considerable length of time. Even dry ingredients, like herbs or grains which may be perfectly safe in the plastic bags that came in, can often benefit from being transferred to re-usable bins or tubs. Moving ingredients into containers that better suit your space and your work flow can help keep your workshop tidy.
Divide Tools by Task
In my dream workshop I would have a dedicated station for every task. There would be a counter dedicated to formulation, another reserved for packaging product, and a separate area for printing and shipping. In reality, I have a single folding table where each of these jobs are accomplished. It can be tricky to keep this space organized when I'm going through a busy period. One thing that helps is keeping all of the tools for each job divided into separate bins. When it's time to make soap I pull out the bin of soap making tools. I have another bin for packaging and another for shipping. I also make sure to clean the space from top to bottom before switching tasks.
Make Cleanup Easy
I don't know about you, but I find myself to be much more successful at keeping things tidy and organized when cleanup is quick and easy. Keep a trash bin handy as well as a tote with cleaning supplies like towels, wipes, sponges and spray cleaners. Having the necessary supplies at arm's reach will allow you to clean as you go - taking care of little spills and trash pileups along the way.
Protect Finished Product
After all of your hard work it would be a shame to see your finished products become messy or melted. It's important to dedicate a space to store your stock where it can be kept clean, dry, and cool. Keep this area well away from your work space. The heat and moisture from soap pots and double boilers can tarnish packaging and melt product if kept too close. Closed cabinets make wonderful storage for finished product as they can also keep powders and dust from landing on your packaging. Keeping items stacked and well-organized can also help you keep track of your inventory and fulfill orders more easily.
How exactly you keep track of the ingredients and supplies you have on hand is up to you. For some, going through their stock to take inventory on a regular basis is a great solution. Others prefer to keep track by making notes on what they've ordered and used as they go. Plenty of formulators simply order more supplies as they notice stock getting low. However you choose to keep inventory, doing so can be extremely helpful. How many times have you ordered one ingredient just to realize days later that you were also low on something else? This kind of frustration can be avoided by keeping tabs on what you have on hand at all times.
We'd love to see photos of your own soap rooms, work spaces, and workshops! Email your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org or share the on social media using the hashtag #NBWsoapschool and we will share our favorites.
Do you have a tip for keeping work spaces well organized? Share your wisdom in the comments below!
This was our third post in our new Soap School series. During 2015 we'll be sharing many more posts on soap making, including recipes, technique tutorials, and more. You can join in the fun by sharing your own soap making photos on social media using the hashtag #NBWSoapSchool. You can also email us your photos at email@example.com or share them to our Facebook or G+ pages. Let us know what you are working on and what you would like to see in future Soap School posts. Have a soap making question? We'd love to tackle it for you!