The Home Organization Struggle: How Package Structure Can Deliver Solutions
By Ken Miller and Jim Warner
Here’s an interesting contradiction. We’ve written exhaustively about the “on the go” lifestyle and how consumer products have evolved to allow one-handed, multi-tasking consumption out of the home. Enough said about that.
There’s gathering evidence that more and more time is actually being spent in the home these days, and a wider range of activities are taking place there.
This emerging turn of events has been largely neglected by consumer products marketers, who have been infatuated by the incremental consumption opportunity of “meal grazing”.
Their packages have been successful at performing functions that facilitate their own purchase and consumption. Meaning, they’ve focused on punching up shelf impact to drive trial and providing in-use benefits such as convenient handling, dispensing and resealing.
The downside is that these features are rather limiting: They are focused on optimizing product performance in isolation of other things going on in the home.
Consumer products are also partly to blame for the minefield of debris, clutter and general mess that has resulted from the increasing activity in the home. That’s because they often ignore the environments they occupy and the products they share space with in the home.
Insensitivities include inefficient footprints, sloppy space-consuming closures (that often don’t close), packaging that doesn’t nest or stack, packaging that doesn’t make use of minimal or non-traditional space, or packaging that must be taken from storage to dispense.
A nation of clutter?
Sure, an entire industry has grown up around home organization. The Container Store promises storage for anything that stands still. Rubbermaid continues to offer storage innovation with an increasing number of special-purpose containers for items such as crayons and wrapping paper.
But even these products often do little to recognize the context in which they share space. They become additional objects we have to find additional space for.
How did the home become the focus of an intense human struggle to organize? More and disparate activities are going on there, with a wider range of requirements and organizational challenges.
Interestingly, there’s also a relationship between a lack of organization and time. Harris Interactive found that 44 percent of us simply don’t have enough time to get organized. Fewer members of single-member households believe they are organized compared to their married counterparts. As we know from a previous column (been reading?), single member households are growing like crazy. We would be wise to see this as an opportunity to help them organize the products they buy and use most often.
Consumers say their closets, garages and computer stations are in most dire need, followed by their kitchens and baths. In contrast to the kitchen, which is a one-trick cooking-and-eating location, these other areas of the home are multi-functional, and used by more people in the household. Also, these rooms often house activities that are new to the home and tend to generate clutter challenges that haven’t been dealt with yet, as they have in the kitchen.
These findings have the strongest implications for product categories such as DIY, cleaning supplies and office supplies. But, surely, consumers wouldn’t mind assistance with the fridge, cupboard and medicine cabinet.
Interestingly, aside from a lack of time and space, consumers also attribute their disorganization to a lack of cooperation from others in the household. You know who you are…
Home and work become one
Another factor to consider, government stats show that dramatically more workers are telecommuting. In sheer number, there are 4 million of them. And they’ve grown in number by 20 percent in the past 10 years. Of those workers over 40, more work in the home than outside. What’s more, they are more likely to be college educated and professional than their out-of-home colleagues.
As a corollary to this phenomenon, the need for home workspace is skyrocketing. Couple this with office workers who take work home, and a growing use of the home office as the “nerve center” for other household activities—shopping and gaming—and you have a tempest brewing. All this adds up to an organizational jumble, caused by the myriad functions and users of a single flexibility-starved space. The same holds true for the closets and garage.
Another mess driver: House-proud homeowners are spending and doing more to enhance what is their largest investment. As homeownership has grown, home improvement has followed. In the past five years, spending has grown 50 percent, including organization-needy categories such as paint, hardware and tools. These kinds of products could be more respectful of their surroundings.
Lastly, we have our human nature to blame for the clutter we live with. We just aren’t moving from house to house as much as we used to. Moving rates have declined from 17 percent annually in 1994 to 14 percent today. While young people (ages 20-29) are moving at a 30 percent clip, that rate declines dramatically thereafter, as they settle down and buy their own homes.
So what? These trends drive the accumulation of stuff. Whether we hang on to old paint cans or make-up, we’re a nation of hoarders. And if we’re not going anywhere, we don’t find a compelling reason to toss it or clean it up.
These trends place a premium on space, and on packaging that might help save some. We think there’s a role for package structure across categories that recognizes its context, and makes a deliberate effort to “fit in”. A new realm of tangible packaging benefits can emerge to address how people live with products, not just how they function in isolation. We’re convinced this could be an entirely new dimension in the experience consumers have with products that can lead to unexpected delight and intense loyalty.
How can packaging help?
How can consumer goods marketers be more sensitive to the environments in which their products are stored and used? What role can package structure play in delivering a new class of lifestyle-relevant benefits that create order and enhance convenience and, ultimately, the brand experience? We’ve got a few ideas:
Packaging could more deliberately stack or nest, not just with itself but with other products that may co-exist with it. Examples might be canned goods, not known for easy storage, or smaller DIY items where packaging tends to be irregular and flimsy.
How about packaging that allows dispensing without removal from the cabinet, shelf or drawer?  Home office supplies are a prime candidate. Paper goods, clips and other items come in barely-there packaging that hardly protects. Breakfast cereal might be another opportunity for dispensing without shelf disruption.
Packaging that collapses as the product is used would be more than welcome. We see this in some categories, but more often to facilitate disposal rather than storage. Loose-fill products such as detergent, cereal and snacks could do this in a more deliberate and effective way.
Packaging could make better use of non-traditional storage space. Marketers often assume that their products will be placed on shelves, period. What about attaching them to wasted space under shelves and cabinets? Frequently used products such as office and cleaning supplies are prime candidates.
As a brand owner, you may want to spend a minute or two away from the drudgery of budgets and analysis to think about how your product could benefit your customers where—and how—they truly live. BP
There are two ways you can open a ream of paper: either delicately try to open the glued end-flaps without ripping the package to pieces, or tear the flimsy paper package off entirely and place the paper into a designated area or holding device.
But, having a designated place to store an open ream of paper is a luxury. And, we challenge anyone to open the end-flap in such a way that it’s easy to remove and replace the contents.
As a solution, our Spine-Pak design utilizes formed paperboard to create a highly protective, printable edge spine with a removable access flap. Sheets of paper can now be easily removed and replaced with the performance of a specialized shelf.
The storage and delivery of office supplies epitomizes the word parody.  The routine is to open up lots of little packages, dump their contents into a larger holding vessel, and place the vessel onto a surface in a designated area.  To retrieve an item, you either stick your hand in and pull the item out, or try and shake it out without spilling the container’s contents.
How about a solution that integrates all needs into one design?