Nicole AnziaNicole Anzia offers advice on organizing and keeping track of your home’s colors. (istockphoto)

Choosing a paint color is difficult. I could study paint chips for days, weeks or even months and not be able to make a decision. So after all the deliberation, it seems like it would be nearly impossible for me to forget the catchy name of the color.

But once the paint has dried and the pictures have been rehung, most of us pile all the leftover paint into unmarked graves in our basements. When we need to do a little touch-up later on, it’s virtually impossible to remember the difference between Smoke Embers and Whispering Spring, and it’s even harder when most of the labels are covered with paint.

That’s why dealing with household paint, even after it is up on the walls, is among the tasks that homeowners most dislike. After moving seven times in 14 years, I have a few lessons I’ve learned that can make your life easier.

Keep a record

After a room has been painted, the first priority is usually putting the furniture and decorations back and stashing the paint out of sight. All of which is fine, until you want to move a piece of art or you scratch the door frame carrying in your new couch. If you have to dig around your attic or basement looking for the right color, those touch-ups will take longer. An easier solution is to keep an easily accessible record of each room’s “vital statistics”: paint color, brand name and finish.

Martha Stewart has recommended writing the paint’s name and product number on painter’s tape and putting it on the back of each room’s light-switch plate. She has also suggested dipping a paint stick halfway into the paint and writing the color, number and type on the other end of the stick. You can tie all the swatch sticks together with string.

Annie Elliott of Bossy Color in Washington recommends storing unused paint in Mason jars. Elliott says, “Putting leftover paint in an air-tight jar will not only make it last longer, it will also take up less space. The amount of paint that fits in a jar will be all you need for normal touch-ups. If no touch-ups are made for several years, you’ll likely need a whole new can of paint anyway, because the colors will have faded.” Elliott recommends labeling the jars with the manufacturer, color number, name and finish, as well as the room and date.

Or, simply record your colors in a Word or Excel document on your computer. Whichever method you choose, be sure to do it as soon as the paint is dry. And don’t forget to make note of the ceiling and trim colors, brands, and finishes, too.

Don’t let paint cans pile up

It is much easier to find the color you need if you’re not looking through three generations of paint. If you’ve just painted your dining room, discard the cans of the previous color immediately. This will save you time and headaches later. If there’s only a minuscule amount of paint left in a gallon-size can, it’s not worth the space it’s taking up. Paint is expensive, and I’m not advocating waste, but unless the paint is cleaned up, closed and stored with care, it won’t last more than a year or two anyway.

Avoid storing paint in places where the temperature reaches extremes. Don’t store paint next to the dryer in the laundry room or next to the heater in a utility room. Likewise, don’t store paint in the garage. If it gets too hot or too cold, it will be ruined.

Many homeowners are uncertain about how to dispose of paint properly, so the cans just stack up. It’s true that you can’t just toss paint cans into your trash bin, but the options for disposal are actually not very difficult. It does take a little bit of time and effort, which is why most people don’t do it regularly. But cycling out the old cans each time you paint will save you work in the long run and give you more storage space in the short term.

Most area communities offer locations to dispose of hazardous waste. Those locations can be found on the Web sites of local jurisdictions. D.C. residents can take old paint to Fort Totten Transfer Station on the first Saturday of each month. Alternatively, you can dry out your unused paint before throwing it away with your household trash. Small amounts of paint will dry if you simply leave the lid off, but larger amounts require combining the unused paint with absorbent materials such as cat litter or sand. You can also buy paint hardener at a hardware store.

So before you sit back, relax and enjoy your newly painted room, take time to do a little housekeeping. You’ll thank yourself later.

Where to dispose of paint

Some jurisdictions accept paint only at certain times or by appointment. Call to be sure. Many require proof of residency.


Household Hazardous Waste & Electronics Recycling Collection

3224 Colvin St.


Anne Arundel County

Department of Public Works

Check Web site for dates and locations.

410- 222-7951

Arlington County

Household Hazardous Materials Facility and Electronics Collection and Recycling Center, Water Pollution Control Plan

530 31st St., S. Gate No. 3


Calvert County

Department of Public Works

Check Web site for dates and locations.


Charles County

Department of Public Works

10430 Audie Lane, La Plata


The District

Fort Totten Transfer Station

4900 John F. McCormack Rd. NE 202-673-6833

Fairfax County

Household Hazardous Waste Site at I-66 Transfer Station Complex

4618 West Ox Road, Fairfax

Household Hazardous Waste Site at I-95 Landfill Complex

9850 Furnace Rd., Lorton


Loudoun County

Department of General Services, Waste Management Division

Check Web site for dates and locations.


Montgomery County

Shady Grove Transfer Station

16101 Frederick Rd., Derwood


Prince George’s County

Brown Station Road Sanitary Landfill

11611 White House Rd., Upper Marlboro


Prince William County

Landfill and Balls Ford Road Compost Facility

14811 Dumfries Rd., Manassas


St. Mary’s County

St. Andrews Landfill

44837 St. Andrews Church Rd., California


Anzia is a freelance writer and owner of Neatnik. She can be reached at

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