Today’s hardware store meets a wider variety of home improvement needs, in form and function. (ISTOCKPHOTO)

I have distinct memories of going to the hardware store with my dad when I was young. It was dark, the aisles were narrow, and sometimes there was a little sawdust on the floor. It was the place you went for a saw, a socket wrench and some nails. But times have changed at hardware stores in the Washington area and across the country. And in terms of providing practical solutions for organizing our daily lives, the changes are for the better.

In my visits to local hardware stores in the past few months, I have been amazed by how many of the items on the shelves are for home organizing. It’s not just things to organize garages and basements. There are hundreds of items to organize all of the rooms in your house. Collapsible tweed storage cubes, leather boot hangers, modular stacking bins and more.

One local store had eight styles of cutlery trays. Another had five products for organizing shoes. And all of them carry a wide array of shelving units and large plastic bins. The Suncast deck box, available at some Ace stores, is great for storing outdoor items.

Henry Jeanes, assistant manager at Frager’s Hardware on Capitol Hill (a True Value store), says that household organizing products are popular with shoppers in his store. Bins, totes, shelf dividers, plate risers and drawer organizers are some of the best-selling items. “We’re constantly trying out new products because they are so sought-after by customers. In our neighborhood, many people are trying to maximize the limited storage space in their houses,” he said. InterDesign’s chrome cabinet door storage basket and bag holder, for example, allow anyone to squeeze a little more storage out of cabinets by hanging items from the insides of the doors.

According to Ace’s Lou Manfredini, organizational products are also becoming a larger part of his company’s business. In fact, Manfredini says, “with more and more manufacturers developing home organizing products, the inventory options have increased tenfold.”

For those of us in an urban market like Washington, the options are even greater. At smaller, independently operated stores, like the ones in the Ace family, owners are able to try out limited distributions of newly released products that they think will be popular with their clientele. For that reason, Manfredini says, “local hardware stores are leading the way in sales of organizing products because they can be more flexible than big-box stores in terms of getting the newest products to the market.”

And even though hardware stores are all about practicality, that doesn’t mean you can’t also find great design. The stores I have visited carry products from the modern and sleek Simplehuman, Umbra and Design Ideas brands, as well as more basic and understated options from Rubbermaid and Sterilite. I loved that one local store sold Design Ideas’ brightly colored Squish Drawer Stores, which are both fun and functional. There are also many useful and well-designed products made by lesser-known companies.

Colorful silicone drawer organizers are a long way from the hardware store products of my childhood, and that’s for the best. Today’s hardware store meets a wider variety of home improvement needs, in form and function. And if all you need is a socket wrench, well, you can still find that, too.

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