Unexpected thoughts on the label maker

Old school Dymo label maker

Behold the mighty old school label maker! I found this little red beauty while helping a senior client organize a bookcase filled with office supply treats. Asking the usual questions when such a unique artifact appears, I learned that she neither uses it nor has tape for it, but she likes knowing it’s there just in case.

The more high-tech versions of these devices have been and continue to be the topic of many conversations with colleagues and clients alike. For many, the label maker is a staple in their daily work/life diet and the thought of being without one is unimaginable. Others, like myself and my fella environmentally conscious organizer colleague, Miriam Ortiz y Pino, CPO®, of More Than Organized in Albuquerque, NM, have a different perspective. We combined forces and wrote an article, “Unexpected thoughts on the label maker,” for NAPO News, the bimonthly publication of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). It was published in the September/October 2014 issue, and is republished here by permission.

Unexpected thoughts on the label maker
One of the most commented on threads on The Point, and one of the most frequently asked questions of veteran organizers is “What kind of label maker do you use?” It’s one of the most ubiquitous tools in an organizer’s workbag, and when one sets out in this line of work, a trip to the office supply store to explore all the options is a common right of passage.

It’s important to start by asking yourself why you need a label maker and what its role will be role in your organizing practice. Consider applying the same decision-making criteria used when helping clients on yourself. Perhaps, it’s so you can…

  • Make consistent and legible labels because your handwriting is hard to read.
  • Help clients designate space for items to live.
  • Communicate to many people where items belong.
  • Create an aesthetically pleasing and uniform environment and thus make it more enjoyable to use the thing/s being labeled.
  • Add a flair of professionalism to dazzle your clients.

But now, consider the fact that you will not find a label maker in either of our work bags. We discovered this commonality during one of the monthly meetings of the Environmentally Conscious Organizers (ECO) SIG. We know we’re not alone and thought we’d shed light, discoveries, and perspectives on this anomaly in the organizing community.

Miriam’s story
When I started my business in 2000, I purchased the seemingly required label maker with only a slight pause. I thought that even though I would never use it for myself – I practice voluntary simplicity and have excellent handwriting – it would be a nice finishing touch for my clients.

The first experiment with it resulted in running out of tape. Twice. And since this was before scored backing was an option, it took twice as long to peel the backing off as it did to type the label itself. I left that project feeling less than competent or professional.

The second time I needed to use my label maker the batteries were dead. So were the back up batteries I had been carrying around.

For the third time, I set the clients expectations by saying, “I can label these for you, but it takes awhile. You could do it yourself with the label maker we found under the desk, or I can quickly label as we go with my Sharpie®. I have studied architectural lettering and my writing is quite legible.”

I have not used my machine a day since and have identified at least six benefits of not using a label maker.

  • It gives me a funny bonding experience to share with clients.
  • I make fewer trips to the store.
  • I need fewer batteries.
  • Less plastic in the landfill. (What is up with that childproof packaging on the tape?)
  • It is faster and easier to create the label.
  • It is easier to read the labels.

Oh, and there’s a seventh benefit: I’ve freed up space in my office, because I just put the label maker in the donation box to be donated!

Deb’s story
Shortly after starting my business, I set out to buy a label maker. My pre-ECO eco-sensibility could not get past the single-use packaging and cartridges that were inherent with these devices, so I reevaluated if this was something I really needed. Turning a couple of options around in my hands, I made a decision and left the store empty-handed. Seven years later, I have nary a regret, but that’s not to say my work life is label maker-free.

Numerous opportunities to type, peel and adhere arise on the occasional jobs where I have been asked to use a label maker belonging to a client or an organizer I’m assisting. I have observed that if a client likes having uniformly printed labels on folders and containers, they already own a label maker and delight in using it. In the course of writing this article, I worked with a new client who asked me to bring a label maker because she didn’t own one. I borrowed one from a colleague. Yes, it can be that easy.

I’ve also noticed when clients engage in the physical act of writing their own labels, they tend to be more invested in the act of ownership of the process while gaining a sense of accomplishment. And as Miriam mentioned, penmanship comes up time and again. I’m always willing to write labels on a client’s behalf. Years later, they tell me how much they love seeing and using files that don my handwriting.

I believe that owning a label maker at this point in my career would occupy too much mental and physical space. Living in an old Victorian (built in 1887) – an architectural style not known for generous closets – has led me to make a choice: I work and live with less.

As environmentally-conscious organizers, we encourage owning and using tools that serve your individual needs and values. Make choices that are in alignment with what’s true to and for you and your practice.The label maker is but one of many decisions we make as business owners. When was the last time you assessed your toolkit? Is everything in there still relevant?

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    Thanks for demystifying these!! My instinct has always been to keep things simple, and use a Sharpie instead. Whew! Glad I did.

    I reuse plastic containers for mixing my green cleaning recipes, and label the containers w/ a Sharpie. When I need to erase what I’ve written, I dampen a scrub sponge (the scrubby side), and scrub away. After toweling the area dry, I can write over as needed. Hope this makes sense! It’s simpler and faster than it sounds. Add baking soda to your scrub pad as needed. 🙂

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