Life-Changing Tips for a More Organized Home
Learn what the experts do when it comes to keeping their homes in order
We asked pro organizers for strategies that help them conquer chaos in their own lives. The result: 39 secrets that will streamline your day and restore your peace of mind (promise!)
1. Kathy Jenkins
Come to Order, Mechanicsville, Va.
With two sons, ages 12 and 15, Jenkins specializes in creating organizing systems for families and students.
2. Amanda LeBlanc
The Amandas, Birmingham, Ala.
LeBlanc and her husband have two daughters, ages 9 and 11. They live in a 3,200- square-foot Tudor-style house.
3. Cynthia Lindsey
Organizing Ease, Nashville
Lindsey specializes in whole-house decluttering. She recently moved into a new house with her husband and teenage daughter.
4. Julie Morgenstern
Julie Morgenstern Enterprises, New York, N.Y.
Morgenstern is the author of three best-selling organization books. She lives in a 900-square-foot city apartment.
5. Helene Segura
LivingOrder, San Antonio
Segura, a former teacher, is the author of two organizing books, one of which is geared toward teachers and their classrooms.
6. Amy Tokos
Freshly Organized, Omaha, Neb.
A background in engineering led Tokos to a career in organization with a focus on efficiency. She and her husband have four kids, ages 12 to 18.
Take inspiration from Jenkins, who uses a Victorian-era dresser to organize her entry. "The drawers hold gloves, hats, and other outdoor accessories, and the mirror on top gives us a place to do a spot check before we leave," she says. Another popular option: cube storage systems with fabric bins for each family member's gear.
Make organization a no-brainer with thoughtful placement. Put sports equipment or school bags on the way to the car or very nearby. Then kids can grab them as they're headed out the door and put them right back as they return. "The farther away you put those things, the harder kids have to work and the less likely it is that things will get back to where they belong," says Tokos.
Get the most out of entry storage by giving each group of items its own designated space. Labels can help. Says Morgenstern: "If a shelf or a cabinet or a drawer is marked miscellaneous, it's easy to put things into but impossible to retrieve things from."
Create a neat place to power up phones and tablets. Make one, as we did, by drilling holes in the bottom of a wood mail sorter, to thread cords through, then give it a coat of color.
Made to store nuts and bolts, this hardware-store find- is also a great place to toss keys, loose change, and the like. A coat of spray paint is all it needs to go from industrial to charming.
Dentil molding inside the front and back allows wood-slat partitions to slide in. Bonus: They're easily adjustable as needs change.
It makes sense to leave out those things you reach for every day—just don't let them pile up. "I use acrylic trays on top of the vanity to hold frequently used toiletries," says Virginia-based organizer Kathy Jenkins. "That way it's easy to lift a whole tray to clean underneath." Size trays to hold specific groups of items so that there's no room for extra junk.
The big void in a drawer invites a mess. The solution: Containerize the inside. Buy an assortment of small bins, but first, cut a piece of paper to the exact size of the drawer's interior. Take it with you to the store to help piece together the combination of bins that works best.
You can double the amount of functional storage under your sink, says Texas-based organizer Helene Segura. The secret? Tiered shelf inserts you can pop into the cabinet that follow the contours of the pipes. Many are adjustable, so you can customize shelf spacing to match your needs.
Shown: Madesmart 17-1/4 by 11 by 18-1/4 to 32-Inch Expandable Under sink Shelf Organizer, about $30; amazon.com
Putting bath towels back onto bars is tough for kids' little hands. To keep wet ones from piling up on the floor, use hooks instead, says Nebraska-based pro Amy Tokos. Choose individual hooks and you can space them far enough apart that wet towels won't take forever to dry.
No need to keep surplus supplies in the bath. Put extra soaps and shampoos in a labeled bin, and move them to a closet elsewhere in the house, along with those warehouse-size packages of tissues and TP.
A stainless-steel turntable under the sink simplifies finding the right toiletries, since you don't have to rummage in the back of the cabinet to locate them.
About $20; containerstore.com
For food-storage containers, a good rule of thumb is, If every single one was full, would it still fit in the fridge? If not, you have more than you can use, says Tokos. Have items you use infrequently—such as a special tool or pan—but want to keep? Move them to a box and tuck it in the attic or basement. If you don't get something out for a year, you can let it go.
"I'm right-handed, so I store frequently used herbs and spices to the right of the stove, where they're easy to grab and put away," says Nashville pro Cynthia Lindsey. She groups the rest by category so that she can get at exactly what she needs for baking or cooking a specialty dish.
High ceilings mean lots of vertical space, but it's useless unless you can reach things on upper shelves, says Birmingham-based organizer Amanda LeBlanc. She uses a rolling can rack on tall pantry shelves to help her reach cans without having to run for the step stool. These racks work best for multiples of the same item, dispensing one can at a time. Pull-down shelves serve a similar purpose, bringing an array of canned goods within reach.
Shown: DecoBros Supreme Stackable Can Rack Organizer, Chrome Finish, about $27; amazon.com
A drawer without a purpose is a recipe for a mess. Segura suggests a new mind-set: "I don't keep a junk drawer, I keep a 'utility drawer.' This is where I put things like scissors, tape, batteries, and screwdrivers. When I go to put something in there, I ask myself, Is this something that will help me fix a problem? If not, it goes somewhere else—or maybe into the garbage."
No need to stock duplicates of staples you already have. Instead, the pros recommend keeping a list in the pantry as you run out of items. That way you'll know exactly what to pick up at the store.
Put one thing out on the counter and it becomes a magnet for clutter. "If you keep things out, you're just inviting yourself to leave more things there," says New York City pro Julie Morgenstern. Limit yourself to items you use every day—for Morgenstern, it's the toaster—and put everything else away after using it.
Flat tops make it easy to stack food-storage jars, helping conserve precious pantry space. Clear glass makes it easy to ID what's inside.
About $15-$20 for six; weckjars.com
Group seasonings by use or cuisine and store upright in a bin so that you can pull them all out at once. Label lids to make finding the right jar a cinch.
Make it easier to put your hands on the right measuring cup or spoon by hanging each one from a labeled cup hook on the inside of a cabinet door.
A weathered, heat-resistant terra-cotta pot by the stove can stylishly store the few cooking utensils you use every day.
Store clothing on closet shelves rather than in a dresser, suggests Jenkins. "When you shove things in a drawer, you end up constantly wearing the stuff on top because you don't want to dig down to the bottom," she says. On shelves, it's easier to keep track of what you have.
In the closet, open bins are best for containing things you reach for frequently. But Morgenstern suggests lidded containers for infrequently used items so that they can be stacked up out of the way. Just remember to label what's inside.
Segura recommends setting aside 6 to 8 inches of rod space or installing a valet hook to hang "clirty" clothes, "which maybe you didn't wear all day, so they're not really dirty, but you don't want to hang them with the clean clothes, either." Those are typically the things that get thrown on a chair or at the foot of the bed, so having a place to put them helps create some order.
Shown: Rev-A-Shelf CVL-12 CVL Series Standard 12" Valet Closet Rod, Chrome, about $20; amazon.com
Limit storage where you don't really need it. "The nightstand in my bedroom used to be a junk drawer for anything we didn't have a spot for," says Tokos. "We've switched to a simple round table with no drawer, and now we only keep things there that we really use."
Visual clutter can be as damaging to your organized mind-set as physical clutter, says LeBlanc. "If you create a streamlined look, like using all the same hangers in the closet, you're much more likely to maintain it."
Take advantage of dead space beneath the bed to store off-season linens or extra blankets. A bin fitted with casters and a lid is a snap to access, and a cloth lining is soft on fabrics.
About $89; thecompanystore.com