How to Get Organized for Good, According to Professional Organizers

The experts are telling all — including the storage solutions they use IRL and how to get an Instagram-worthy pantry that works for real life.

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February 24, 2020

Their mission is to help us streamline our routines, beautify our storage and create a functional home. Professional organizers work magic, transforming everyday mess into practical displays. I spoke with some experts to learn their methods and gather a list of must-haves for achieving organization nirvana. While their tips sometimes differed, they all mentioned how important it is to bring order and calm to our chaotic and messy lives in the prettiest way possible.

So, clean out your drawers, closets and cabinets. Then, read these genius tips from the pros, and shop the products they use in real clients' homes to get that harmonious composition of functional-yet-beautiful spaces.

For Small Closets

Shira Gill of Shira Gill Home starts by purchasing uniform hangers (after clients do a little purging, of course). "Swap out all the hangers so that they're uniform, all hanging in the same direction and all the same color and style," she told me over the phone. "I do that to create a cohesive look for the eye, and I feel like it's an instant boost for your closet. It's a small investment that goes a long way."

If your child is too small (or lazy) to reach hangers, Gill suggests hooks. In fact, she hangs hooks all over her house just to keep stuff off the floor. "I've yet to meet a child who will hang anything on an actual hanger," said Gill, laughing. "Hanging hooks at arm's reach for everyday jackets can be kind of a game-changer."

Maybe your hanging space is limited but you have shelves galore. Enter bins and dividers. Gill uses these because they're affordable, made of natural materials and have labels for easy organization. Both Gill and Holly Blakey of Breathing Room Organization recommended acrylic shelf dividers to create boundaries and prevent loose items, like jeans and sweaters, from toppling.

As for all of those shoes? Lisa Ruff of Neat Method suggests shoe racks or acrylic bins. "A shoe rack will utilize vertical space under hanging clothes that would otherwise go unused," Ruff said via email. "For special-occasion or specialty shoes, these bins are great for out of the way storage so you can still see what's inside and stack the bins."

Simple Ways to Organize a Small Closet 01:26

From slim velvet hangers to an under-the-shelf hanging basket, these clever closet organizers will help you utilize ever inch of your closet.

For Pantries

So, what's the secret to getting those Pinterest-worthy pantries we all have saved to our "Home Decor" boards? All of the experts I talked to agreed that decanting and grouping will do wonders for your overstuffed pantry.

"Baskets allow you to create categories and keep them together, like 'Dinner Prep' and 'Sweet Treats'," said Ruff. "Decanting also cuts down on visual clutter which makes a space feel calmer."

And for families with rambunctious little ones? Blakey, a mom of three, suggests using acrylic canisters and labeled water hyacinth bins. "Do what makes sense for accessibility," she told me over the phone. Storing healthy snacks in labeled bins and plastic containers at a safe height allows kids to reach for the good stuff, while "a little higher up could be glass canisters for mom's bars or bulk pasta and rice," she added.

Ryan Eisland from the Home Sort offered up a completely unique approach to storing produce. "One of our favorite hacks is to use magazine holders to sort onions, potatoes and garlic," she said. "They work great in pantries or on countertops and come in so many stylish finishes."

For Kitchen Drawers

Between utensils, measuring cups, cooking gadgets and mixing bowls, kitchen drawers easily succumb to chaos. "For all organizing, it is essential to create boundaries. Drawers are like large baskets or bins that still need boundaries," Ruff said. She likes using bins inside large drawers to help categorize similar items so that you can easily remove the bin when you need something specific.

Blakey seconds Ruff's tip for organizing drawers with bins. "For deep drawers, I definitely recommend, and in my clients' homes I use, deep acrylic bins — they're light; they don't break; they act as their own drawers. It creates the ability to not lose things but also to retrieve things easily," she said.

For shallow utensil drawers, Eisland uses tension rod drawer dividers to neatly separate whisks, tongs, silverware, etc. "They are an easy fit in most drawers, and the structure they provide is a game-changer," she said. "Drawer dividers take messy drawers and give [them] just the right amount of structure so your utensils, hand towels or kitchen tools don't move around."

For Bathrooms

A trouble spot for most of us, the bathroom tends to fill up with excess products, accessories and personal health items. Clutter is only exacerbated if you have kids. Clever solutions like stackable containers, labels and trays can quickly sort out this problem area.

"Under the sink, a lot of things get lost under there," Blakey said. "It's nice to create levels and sliding drawers that you can stack because then things stay in their place and you have more storage options." She also recommends using shallow trays to create zones for oral hygiene, grooming tools, etc. Since these are items you use every day, it's important to keep everything accessible and simple. "If you want things to maintain that aesthetic, it needs to be easy," Blakey said.

"Having organized labeled bins by categories really helps, especially for busy families," Gill told me. She also recommends decanting everyday essentials, like hand soap, cotton swabs and cotton balls, into beautiful canisters. Making everything visible and accessible, especially for kids, makes it easy to keep things in order.

Eisland likes using lazy Susans in the bathroom. "Using a turntable under your sink gives your products a home, gives you quick access to what you use [...] and the structure from the divided turntable makes it so your products aren't falling over."

To Hide the 'Ugly Stuff'

We all have it — chewed-up pet toys, messy cables, plastic kids' toys, resistance bands bought with good intentions — the necessary but unattractive items that stick out like sore thumbs. With a few clever products, though, and some tips from the pros, you can disguise those eyesores as intentional pieces of decor.

"One of my favorite things for families is a bin I call the 'find a home bin.' I just go through the heavy traffic areas and add [things that need to be put away] to the bin and set it down," Blakey explains. Just picking up things off the floor and containing them in a manageable way makes the task of cleaning up less daunting. "It's a nice way to not feel like you have to do it all right then and perfectly ... You just have to do what makes sense for you. It's like this freeing idea for a lot of moms."

As far as concealing everyday items that aren't "pretty" but serve a purpose, baskets work wonders. "In terms of hiding workout weights and pet stuff, I just like doing a big round basket," said Gill. She also recommended a small box for hiding cords or velcro strips for corralling them. Ruff also likes using velcro ties with labels to keep wires neat and tidy.

If You Only Tackle One Area...

Each expert had a different approach to prioritizing a single spot in your home to organize. Certainly, there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer. As Ruff pointed out, "It should be the area of your home that most impacts your daily life."

For most of us, that's likely the closet or entryway. Gill explained, "The closet is where you start and end each day. So, feeling like it's really lovely and organized and functional can set you up for success straight away." She added that because closets are often small, the financial commitment will be minimal. Also, decluttering is free ... so there's that.

Blakey says the entry is a good place to start. "It's the first place you walk in your home that kicks off whether you feel a sense of 'ahh' or 'ah crap.'" Having an orderly system in place from the moment you enter your home, prevents you from feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Just adding a basket for shoes or hanging some wall hooks can immediately alleviate entryway clutter.

More Expert Tips and Tricks to Try

One thing Gill emphasized over and over during our conversation was the importance of uniform containers. "I think people underestimate when they buy products ... [in] a jumble of different styles, even if everything is organized, it doesn't look cohesive," she said. "Opt for the same style and color when choosing bins, baskets, etc. to create a cohesive look that's easy on the eyes." This is the key to getting that Insta-worthy display. For an organized space to function properly, uniformity is crucial.

Blakey uses a rather ingenious method for moving clutter out of her house and her clients' homes. A "transition bin," as Blakey calls it, houses all of those little knick-knacks and miscellaneous items that need to be transitioned out of your house. It could be anything from "Tupperware from a meal that a friend brought [to] baby items they've outgrown that you need to donate," she said. The idea is that you put temporary items in one basket so that it's not cluttering up your coffee table or kitchen counter, and aim to empty the basket by the end of the week. Blakey said her clients love this method because it sets up your weekly checklist and clears clutter all at once.

"...[W]e always recommend that people start small when organizing," Ruff said. "Maybe it's just a drawer that frustrates you every time you try to find the scissors or it's a cabinet that won't properly shut because it's too full. If you start small, it's more likely that you'll stick with it and make it a lifelong sustainable habit."

There you have it, folks. Getting and staying organized doesn't have to be a massive undertaking. Honing in on just one area might be all the motivation you need to tackle other troublesome spots.

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