Organizing Mistakes That Make Your House Look Messy

Your house may look clean, but these common organizing mistakes can make it hard to maintain order. Professional organizers share their top pet peeves and how to solve them.

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By: Liz Gray

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Photo By: Jennifer and Kitty O'Neil

Photo By: Jennifer and Kitty O'Neil

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The Mistake: Confusing "Clean" and "Organized"

"Having piles neatly lined up on the counter doesn't mean you're organized," says professional organizer Linda Rothschild. If you find your flat surfaces filling with clutter, it's time to designate a spot for everything coming into your home. Once you get the hang of it, the piles will disappear. Design by Anastasia Faiella

The Mistake: Keeping Counters Too Clear

Once you've cleared off what doesn't belong on the kitchen counter, don't forget to leave room for things you use every day. If you make daily smoothies, make a spot for the blender. It's easier to keep the surfaces clean and organized if you have what you need at hand and everything has a designated spot. Design by Gina Samarotto

The Mistake: A Full Refrigerator

"A big, messy focal point is a refrigerator tacked with magnets and reminders and notes and letters and photos and wedding invitations and art projects and shopping lists," says professional organizer Jeni Aron. "Instead, keep one clipboard on your kitchen wall with all of the reminders and lists you need. When the clipboard is full, that's your maximum number of papers you can keep."

The Mistake: Using the Fridge as a Message Center

Another reason to skip the note-filled refrigerator? No one will read it! "You think everyone will see it, but actually no one does. They're just going for a drink," says professional organizer Linda Rothschild. "Households need a place where people go for messages or mail or permission area where everyone knows things are kept." A built-in bulletin board, like this one designed by Nar Bustamante, is the perfect solution.

The Mistake: Disorganized Kitchen Shelving

Glass-front cabinets or open shelving can look messy if dishes are piled at random. "The solution? Add fabric or contact paper inside the glass cabinets. A better solution: Setting up a way to keep dishes organized," says professional organizer Alejandra Costello.

The Mistake: Stuffing Kitchen Cabinets

Getting organized means making good decisions about what to keep and what to let go of, starting on the inside of the cabinets," says professional organizer Linda Rothschild. Take everything out and take stock. If you're not using it, let it go. Image courtesy Mullet Cabinetry

The Mistake: A Non-Functional Entryway

An entryway offers a home's first impression, but it's often covered with coats, backbacks, shoes and more. The solution? "Rearrange the coat closet in the entryway where kids can hang things," offers professional organizer Alejandra Costello. "Or put a basket by the door to toss shoes inside. If the shoes can just make it inside, it can make a huge difference." Design by Traci Zeller
From: Traci Zeller

The Mistake: Skipping By-the-Door Paper Storage

Give everything a home, even the mail. "Even stacks of mail need a place to live. Find a crate, box or door or wall pockets where you can place the mail when you get home. Then later when you have 10 minutes, sort it out," says professional organizer Alejandra Costello. Design by Toni Hammersley

The Mistake: Choosing Closet Form Over Daily Function

We all dream of a chic walk-in closet, but think about what you really use before devoting tons of space to baubles and high heels. "Things you wear on a regular basis need to be accessible," says professional organizer Linda Rothschild. "If you go running everyday, those shoes should be in the front," she says. Wear boots to work? Keep those out and stow away heels. Being realistic about your real-life closet needs makes it easier to keep the space neat. Image courtesy Rakku Designs

The Mistake: Out-of-Order Containers

Throwing your stuff in a box or drawer doesn't make it organized. "Every drawer, cabinet and shelf is a container, but consider taking it a step further by using additional containers within those storage areas to organize your things even more. Use bins, baskets, cups, tin cans, stackable bins and dividers to help keep your items better contained and visually appealing," says professional organizer Vanessa Hayes. Photo courtesy of California Closets

The Mistake: Stocking Up on Storage Bins

Professional organizer Nancy Heller's top pet peeve? Too many storage bins! "They don't use the space efficiently, so they end up sitting in the corner, collecting dust," she says. Instead, search your home for containers you already have. "Use salad bowls...put dog's toys in one, some Tupperware in another. Put shoeboxes in your drawers and tidy up the shoeboxes when you have a chance." Bonus: You'll save money, too! Design by Junk Gypsies

The Mistake: Shopping First, Organizing Second

"The biggest mistake I see is that people think buying a bunch of organizing products will solve their clutter nightmares, but it usually just adds to the frustration," says professional organizer Vanessa Hayes. "Instead, you need to edit your stuff first, then decide on products to help you organize what's left." That way, you'll buy only what you need.

The Mistake: Skipping Labels

"Bins are fine, but they need to be space-efficient, properly labeled and specific," says professional organizer Nancy Heller. "Leave a little extra space, but don't throw a mismatched glove in there because there's room. A label helps you halt and say, 'oh, this doesn't go here.'" Design by Cas Aarsen

The Mistake: Too Many Family Photos

"Knick knacks and picture frames can be horrible forms of clutter. I love my family, honestly, I do, but I have a total of two tiny framed photos of them in my home," says professional organizer Jeni Aron. "Picture frames and little doo-dads and figurines collect dust, they look outdated and they don't add to any style direction or decor in your home. If you want to do a gallery wall of all same-sized prints with simple frames leading up a stairway or an artfully hung collection over an entryway console, go for it." Design by Andreas Charalambous

The Mistake: Too Many Toys

"For families with kids, many fall victim to every room becoming a toy room and the entire home becoming toy-centric," says professional organizer Vanessa Hayes. "You'd be amazed at how much cleaner your home will look if you limit the toys you have, and keep them in only 1-2 places in your home." Design by Brian Patrick Flynn

The Mistake: Not Corralling Cords

"This bothers me like crazy," says professional organizer Alejandra Costello. "Wires on the wall or floor are a complete eyesore. Make your own backing with black foam board, or whatever you have. Or, actually detangle the wires and use a cord organizer to line them around the furniture." Boom: A neat entertainment center, desk or nightstand. Design by Property Brothers Drew and Jonathan Scott

The Mistake: Scattered Collections

When styling bookshelves, small pieces look more dramatic (and less cluttered) when grouped with like items. "Collections of vases showcase what you love, versus having one on the coffee table and two on the end table. It doesn't look cohesive," says professional organizer Nancy Heller. Design by Brian Patrick Flynn

The Mistake: Displaying Every Book You Own

"Don't put paperbacks or the ones that got wet on vacation out. If you have a good collection of books, you don't need to display paperbacks. You have to be able to let go," says professional organizer Linda Rothschild. Design by Jennifer and Kitty O'Neil

The Mistake: Packed Bookshelves

Displaying only books you love leaves breathing room and space for decorative accessories. "I always go for balance. I'm fond of telling people when your bookshelf is 80 percent full, it's really full," says professional organizer Nancy Heller. Design by Jennifer and Kitty O'Neil

The Mistake: Letting Laundry Linger

When the laundry room is downstairs, piles of un-folded clothes can accumulate. "It's all about just doing it right away," says professional organizer Alejandra Costello. "Don't do laundry unless you have enough time to finish it. When you're ready to fold it, take it out of the dryer and put it away right then." Design by Toni Hammersley

The Mistake: Packed-Full Rooms

"Too many chairs, couches, tables and decorative items can quickly make a room look cluttered and feel closed-in," says professional organizer Vanessa Hayes. "Selecting just a few pieces can open up a space and make it feel more relaxing and peaceful." Design by Laura Umansky

The Mistake: Messy Under-Bed Boxes

Under-bed storage is a great space-saver, but exposed boxes and bins can make a bedroom look cluttered. The fix? "Add a bedskirt, or make the stuff on the edges of the bed look more contained or organized," says professional organizer Alejandra Costello. Or, opt for a bed with built-in under-bed storage like blogger Erin Hiemstra did here.

The Mistake: Getting Used to Clutter

"Clutter actually becomes invisible," says professional organizer Linda Rothschild. "When things are in piles, they become like wallpaper. Things get dumped and they get ignored." Devote a few minutes a day to ditching the piles one by one — you'll be amazed how much different your space will feel. Design by Debbie Talianko

The Mistake: Too Much Stuff

"People love staying in hotels because it's such an escape. You can have that in your home, you just have to have less stuff," says professional organizer Kendra Stanley. Design by Design Development

The Mistake: Stuffing Small Spaces

"Be realistic about the space you have and how you use it," says professional organizer Nancy Heller. "If you are in a small home, you really have to be realistic about how much you can really have there without it being cluttered and overwhelming." Opt for hidden storage under the bed or stairs, but know when to minimize your stuff, too. Image courtesy Matroshka Furniture

The Mistake: Being Spontaneous

When it comes to organization, predictability rules. "I am a firm believe of putting things in the same place all the time," says professional organizer Kendra Stanley. "My checkbook is in the same place. My wallet's in the same place. Flashlights, tools, everything in the kitchen — put things back in the same place every time. You'll condition yourself to be organized." Design by Brian Patrick Flynn

The Mistake: Waiting Until Tomorrow

Staying organized is easy if you do something every day. "It's continuous maintenance. For every hour we spend organizing we save 3-4 hours," says professional organizer Nancy Heller. "Spend 5 minutes tidying up your junk drawer...just 20 minutes here, 10 minutes there will make all the difference." Image courtesy Jennifer and Kitty O'Neil