Four professional organizer moms share their secrets for controlling clutter and managing the unique breed of mess that families make.
A mom of an 8-year-old daughter, living in Atlanta. In addition to residential projects, she specializes in relocation services and home-office organization—and does it all with a slow-and-steady approach.
Suffering from kitchen-gadget overload? Dream Drawer dividers give your tools a designated home. Kitchen Dream Drawer Organizers, $15 for two.
Binder clips are great multitaskers. I use them to tie cords together, to organize my headphones in my purse, to close a bag of chips, and more.
I use Post-it Notes for everything, especially in the early stages of organizing when I’m putting things into categories. I even write my to-do list on a Post-it and put it by the door to grab when I go out.
Establish an out-box for your home. I have a bin by the door; if I need to return something, it goes into the bin. That way it’s contained, I see it, and I don’t forget about it. Kneatly Knit Rope Bins, $49 each.
Tip: Make a habit of productivity. When you have a minute to kill, instead of checking Instagram, look at your to-do list. (Save it on your phone for easier access!)
Don’t expect to be organized overnight. Understand that you didn’t get to where you are in a day. It’s going to be a process.
A mom of two daughters, ages 5 and 7, from Berkeley, California. Gill offers clients organization and styling services but says she really thinks of herself as a clutter coach.
Artkive is my favorite app to digitally store and organize kids’ artwork. They offer a fullservice option where you can send in the art; it’s professionally digitized and you receive a hardcover portfolio book. $149 for one book with up to 50 pieces of art.
When you’re faced with a daunting organizing task, try The Pomodoro Technique, a simple productivity system that helps you break a project into focused blocks of time (25 minutes) followed by a five-minute break to recharge. It’s helpful for tackling dreaded projects such as piles of unfiled paperwork.
Any time you can elevate the appearance of your bins, your baskets, your file folders—or even your trash can—it reinforces the idea that “this is my home. I want to take care of it and keep it organized.” For example, for incoming papers I like Nate Berkus’s Tabletop File with Hanging Folders ($13)—it makes the daily act of filing more pleasant.
It’s great to get kids involved in the process of purging. My trick is to ask them, “What feels babyish?” Kids love the idea of being a big boy or a big girl, which allows them to let go.
Tip: Remember: There is no magic container. Getting organized is about reducing the clutter to begin with.
Minimalism scares people: They’re afraid that they are going to be in a stark white box, but minimalism isn’t a lack—it’s the perfect amount of something. I help clients strip away all the things that they don’t use.
Mom of a 5-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl, living in Valencia, California. A former U.S. Army captain and chemist, Cruz’s background helps her create streamlined solutions. However, there’s nothing militaristic about her approach. Cruz is a Contained Home Organizer with The Container Store.
If children assist you when you set up an organizing system, they have that sense of “I built this. I can maintain it.” My son and I created bins with photo labels on them together, so he knows what belongs where.
For closet and kitchen organizing, you need to measure to maximize the space, especially before purchasing organizing products. My favorite tool is my laser measure. It’s so zippy—I get exact measurements with the push of a button. Bosch Blaze GLM 20 Laser Measure, $50.
Corral like objects and edit through them. For example, office supplies, such as pens and pencils or scissors, are spread all over the place. Once you consolidate them, you can figure out how many you need. I love hearing people say, “I didn’t realize I had two drawers full of pens!”
I don’t understand why people keep empty boxes. You’ve got to let them go! Recycle them. If you need the information on the packaging, snap a digital photo of it.
When helping clients edit their wardrobe, if there’s something they’re on the fence about, I’ll ask, “If you ran into your ex-boyfriend while wearing this, would you feel embarrassed or great?” If they say “embarrassed,” I tell them to get rid of it.
Tip: Memorabilia is hard because there’s personal history there. I ask, “Are you honoring your friend or family member by putting an object they gave you in a box?” Use it or let it go.
People think, ‘Once I get organized, life will be perfect.’ It will get better, but it doesn’t end there. You have to maintain that organizing every day.
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A mom of two girls, ages 3 and 9, from Parlin, New Jersey. An organizer who calls herself a “Simplicity Expert®,” Tracy creates systems that clients can keep up after she’s gone.
I recommend that my clients use something I call “up-down” baskets. I have a basket at the top of the stairs and one at the bottom. Throughout the day, if I find something that belongs upstairs while I am downstairs, I toss it into the basket. At the end of the day, as the kids are brushing their teeth, I empty the baskets, and it’s done. Triangle Baskets, $44 and $115.
Shoes are such a problem because we kick them off everywhere. There’s a disconnect between where we store shoes and where we use them. The fix is storage cubbies near the door, or in my house it’s just a designated pile—whatever works!
My system for school papers and artwork is to collect them for a year. If my kids worked really hard on something, I put it in an open bin (the rest gets recycled). At the end of the school year, I go through it all with them and pick the top 10 pieces and place them in a binder. For three-dimensional projects, we take a photo, print, and file.
Mismatched hangers drive me insane. If you change to just one type of matching hanger, even without doing anything else, you will instantly feel more organized. Joy Huggable Hangers, $9 for 10.
I mounted a shower tension rod in my daughter’s closet. It’s below the main rod at her height and we hang all her dress-up clothes on the lower bar. She can reach them for playtime—and easily put them back.
I’m a huge fan of Big Brothers Big Sisters. In my area, they send me a postcard (in yours it may be a text) once a month that tells me when their truck will be nearby. I can go online to schedule a pickup. Leading up to our donation, I keep a bag in my closet for things to give away.
I like to compare professional organizers to personal trainers. We can help get you to your organization goals, just like a trainer helps you reach physical ones.