Short on space? Some tips to make the most of what you have
Organizing and decluttering expert Julie Morgenstern, who has run her namesake New York City-based business for more than 25 years, joined staff writer Jura Koncius on The Washington Post's Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: I just purchased a condo with limited closet space. Do you have suggestions for getting the most out of it? I'm looking for organizing ideas for the very small coat closet and kitchen.
A: There are many ways to stretch limited storage. Get out of the business of bulk purchasing, which can be great if you live in a big home but doesn't work for small spaces. Online services allow you to “subscribe” to basic household supplies, which automatically come to your door every month or so. Assign specific functions to each closet. Get furniture with storage: end tables with drawers, coffee tables with lift-up lids, etc. And use vertical space. The inside of every door of every closet can be used for hooks and racks and shelves. See if there is a wall where you can add an armoire, shelves or storage.
Q: My problem is paper: cards, handwritten notes, articles ripped from magazines or newspapers. Do I create a miscellaneous paper file? Suggestions, please, on where and how to start organizing these random but important pieces of paper.
A: Never create anything called “miscellaneous.” It's the easiest way to clean up, but it's impossible to retrieve anything from such a file or container because even 10 minutes later, we can't remember what we meant by miscellaneous. You need to break paper into specific categories and label each according to how you would look for it. Ask yourself, “Under what circumstances would I look for this piece of paper?” Cards and handwritten notes might go under “Memorabilia” or “Thoughtful words” or “Friends and family.” Articles of interest might be “Conversation starters” or “Knowledge” or “Things that tickle my funny bone” (as one client of mine did).
Q: I just cleaned out my clothes closet and I have several bags to donate and consign. What is the best way to consign these days? In the past I've been surprised at how stores will not take all clothes, even when they are from top stores. They seem much more selective than before. Do you recommend working with some of the online consignment companies?
A: We are in a time when there is so much stuff, and people want to get rid of it, so giving things away (or selling them) is not always so easy. Some things to keep in mind:
• Find out what sorts of items consignment shops near you want, then send them only those things.
• Check out websites like LetGo and AptDeco (in several cities across the country), where you can post photos of things you are selling and people in your area can buy them.
• Recognize that we often cherish things we've owned more than others would, so unless things are in exceptional condition, it can be hard to sell them.
Q: I am normally very organized. I moved and started a new job last year, and my organizing skills seem to have stayed behind. I had plans to get my house and things at work organized fairly quickly, but it's been six months and I'm still a mess.
The house appears to be neat, but if you look in the cupboards and closets you'll see it's really not. Things that belong together are not together. Things are shoved into places where they don't belong. Thinking about what needs to be done to get it right overwhelms me. I'm the same at work. To make matters worse, I am putting off doing things I need to do because they suddenly seem so difficult. I'm not sure exactly why I went from being super organized to a complete mess. I'm not totally happy about the move/new job, so that may be part of it. Suggestions for getting back on track?
A: I think you answered your own question: Not being happy about the move/new job probably led to resistance to settling in and creating a new “nest” in either place. You don't really want to put roots down. But you are suffering from the chaos and should put your organizing skills to work. Remember, the more organized you are, the more mobile you are, so getting organized to make your life function better in the moment doesn't really tie you to your new job or home. It just makes life easier so you have more choices and freedom. It's a great way of taking care of yourself in a place that is otherwise not as nurturing. So nurture yourself and get things in order one room at a time, starting with the room you spend the most time in.
Q: What's the best way to organize scarves? They are a big jumble in my drawer.
A: Scarves work best on a series of hooks on the inside of a closet door (maybe two rows of hooks, one at the top of the door, one in the middle). Or, if they are beautiful, you can hang them on decorative hooks on a bedroom wall, as a design feature.
Q: I am the repository for a lot of inherited memorabilia from my family: books, photographs, old documents, etc. It all means a lot to me, and I don't want to get rid of any of it, but I need to somehow organize it so that it takes up less space. It's now distributed throughout my house, mainly in an assortment of boxes. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
A: Memorabilia is best enjoyed when it is displayed and accessible. When it sits in boxes it's rarely gone through or appreciated. For anything that remains in boxes, perhaps you can get a big armoire, or beautiful piece of storage furniture, divide the memorabilia into categories (e.g. journals, letters, photos, etc.), and transfer each category into a beautiful labeled archival box, allowing yourself or other family members the pleasure of sifting through when the mood strikes.
Q: My young daughter and I are taking an online drawing class. It's great! But we now have pencils, charcoals and erasers lying around as well as a 12-inch model of a person and very large sketchbooks. Is there any sensible way to organize these materials while making it fairly easy to pull it out when it's time to draw?
A: Designate a place in the house that will become the “Art Zone.” Then assign a cabinet or drawers to hold all the paper and supplies. Within the cabinet, any sort of small containers that group similar items (charcoals in one, colored pencils in another, erasers in another) will make it fun and easy to find things and put them away.