Our crash course for creating order in your house.
By Sarah Stebbins
Whether you have a basic cabinet or a floor-to-ceiling entertainment extravaganza, designate a drawer or bin for those video games, DVDs and CDs that get the most play, says Stephanie Vozza, author of The Five-Minute Mom's Club (Franklin Green). Sell the rest (try ebay.com) or recycle for free at a Best Buy store. Corral remotes in an open box or attach them to the inside of a cabinet door with adhesive Velcro, suggests Lorie Marrero, author of The Clutter Diet (Reason Press). Put the fuzzy, not the sticky, Velcro side on remotes so they don't catch on furniture and clothes. Feed cords—and label each one so you know which device it connects with—through the hole in the back of the cabinet or bundle them with clips to prevent tangles.
Tip: To cut back on clutter in the future, consider streaming music and using movies-on-demand.
Even pro organizer Monica Ricci of HGTV's Mission Organization has a catchall spot in her kitchen. But it doesn't hold odds and ends—instead, it's for useful everyday items like screwdrivers, scissors, tape and rubber bands. Whip the space into shape by first weeding out trash (expired coupons, dried-up glue sticks), duplicates (screwdrivers numbers two and three) and things that don't belong (mascara, nail clippers). Categorize what's left and place neatly in different-sized trays.
A typical utility closet—one shelf, one bar—isn't up to the task of storing lots of cleaners and long-handled tools. The fix? Max out the vertical space. Instead of standing brooms and mops on end, hang them along with other items on a rack mounted on the back of the door or inside. If the vacuum has a loose hose, wrap it around a large hook installed on the wall above where it sits.
Arrange frequently used cleaners in a portable caddy and stash it, along with everything else—bucket, vacuum cleaner bags, waxes and polishes—on the top shelf or on stacking wire shelves that you can configure to fit your space.
Tip: Hang a mesh bag for cleaning rags so you won?t have to fold and stack them.
Clear everything out of the area and add a shelf or two, which will let you fit more and see what's there. Position a wire cabinet shelf in front of, beneath or next to the drainpipe, depending on your setup. Or use an under-sink organizer with shelves consisting of modular pieces that you can arrange around the plumbing. Place bulky items—sunscreen, hairspray, lotion—in waterproof containers on the bottom, where there's height. Store toilet paper and supplies like Band-Aids and Q-tips in lidded plastic boxes. A back-of-the-door rack can keep cleanser, sponge and cleaning sprays within reach.
Streamline with a good purge, disposing of holey, stretched-out and ill-fitting items. Then separate what's left by type—bras, underwear, athletic socks, dress socks, tights, shapewear. If you have the space, dedicate a drawer each to bras and underwear. The best way to keep order is to sort by color: black stockings, nude bras and so on. For a custom fit, try spring-loaded drawer dividers or clear, open boxes designed specifically for lingerie and socks.
Allocate a few kitchen shelves solely for kids' go-to favorites—they'll know exactly where to look without rummaging through all your cabinets. Keep only one of each type and tear the flaps off boxes of individually wrapped items like granola bars and oatmeal packets, so kids can easily grab what they want, says Marrero. If you buy in bulk, put a week's worth of prepackaged items in a clear bin and stash the big boxes somewhere else to save space.
Tip: To make packing lunch a snap, divide large bags of pretzels and chips into single-serving containers.
Marrero's antidote to piles of index cards, magazine tear sheets and printouts from websites is simple: Corral everything in a three-ring binder organized by category (appetizers, desserts) with tabbed dividers. Slide full-size pages into plastic sheet protectors to make them splatter-proof and easy to flip through; for recipe cards, use photo pages with 3 x 5- or 4 x 6-inch slots. Keep recipes you're planning to try in the binder's front pocket and weed it out whenever it fills up. Or skip the clippings altogether: Snap photos of favorite magazine recipes and upload to a folder on your computer, along with web pages for dishes you find online. All files are easily searchable, so you can type in "chili" and quickly see options.
If you keep your laptop in the kitchen, cover the keyboard with plastic wrap or try the Kitchen Laptop Stand (amazon.com, $37), which offers the ultimate defense against spills and splatters.
Dealing with a mountain of pre-digital 4x6s can be overwhelming, so make it a long-term project. Spend an hour on each of a few weekends weeding out duplicates and unflattering shots and separating the prints into rough categories—"Luke's birthday 1998," "Summer 2006." File the pictures chronologically in storage boxes with labeled dividers. To rein in your digital archives, Carley Knobloch, founder of the tech site Digitwirl.com, suggests a similar approach: Delete what you don't want, put the rest in folders labeled consistently with the year, month, day and a description (e.g., "2011-10-22 Apple Picking"). This way, they'll sort chronologically and you'll be able to tell what's in the folder without opening it up.
If you're fed up with phones, iPods and cameras that seem to be plugged into every outlet, try designating a charging station for the family to use. A centralized spot—an entryway, or even the kitchen—is ideal. The Kangaroom cell phone charging station has slots for four devices (more than most) and built-in labels. Marrero took the DIY approach by drilling a hole through the back of a bureau and one of its drawers. Inside the drawer are her family's gadgets, their cords (each labeled with the name of its owner) feeding through the holes to a power strip behind the bureau.
Neaten up your linen closet by storing only "one pair and one spare" per bed, says Marrero. Stack sets together on shelves (don't separate out the pillowcases), or create easy-to-grab "packages" by stuffing a folded flat and fitted sheet and a pillowcase into another pillowcase, says Marrero. If you have similar-looking sheets, or just need to free up space, Vozza suggests stashing an extra set in a box under the bed it belongs to. You can also use a laundry marker to label the bottom corners of each flat sheet with a Q for "queen," and so on—when the sheet is folded, one of those corners will usually be visible.
Tip: If you're buying new sheets, assign each bed a different color to eliminate confusion.
Originally published in the October 17, 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.
Watch our video series for organizing and creating storage in your bathroom, hall closet, kitchen or kids` room.