Revisit home organization projects, both well-planned and poorly piled

We looked back on three projects — closet, pantry and garage — and tweaked what didn’t work.

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Watch how we retackled the garage, pantry and closet with this story at

Then watch how we originally tackled the garage, pantry and closet.


What worked: Turning the hangers the wrong way last year made donating to a charity garage sale easy. If the hanger hadn’t been turned the right way, we knew that item hadn’t been worn in a year. The Clutter Diet closet rod labels from the Container Store made it simple for laundry to be put away in the right place. The purse hanger and the jewelry organizer worked well. Clear bins with dividers made it easy to divide socks, bras and underwear by light and dark colors. Putting keepsakes and suitcases on the top shelf also worked well. Also, not using the floor as a storage space helped keep the closet from turning junky.

What didn’t: We had originally decided not to store shoes in the closet but instead by the front door where we enter and exit. Then we got a puppy, who helped himself to shoes in the organizer by the front door. The doggy bed in the closet also no longer made sense after the dog who used it died and the new dog insisted on being in the human bed. Organizing the husband’s side of the closet to the level we did didn’t work for him. He just needed two shirt categories, not five, and a combined pants and shorts section.

How we tweaked it: We gained some space by removing the dog bed. We were able to move the jackets and sweaters on the top bar to the bottom bar. This gave us a large area for a shoe organizer. We also needed more space for workout gear since we found the gym again. We also moved some sentimental stuff to a more out of the way part of the closet. That freed up a bin for hats and scarves. And we decided to leave the husband’s space for him to sort out to his comfort level. We also decided that organizing clothes from light to dark colors within the categories was just a bit too rigid for us to want to maintain.

Time spent: 2 hours


What worked: The clear bins we used worked for many categories of items.

What didn’t: We didn’t allot enough space for snacks, shopping bags and paper goods. We also got a Keurig machine and had no plan for all the pods. The mixing bowls were constantly falling from the top shelf. People had trouble knowing what should go in what bin.

How we tweaked it: We were able to recategorize bins, and we labeled them. We realized we didn’t need spices to take up two bins, but we did need 2 1/2 bins for the Keurig pods. We also created a snacks bin and let everyone in the family know that we can skip buying microwave popcorn for at least six months. Ditto for ramen noodles, which now share a bin with macaroni and cheese instead of being mixed in with all the other pastas. We moved the mixing bowls down two shelves and put the paper plates on the top shelf because we rarely use paper plates. We do use straws and napkins, which now have a bin on an accessible shelf, and we found all the aluminum foil, plastic wrap and plastic zippered bags that were scattered throughout the kitchen and gave them one bin. We made space for paper towels and toilet paper at the bottom of the shelf. We divided shopping bags between plastic and reusable so they don’t get jumbled up. We also moved many of the reusable ones to our cars so we have them when we’re out and about.

Time spent: 4 hours


What worked: We used clear bins for small tools, nails, gardening supplies, etc., on a large shelving unit. That needed very little reorganizing except putting a few tools back. We also used a dresser to contain the balls. People easily returned balls there.

What didn’t: We thought we would hang the bikes on a bike hook, but no one could reach the hook easily. The bikes never got put back. We had no space for temporary projects, and those piled up and spread. We also bagged up all the old sensitive documents to be shredded (and then, surprise, never took them anywhere).

How we tweaked it: We created a parking space for the bikes. We added a bin at the back of the garage for temporary items (currently Girl Scout recruitment materials). We bought a shredder, which broke the same day. We then boxed up the documents and promised to take them to the shredding company that requires items to be boxed not bagged. (We’ll do it, we swear!) We also added labels to clear bins, just in case.

Time spent: 1 1/2 hours

Marie Kondo writes in her best-seller “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” that tidying up is “a special event, not a daily chore.” She espouses that once you tidy up your whole house, you won’t have to constantly tidy up, you’ll just have to put things back where they belong.

Marie Kondo does not live with my family. We are constantly having to tidy up, to sort through the mounds of stuff coming in, most of which needs to go out again.

Last year as part of the Your Home series, I interviewed experts on garage, closet and pantry organization and took on these projects at my house. For one day, these spaces looked like what you see in a magazine.

And then life happened.

Now, a year later, I reassessed these spaces and rolled up my sleeves to get organized again.

“People think that you get organized and you’re done,” says Deniece Schofield, author of “Confessions of an Organized Homemaker: The Secrets of Uncluttering Your Home and Taking Control of Your Life.” “Somebody has to keep it organized.”

While we might want to nag and scream when the family doesn’t follow the system, the reality is someone has to take ownership of keeping the organization system working. And that someone is usually the person who created the system, the one for whom it matters most.

Many organizers use acronyms to describe the process of organizing your stuff. Austinite Lorie Marrero, who created Clutter Diet, a home organization online subscription service, uses ORDER:

Outline your plan by assessing how you use the space and how you want to use the space.

Review your items deciding what goes and what stays.

Decide where things belong.

Establish a home for everything and routine to get it put back there.

Revisit your system to reassess your space and make tweaks where you need it.

Marrero says people fail most often at the first step by not outlining the plan before starting and at the last step by not revisiting the site to rework it.

When things don’t go well, people often will ditch their current system and go looking for another system, another product or another magic bullet to solve their problem, says Barry Izsak, a professional organizer with Arranging It All. He reminds that “the best organizing system in the world isn’t going to last if you don’t stick to it.”

The easiest way to stick with it is to have a system that everyone in the house understands. An easy system will make people more likely to put things back the first time.

Catch yourself when you think “I’ll just put it there for now and I’ll put it away later,” Schofield says. We all know that later often doesn’t happen.

Ideally you can then spend five to 15 minutes a day just running through the house and putting anything out of place back. Or, when you see something out of place, move it to the right place right away.

“When you do a quick pickup, you don’t give it the opportunity to pile up,” says Leslie Byer Rosner, a professional organizer with Found Space Organizing.

But if you have let it pile up, it’s time to start over, maybe not from scratch entirely this time.

Some key tips from our experts to make the pileup less likely to happen:

  • Don’t fight nature. If kids naturally leave the scissors in one spot on the counter, maybe that’s where the scissors should live.
  • Find your roadblocks. If there is an item that is never put back where you think it should go or if there is a space that gets junked up first, create a new plan for that item or that space.
  • Containerize like items in clear containers. They will be easy to see.
  • Lose the lids. You want putting things away to be a one-handed, one-step process.
  • Use open shelving systems rather than drawers when you can. It skips the step of opening the drawer, and you can see what’s there.
  • Opt for hooks rather than hangers for items like jackets and robes that are hung up daily.
  • Label everything. You can use something as simple as masking tape and markers, but often family members respect the label more when it is either preprinted or made with a label maker.
  • Explain the system to everyone who lives there. Make sure the labels make sense to them and they understand what you mean.
  • Create a space for temporary projects or items. Maybe it’s a bin to contain the science fair project while kids are working on it or a container for an in-progress craft project.
  • Create a bin for items that you want to donate or have a garage sale with. Then, when you see something you don’t use, you have a place to put it away from the stuff you do use.
  • Turn clothes hangers the opposite direction once a year. You’ll be able to see if you wear certain clothes or not.
  • Be flexible. Life changes and your system has to be adaptable to create more space for the workout clothes that you’re now going to use or more dog toys for the new puppy.
  • Know where items are going to go before bringing them into the house. Impulse shopping can be dangerous.
  • Above all, Keep It Simple, Stupid. The system cannot be difficult to understand or require too many steps.
  • Give yourself the motivation to stick with it. Keep a list of things you’d like to do with your newfound extra time and do them.

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