Q&A with Professional Organizer Marla Ottenstein

Hopelessly disorganized? Take charge of your space with tips from a local pro.

Naples-based professional organizer Marla Ottenstein offers her top tips and tricks to declutter and optimize use of every space.


What is your organizing philosophy?

Ottenstein: Less is truly more. The less stuff you have, the less stuff you have to put away, the less stuff you have to straighten, the less stuff you have to look at and say to yourself, “I need to get organized” or “I need to get rid of this.”

What is an effective approach to get organized and stay motivated?

Set priorities and then start small. I always say to people, “Start with the smallest room.” Often there is a space that is either not being utilized to its fullest or being utilized in the wrong way. There are ways to use spaces differently, and the goal is to take underutilized space and utilize it to the max.

Start with the laundry room or underneath the kitchen sink. Go one shelf, or one cabinet, at a time. Take everything out of one, clean it, and then put back only those items you actually use. It’s instant gratification.

How do you decide what to keep?

Only keep the things that have to do with your life and your lifestyle. Whatever goes back into that drawer or space has to be something that you actually use—and not just one time a year.

What are critical purchases when it comes to getting organized?

People who have a tendency not to be organized also have a tendency to buy everything: every book about organizing to every container you can imagine.

The only things I suggest people buy are a good label maker and a rolling file cart. The Container Store has a product line called Elfa that makes a letter-size, two-drawer file cart on wheels. I have everything for my business and personal life in the cart.

What’s something that proved to be a game changer for one of your clients?

In Naples, I was called in by a working mom of three boys. She thought her problem area was the dining room, which they wanted to turn into an office for her and her husband, but [the problem] was actually the kitchen counter. Everyone put stuff on the kitchen island. I went into the laundry room and emptied out a utility closet that was filled with things they weren’t even using. I measured where each boy could reach and moved the shelves down so each son had a shelf. They were given ownership and a dedicated space for their things.

What’s your goal as an organizer?

My job is to get clients started and give them the incentive to continue. I always say the best day in my life is when a client says, “You know what? I can do this myself.”

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