Our homes have become our safe havens, one of the few places where we feel truly comfortable. Many of us, even in this beautiful Naples weather, have spent more time at home than ever before. In fact, location-data provider SafeGraph deduced that at one point during the pandemic, almost half of the U.S. population spent more than 18 hours a day in their homes. When it comes to household clutter, all this time nesting can mean a few things: You’re contributing to it and making it more substantial; you’re noticing it and it’s bogging down your subconscious; or you’re ready to tackle it and start anew with a clean slate.
Admitting that things need to change is hard. As you accumulate—the baseball bats, the toys, the puzzles—it may feel safe or nostalgic to hold onto such items, but it’s not exactly healthy. According to research, clutter has a direct impact on well-being. For example, a recent George Mason University study showed that older adults who declutter feel more capable and in control.
The right expert can create a system that will keep you from going back to your old ways, says Marla Ottenstein, owner of Professional Organizer Florida. Most successful organizing is done by truly understanding the lifestyle of the client and creating realistic solutions, she notes. While separating dress socks and athletic socks may work for one person, it can create additional stress for another. Establishing a relationship with a professional organizer is not a one-and-done deal. Often times, he or she might come back every few months, or seasonally, to fine-tune the process.
NI talked to Ottenstein and two other Naples-based organizing experts who explained that keeping order is more than pretty shelves—it’s a way to ease unnecessary stress.
A Little Change Goes a Long Way
How many times have you walked into your closet or your office and said, “Today I am going to organize!” then turned around and walked out? “Most people have a comfort level that they live with their entire lives,” says Ottenstein. “A professional organizer is not someone who just cleans out your closet. We are people who have a vision and can help simplify your life.”
One of Ottenstein’s pet peeves is simply taking your clutter and relocating it to plastic bins. “There is a time and a place for a bin, like if you have wrapping paper or documents,” says Ottenstein. “Once you put something in a bin on a tall shelf, you’re not going to go into that bin. If you’re not getting rid of stuff, all you’re doing is rearranging what you have, and what you probably don’t need.”
Ottenstein is also a heroic pile buster. When one of her clients complained about a messy kitchen with a high pile of her kids’ stuff on the island, Ottenstein sprang into action. “We needed to make space in another room to avoid the dumping on the kitchen counter,” she says. Her solution was to clear unnecessary cleaning products from the laundry room and create shelves for the boys in the household, ages 8, 12, and 14. “Each of the boys had a shelf that corresponded to their height,” she adds.
A Fashionable Approach
When it comes to closets—the black holes of personal paraphernalia—you may want to look to a professional organizer who understands your vibe. “I am a wardrobe stylist first,” says Amanda Miller, professional organizer for Beyond the Closet. “I go into closet organization by looking at what lifestyle my clients are dressing for.”
To dismantle the common gripe, “I have a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear,” Miller starts with a purge. This eliminates all of the bulky clothes you no longer need (such as maternity wear or winter coats, boots, and accessories) as well as expensive but ill-fitting or damaged and stained items.
It’s not an all-in-one purge, however. Some clients need to gradually embrace who they want to be, Miller notes. She often starts with a questionnaire that targets likes and dislikes. For instance, someone may say they hate florals and ruffles, yet they have a wardrobe akin to Little House on the Prairie. That’s when Miller digs deeper, perhaps suggesting that bouquets are better suited on toss pillows than a blouse. “[My clients] can reflect a style in their home decor and not displace it onto their clothing,” she says. “They have to realize that’s where it should end.”
If you have serious attachment issues, work in stages. Put a piece of clothing at the forefront of your closet and insist on wearing it that week; if it doesn’t seem quite right after your third attempt, say bye for good. One of Miller’s secret organizing weapons is investing in the right hangers. Clients often don’t realize how distracting hangers can be if clothing keeps getting tangled or falls off. “I always push the white huggable velvet hangers,” she says. “You see everything that you have on the white hangers. They save space and look nice.”
A Lesson in Form and Function
“Form is at the forefront—we want things to look nice—but function is the most important aspect of any area we are organizing,” says H.L. Burkley, owner of Inspired Closets Southwest Florida and Total Garage Concepts.
For some homeowners, the decluttering journey starts with installing new closets or garage-organizing systems. In a closet design, for instance, Burkley suggests prioritizing space for items you’re going to grab on the way out of the door. Shoes and the hamper should probably stay close to the exit. Storing socks near shoes may sound obvious, but subtle details like this often go overlooked. You’ll probably save an average of 10 minutes a day—that’s five hours each month. No one wants to waste time looking for socks. “A closet is the first and last place you start and end your day,” says Burkley. “The ability to start the day in organized ways is power. Let’s get you in and out.”
The same mentality applies to garages. The overflow of home supplies, bikes, tools, beach gear, and holiday decorations all mixed together can drive anyone mad. As you’re going in and out from the car, what do you need the most? Burkley groups things by activity areas, often with cabinets and under-counter lighting. “Passions are a big part of what we are trying to tap into,” says Burkley. “How can you stay passionate and get yourself out the door?”
A common storage option that Burkley does not like is wire shelving or, as he says, skeleton racks practically begging for chaos. Cabinets, on the other hand, look sleek and enhance the space, whether you place one over the toilet or above the washer and dryer. Inside are plenty of adjustable shelves to hide those not-so-pretty rolls of toilet paper and jugs of detergent. Mount retractable organizers inside your cabinets for everything from a hair dryer to a drying rack.
In the kitchen, you’ll want to group items by height, as that will dictate the height of shelves to optimize the vertical space. Then organize by frequency of use. What do you use daily, once a week, monthly? This goes both for food, appliances, and cookware. Big soup urns, Crock-Pots, and seasonal cookie cutters tend to go up higher in the pantry. Cans and hurricane supplies should also live high and out of sight. Implement rollout shelving or drawers for small, random items, and invest in baskets or clear containers to group similar snacks such as chips and granola bars. If you’re a baker, dedicate a couple of shelves to flours, sugars, and vertically stored baking trays.