Five Annoying Messes You Don’t Have to Put Up With Anymore
You know those places around the house that annoy you every time you notice them? The kitchen shelf jammed with old plastic takeout containers and storage bowls with no lids? The dispiriting tangle of wires under your desk? The coat closet so clogged you just throw your coat over a chair when you come home, and the linen closet piled with almost everything but fresh sheets and towels? Do you really want to go through another year letting your house push you around like this? Pick one spot – the one that bothers you most – and fight back. Clean out, throw away and restore order in just this one area. See how much better it makes you feel. You may be energized to move on to another.
We remodeled our kitchen two years ago, replacing curling linoleum and rusted metal cabinets with more counter space and cupboards than we’d ever had. Yet when the friend who designed it called, I told her the drawer by the stove for hot pads and towels was too small. “How many hot pads do you have?” she asked. “Only 11 or 12.” And so began my reality check about kitchen storage. It’s usually not about too little space: It’s about too much stuff. Plastic bags, says District of Columbia professional organizer Scott Roewer. And food storage containers. And food – a particular problem among warehouse club shoppers. “A typical household cannot use 5,000 individual packages of sweetener or the 24-can case of chicken broth,” says Roewer. Then there are spices: Way too many spices that are way too old, says Fernando Alban, manager at Chesapeake Kitchen Design in Washington. And appliances: “People buy a new coffeepot and keep the old one, buy a new food processor and keep the old one.” Plus old utensils and gadgets, “like cheese graters pushed way back in the drawer,” says Dana Souksavanh, a design specialist in the newly opened kitchen showroom at Bradco Supply in Hyattsville, Md. And don’t get her started on place mats and napkins. “People keep buying new ones and stuffing them in till the drawer won’t close and the fabric is wrinkled. Do you really need more than a couple of nice sets for eight or 10?” So here’s the word from the experts: Admit what you have too much of, and reclaim the space it’s taking up.• Plastic containers: Sort by size and shape (each one must have a lid), then send the overflow to recycling heaven, says Roewer. Zipper bags work for almost everything and take a whole lot less space to store. • Food: Set aside a cabinet as a dry pantry for pasta, cereal, jars and cans, suggests Souksavanh. Using one cabinet is more efficient than scattering food storage around the room. • Knives: Knives you don’t use are a waste of drawer space, says Souksavanh. Get rid of the ones you never reach for, and store the rest in a wooden block on the counter; it looks good and protects the blades. • Don’t overstock cleaning products, says Alban. And if you remodel, look for newer sink designs that position the drain and disposal unit toward the back wall, freeing up under-sink storage. • Turn excess into display. One friend has a weakness for dish towels. Rather than monopolize a drawer or two, she shows them off in a basket on the floor. Bottom line: Get realistic. “If you have a little apartment, maybe you shouldn’t try to make room for that turkey fryer,” says Alban. – Belle Elving
What lies behind most coat closet doors goes way beyond parkas and rain slickers. Fire extinguishers, camera bags and golf clubs are just the beginning. Those with really limited storage may need to squish jackets and coats between mops and vacuums. Step one in a rehab program: Resolve to keep only outerwear, umbrellas, hats, gloves, scarves and boots in this space. Begin by removing everything and sorting ruthlessly. That 20-year-old down coat belongs in the giveaway bag; the ripped, pilled polar fleece in the trash. Consider rotating coats with the seasons to free up space. Then wipe down the closet walls and vacuum the space. Repaint if you have the time. “Most coat closets are an absolute mess,” says Lisa Lennard, director of organizational learning and development at California Closets, a national home storage company. “Most consumers have only been given a pole and a shelf in their closet, and they don’t know how to organize everything.” Lennard says it’s well worth the effort to create two hanging areas, one higher than the other, for long and short coats. Scarves and gloves can be organized in bins, ideally one for each person. (Good luck if you have a family of 12.) A waterproof boot tray inside the closet will catch drips from galoshes or umbrellas. A hook on the back of the closet door can hold dog leashes and backpacks. People with very limited space should seek out every inch of hidden storage for stashing coat-closet invaders: under the bed, in storage ottomans, on hooks along a staircase. When gear has nowhere else to go, Lennard says, hall closets can be customized with shelves and dividers designed for vacuum or CD storage. Cathy McManus, marketing director for online organizing source Stacks and Stacks, at stacksandstacks.com, says a coat tree near the front door can take on the overflow, especially damp raincoats and guests’ coats. Finally, treat yourself to a set of sturdy matching hangers to help outerwear hang nicely. A good choice is Ikea’s clear lacquered-wood Bumerang hangers – $4.99 for eight. At that price, you can afford several packs and toss out sagging wire hangers forever. – Jura Koncius
If you have a linen closet, however small, count yourself lucky. It’s a luxury many would envy. But this prized space has a way of becoming stuffed and jumbled: Lumpy piles of sheets and towels are squished in among first-aid supplies, hair dryers, outdated medications, half-empty shampoo bottles and extra toilet paper. It becomes yet another disordered daily annoyance rather than the bonus it should be. Reclaim the space by remembering what linen closets are intended to hold: linens. Fresh sheets and spare blankets for nearby bedrooms, an extra pillow or two, clean towels and other essentials for the bath. And accept that linen closets have also become medicine chest annexes. Start the overhaul by removing everything and winnowing the pile to include only what makes sense to store there. If you’d like a really clean slate, take a few hours to paint or even wallpaper the interior. (Consider a color or pattern, whether vivid or serene, that will make you smile each time you open the door.) Not up for that much work? At least put down fresh shelf liners. Lots of stores sell scented versions (meadow grass? cucumber mint?). Then, prioritize. Put things you use all the time at front and center. Seasonal items – beach towels in winter, heavy blankets in summer – go higher up and farther back, says Deborah Broockerd, senior designer at the Closet Factory in Waldorf, Md. Group lotions, potions, pills and implements together: manicure gear in one see-through container, hair stuff in another, medicines in a third. Professional organizer Kim Oser of Put It Away! in Gaithersburg, Md., recommends plastic boxes to contain leaks from sticky liquids, such as cough syrup. Deborah Wiener, owner of Designing Solutions in Silver Spring, Md., says narrow spice shelves work great on a linen closet door to hold bandages, bars of soap or cotton balls. As for those linens: “You only need three sets of sheets and pillowcases” per bed, says Oser. “One that’s on it, one in the laundry and a spare in case of emergency.” Store in sets by size, then label the shelf. Allow three sets of bath and hand towels and washcloths per person, and store according to color or bathroom. Overflow linens can go to animal shelters, the rag pile or the trash. Better there than crowding your linen closet. – Annie Groer
If you don’t want to face a dreary, badly lighted bathroom first thing in the morning and last thing at night for the next year, resolve to spruce things up. Even if your budget or landlord rules out a major remodel, don’t despair: Inexpensive cosmetic changes can dramatically improve the room. “People think, ‘I can only go from A to Z'” in remodeling a bathroom, says Ellen Witts, a designer at Gilday Renovations in Silver Spring, Md. “But there’s so much that can be done in between.” First, experts agree, clear the clutter of old makeup and expired medication. Then, consider a fresh coat of paint. Witts recommends painting the walls a neutral color and adding contrast with towels and rugs. Even if you’ve inherited a pink-tile bathroom, using a soft, complementary paint color (such as a warm white) can tone down the tile and make it more tolerable, says Barbara Sallick, co-founder of Waterworks, a chain of high-end bath and kitchen stores. Other quick changes include hanging a new shower curtain on a shiny chrome rod; painting the vanity and installing new knobs; replacing a rusted medicine cabinet with a mirror and shelf over the sink; and adding hanging art and other decorative objects (a small clock can be particularly helpful). In powder rooms, Sallick likes using vintage towels found at flea markets to dress up the small space. Witts suggests hiding drab or dated flooring under sisal or other natural fiber cut to the shape of room. Many carpet stores sell bargain-price carpet remnants big enough to do the job. Finally, any bathroom will benefit from proper lighting. Sconces on either side of the mirror are much more flattering than overhead light. At least try to replace any old fluorescent lights. “Make them go away,” Sallick says. “And all of a sudden you won’t look yellow anymore.” – Terri Sapienza
It doesn’t matter whether your home office is as small as an apartment closet or its own massive space. The problems are the same: It’s ugly, and you can’t find anything. Home offices – created, ironically, to curb clutter and improve organization – typically become dumping grounds for every piece of paper that comes through the front door or off the printer. The room should be useful, efficient and pleasant to work in, whether you run an office out of your home or run your home out of the office. Let’s start with looks. No matter how wireless the world may seem, most home offices have a tangled eyesore of electrical cords for computers and other office electronics. Try mounting a power strip underneath your desk so the cords are close to their plugs. Designers and professional organizers suggest bundling the excess wires with plastic ties or cord clips. One clever friend cut the back off a basket and coiled all the cords inside; all you can see from the front is the pretty container. You don’t have to spend much money to perk up a home office. Get a desk lamp to cure bad lighting. A comfortable ergonomic chair is worth spending money on, but you don’t need to buy a new table or desk. Then, the organization. Tossing needless paper is the first step to home office efficiency. Even if you think you might need a certain book or newspaper clipping one day, chances are you won’t. Be brutal. Stephanie Winston, a professional organizer with Office Depot, recommends spending 30 minutes a day, every day, for three or four weeks to clear out the clutter. Then set up a filing system you’re comfortable with. “Once you’ve done it for three to four weeks, you begin to develop the habit,” she said. “Now you just have to do it for 10 minutes a day, and you’ll be able to find anything on your desk in 60 seconds.” There is no single correct filing system. Some people like color-coded file folders. Others prefer boxes with lids, or baskets, or an accordion file with a fold-over flap to contain what’s inside. Individual files could hold current bills, medical and expense records, tax information, and loose magazine and newspaper clippings, among many other topics. Each child should have his or her own file. If you have a spouse or roommate, get a basket to hold mail or magazines of joint interest. Sort through it a few times a week and toss what no one wants, suggests Winston. But don’t let that paper invade the home office – it’s way too organized now. – Liz Seymour
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