5 Ways To Get Organized Without Spending Money

I don’t have anything against spending money, especially when it comes to organization. There are many times when the right products or investment in professional help can be a game-changer. However, extra cash isn’t always in abundant supply. Maybe you can’t invest the money right now, or maybe you don’t have to. Many times, your organization goal can be achieved free of charge! Below are a few ways to get your space looking better, no price tag attached.

Throw it Out!

Generally, it costs nothing to throw away or donate belongings.  Unless you are doing a massive removal that requires third party assistance (think Hoarders), then cleaning out junk from a cabinet costs is free and may even gain you money. Along the way, you may find items that you don’t want, but that are still in sellable condition. From Nextdoor to local Facebook groups, there are lots of ways to make a few bucks and gain more space at the same time. The first step to getting organized is usually making the space for it!

Repurpose Boxes & Containers

If you don’t want to buy fancy containers to sort your belongings, food, etc., then don’t!  Repurpose sturdy boxes, like shoe boxes or small Amazon packages, to fit your space. Use these in your pantry, drawers, or anywhere else you’re looking to sort items.  Especially in places where guests won’t notice (your bedroom, the linen closet), you don’t need to make a huge show of fancy baskets and containers if you don’t have it in the budget. For a low-cost option, you could also cover any repurposed boxes with cute contact paper.

Reassess Your Dilemma 

Sometimes the best way to start is by taking a big step back. Have you organized and re-organized the same space, only to watch it fall into disarray again?  Maybe the space is the problem. It’s easy to get caught up in the small details, trying over and over again to organize a shelf.  But perhaps the reason it’s not working is because those items really don’t fit and never will.  

For example, if your pots and pans drawer drives you CRAZY maybe it’s time to reimagine their storage all together. Is there a cabinet or shelf that would work better? What if you stored the lids and pots in separate areas?  Are your neck ties hard to sort through or always falling off the hanger? Perhaps storing them in a drawer would work better. Broadening your perspective can increase the chances of finding a solution!

Categorize Your Belongings

Organizing and storing your belongings by category can work wonders for your sanity! If you currently have like-items stored in different places all over the house, simply storing them in the same area will automatically help you locate them more easily and quickly. Cleaning supplies, household essentials (extra toilet paper or paper towels), office supplies…think through some general categories. If you know all of your gift wrapping supplies are stored in one room in one box, when you need them you’ll know exactly where to find them! On the other hand, it could take you 20 minutes to find the right bow if your supplies are stored partially in this closet, partially under the bed, partially in the garage…you get the picture! 

Move It Inside

One step that will carry you a long way towards a clutter-free home is storing your belongings inside your furniture instead of on top of it. Take a look around your house. How many dressers, counters, and tables are littered with items that are always there?  Removing everything from surface tops, except for a few decorate items, will work wonders for your space! Instead of storing your makeup on the bathroom counter, store it in a drawer underneath. Take those recipe books on top of your fridge and put them on a bookshelf instead. Having less clutter out in the open will open up your home and lift some of that burden you’ve been carrying!

Perfecting the Pantry

Most people use their kitchen pantry often, which means it can easily get jumbled and feeling like chaos. Most pantries (even mine) are in constant need of tweaking and adjusting based on the time of year, what food items you’ve been buying lately, and a whole host of other things.  While periodically cleaning and rearranging the pantry will always be a necessity of good housekeeping, establishing a baseline of organization is imperative to being able to easily maintain the space.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with my client, Lacy*, to take her pantry from overbearing to inviting.  Your food storage area probably has some of its own unique challenges, but I hope you can pick up a few tips here to take back with you!

*name changed for privacy

Planning

First, Lacy painted the pantry a light tan/yellow to match her existing kitchen walls. She also added new granite-look shelf liner. It was a good “clean slate” for our project!

Lacy and I sat down before I got started and to talk through the task. She laid out her top priorities for the pantry as a usable space.

Of course, we wanted to make every inch as efficient as possible, but these three issues were must-solve problems:

Number 1: Visibility of spices, jars, and cans

Before: hard to locate jars and canned goods

Number 2: Poor Lighting

Before: bottom of pantry

Number 3: Wasted space on top and bottom

Before: top of pantry

We started by pulling out all the the food items and sorting them by type: bottles, bags, cans, etc. Then, we went through each stack and threw away all the food that was out of date or donated the items that were still good, but Lacy said she would probably never use.  

Don’t we all have items that we were given or bought on sale, but sit around for months, maybe even years?! It was time for them to go.

Solutions

Since Lacy’s main concern was being able to see and locate all of her spices, jars, and cans, over-the-door shelves were a mustfor her pantry.  Over-the-door shelves are great for pantries (or other closets) where the shelves are deep and small items easily get swallowed up by larger items.  Putting shallow shelves on the back of the pantry door was a great way to pull all of those small bottles and containers into an easy-to-spot location.

This brand of shelf can actually be mounted right onto the wall, but over the back of the door worked best here. And bonus- it was easy to put together!

Cans

To organize the canned goods, we opted for a dispenser. This type of device doesn’t make sense for everyone, but Lacy had a lot of like-cans: 10+ cans of corn, 10+ cans cream of chicken, 10+ cans green beans, etc. Basically, she has several favorites that her family eats often and that she buys in bulk when they are on sale.

These dispensers stack cans one in front of the other, so when you grab one, the next one rolls down, ready to go– kind of like at the grocery store. There are many varying types of can dispensers, but two of these mini organizers worked best for the size of shelves in Lacy’s pantry.

Wasted Space

Another problem was the wasted space at the top and bottom of the pantry. Underneath the bottom shelf, there was about two feet from the floor to the first shelf. The space itself wasn’t a problem!  However, most of the items being stored underneath were short. This left a lot of empty space above (between the items and the first shelf) that was not being used!

The same problem was happening on the top shelf. The pantry ceiling goes way, way up- as high as the kitchen ceiling.  Not all of that space was useable, but we could certainly capture more of it, especially to store seldomly-used items.

Top shef: We added a metal rack to extend the usable space at the top of the pantry

Our solution was to add a steel wire rack to both the top and bottom areas to cut the big space in both places. That means Lacy gained two more shelves in her pantry! That’s huge!

Below the bottom shelf: we added a metal rack to cut the large, two-foot space into two still good-sized shelves!

She now can now use the *new* top shelf for infrequently used items and the *new* bottom shelf for her stockpile. Before, Lacy was storing all of her boxes on the main shelves, even duplicates.  Now, instead of having 4 boxes of cake mix on the middle shelf, she can store one box there and the rest underneath, replenishing the box from her stash below when needed. Keeping only one of each item on the main shelves can be a game changer. I would have advised this method regardless, but having two shelves in that bottom area made Lacy’s available stockpile space twice as large! That’s a win.

Lighting

Lighting is a huge problem in many pantries.  Even if you have an overhead bulb, chances are, once you get a ways back in your shelves, it’s hard to see what’s there.  In this project, our best option was LED motion-sensing lights. As soon as we reached for something in their path – BOOM- everything was bright!

I loved that you didn’t have to hit or click anything to activate the light. We installed them around the door frame, so they would provide light to multiple shelves at once and shine all the way to the back.  Once we had them working, Lacy wondered how she ever found anything before!

Finishing Touches

To complete the project, we put Lacy’s opened snacks, cereals, and baking supplies into tight-sealing containers. Lacy owned a few that she loved already, so we ordered more of the same brand to match. Putting snacks in containers not only extends their freshness, but allows you to easily see how much of any given product you have left. I’m all for anything that cuts down on my time making a grocery list!

Tight-seal containers not only prolong the freshness of your food, but allow you to easily see what snacks are low

Overall, we got rid of very little, but gained a lot! Of space, of light, of visibility.  I enjoyed working on the project with Lacy and am looking forward to conquering our next organization challenge!

Room to Spare {Part 2}

Welcome back! Today we are talking about part 2 of Katherine’s* project. (If you missed part 1, you can read it here.) First, we tackled her photo cabinet, and now it was on to the guest bedroom closet!

*name changed to protect privacy

For many clients, their spare closets are far and away more cluttered and overstuffed than their main clothes closet. Why is that? In many instances, the spare bedroom/coat/hall closet becomes a catch-all storage area for items that are used infrequently or people aren’t sure what to do with. Every few weeks or months, items are added to the closet with no old items being taken out. Before they know it, they don’t even know what’s in there!

Katherine and I talked through this project before getting started. Here were her top concerns and issues that needed a solution:

  1. Get rid of old or unused items
  2. Make remaining items more accessible
  3. Open up extra space for future storage needs

Here is what Katherine’s closet looked like before we got going:

Before: Closet right side
Before: Closet left side
Before: Closet top right
Before: Closet top left

If you can relate, hang with me! This has a happy ending.

As with most of my projects, I started by taking everything out. Once everything was out of the closet, I started making piles: “Trash,” “Donate,” and “Keep.” For the kept items, I arranged them by category (games, books, gifts, etc.).

This closet held a lot of old keepsakes that did not obviously fall in any one category. I worked closely with Katherine and her husband to discern what to save and what to give or throw away. Was every item with sentimental value worth saving if it went back to the top of a closet? These types of decisions are very personal and don’t have easy answers. In situations like this, I do my best to guide each client through the decision-making process, but ultimately he or she will decide what is to be kept or discarded.

Empty closet

One benefit of discarding unused items is that often old storage containers can be repurposed. For example, during this project, Katherine did not have to buy any new storage containers (even though as you’ll see we used plenty), because we discarded the contents of several storage containers she already owned!

After: Closet bottom right

I started strategically putting items back into the closet, keeping in mind which items would be accessed most frequently.

Katherine tutors different students each week, so we made her tutoring supplies front and center on the shelves.

After: Closet bottom left

The vacuum now has a place, and so do her Katherine’s craft supplies! These baskets on top may look like items to which Katherine wouldn’t need easy access, but you’d be surprised! Katherine frequently makes gift baskets for people in the hospital, new moms, and graduates, to name a few, and wanted them in reach.

Now about those photo albums…

In part 1, I rearranged Katherine’s photo cabinet under her kitchen bar, essentially changing it from a photo cabinet back to a kitchen cabinet where she could store food or other kitchen-related items. We decided the photo albums and CDs (which are infrequently accessed) would be much better stored in this closet than in the prime location of the kitchen. Sometimes you can organize simply by moving items to a new location that makes more sense!

Sometimes you can organize simply by moving items to a new location that makes more sense!

Overall, we threw away about 25%, donated about 25%, and moved a few objects to a different area of the house where they could be stored with similar items. Keeping all like-items in one place in your home is key to knowing where to find things! If you store craft supplies in 5 different areas, it may take you 15 minutes to find the particular ribbon you seek.

Keeping all like-items in one place in your home is key to knowing where to find things!

Katherine is feeling great about her new closet. She knows what’s in there, because she can see everything when she opens the door! I thoroughly enjoyed working on this project, and I hope you enjoyed following along!

5 Ways to Reclaim Your Cluttered Bookshelf

As an avid reader, I’m certainly pro-books. I love having books in the house, even once I’ve read them. Just seeing a book I’ve read setting on the shelf can bring back wonderful memories of the tantalizing tales or lessons within. However, too many books can make an otherwise clean-cut room seem heavy. Read on to see how you can keep your books AND polish your look.

Don’t Fill Out Each Shelf

A major no-no is cramming each shelf of your bookcase to capacity. This will give off a cluttered look, no matter how the books are arranged.  Instead, fill each shelf ½ to ¾ full and place little knick knacks in the empty spaces. The extra space makes it look like your intentionally kept those particular books to showcase and are not simply using the bookcase as a storage unit (even if you are).  

As for the knick knacks, consider items such as small plants, photos, candles, or any other decorate pieces that fit your style. Refrain from putting these items in front of your books. Only use the empty space to the side! Putting any decorative items along the shelves of a full bookcase will only make it look more cluttered, not less!

Purge the Books That No Longer Serve a Purpose

I said you can keep your books, but maybe not all your books. Chances are, you haven’t taken the time to consider the value of your books recently. Or maybe ever! Rare editions, trusty cookbooks, your favorite novels… feel free to hang onto those.  

On the other hand, you may own books from an old college course, beach-read novels that didn’t leave a lasting impact, how-to books you’ve never once opened… you get the picture.  Let them go! Send these books on their way to a new home where they can be appreciated! Donate them or take them to your local resale store and trade them in for a small amount of cash. Specialized books such as college textbooks can be sold for a higher price to certain online sellers. Check around online to see what yours might be worth. Make some room and some money while you’re at it.

Alternate Sides

So we talked about not filling out each shelf. You’ve got that down. On top of that, alternate which side of the shelf your books are on. So, say you’ve got a bookshelf with 4 shelves. On the 1st and 3rd shelves, have the books start on the left and go across with room to spare on the right side. On the 2nd and 4th shelves, have the books start on the right side and go across with room to spare on the left. This will give a more balanced look to your shelves and your room.

Keep Your Current Reads in a Separate Place

I like to think about books in two different ways: by decor and function. Most of our books on a day to day basis end up serving the purpose of decor. However, in any given month, there are likely several books you’re using on a weekly basis: your current novel, your Bible, your favorite cookbooks, your book club read.  

Keep together on one shelf, basket, or table the books that you are accessing frequently. You don’t want these mixed among your “decor” books, because every time you grab for one, you’ll mess up the arrangement. But these books still need a home! Pick a place (you might have a few different places for different family members) where your current reads will belong for the time that you’re using them.

If All Else Fails, Relocate!

If you’ve reached the end of this post and are shaking your head, thinking, “None of this will work for me,” this last section is for you. Perhaps you don’t want to get rid of any of your books. You think knick knacks are stupid, and you just can’t (or won’t) create any space in your shelves to make the room appear more clean cut. That’s okay. I’m not here to force you to get rid of anything. However, at this point my best suggestion for you would be to put your books elsewhere.  

If you’re trying to make your living room or office look less cluttered, but aren’t willing to downsize your book collection, perhaps it’s time to put some of it in a less seen location.  Transfer half (or more… probably more) of your books a cabinet with solid doors or even a closet.

If all of your books are currently in one location, you could also consider splitting them up throughout the house into smaller batches that look less overwhelming. The name of the game is minimalism. If you don’t have a minimal amount of books, create the illusion that you do.

Room to Spare {Part 1}

Ah photo boxes…seemingly so much easier than photo albums, but do they really save time in the long run? Once photos go in a box, do they ever come out? Do you really enjoy your photos if they’re thrown in a box and then thrown in a cabinet after that?

The digital age has made boxes of photos less of a problem for the future (we’ll save the topic of organizing your computer photos for another day), but many of us still have hundreds of photos from years past. In this project, I helped Katherine* organize decades of photographs so she could better enjoy them, find her favorites if needed, and have more cabinet space…because who doesn’t need more cabinet space?!

*named changed for privacy

Decluttering

As is my routine with most projects, I first pulled everything out of the area to be organized. Even though Katherine designated this her “photo cabinet,” there were several other items as well- candles, decorations, etc. and I wanted to see what all was in there.

After going through the candles and decorations, Katherine decided to trash or donate many of them.

Many times the first step to clearing out clutter is simply taking the time to ask yourself, “Do I actually use this?” Look through your own “candle shelf” (or DVD rack or jewelry box) the next time you have a free moment. When was the last time you used each item? A few weeks ago? A few years ago? Saying “See ya later!” can feel so good!

Many times the first step to clearing out clutter is simply taking the time to ask yourself, “Do I actually use this?”

In a few cases, we relocated items that were being stored on this shelf, but could be better stored elsewhere with other like-items. After that ground work, we were ready to get started with the main project: sorting those photos!

Sorting

As I dug into the project, I realized that some photos were already in albums by year or occasion (“Summer 2012”). However, most were contained in boxes and not sorted by any category. These were just “catch all” boxes Katherine had used to store photos that she knew she wanted to keep, but for which she didn’t have an immediate solution at the time.

Our first step was sorting the photos by year. I say “our” first step because Katherine and I worked closely together on this project. Some photos were in envelopes marked with dates or had dates stamped on that back. Those I could place in order myself. However, I did need to consult Katherine on numerous others. I simply worked through each batch, placing the photos with no date in a pile for her to review at one time.

Ordering

Once the photos were sorted by date, there came the challenge of how to store them going forward. While there were a few groups of photos (family vacation pictures, school pictures, etc.), most were just miscellaneous images taken at a variety of times and places. The best solution was to create a “Miscellaneous Photos” photo album.

Aren’t these stick-on tabs cute??

I began by inputting photos by year. I attached tabs to the first page of each section as I went along: 1990, 1991, 1992… I also left a few blank pages at the end of each section for later additions.

For example, if Katherine decides to switch out some of her currently framed photos down the road, she’ll have a place to put the old pictures. There’s no point in getting organized if you create a system that can’t be maintained! I didn’t want her to have to revert to the old catch-all box she was using before.

There’s no point in getting organized if you create a system that can’t be maintained!

For extra-large photos I made a separate miscellaneous photo album following the same concept. Except this time I used a photo album in which each page was sticky all over so she could fit photos of any size. This was a great solution for some of those ex-framed photographs that were too large to fit in a traditional photo album slot.

At the beginning of both books, I taped an envelop that contained extra tabs. Going forward, Katherine can simply make a new tab for each new year.

We were making great progress, but there were still a few items that needed sorting and storing: Photo/slideshow CDs, home DVDs, and panoramic photos. For these items, I determined that the previously used catch-all boxes could be repurposed.

While I don’t think boxes are ideal for storing photos, they certainly can do magic with CD cases! I separated these items by year as well using cards that came with the boxes. It would have been super easy to use large, labeled index cards as well.

The Result

You might be surprised to see this after picture.

On the left side of the cabinet are the decorations (top self), candles (middle shelf), and a few other items that Katherine chose to keep.

And on the right side there are…boxes of food? That’s right! This cabinet is located in the bar area of Katherine’s kitchen. After assessing the situation, I recommended freeing up this valuable space to store items she accessed more frequently. The result? She got to move some snack items from a spare bedroom into the kitchen area! That’s a win!

But what about the photos? If you’re wondering where they went, you’ll have to check out my next post when we reorganize Katherine’s guest room closet!