Stacks of papers on the coffee table. Clutter on the kitchen counter. Shoes in the hallway. Let’s not even mention the state of our closets. If there’s space, we fill it. Maybe we don’t need three ice cream scoops in the kitchen drawer or seven jackets on the coat rack. As harmless as it may seem, all that stuff — if not organized in some meaningful fashion — can hinder our productivity and add unnecessary stress to our lives. And organizing goes beyond orderliness in terms of stuff; with busy schedules and hectic lives, adjustments to our routines and habits can save us time — no more looking for a misplaced cell phone or lost keys. If you’re seeking peace in a chaotic world, get organized.
“For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.”
“Organizing is a routine, and it’s an evolution based on where you are and what you have,” says JoAnn Jones, president of the Memphis chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). Jones became involved with NAPO in 2009 and has worked with a variety of clients — professors, doctors, professional chefs, homemakers. As a professional organizer, Jones assesses how her clients live, what works and what doesn’t work for their lifestyle, to help them make better sense of their schedules, spaces, and stuff.
“There is not a simple cookbook recipe,” Jones says. As you grow and your dynamics change, so does the way you organize. “You might have previously taken up a bunch of space for baby diapers and now you can use that space for putting your towels back in the linen closet. Or as you get older, you might have different needs — you may need more space for medicines, so you have to repurpose areas where you had something else stored. You may be an empty-nester and now have more space for the figurines or artwork you’d always wanted.”
NAPO is an educational association whose members include organizing consultants, speakers, trainers, authors, and manufacturers of organizing products. Local chapter members offer organization services ranging from residential and business to bookkeeping and downsizing and moving and staging to chronic disorganization and hoarding.
Jones, a mother of two teenage boys, works primarily with families, helping to organize spaces that tend to get a little messy, like mudrooms, kitchens, garages, and closets. Prior to her work as a professional organizer, Jones worked in international marketing and training for hospitals. “I found that I had to be very organized with my scheduling and coordination of things,” she says. “I’ve always been inclined to do that, to have everything prepared ahead of time, so it was an easy transition.”
Carey Snider, a homemaker and mother of three children — 12, 10, and 8 years old — hired Jones at the suggestion of her decorators when she moved into a new home, a new build with more space than her previous house. “I wanted her to help me make sense of the space — especially the kitchen and my master closet,” Snider says.
Simple adjustments in the kitchen, like storing the silverware near the dishwasher, the coffee mugs — lined neatly, single-file with all handles facing the same way — near the coffee maker, and serving dishes that aren’t used as often higher and out of the way, helped Snider establish sensible storage solutions for her kitchenware and tools, and a formula that the kids could stick with, too.
Dishes her children use often were placed in a custom-built drawer in a lower cabinet so they’d be easily accessible. Spatulas and mixing spoons were stored on their sides. “It’s really a way to use the space wisely; it’s almost like you’re filing them, instead of just throwing them all in,” Snider says.
In the Snider family’s three-car garage, where a mess of basketballs, footballs, bicycles, and scooters had taken up a lot of floor space, Jones helped her design blueprints for a wall-mounted gear track system for these items to be hung up and stored, taking advantage of the garage’s vertical spaces. “She laid out on graph paper a spot for every single thing,” Snider says. “She wrote up what I would need in order to get everything on the walls and off the middle of the garage floor. I ordered everything myself, and when the carpenters came, I gave them the drawing.”
For Snider’s closet, she was shown better ways to store shoes, T-shirts, and accessories. Jones suggested storage cubes for shoes and clear, labeled Tupperwares for belts, hats, and small purses. An especially smart idea, Snider says, was the way Jones folded T-shirts. Instead of the usual square fold and stack, “she folded it over one more time to where it was like a rectangle and then turned it on its side. It was almost like my T-shirts were filed.” This folding and “filing” method, which Jones calls “bread slice shirt folding,” allows for easy visibility of logos and designs and maximizes drawer space.
“The great thing about it, too, was I could take what I learned from her and go do it in my kids’ rooms,” Snider says. Now that she’s settled into her new home, everything is neat and tidy; everything has its place. “Sometimes you just need an outsider to help you along and then it sticks with you. Of course I’ve got to keep it that way, but now I know how to do it.”
“When you cohabitate with others, things aren’t always going to be put back in the same spot,” Jones says. “It’s about trying to create a habit and managing expectations. If everybody knows that the dishes are going to be in either the drawer or the cabinet, that’s where they’re going to go to look for it; that’s where they’re going to go to put it up. It’s just establishing routines.”
It’s also about realizing what works best for your lifestyle. How do you work in the kitchen? What’s the best way for you to manage your paperwork? Do you write out to-do lists?
“People process things differently,” says Jones. “My job is to learn how people process things and come up with systems and solutions for that person, for that family.
“Say you’re working with an artist, so they’re going to have a lot of things out and they’re very visual. They might have things piled up, and you don’t want to go in and say, ‘All right, everything off this table.’ Because that’s not how they work.”
If you’ve got a full house, you might benefit from a few small routine changes. If the home’s entryway, the mudroom, has become a dumping ground for shoes, coats, and athletic equipment, it can help to establish habits of clearing out that area often, only keeping necessary items near the door in order to save time — and minimize stress — when readying to leave the house. “If everybody chips in — and I think it’s good to start kids with this habit, too — then it’s not chaotic in the morning,” Jones says. “If everything you need for tomorrow is already there, you’re not scrambling right before you walk out the door to find it.”
If too much stuff, say in a closet, is an issue, Jones suggests putting similar things together to assess what’s actually needed. When working with clients, “I bring a hang rack, so that we can get things out, make more space, and readily see everything,” she says. “If they have eight pairs of black pants, we pick maybe the top three that fit them the best, that don’t look as worn, and are more of a current style.
“If you’re not using something or you’re not sure and you want to test yourself and see how much you’re using some things, like those pants, there are some tricks you can do,” says Jones. “You can hang the clothes backwards so that you have to push the hanger back toward the wall and pull it toward you, and then if you notice after a month there are several things that have not even been utilized, that might help you in your purge process.”
While the benefits of organizing are many, with regard to time-saving, efficiency, orderliness, and de-stressing, Jones says it’s also satisfying for her to be able to help people reach their organizational goals.
“When you’re done and you take a photo and everyone is smiling, it’s very rewarding,” she says. “Sometimes I get follow-up calls saying, ‘It was such a relaxing morning today; no one was scrambling. It was such a nice change, and we even had time to spare.’’’