Being organized can seem boring and tedious until you find yourself in a state of chaos. And despite being a type A at fault, I recently found myself in such a predicament in my one-bedroom apartment in New York. In the midst of several writing projects, a new dog, and a busy social schedule, I found a long top shelf in my hall closet stocked with everything from dog leashes to gifts to tote bags, my kitchen cupboards full of pots and placemats, and my closet full of nice clothes that I hardly ever wore. No matter what I did to try to impose order – bins, folding, stacking – nothing seemed to last. I felt physically and mentally drained by the lack of structure and organization, until one day I realized: What if I wasn’t supposed to find a solution on my own? What if I used a professional organizer instead?
So I called on two such experts: NEAT Method Founder Louisa Roberts and Shelfie Home Founder Sara Losonci. I intentionally reached out to two companies to see if they would have similar or different advice and methods. Spoiler alert: many of their suggestions overlapped, which made me even more convinced that these tips were universal principles that could be applied to many different people and spaces. And it turned out that these two experts would make all the difference.
Read on to discover the lessons I learned from two renowned professional organizers as they took me and my space from frazzled to serene in three short days.
The results you get with a professional organizer aren’t necessarily something you can always accomplish on your own. “Professional organizers have a fresh look,” Roberts told me. “Sometimes it’s hard for people to see the problems within their systems, or even that they lack systems because they live there every day.”
In my case, this lack of system was felt most strongly in my hallway closet. The top shelf had become a catch-all for items I didn’t use every day – umbrellas, sunglasses, candles, gifts – and some I did use, like dog leashes and sunglasses. Sun. It seemed impossible to bring order or ease of use to any of these elements, and I didn’t know how to group them together for easy access or use.
When the NEAT method arrived to organize, they grouped items by use – dog, gift, rain – and designated a physical home for each. Items I would most likely use every day, like dog gear and sunglasses, were assigned shelves on compartments behind the door ordered from the Container Store. Separate bins were then made for things I reached for less often, like gifts and backup candles – and these were labeled in clear boxes and stored according to how often I would need them : Christmas decor is furthest at the back of the top long shelf now, while the candles I often reach for are closer to the middle of the shelf for easy access.
Keep clutter to a minimum
Losonci also emphasized to me the importance of bringing in someone who doesn’t have an emotional attachment to things that might unnecessarily clutter your home. “We make it super easy for our customers to navigate through all of their stuff in a way that isn’t overwhelming,” she told me. “And because we don’t have an emotional attachment to their articles, we offer a different perspective to help people purge what doesn’t feel threatening and even motivating.”
In effect. When Losonci came to help me with my closet and drawers, she and her Shelfie Home team started by pulling out each belt, ballerina and cardigan and grouping them by item on the floor. This made it easy for him to spot what a customer has too much – does anyone really need nine black t-shirts? – then get rid of them. This is an essential first step to organization: make sure everything you organize is actually in your space in the first place.
See the puzzle pieces
Another huge benefit of working with a professional organizer – especially in a small space – is working with someone who can see where opportunities to maximize space are being missed and how to rearrange things into the optimal configuration. “It’s a giant puzzle,” Losonci told me. “And you’ve gotten off the beaten track. For example, adjusting a shelf or moving dishes into a drawer instead of having them in a cabinet, then moving items into the drawer.
In my case, it was like repatriating the 14 sweaters I had crammed into three shallow drawers in a vertical shelving solution Losonci had created in my closet. Taking freestanding shelves from the Container Store, she built a sweater rack in my closet where the sweaters now live. Without being crammed into drawers, they hold their shape and I see what I have at a glance. The final result ? I end up wearing a lot more of my sweaters, and they look less wrinkled.
Other major changes that Losonci and his team made to my closet were the installation of drawer dividers in my dresser, which allowed me to not only keep things in designated spaces, but also to see what that I actually own. Everything had been stacked before, but now it was easier for me to spot individual shirts, for example, which again led me to wear a lot more of what I owned. My closet is now organized by type of clothing and color, and the bags each live with clear dividers that keep them upright on my top shelf.
Maximize small spaces
Especially living in a city like New York, space is often limited. This was especially true in my kitchen, where my recent attempts to learn to cook had resulted in a proliferation of equipment, ranging from a sublime Hestan chef’s casserole to lemon zesters and oven mitts. Attempting to cram all of my new cooking utensils into four small cupboards resulted in everything being largely mixed together, with the ironic end result of not using much equipment at all.
The NEAT method was able to bring order to the madness, maximizing every square inch of space in every drawer and cupboard to make my kitchen more functional and beautiful. Embarrassingly, they pointed out a drawer at the bottom of my oven that I didn’t know existed before, and filled it with my baking dishes and pans. Rotating trays of various sizes grouped spices, oils and even bottles of liquor in their own areas, while making them easily accessible for cooking and serving as a bar. Transparent pantry boxes divided like similar items, and drawer dividers, door hooks and freestanding shelves created space and order where there was none before.
keep it simple
I planned on needing to buy a huge amount of organizing supplies to get my whole house in order. But it turned out that was not the case. Losonci and Roberts both raided the Container Store on my behalf to get their chic and serene results, and the NEAT method also offered wonderful storage solutions like cubes and turntables. But I gave them a limited budget to work with, and they were able to achieve transformative results with it.
The only other organization solutions I incorporated into the space were two that I needed to buy for a long time. The first was a tech charging station to replace the Apple brick charger I plugged into various misplaced outlets around my apartment. Courant’s Catch:2 charging station now gives me the ability to charge on a Belgian linen and Italian leather dock that feels like a design object itself. And the dirty clothes that had been formally piled up in a shallow basket now live in an elegant Senegalese laundry basket with a lid which is another product that has made my life easier while making my apartment even more beautiful.
The result of working with The NEAT Method and Shelfie Home is a more organized home than I could have ever done myself, and a real pleasure to live in. Because I can see what I have more clearly and access it without any drama, I end up using more of my stuff too, from cooking utensils to candles, which has had the effect of making my home more alive and more alive.
Even with these systems in place, Roberts stressed the importance of maintaining a newly organized home. “Being organized isn’t one and done,” she told me. “Even large systems can break down after a busy work week or vacation. It’s important to remember that occasional touch-ups are still needed to maintain the system. She recommended allowing 15-20 minutes each Sunday to s sure everything is in its place before the week ahead. And given the sense of calm and joy that my professionally curated apartment now gives? It’s time I’m more than happy to spend on it. ‘maintain.