Questions: If the problem with getting organized is not having enough time, why are there so many books on organizing? If people don't have the time to clean up their act and get their stuff together, how on earth do they have the time to read a book about it?
Reading a book on organizing is like reading a book on exercising. Unless you're reading on the treadmill, you're missing the point.
Whenever I see an organizing or exercise book, I think of a book my mom had on her nightstand when I was a girl. “Pray Your Weight Away.” Now I admit I could use a little more faith, but prayer for pounds?
Come on! We all know how to get our homes and bodies in shape.
That's what I liked about a new magazine I stumbled upon this week, “The Best of Martha Stewart Living Organizing.” It assumes you already know how to get organized and that you should. The special issue wastes little time and space (two pages) reviewing organizing basics, which I can cover here even faster:
Sort stuff. Purge what you don't want or need or has expired. (Ahem, those frozen three-year-old tuna steaks from your neighbor's deep sea adventure?)
Put like with like. (No spoons with screwdrivers).
Store stuff where you use it. (Mustard out of the medicine chest.)
Arrange by size and shape.
Get containers, shelves and bins as needed to fit edited stuff.
Have a place for everything. Keep it there.
There. Done, in 50 words, minus my asides.
After that came the inspiring part. Martha Stewart's organizing issue (on newsstands now) takes organizing to the next level. (I know, you're shocked! This from a woman who grows and dries her own lavender to make sachets. But stay with me.)
What the publication illustrates so well is this: It's one thing to be neat and organized, and quite another to be beautifully so. Stewart's team has kicked organizing up a notch, so much that even those who work for Stewart found ways to improve.
Kevin Sharkey, executive editorial director of decorating at Martha Stewart Living, whose home is featured in the issue — so he really is living the dream — said working on the issue got him revisit an area in his home that needed better-looking organization.
“My cleaning supplies needed spiffing,” he confided.
“Cleaning is tough enough, but if you can't find the Comet, you might just bag the idea altogether,” I say, trying to relate, though it's difficult, considering this was his biggest organizing problem.
“First, I made sure I had everything I wanted available,” he said. “Then I decanted the supplies into bins, and labeled the bins.”
“Good thinking,” I said. “I mean, you wouldn't want to confuse the Clorox with the vodka.”
“I resisted labeling at first.”
“It does seem like an exercise for campers.”
“But it's essential!”
“It must look nicer, getting rid of all those loud, obnoxious, pushy labels: Windex, Tide, Vanish!”
“Products look so much better decanted. It's calming. You're not bombarded.”
Now that we've bonded, I ask, “How can we coach readers to stop reading and start getting their stuff together?”
“Tell them life is only going to get busier and more complicated,” Starkey said. “So pause. Invest energy in something you can control. Take our advice, and have a better future.”
Simple. Now don't just sit there. Move!
The special issue has succinct advice and loads of photos illustrating ways to beautifully organize every space in the house. I sifted through and selected my favorite take-aways:
High-level thinking. Enlist your walls and ceilings. Hanging pots over the kitchen island is one of Stewart's favorite kitchen moves. Installing high shelves, say over interior doors and windows, and painting them to match a room's molding, adds architectural interest and useful perches.
Decant — Commercial packaging's job is to get your attention so you put the product in your cart. Once that's done, contents don't need to shout at you anymore. Products, whether for kitchen, bath or laundry — look better decanted into canisters and bins. “It's an extra step once, then it's easy to maintain,” says Starkey.
Label it. Putting labels on canisters is essential so you don't confuse the canary food with the wild rice.
Show it off. Chances are you picked your dishes and stemware because you liked them. Open cupboard systems let you put collections on display and make them more accessible.
Hidden opportunities. Look for ways to maximize unused space. If you have several inches over your coffee cups, install hooks in the shelf above, or put in wire stacking racks to make use of that overhead compartment. The back of a door in a closet or bathroom is another opportunity to have a few (not just one) towel bars, or racks for ties, belts and scarves.
Seeing is using. When stuff in front blocks what's behind from view, you either don't use it, or you buy it again. Lazy Susans and rollout shelves help. So does stacking belongings edges out so all items are visible.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.