What. The. BLEEP.

I follow a lot of other professional organizers on Instagram - it’s fun to see what people are working on and get inspiration from their projects! But something I saw the other day really shocked me on a visceral level.

Below a picture of a spare pantry shelf featuring neatly categorized snacks in open wire baskets was a caption with a “pro tip”. The organizer suggested that to give your pantry a desirable, high end look, you should purchase attractive snacks and fancy water (SmartPop and Fiji were mentioned by name), store them in pretty rows and wire baskets, and then… Never. Eat. Them.

WHAT?? Guys. Wait. No. Seriously??

The first pantry I ever organized - nicely labeled and containerized, but still very functional!

The first pantry I ever organized - nicely labeled and containerized, but still very functional!

Let’s unpack this for a second. I’ve been processing this for a few days now, and I’m still just staggered that this organizer is suggesting you devote storage space to things that you do not need and will not consume in order to create a certain look. In a room in your house that NO ONE EVER GOES IN.

First of all, we’ve got the straight up waste. I don’t know about you, but food waste really bothers me. It’s not just a waste of money, but also of the resources used to grow, manufacture, and package the food. Food waste is also a huge environmental problem, taking up space in sewers and landfills. And there are hungry people in this country for goodness’ sake - it’s just extraordinarily poor taste to flaunt never-to-be-touched food in a public forum.

Second of all, this is an epic case of Keeping Up With The Jones’ (or Kardashians, if you’ve seen the pics of their cookie jars that no one eats from). It’s another example of mindless consumption at its least constructive. If you actually eat SmartPop and drink Fiji water, and have large enough pantry in which to store them in pretty wire baskets with lots of white space, awesome! But if you don’t, create your own custom version of a well organized food storage area and live your truth. I find it extremely ethically suspect to recommend that people put on a facade of a lifestyle they do not live. It can only lead to feeling more empty behind that false front.

Another straightforward pantry I organized for a busy young family.

Another straightforward pantry I organized for a busy young family.

And third, we’ve got the total perversion of the entire point of organizing a home. The reason to get organized is to make your life easier. Full stop. Organized living means you spend less time and energy dealing with your stuff, and instead devote those resources to the relationships and activities that truly matter to you. A pantry full of pretty uneaten food contributes to an easier life in exactly zero ways.

I’m just… I’m agog. It’s all well and good to create an aesthetically pleasing home. But to go to this degree in a PANTRY? Where no one goes except the people who live in that house? Just so you can post pictures on social media? Of measuring up to somebody else’s idea of what “high end” is and why that is desirable? I am so squicked out by the whole idea.

I’ve now been helping people organize their homes for over five years. And I can tell you conclusively that happiness does not come from more stuff, or fancier stuff. It comes from feeling love, connection, and contribution. A fake “high end” pantry will not make anyone any happier.


Doing, Not Buying

There are a zillion organizing tips out there in the universe (at least 97% of which originated on Pinterest according to my very unscientific calculations), but there are very few that truly work, and even fewer that don’t require purchasing or making much if anything.  That’s why, even though I’ve never heard of Pure Wow before, their article on the 8 Secrets of People Who Don’t Have Clutter caught my eye.

Photo courtesy of

I stand by each and every one of these tips.  Read them for yourself, and then come back here to find out why:

  1.  I don’t keep gifts I don’t like, and I promise you I don’t feel any guilt.  I’m always grateful for any gift I receive, and make sure to tell the giver so (preferably via thank you note!).  And I can always see how the giver was thinking of me when they selected the gift, even if I don’t love it, and that touches me just as much as The Perfect Gift would. 
  2. Eeeeek… I’m still working on this one.  But I can tell you this: I have things I don’t love in my closet right now, and they’re driving me nuts!
  3. I have to admit, it’s easier to have an all season wardrobe living in a place like San Francisco, where the temperature is pretty much always between 50 and 70 Fahrenheit.  Still, pieces that I own for travel or special activities (think: heavy winter coat, riding boots, fancy hat for teas/lunches) still live in my closet rather than packed away.  It’s always easier to live in the closet you have (with minor feature adjustments like shelves and hooks) than to try to create additional closet space.
  4. Still working on this one too, but together my husband and I have just two small file cabinets that contain things that aren’t easily digitized or should be kept in paper format (home documents, taxes, old photos and letters).
  5. It’s not sexy but it’s true: a good garbage can makes ALL the difference.  In our old house, we used this Simple Human can.  I love it because it has space for both trash and recycling, and it’s sleek enough to leave out.  Plus, it’s easy to clean and contains smells surprisingly well.  In our current home, we’re really enjoying the slide-out bins the previous owners installed under the sink, much like the picture in the article. 
  6. Ok, real talk, I don’t actually wipe down all the surfaces in my home daily.  I’m not particular about a little dust.  But I do declutter said surfaces nearly daily, and my husband wipes down the kitchen counter every time he cooks.  The concept remains sound!
  7. My makeup collection and my closet are both at the one in, one out point, and I’m grappling with when to call it on my shoe collection.  This sounds limiting, I know.  But consider this: ten perfect lipsticks are way better than a jumble of 30 and feeling like you never have quite the right one.
  8. We do not have a junk drawer.  I know, it sounds crazy.  But there’s a logical place for the things that live in junk drawers.  Phone chargers?  Put all cords together in a drawer or basket near where you charge your devices.  Pens?  Put them in jar on your desk and maybe another with a notepad by your land line if you have one.  Coupons?  Create a file folder for those, or perhaps a small envelope bag you keep in your purse.

Photo courtesy of

As ever, this article proves that truly getting organized is about doing rather than buying, and about simplifying rather than complicating.  Be wary of any tips that tell you otherwise – especially if they come from Pinterest!


Living With What Doesn't Work

Let me state for the record that I’m in love with our new house.  It’s cozy, cute, and traditional, with everything we need and nothing we don’t.  It’s the kind of place where I know we’re going to be happy here for many years, and I can see a lovely future of family, friends, dogs, celebrations, and quiet moments unfolding within its walls.

Well… it doesn’t exactly have EVERYTHING we need!

You can learn a lot about your organizational needs by living with something for a little while, and that’s exactly what has happened with our kitchen.  It’s a beautiful, airy space, done in a traditional style I adore – and can you believe that floor?  However, we quickly discovered that the way it’s organized doesn’t work smoothly with our lifestyle and the way we cook.

First, my husband is a really nerdy cook – he likes to use the latest devices and we own all kinds of ridiculous machines and gadgets.  This works out well for me, since he’s always working on something new, inventive, and delicious.  However, we’re finding that there isn’t room in lower cabinets for all these fun toys, and not nearly enough counter space to spread out on.

Second, I’ve always had the feeling that I wouldn’t like living with transparent upper shelving and it turns out that I don’t.  Especially now, when I have to put things in upper storage that I’d prefer to hide behind closed doors like smaller appliances, baking dishes, water bottles, and food storage. This post was oddly prescient!

Third, I grew up with double ovens and a separate cooktop, and I have found the transition to a range with single oven to be cramping my style.  I know these gourmet Wolf ranges are all the rage, but for the way we cook (especially for entertaining) we just need more than one oven!

We had wanted to start our renovation project immediately after move-in, but I’m now grateful that the process has taken long enough for us to be able to live in our space and truly understand what works and what doesn’t.  I think we made a mistake in our previous place of waiting too long to do work we knew we wanted to do (we started after 3 years and moved at 5!), but I do recommend taking some time so that you get the best possible results once you do start making changes.  Our plans have gone through significant revision between move-in and now, so I’m already confident that time was priceless!


Wrangling Kitchen Tools

There are quite a few organizing methods and tricks that I learned basically by osmosis from my parents.   In fact, most of my family is in no way surprised that I’ve made organizing into my life’s work, and trace the genetic talent straight to my dad.  He’s so organized that his home office doesn’t have a door that shuts, and you can’t tell someone works from the desk unless his laptop is open!

Once example of the incredibly organized environment in which I grew up: I didn’t know until shockingly late in life that not all kitchen drawers come pre-made with useful dividers.  Every drawer in our house, in both kitchens and bathrooms, was custom designed for the tools and products it would store.  Moving into my first apartment was an eye opener in many regards, but the sad state of my scattered silverware drawer was certainly one of them.

To this day, I still have not had kitchen drawers with built in dividers.  As it turns out, custom cabinetry is not cheap.  Oh, my sheltered childhood.

Enter inexpensive drawer dividers, such as the ones I own from Crate and Barrel.  This version works perfectly for silverware, and this version works for the variety of lengths of kitchen tools that exist, as well as small items like measuring spoons that defy categorization. 

As with organizing most other things, drawer dividers work best if you group items by function first, and then size if space allows.  There is certainly some discipline required in that you do need to get in the habit of returning things to the exact spot they came from, but the more specific that spot is, the easier it is to create the habit.  And once you do get in that habit, you’ll save so much time that you used to spend digging around trying to find that one particular spatula or whisk.

Now if I could only find a storage scheme for spices that would hold more than 15 varieties, my kitchen would really be set!


The Organized Smitten Kitchen

Do you read Smitten Kitchen?  If you don’t, and you love food, you should!  Deb Perelman takes a voracious appetite, a cramped NYC kitchen, and a disdain for fussiness and mixes them all into a seriously addictive food blog.  I’ve tried a couple of her recipes and they are very easy to follow and come out just as she describes: delicious.

Part of Deb’s success is that she is so accessible: as a cook, a writer, and a personality.  That’s why I was so delighted to discover this piece on how she organizes her kitchen: How I Organize My Food Cabinets: Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen.  Deb’s strategies are just like her blog: simple, visually appealing, and accessible to the average person.  Her food storage doesn’t look perfectly curated a la Pinterest, but everything is visible and the system works for her.

My food storage looks an awful lot like Deb’s, in fact.  Food storage takes up three upper cabinets over our stovetop, which is tight but manageable.  I store everything by category (all baking items together, olive oils and vinegars together, dried beans and rice together) and accessibility (tea, coffee, and sugar/sweetener needs to be readily available, as does salt and pepper, but the stockpile of chicken broth can live higher up).

I also use clear containers, but so far I have gotten away with not labeling them.  I like these OXO plastic sealing containers instead of glass canisters because they’re a little bit less cumbersome and stack well together (pro tip: rectangular containers always use less space than circular ones).  I know it's tempting, but don't buy one of the pre-selected sets with different sizes because inevitably you won't have all the right sizes for the right foods. Instead, figure out which items you need to store in which quantities and then order the correct size containers individually.

Don’t forget that your food storage area or pantry (my kingdom for a pantry… sigh!) should be organized on a regular basis just like your closet.  Things expire, turn weird colors, or just plain never get used, and getting rid of those will make more room for things you actually need for cooking and baking!


Getting Organized ≠ Buying More Stuff

One of my favorite guilty pleasures is picking up a trashy magazine or two for an airplane ride.  So, this past weekend, for the quick trip to Palm Springs with some girlfriends, I happily hit the newsstand.  And immediately realized I’m getting older, because instead of heading for Glamour I went straight for Martha Stewart Living!

Let me be clear: I love me some Martha.  She has great recipes (this salted caramel chocolate cake is finicky – let’s talk about layers slip-sliding away – but phenomenally delicious), great ideas, and one of the most powerful, well-positioned brands the world has ever known.  I bow down to her.

However.  Sometimes magazines publish articles to encourage you to buy more things rather than to truly solve a problem, and even my beloved Martha Stewart Living is no exception.  As an example, this month’s issue featured the headline “Cut the Clutter: 47 Simple Organizing Solutions.”  As you might imagine, I was eager to read more!

An article on creating order in the bathroom starts with a photo of some shelving in what appears to be a pretty standard sized bathroom.  It looks beautiful – of course!  In order to re-create this for yourself, you’d need to go purchase at least 4 storage bins ($25 each at Crate and Barrel) and assorted bamboo trays.

But imagine trying to use this bathroom, especially if you’re a particularly visual person.  Opaque storage containers are stacked such that you’d need to lift either one out of the shelf to even see what’s inside it.  Small, breakable items are stored in front of said opaque storage containers you’d need to be moving around frequently.  And loose items are stored vertically above eye level, so you can’t see the colors or labels on the bottles.

You’ve bought some pretty boxes, but you might not actually be organized due to the difficulty of locating and actually using the items you stored!  Now, those boxes are ripe to become additional clutter in your home.


Moving out of the bathroom, a following page recommends various products designed to contain clutter.  Again, beauty is paramount here!  But I find myself asking: how much clutter are you containing with these items, and how much are you creating?  The long lidded spice box, for example ($160 at it’s the rare person who would use spices often enough to prevent them from going stale in an unsealed container like this.   Plus, many home cooks will keep many more than 10 spices on hand at a time!  By taking this purchase recommendation, you likely still have the myriad little bottles elsewhere in your kitchen.  That pretty little box didn’t help you get organized at all.

Organization is personal, and I always recommend that my clients carefully consider the way they think about and use items before we decide how to organize and store them.  What works for Martha may not work for you – and that’s ok!  As with all things media, use a critical eye when reading over organizing tips, and pick and choose those things that will actually help you get organized, rather than create more clutter for you to deal with.


Organization Inspiration: Start with the kitchen

I recently came across this great slideshow from Elle Decor: 14 Hyper Organized Kitchens


The kitchen: the center of most homes, and therefore a place with a serious tendency to devolve into chaos!  At the same time, organizing your kitchen in a way that works for you and your family will have an equally serious payoff in your everyday life.

One thing that jumps out at me from this article is the trend of glass front cabinets and open upper cabinet shelving. 

My thoughts?  It can be a beautiful look for the right kind of household.  Keeping a kitchen like this looking organized requires a bit more work since you can’t just shove things into cabinets and close doors (not that I have ever done this…).  At the same time, if you like organization and feel like you need a little shove in that direction, a more open storage system could give you the push you need.

If you’re considering this contemporary look for your kitchen, my advice would be to go open your kitchen cabinets.  Right now!  Don’t move anything!  Would you be happy if every day, your kitchen shelves looked just like this?  If yes, the open shelving style may work for you. 

We recently had our kitchen cabinets repainted, so the doors were off for a few weeks, and I have to admit that having everything open drove me crazy.  My cabinets are pretty organized, but the feeling of STUFF hanging down from the walls got overwhelming, and then of course there’s always that one shelf where you shove all the bottles and cans you rarely use.   I prefer the clean look of closed cabinets – but as you’ll see, I tend toward a pretty traditional esthetic at my house!

That said... the article hits one nail on the head.  In-drawer organization, whether custom as shown in this photo or purchased from a home store, will change your life.