Slate has relationships with various online retailers. If you buy something through our links, Slate may earn an affiliate commission. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change. All prices were up to date at the time of publication.
I have a motto my children know well: “If something doesn’t have a place, it can’t stay in our house.” I am a tidy person by nature; I generally detest visual clutter. Having to organize multiple cross-country military moves for our family—and home-schooling our three children—has made my tidiness not just a passion but a necessity. I hunt on Pinterest for the best storage solutions, scroll Instagram to admire well-organized spaces, and binge podcasts about decluttering life. I love organizing the chaos that is my life. I’ve even been known to organize friends’ houses (always with their consent, of course).
It may not feel like it yet, but spring is on the horizon—and it’s never too early to get a jump-start on your spring cleaning, which for me often takes the form of taking stock of our items and reorganizing. Keeping your house neat is truly about identifying a dedicated space for each item in your home. The goal is for spaces to look visually tidy and to be easy to access. It’s a bonus when storage items themselves are pleasing to the eye. All sorts of niche products exist for organizing, but since houses come in all different shapes and layouts, I like to stick to things that can be used in many different ways. That way, the organizational product itself never becomes part of the clutter.
Cords and Electronics
Cord confusion was one of the first problems we had to solve in our latest house. Charging cords were constantly missing! I’ve found them crammed into random drawers and under beds, and I’m convinced some are still lost to the land of missing socks. Enter our electronics charging station. This little stand gives all of our electronic devices a dedicated home. The charging cords stay put, allowing everyone to plug in and check out their device with ease. It even made it easier for our kids to share a Kindle, since they always knew where to find it when it wasn’t in use. I can also easily see who’s using a device, by glancing at the charger and seeing what is missing. It has worked so well for us that I sprang for this bedside charger to use for the devices I like to keep closer at hand.
As for those cords that used to be all over the house, I now group them by type and store them in a photo storage box so that when I need a cord, I know exactly where to find it. They’re also a great place to put extra charging batteries and bricks.
The Small Stuff
I’m of the mind that grouping objects by category can transform a mess into a collection. Survey what items need a new home, determine what can live together, and then find the perfect storage box. I love mDesign’s clear plastic bins to keep my “collections” together. These bins are perfect for the pantry, bathroom, closet, playroom, and home office. Clear bins are also great to use up high, since you can see what is inside of them from afar. Rectangular bins hold boxed pantry items, books, office supplies, and kids’ cups. Wider boxes can accommodate cans in the pantry and less-used office supplies like staplers and hole punches. The mini boxes are handy for small items like bag clips, paper clips, pushpins, and hair ties. I find boxes with lids work well for stacking under the sink, while open-top ones are perfect to organize drawers. If you have way too many water bottles, mDesign has a rack for that too. Using clear storage for everything means you can mix and match and add storage as needed.
If you need to add space or make a space serve two purposes, a three-tiered rolling cart is going to be your new best friend. These carts slip into small spaces and offer a plethora of storage. You can use magnetic hooks and magnetic canisters for additional, more personalized storage. I also like to pair my rolling carts with the aforementioned mDesign bins. We use one of these as an “art cart” where it is full of everything the kids might want to use for an art project. Carts are also perfect for adding storage next to a small desk for your child’s virtual classroom space. It also functions well in a laundry room, pantry, closet (hello hats, scarves, and mittens), home office, or playroom. It’s even cute enough to be an end table.
Picture ledges are a wonderful, easy shelving option. I love to tuck these behind doors and on the side of cabinets to bring some extra storage to small spaces. Books sit comfortably on them facing outward, craft supplies like paints nestle neatly, and pantry items such as spices and rices will be handily within reach. Don’t be deterred by installation: These shelves are a cinch to hang with two (included) screw anchors screwed through the back of the shelf. The hardest part is keeping the shelves level. (Tip: Place your level on the bookshelf as you mount it.)
The Drop Zone
The spot where you enter the house is your “Drop Zone”—the Grand Central Station of any dwelling. When organized, the Drop Zone will speed up departures. When cluttered, it can gum up the whole operation. I like to think of an effectively organized Drop Zone as one that has a space to set things, a space to hang things, and a space for shoes. Of course we would all love to have a beautiful mudroom right at our entry, but most of us don’t. If you have a bit of space, a combo furniture piece like this coat rack/shoe bench will do the trick. Alternatively, you can DIY this look with a hanging shelf and a shoe organizer bench by the door. I love this Honey-Can-Do option because it has a shelf high enough to set your bags and plenty of shoe space but also a large compartment for taller items like umbrellas.
My Personal Favorite
I can’t talk about organization without mentioning my favorite organizational tool of all time: the L.L. Bean canvas tote bag. Since they come in a variety of colors and sizes, with long or short handles, as well as a zip-top or open-top design, they can be customized for so many uses. I use mine for a multitude of kid storage—they sit out in our family room holding everything from blankets to toys and still look cute. I have one just for our library books. They’re my go-to for keeping sport or hobby items like knitting tools together and ready for their next use. I even use them to keep bed linens organized by bed size. (I never did master the fitted sheet fold, so I’ve got to store them somehow.) They’re perfect to stow away at the bottom of a closet, under a low bench, and even under the bed.
The pandemic has upended our lives and forced us to spend more time than we ever thought we would among our belongings. While much of the chaos we’re experiencing is out of our control, we can tame the literal mess in our lives. A warning: It’s very cathartic to do so, and once you start, it is hard to stop. The next thing you know, your pantry will look like it stepped out of The Home Edit.