Get Organized in Style

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So you’ve decided to tackle those piles of photographs, books and other home clutter by using a smart storage system. Your options are endless: bins, shelves, notebooks, scrapbooks and labels. But how do you make these often-utilitarian solutions gel with the rest of your home’s décor?

Those helpful plastic and metal containers can take up a lot of space. Plus, just because you’ve cordoned off your debris doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve improved your home environment.

“You have to strive to fit in organization so that it doesn’t scream ‘organization,’ ” said professional organizer Justin Klosky. “It’s about improving the overall aesthetic of your home. It’s a lifestyle and mindset.”

Anything that can add décor while also being a storage device is an A-plus for me.

Professional organizer Justin Klosky

Taking Stock

Home organization experts say the market is so flooded with tempting clutter-taming options that many people dive right in and fall prey to systems that don’t make sense for their home. No matter how much you love a set of stacking trays or matching bins, you can’t avoid the crucial first step in Organizing 101: cleaning up and sorting out.

People can actually make their homes more visually distracting and less effective if they don’t analyze their belongings before they try to store them, said organizing and time management expert Julie Morgenstern. “To get a real integrated solution, you should organize your stuff before you go looking for products,” she said. “Containerizing is the last step rather than the first.”

Those who don’t sort and purge first end up buying too little or not enough storage devices, or they sink money into a decorative pattern that may not work with the rest of the house, Morgenstern said.

“There are so many organizational products that it can be overwhelming,” she said. “People pick what’s convenient and what’s in the moment. They don’t think of it in terms of how it will work in the context of their homes.”

Morgenstern recommended sorting and categorizing similar items that you want to organize, getting rid of duplicate items or those you don’t use, assigning a space for each category and then separating the belongings into containers.

“Once you know what you have and where it will live, you can shop strategically,” she said.

Sorting first is so important to Klosky as to be an indispensable part of the process. “I can’t work with a client," he said, "if I can’t pull everything out and look at it.”

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Thinking Outside the Box

Some of the best organizational options can be hidden in furniture or found in other items around your home. Adults might take a cue from their children when looking for storage repurposing ideas, Klosky said.

He has found a new purpose — a fish tank — for the shell of an old computer monitor. “Children don’t think twice about using something in a way that it wasn’t originally intended for,” he said. “Adults see things like a computer and think that it only has one use: as a computer.”

He recommended turning an old trunk into a coffee table: Use the inside for storage and have a piece of glass cut for the top.

“You can repurpose anything, but it actually has to have a purpose,” Klosky cautioned. “Anything that can add décor while also being a storage device is an A-plus for me. It gives you space for things that you want to keep, but you have to do it in a meaningful way.”

Homeowners determined to pare down should look for dual-purpose furniture, like ottomans that have built-in storage, Klosky said. He uses one in his office to store his desk supplies.

Morgenstern said bookshelves lined up back to back may be used to divide a big room while giving you two sides of storage — maybe one side for a parent’s book collection and the other side for the children's books.

She also recommended using varying sizes of jewelry boxes as section dividers inside desk or utility drawers.

Klosky likes to make framed collages using similar items, such as photographs or a personal collection.

“Some of the things that people hold on to, like a collection of ticket stubs, can be displayed in a creative way,” he said. “And you’ve added an art element to your home. It brings something special that wasn’t already there.”

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Keeping It Going

All that creative thinking and clutter-containing can be for nothing if you don’t keep your items in your new storage system, the organizers said. And homeowners, Morgenstern said, must practice living within their organized environment so that it doesn’t return to its formerly cluttered state.

“You need to store things where you’ll use them and put them back when you’re finished,” she said. “It’s about maintaining routine.”

Klosky cringes when people make an effort to contain clutter through clever storage but don’t clear off surfaces at the end of the day.

“You don’t need your entire toiletry collection on your bathroom sink,” he said.

Becoming mindful about putting things away after you use them can go a long way toward having an organized life, he said.

“When things pile up, purge," he advised. "When things come into your home, do something with them. If you left out every single thing that you use on an everyday basis, can you imagine your life?”

5 Common Items You Don't Need to Keep

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Because your storage space is valuable, you should just toss or donate some things, said organizational expert Justin Klosky. Here are five items that people commonly hang onto longer than they should.

Boxes. Whether it’s from your new phone or a camera, after 30 days you can throw it out.

Broken appliances. If you replace an appliance with a new one, get rid of the old one.

Silverware. You decide you need more than eight place settings, so you buy a 12-piece set. Get rid of the eight-piece set unless you plan on regularly entertaining 20 people.

Newspapers and magazines. Keep a few meaningful copies from an event or a particular year and recycle the rest.

Clothing. Even if you think you might wear it someday, if a year has passed since you last wore it, it’s time for it to go.