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organizing ideas that look neat

This is a guest post by Kayla Matthews. She is a productivity blogger and efficiency enthusiast. You can find her on ProductivityTheory.com, on The Huffington Post, and on Google+ and Twitter.

I respect the “organized chaos” types out there. You guys amaze me with your ability to leave things piled up on tables and workspaces, with no intention of cleaning them up or filing them away. Many days, I wish I could be more like you.

Instead, I’m the crazy person trying to keep as many miscellaneous papers and objects off coffee tables and bathroom countertops as possible.

For organizing nerds like me, Pinterest and other online communities offer tons of ideas for ways you can organize your home. Lots of them are do-it-yourself projects that make fun hobbies, too.

But there’s a balance between DIY organization and just making more clutter. Refurbished tin cans as storage organizers are all well and good, but do you actually need them?

Before you begin any DIY project, let alone a home makeover, make a list of problem areas. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What slows you down in the morning?
  • What do you always have a hard time finding?
  • What feels like it takes too long?

Look for these problem areas, and you’ll know where to get started. I examined my own trouble spots when it comes to organization and came up with some ideas on how to speed up my work flow and pretty things up a bit, too.

1. Think Outside the Box — MacGyver Style

You might not know it, but you’re on the fast track to becoming a DIY maverick. The hardest organizational lesson to learn is to use common household objects for a purpose other than intended. Here are a few examples:

Shower curtain rings: You can pick up a pack of clear shower curtain rings for less than $2, but you can pick up prettier rings that match your décor for a few bucks more. Attach the rings to hangers, and you have an organized place to hang scarves.

Want to display your scarves? Decorate a wooden hanger to your taste and hang it on the wall, line it with shower curtain rings, and voila – personal wall art and scarf organization.

Tension rods: Unsung organizational heroes, tension rods can solve a thousand problems around the home. My favorite solution, though, is for under sinks.

My kitchen and bathroom sink cabinets always devolve into disorder after a few months of cleaning. They’re my least favorite places to rummage through, and I always end up doing just that.

Instead of fighting through layers of cleaning products, attach a tension rod across the top of the cabinet. Now you have a way to hook cleaning supplies above the mess. You can simply reach in and take out what you need.

2. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle — Using What You’ve Got

recycle things

One of the side benefits of organization is that you’ll end up with less trash. Think about how you can reuse packaging — especially the packaging that takes forever to degrade in landfills — around your home.

Soda boxes: You know the refrigerator soda can boxes — the long, slim ones? Once emptied, cover the box in wrapping paper and use it in your pantry for canned goods. Many of us buy things like cream of chicken or even chicken stock in bulk. This provides you with a space-saving solution that pretties up your pantry.

Tissue boxes: The nice thing about repurposing tissue boxes is that they’re often already well decorated. Once a box is empty, stuff it with plastic bags. I use plastic bags for kitty litter and dog waste. Yes, I do my best to use fabric reusable bags, but somehow I always end up acquiring more bags.

Cell phone storage: One of my favorite DIY projects is a cell phone holder. We have to plug them in every day, and I bet more than a few of us place them on the floor occasionally. Why not pretty up the room with a colorful cell phone holder instead?

Take a lotion bottle, preferably one with flat sides that will be able to lie against the wall, and cut the top off. Cut the front of your lotion bottle a few inches lower than the back, so you can easily fish out your phone. The back of the bottle needs a hole the size of your phone’s charging plug. The plug will go through the hole into the wall outlet, supporting the bottle and your phone.

Decorate the holder to your taste, and you’ll have a cell phone holder that slips easily from wall to purse and frees up desk space. There are other versions involving fabric and grommets, but what you do depends how creative you want to be.

3. Fight Countertop Clutter


When it comes to countertops, less is always more. Only keep absolute essentials (frequently used items) in the open. My essentials include the:

  • Coffee maker
  • Toaster
  • Microwave
  • Blender

Everything else has no reason to be left on the countertop. However, I also live in an apartment with limited cabinet space. So what’s the solution to countertop clutter when you’re out of storage?

Stack It

I’m not talking piles. I mean tiers. Look into tiered baskets, countertop extenders or even adding a utility shelf to your kitchen.

A utility shelving system might sound unattractive, but a simple chrome shelf can add a touch of professional kitchen flair. Consider using the shelf to house your microwave, which frees up more counter space. I also store most of my clear containers on the utility shelf, because it encourages me to stay organized — no one wants to see clutter in the open — and the colors of the objects in the container can increase the aesthetics in the kitchen. Think dried peppers, cake sprinkles, and the like.

Hang What Can’t Be Stacked

Some things just can’t be stacked. Think about how you can utilize wall or even ceiling space to organize your pots and pans and cutlery. Hooks from the wall and ceiling can show off your copper pots and pans and save you from rustling in the cupboards.

4. Containers — Clean Up the Trinkets


Containers are the double-edged sword of the DIY organizer. Over the years, I’ve defaulted to only using clear containers for several reasons. They force you to:

  • Remain organized
  • Stay clean
  • Use the contents as decorations

Spices: I love to cook, but hate wasting time digging for spices. Plus, I used to never remember what I needed at the store because it was so difficult to itemize my spices. Two magnetic-involved recommendations for cleaning up your spice storage are:

  • Using your refrigerator door for your spices
  • Attaching a magnetic surface to the wall above the stove.

Use spice canisters with a clear top, so you can easily see which spices you need to stock up on.

Bathroom: Again, use a tiered method when organizing your bathroom. Everything from cotton swabs to cotton balls and nail polish can be stored in clear, stackable containers. You’ll be able to find things quickly, and they’ll add a splash of color to the room.

Pasta: Another decorative idea for the kitchen, clear containers used for pasta can provide texture and a focal point. Pasta’s tasty and pretty.

5. Waste Not, Want Not — Use Every Cabinet Surface

We line our shelves with stuff, because that’s what shelves are for, but we forget to use the rest of its surfaces.

Inside Cabinet Doors: I’ve seen multiple uses for the wasted space inside a cabinet. The use of the back of a cabinet door depends on how much depth is available. If there are a few inches available before the shelf hits the door, consider adding a small shelf to the back of the door to hang cooking utensils or store less-frequently used spices.

If no depth is available, either paint the inside of the cabinet with chalkboard paint for quick note taking for grocery day or hang a notepad for the same purpose. Or, if you’re feeling extra creative, add an entire organizer to the inside of the door. Anything that speeds up grocery shopping is always a plus.

Underside of Hanging Cabinets: Think about what takes up too much shelf space and sort out how you can hang it here. This area is on display, so consider hanging wine glasses or storing wine bottles in this space.

Outside Cabinet Door: Yes, there’s space here too! Just think carefully before you modify the outside of your cabinets. Lining the front of every cabinet with notepads will look cluttered. That’s not to say that one notepad will ruin anything. You could also attach a magnetic surface to the outside of a cabinet, but be aware that you’ll be risking rental unit repairs if you don’t own the property.

6. How Pegboards Save Your House

If you’ve never used a pegboard before, you’re in for a treat. Pegboards are for much more than just hooks. You can attach shelves and baskets to a pegboard, too. You can reorganize the wall to meet whatever size restraints are necessary. They’re the most flexible organizational tool on the market.

Utility Closet: Remember our talk about using all of a cabinet’s space? That applies to closets, too. Attach a pegboard to the back of the utility closet for easy access to cleaning supplies.

Art supplies: It’s pretty safe to assume that a DIYer has some interest in crafting. Organization is an art, right? Use pegboards to sort and store your art supplies. You can line the walls of your craft room, the interior doors of closets, or even the back wall of the closet.

Garage: Organizing the garage is one of those chores my parents used to make me do every summer. I still dread it. To get around this recurring event, I started using pegboards for organizing tools. If it doesn’t have a home, it doesn’t have a place in the garage.

7. Make Personal Accessories Double as Home Decor

Prepping for the day takes time. If you’re a woman, applying makeup, fixing your hair, and finding accessories takes even more time — time that’s magnified exponentially when you can’t find the right lipstick or earrings. Speed things up with some of these tips specific for your bedroom and bathroom:

The Bedroom

Frames: Do you like shabby chic? Think eye hooks, fabric, and ornate frames. Repurpose frames of any size, so you can hang jewelry and other accessories from them. I stick to things that I wear frequently, so it looks less cluttered. Plus, my favorite pieces also add the most display zing.

Jewelry Block: Simple to make and one of the best ways to display your statement pieces, a jewelry block involves taking a small block of wood – about 2″ x 2″ – and attaching a dowel rod before hanging it on the wall. Most people seem to prefer staining the wood, while I opted for making the woodblock a bright color.

The Bathroom

Baskets: Again, even though we’re organizing, we’re decorating, too. What everyday objects do you use in the bathroom that are also pretty? Think brushes and combs, flat irons, and even face wash.

Hooks: Still need more space or want to avoid baskets? Use the cords of your hair accessories to hang them on hooks from the wall.

Tiered Trays: If you have counter space available, a great way to clean up bathroom clutter is by using tiered trays. You can make your own using candlesticks and patterned plates. Make your own three-tiered tray with a dinner, salad, and tea cup plate.

Magnetic Strips: I hate digging for hair accessories. I often use a wide array of bobby pins to adjust my hair style – and many of these pins are pretty snazzy. I added a magnetic strip to the wall beside the mirror, so all my metal hair accessories are on display. No more digging in containers and baskets for the right look.

8. When in Doubt, Rip It Out

Sometimes no amount of DIYing can save your storage space. If no organizational tip can rescue your cabinets, it’s probably time to call in experts. If you’re scoffing, watch the old movie The Money Pit. Don’t let that be you.

Sometimes there just isn’t enough room, especially if you’ve recently moved into an older home with cupboards suited for a smaller family or, worse, if they’re damaged.

Some of us have taken on fixer-upper homes thinking it’ll be a dream to make a house exactly the way we want it. But if the job is too big, don’t hesitate to call in experts. Places like Just Cabinets and Houzz offer a variety of storage styles and price ranges, so you don’t have to DIY a new bookcase from scratch.

9. Desk Organization

So much depends on whether you’re at work or in a home office, but either way, you have many options to organize your desk. First, make a list of objects that need to be kept close at hand. The rest needs to be cleared from the desktop. But how?

Frames: Do you have an 8×10 frame laying around? Instead of blowing up a photo, line the inside of the frame with cardboard and then hot glue it with fabric. Add a few layers of fabric at different heights so you have a few pockets. You can still pin a smaller photo in the frame, but now you have room for pens, notes, and important business cards.

Dry Erase Board: Dry erase markers work just fine on glass, so do away with sticky notes forever with a dry erase board made from an 8×10 frame. If you’re out of wall space or forbidden from hanging new things, this will work for you. Line the back of the frame with a light colored fabric, replace the glass, and write on the glass of your new dry erase board.

Hang Clipboards: Constantly in and out of your office with meetings? Instead of frantically looking for specific folders, set up specific clipboards for specific meetings. Color code or decorate these clipboards so you can easily identify what notes are kept on what clipboard, and then mount them on the wall. They’ll make wonderful display pieces, be handily within reach, and will also show your boss you’re on top of things.

Use the Underside of Your Desk: I don’t mean the floor space beneath your desk, but the bottom side of the tabletop. Just like cabinets, there’s space to be used! Use screw hooks to hang wire baskets for additional storage and keep frequently used books and notepads close at hand. Or even hang a one-level wine rack and use it to store tins of office supplies.

Tier It: OK, so this is a repeating concept, but it’s a good one. You need your desk kept clean, which limits the amount of space. So stack things up. Tiered plates probably won’t be quite as useful on an office desk, but consider painting and stacking tins on their side for easy access to pens, pencils, and other accessories.

10. Entryway Order

The chaos of entering and leaving your home can always stand some improvement, especially when it comes to making things look nice. Your entryway is the first thing people see when they step into your home, so not only is it important to streamline your entrance and exit, but you want it to look good, too.

Cubbies: If you’ve got more than a two-person household, getting out of the house in the morning can be an event. Create cubbies for each member of the household using sturdy crates. Place a decorative coat hanger above the cubby for book bags, purses, and coats, and ask each family member to store their shoes neatly in the cubby. No more frantic running around before the school bus comes. Everything should be kept in a cubby.

Baskets: If you aren’t feeling crates for storage in the hallway, consider shelving with a coat hook for each family member. Have each person paint his or her own tin bin to be kept under the hook for shoes and backpacks.

Divided Baskets: Another organizational option is to share a divided basket on a table in the entry hall. Keys, sunglasses, and other individual items can be kept out to help make your commute a bit faster every day.

Find your own balance between style and organization. Sometimes being organized isn’t enough – you also have to add your own flair to make it work for you.

Focus on one task a week, and you’ll have your home and office in order before summer is in full swing.

What are your go-to organizing strategies? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below!

Did you like this? Then you’ll love our free Asian Efficiency training. It’s completely free and we’ll show you our top 3 productivity hacks that helped us save hours. Sign up here for the next available time slot.hackswebinar

Images by Kaboompics, Life of Pix, Public Domain Archive, and Kaboompics

This is a guest post by Kayla Matthews. She is a productivity blogger and efficiency enthusiast. You can find her on ProductivityTheory.com, on The Huffington Post, and on Google+ and Twitter.

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. These are great ideas. Half of the furniture in my apartment I either made myself out of pallet wood or recovered from the trash. Seriously, no reason to waste money people…

    Great post!


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