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An organizer’s neatest tricks can improve your home

Rachel Strisik Rosenthal, owner of a professional organizing firm called Rachel and Company, answers questions about home organization:

Q. I don’t have a mudroom, laundry room or even a coat closet on my main floor. And the front foyer is adjacent to the kitchen, our messiest and most lived-in area. I’ve tried all sorts of tricks, but it’s just hard to keep things organized, so there’s no “dumping” area that’s private.

A. Even though you don’t have a private area for these “mudroom”-type items, you can still create an area by the door that is organized enough for even guests to see. The trick is to use vertical space. There are many ways to do this. Hang hooks on the wall near the door to hang up coats, scarves and backpacks to get them off the floor and out of the way. You can also try adding a bookshelf to the area; you can store shoes on the bottom shelf and use baskets to store things on the other shelves such as mittens, sunglasses and more.

Q. I started working from home about a year ago, and although I was very tidy in my actual office, my home office is just a mess. I am so unmotivated and feel like everything is just so blah. I find that when I like my furniture, I tend to keep the room organized. I don’t really want to purchase a new desk at this point, so I was wondering whether you had any recommendations for perking up my home office.

A. It can be really hard to find motivation when you make the transition to working from home, but a few changes can make a huge difference. In my office, I love to use products from www.poppin.com. They come in really fun colors and are the most inspiring office supplies I’ve come by. Just adding a little color to your desk can make all the difference, and these double as organization tools. I also recommend spending 10 minutes at the end of your workday to organize and clean up. Recycle any paper you no longer need, make sure your to-do list is in order for the next day and put away any supplies or papers that you used.

Q. My whole house just seems out of control, and I really want to get organized for spring. I just have no idea where to begin, so I find myself not starting at all. Do you have any suggestions on how I can get started?

A. I advise people to start with short amounts of time (20 minutes) or with one drawer. If you are able to break down your projects into smaller steps, you will be able to complete tasks such as getting your kitchen organized in a realistic time frame. Otherwise, you will go on an organizing “binge” for four hours straight and not want to go back to things. Write down your goals for getting organized this spring. Write down (on paper or an electronic device) the areas you want to tackle and start from there. I am also a big fan of “editing” an area first, creating a system to maintain the space, layering back in the aesthetics you want for the space and then figuring out if products need to be involved to complement things.

Q. I am sure I am not the only one out there to complain about this, but I have no closet space. I live in a 1940s home, and the closet I am using in my bedroom has no room for what I own. I have a wall in my bedroom that might offer a solution, closet-wise, but again I am at a loss. I have heard of closet companies that build out your closets. Is this something you would recommend?

A. You are not alone. Older houses typically have less closet space, so I recommend clients be creative in their storage solutions. There are definitely solutions through closet companies that can help maximize the space you do have. When I work with closet companies, I make sure to take into account what the client owns, how they live (do you wear dress pants to work or jeans?), etc., as all these things should go into how you build your new closet. There are also other solutions, and you mentioned the wall that you have. I am also a big fan of the Elfa system from the Container Store and think this might be an option for giving you more clothing storage on the wall that you do have. Finally, at every big-box store there are products that will help maximize the closet space you do have.

Q. My boyfriend is a bit of a pack rat and I’m kind of a minimalist. I can live with his pack-rat ways if things are organized. We have a bunch of bookshelves, organization units, etc., on pretty much every wall of our apartment. Do you have any suggestions for more vertical storage (that’s not too expensive)?

A. I am a huge fan of bookcases because they are so versatile, as well as organization units. Have you thought about floating shelves? I would also recommend looking to see whether you have any backs of doors that you could use for hooks, back-of-the-door organizers, etc. The insides of cabinet doors are also forgotten places to put up organization items as well as magnetic strips for storage, which will help with a little more vertical storage. And when it doubt, look for wall space to add hooks.

Q. I’m a craft junkie, which means I have craft junk all over the place. My main storage is in the basement, which was destroyed by water from burst pipes. As I reconsider this area, do you have suggestions for good craft storage areas?

A. You can definitely still use your basement for storage; just make sure to store all of your crafts in sealed plastic containers so everything stays dry. Try using the vertical space of your basement by storing these containers on a shelving unit. You can get a metal or plastic shelving unit that won’t get damaged by water, dust or bugs just about anywhere (Ikea, Target, the Container Store, etc.). If you’d like to try storing your crafts somewhere else, you can make them blend in with your decor by using a bookshelf and containers or baskets that look good in the space. Using a bookshelf to store vertically takes up less room. Just remember to label what is inside each container so you can find what you need easily.

Q. Almost every day I find something in the back of the fridge that has gone bad, or worse, is so old that I have forgotten when I even purchased it. With three sons, is there any way to get a handle on the fridge and actually eat what we buy?

A. Throwing away food and money is preventable. When things get put on shelves, they also can get slowly pushed to the back of the fridge. I recommend using clear plastic containers that fit on the shelves. Label one for cheese, one for yogurt, one for fruit, etc. Then make sure the food goes into them. This way, nothing will get lost in the back of the fridge and you can easily find things when you need them.

Q. I’ve heard a lot about “going paperless” recently, and everyone is saying it is the new way to organize. I’d like to try, but I don’t even know whether it is for me. My biggest problem is that I write on a lot of sticky notes and paper scraps, and I have no idea how to go about making those digital. My paper filing system is pretty organized, but I can see the benefits of going paperless and am willing to try. Do you have any tips for these little scraps that I can’t scan?

A. Congratulations on the organized paper filing system. It should be a smooth transition over to paperless. As far as what to do with those little hard-to-scan scraps, there are a few options. You can type your notes out by date and save a month of scrap “notes” at a time. Another option is to take a photo of them with your phone and upload it to your computer. Just make sure to label each picture you upload so you know exactly where to find things.

Q. What is the best way to organize shoes?

A. My favorite is to use clear plastic shoeboxes (you can find these at the Container Store). You can put each pair of shoes in a box and label the outside, so you can find what you want to wear quickly. These stack easily on a closet floor or shelf and can slide under your bed when they are out of season.

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