Ask a Clean Person: Tackling a Major Clean-up, Part Two — The Organizing

Hello and welcome back to Operation Unhoard Our Rooms! Last week we tackled our clutter, sorted things out, and threw out a bunch of trash, and now we’re ready for the real fun: ORGANIZING! HURRAH FOR ORGANIZING!! THREE CHEERS FOR ORGANIZING!!!

It’s fine that none of you find this as thrilling as I do.

We’ve got a ton to cover, so let’s dive right in with my five essentials for keeping a tidy room:

1. Wastepaper basket.
2. Laundry hamper or hanging bag.
3. Decorative and/or practical hooks.
4. A chair or bench, space permitting.
5. Proper storage space for your belongings.

There’s one key word in that last item — can you figure out what it is??? It’s “your”! And I say that because our beloved LW asked of me “Like, what kinds of organizers do I need, and which could I live without?” Which is an understandable question but also the wrong one to ask, because everyone has different things in need of organizing. So really I can’t tell you which ones you need and which you can live without, because for example Headband Girl (and don’t worry, I saw you and have a few headband storage ideas to share) needs different organizers from Scarf Hoarding Girl (got you too!).

But let’s talk about these basics for a quick sec before we get into specific types of organization solutions. The first thing on the list is a wastepaper basket, because those dirty tissues have to go somewhere that isn’t your floor! And the tags you’ve taken off your pretty new dress. And the receipts and cotton balls and used condoms and whatever other weird garbage is in your bedroom. However. Don’t use your bedroom wastepaper basket for food or food containers, okay? Bring that stuff to the kitchen trashcan for disposal, critters and smells and spills being what they are.

Next up is a laundry hamper or bag; space permitting, a hamper is a better option than a bag, because it’s a bit tidier looking. And ALWAYS go for a hamper with a lid for two reasons; (1) sometimes laundry gets stanky and a lid helps to contain the stench (2) the lid will force you to acknowledge that it’s time to do the laundry. You know, when you can’t get the lid on anymore and sort of have to balance it atop mounds of unwashed towels? Mmm yeah, that’s a pretty good indication that it’s time to do the laundry.

Then there are hooks! God, hooks are just the best thing going — especially in space-challenged rooms. They’re the perfect place to hang the dry cleaning you just picked up, the dress you wore that you want to air out before putting back in your closet, a bathrobe, your go-to weekend hoodie, that set of jammies you want to get a second wearing out of … the possibilities are endless, really. Hooks are also a great idea to install inside a closet to hold things like belts, scarves, hats, bags, and so on.

Space permitting, a chair or bench is a spectacular thing to have in a bedroom, because it gives you a place that isn’t the floor on which to toss stuff. You can also stack the laundry you just folded but don’t have the will to put away, or segregate items that need to be dropped at the dry cleaner, or you know, you could sit on it.

And last but certainly not least, proper storage space for all your belongings. Which leads me to…

My Things Are All Sorted, But Where Do I Put Them?

Rather than go through every possible thing you might store in your bedroom, I created a pinboard that I’ve filled up with loads of storage and organization ideas, as well as some low-priced furniture options for those of you who need/want to invest in new pieces. I’ll keep adding to it over time, so if you have photos, ideas, links, whatever that you’d like to see included, please leave them in the comments or email them to me at and I’ll post them to the board. I tried to offer a variety of styles, but you absolutely should adapt the ideas to fit your decorating taste. So if your aesthetic runs toward the industrial, consider metal bins instead of wicker ones; if you go in for the spa look, try finding items in teak and natural fabrics like linen in place of metal or plastic. That sort of thing. You can also DIY-enhance found or bought storage containers with decorative paper and glue. Or twine and glue. Or paint! There are a million possibilities.

Let’s talk about some basics, though, starting with a dresser. Now that you’ve gone through the exercise of organizing all your clothes and figuring out what you don’t yet have room for, you can start thinking about what style dresser will work best for your things. That’s the best approach: buy the right piece of furniture for your things, which of course you can’t do until you know what your things consist of. Also be sure to buy a piece that leaves you room to add things. One reader wrote to tell me about her 60% rule: “No matter how my categories are determined or my drawers are set up, I strive strive strive to never have any drawer more than 60% full. Whether this means getting rid of things, or sorting categories differently, or even getting a second dresser — which I have done! — it changes everything about how easy it is to put clothes away and to put outfits together when you can a) see everything without taking it all out of the drawer, and b) put something away without rearranging anything that’s already in there. If I could give only one piece of bedroom organizing advice to someone, it would be to enforce this <60% rule religiously.” DISCIPLINE! I ❤ it like Bleachie!

If space for furniture is limited, consider installing wall-mounted shelves and placing bins or baskets on them to serve as drawers. You can also dedicate one or two shelves of a standing bookcase to bins for storage. Ladders (like, pretty ones!) are also a great way to create shelving without taking up a ton of space.

Many of us use the space under our beds for storage, which is a great thing to do. If you’re really pressed for space, consider getting bed risers to lift the frame up higher, allowing even larger storage boxes to fit. If you go that route, you’ll also want to get an extra long bedskirt, since standard ones won’t be long enough and ugh hide that shit.

Shoes, judging from my inbox, are clearly a universal problem among the ‘Pinnership. The board offers a number of ideas on getting your hoofwear under control, but one thing worth mentioning here is to place baskets or bins on the floor of your closet (or anywhere they can fit) to hold flip flops, sandals, ballet flats, and/or sneakers. Finer footwear in these categories can be placed inside shoebags to protect them from getting dirty or dinged up.

Okay but! To the pinboard! There are ideas there on storing and organizing shoes, accessories, jewelry, make-up, and other beauty products, bedding & towels, books, knick-knacks, electronics, bills & paperwork, and clothing. Knock yourselves out!

Oh wait but! Don’t forget to measure your spaces before you run out to buy things. That’s pretty important!

I’ve Got All This Stuff I Can Get Rid of, Now What?

I consulted Noted Philanthropist Andrew Krucoff for ideas on where to donate your unwanted items, and here’s what he had to say:

A lot of physical donation services are specific to your city/town/state, unless you’re talking about big organizations like Salvation Army and AmVets. With that said, these are a few charitable outfits I recommend.

I like donating books to prisoners. Free the mind. Here’s one for New York at ABC No Rio. You can donate books and much more to Housing Works (Dennis Crowley, CEO of Foursquare, recently told me he gave them speakers, iPods, a Gameboy, games, clothes, a fan, books, etc., all of which they happily took). has a “Stuff Exchange” — other cities probably have the same type of thing too.

There’s also a good service for donating all kinds of stuff to Vietnam vets, and they do pick-ups all over the country. Planet Aid is a clothes donation that has a focus on protecting the environment and supporting sustainable development in impoverished communities around the world. [Ed. A reader wrote to say that this might be a scam-y group. Disregard!] You should also include one that donates clothes to women going on job interviews. Dress For Success or something like that.

You lovely ladies also had a ton of great ideas that you shared last week. Another reader wrote in to suggest that “even non-religious Clean People might want to check out their local churches,” which oftentimes hold fundraising rummage sales with donated items.

An important note on donating items — be sure to think through what you’re donating and to whom, and be realistic about whether or not your goods truly will be of good use. A reader wrote in with the following advice, which I’ll share with you:

There are all sorts of great organizations out there that will be happy to take one’s cast off clothes, books, kitchen items, electronics, etc. — but it is critically important to make sure that what is donated matches what is sought. For several years I worked at a church as the director of their outreach ministry; we had wonderful volunteers and generous donors. Unfortunately, we also had people (oftentimes very well-meaning) who saw us as a clearinghouse for whatever they didn’t want but felt guilty about just throwing out. From long-expired food to broken radios to filthy undergarments, all sorts of unusable items were dropped off at our church. Sorting through these materials wasted the time and taxed the patience of our volunteers, who had to pick through everything and then throw out what wasn’t usable. What had been someone else’s problem became our problem.

A solution, of course, is for donors to call ahead and make sure that what they give matches what is needed. Because at the heart of the matter, donating needs to be about helping — not just about clearing out our own space. Why would you donate something that’s not going to be helpful? And if an item is seriously (or even moderately) damaged, it’s okay to throw it away. In fact, it’s probably the right thing to do.

Items like clothing, bedding, towels, etc. that are no longer fit for human use can be donated to animal shelters, which can use them as padding in cages.

But, Like, How Do I Keep From Reverting Back to My Feral State?

Our LW asked: “Can you give me, a person who’s notoriously messy and horrible at organizing, some advice for getting my room into a more live-able state and keeping it that way?

I sure can! In news that will surprise exactly none of you, the biggest piece of advice I can give is that you should make your bed every day. And actually? I’m going to pause for a second to pull the column over on the side of the road so the people who keep insisting you shouldn’t make your bed because you’ll get bedbugs can get out and fend for themselves. You guys, come on. That is horsepucky. Look, if you don’t want to make your bed, don’t make your bed. You’re an adult with free will. But don’t get all up in the comments section spreading lies and scaring people. The theory that these loons like to espouse is that if you make your bed your linens don’t get a chance to air out, thus making them more attractive to bedbugs. Like an army of bedbugs is going to march toward your bedstead, see that it’s unmade, and the commander is going to shout, “FALL BACK MEN! WE’VE GOT AN UNMADE BED SITUATION! HOSTILE TERRITORY, RETREAT, RETREAT.”

There’s a kernel of good advice in there, however: it’s not a bad idea to let your sheets air/dry out after you’ve slept in them (this will also help to make the bed less hospitable to dust mites). But, unless you’re an extremely heavy night sweater, they’ll have plenty of time to do that in the ten or so minutes it takes you to get up, use the toilet, brush your fangs, wipe the sleepies from your eyes, etc. So, like, don’t make your bed the instant you get out of it, but certainly don’t not-make it because someone on the internet told you you would get bedbugs if you did. (And yes, I’ve read the same articles they have. I’ve also read the articles where the experts cited explain how what they said was taken out of context by journalists looking for a splashy headline.)

Next up we need to talk about your floor and how it’s not really a place where things other than furniture, rugs, and feet should go. Trash goes in the wastepaper basket. Dirty clothes go in the hamper. Clothes that you’re not going to wash immediately but also aren’t going to put away can get tossed on your chair or bench, or hung up on one of your decorative hooks. But they don’t go on the floor. They’re your clothes!! That you spent money on! Treat them with compassion.

If you can get a strong handle on making your bed and keeping things up off your floor, your room will be a million times tidier-looking for it. You might also want to implement a schedule for yourself where you take an hour or two once a month or every other month to put things back in their rightful place and remove any stray clutter from the premises. It’s a lot easier to spend an hour a month cleaning up than it is to have to devote two weekends once a year to digging yourself out from under your bedroom.

Now how about rewarding yourself? One of the goals our LW had was to create an inviting ladyspace to which to bring gentlemen callers, so hey, why not treat yourself to some pretty new bedding? Garnet Hill is having a HUGE sale right now, rah rah sis boom bah! (Oh gosh, I wish I hadn’t seen that all the Lilly bedding is discounted…) Or maybe you’ve had your eye on a great corner chair that you want to splurge on! Or maybe you just want to buy yourself a new scented candle (might I recommend this one?) — whatever it is, give yourself a little gift in the name of feeling great about your awesome bedroom!

Previously: Part One — The Cleaning.

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Are you curious to know if she’s answered a question you have? Do check out the archives, listed by topic. More importantly: is anything you own dirty?

Photo by Anton Gvozdikov, via Shutterstock