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Help! I Can’t Organize, There’s Not Enough Space!

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

In a recent consumer survey1 when asked, “What would you say is the biggest challenge to improving your home’s organization?” These were the answers:

  • 32.9% – Lack of space in the home
  • 27.3% – finding the time
  • 25.2% – too much stuff
  • 6.7% – not sure what product to use
  • 2.7% – products at local retailer don’t meet my need
  • 5.1% – other

Lack of space is #1. For real? When you don’t have places to put all your belongings, the problem can either be:

To illustrate the difference, imagine you have a good-sized kitchen. Your cabinets hold what you need to prepare and serve food. Then you decide you want more than one set of dishes. You decide one set for each season would be perfect. Suddenly, the cabinet space seems to have shrunk. You have too much stuff for the given space.

On the other hand, the galley of a small ship will have actual limited space to store kitchen-related items. Now you must critically evaluate the necessity of each item before you award a place in the tight storage available.

Where does your stuff to space quotient fall? How you would answer this question:

Have you truly pared down belongings to those items you use and love?

How much of what you are trying to cram into your living or working space are items you…

… have not used in last 2 years
… don’t really like but are keeping because they were gifts
… think you might need someday
… have no specific purpose in mind for
… would pitch if you had time to sort through

If you have quite a few things that fit into these categories, they do not pass the USE IT, LOVE IT OR LOSE IT test. It is time for a purging party.

The second question to ask yourself is:

Are you effectively using every square foot of the space you do have?

There are a few tricks that interior designers and professional organizers alike use to maximize storage in a truly small space.
These include:

  • going vertical
  • finding unused air
  • using dual-purpose furnishings

Read more in my post “Small Space Solutions” and listen in to Kelly Galea’s tips on Sept 8th, see events above.

The first step in any problem solving sequence is to properly identify exactly what the problem is. Hopefully, from this article you have pinpointed whether your problem is too much stuff or an actual limited space situation. Now you are in a position to take corrective action.

  1. Storage Consumer Survey. Homeworld Business Magazine 10/01/2008
    Statistic by/from Homeworld Forecast Consumer Survey conducted by NPD Group []

Closet Storage Tip: Use Shelf Dividers

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Don’t you hate it when you fold lots of towels or tees and the first time someone grabs one off the shelf the pile tips over?
That’s where closet shelf dividers come in. You can attach these to either solid shelving or the wire shelves in your closets. Just be sure you are ordering the right type! These are a few examples.

Check your big box stores first before you pay shipping.

Organize It


Chrome Shelf Dividers
Item No: 014982186409
10” high by 12” deep
Set of 2 – $6.99
These can slide on front of shelf, so fit all widths


Acrylic Shelf Divider
8″high x 12″deep
$13.75 each
Pricey, but so elegant! Use for  your MBR closet only?

Lilian Vernon


Wire Shelf Dividers
from Lilian Vernon
SKU: 603989
10 1⁄2″ x 1 3⁄4″ x 12 1⁄4″ H
Set of 2 – $9.98, 4 for $19.96
Expands to fit between most wire shelving slats.

NOTE: Lillian Vernon also has a solid shelf version at a reasonable price, but these fit only 12” shelves.

When you are planning the number to purchase, decide on an odd number of stacks and buy one more divider. (i.e. 3 stacks => 4 dividers)

Finally, if you want to fold with the best of them and fast, this is a neat folding tool!

Jill’s Story, Behind the Scenes Coaching on De-Cluttering

Friday, March 12th, 2010

You want to soar, stuff gets in the way

You want to soar, stuff gets in the way (neoliminal/Flickr)

Over the last month or so, Jill and I have been emailing back and forth. She shared that she is finally motivated to let go of all the paper she has been storing with her business.  I hope you will be encouraged by her story. I asked Jill if I could share our email correspondence. She was surprised that I thought she could be of help to someone else, but agreed graciously.  I will post her “Before” pictures soon. Jill has promised to show us her “After” pictures when she gets more work done. I think she has come a very long way already!

Hello Martha:

I have enjoyed reading your 60 tips.  Nice to know that I am on the right track and not as bad as I thought!!!

I have my own business as a graphic designer/marketer/printier and I am a paper hoarder.  I save samples of my work, sayings, books, reference materials, magazines, business journals, catalogs, postcards, etc. I have the thought of “just in case”

In my office, I have 5 file cabinets with 15 drawers, book shelves, cabinets, etc.  with these items stored.  I even have the paper piles on the floor in my office which I can’t seem to get through and is driving me crazy….I know it is a bit of OCD. …but I am trying to plow through.

Here is my Serious question:  How do you deal with samples, catalogs, etc.?  I have had them on file for their information and use as photos of an item, like a magnet, shirt, signage, etc.  Do I input all of the info about the catalog/company in a database and pitch the catalogs?  Keep them?  ETC?  I was just trying to make room in my files for other info and to reduce the weight on my floor!

Help!  I could really use your advice.  Thank you so much.


Hi Jill!

I am so glad you found the report helpful.  Yay! You have systems in place already!

It sounds like you have a filing system for your work-related papers. Before I answer your question of  “How do you deal with samples, catalogs, etc?” I want to get a little clarification:

  1. How often do you use what is in the files in your present projects?
  2. Are you able to find what you need when you go to look for it?
  3. Do you replace the old catalogs with the latest version when it comes?

In principle, you probably use only 20% of what you have.  The only trick will be to figure out what that percentage represents in your mix.

I may be able to get some hints from your answers to the questions.

You are brave to ask the questions, Jill.  Kudos!

Martha Clouse
Professional Organizer and Speaker

Click to continue »

I Simply Remember My Favorite Things: Stocking Stuffers

Monday, December 21st, 2009

We still have four days to shop before Christmas. I told my husband this morning I had to pick up a couple more things. His reply was, “Don’t get any large items, we have to fit luggage into the car yet!” We are heading for VA to watch grandchildren open presents on Friday.  Woo hoo!

In case you are still trying to come up with things for stocking stuffers, these are a few of my favorite things:

  1. Mead 4″ X 6″ faux leather address book:  I keep mine next to my computer to record all those annoying passwords every site needs. Keeps info     alphabetical and handy, so I can toss it in a suitcase to use on vacation if necessary. Found this treasure at Odd Lots for $2.99.
  2. Good Grips Mag Tacks: This gift means never having to say you’re sorry you put holes in your favorite photos. Can be used as simple pushpin, or a pin with magnet on top.   $6.99 at Container Store.

  3. Mini Magnet Strips: This gift puts versatile mini-storage on any wall. The possibilities of what to stick to these are endless. Use for an art rack, photo holder, or to contain little things with the next gift suggestion. On sale for $3.99 at Container Store
  4. See & Store Containers:  Perfect magnetic storage for office supplies, beads, or even spices. 4 for $1.99 at Container Store.
  5. Magnetic 3″ x 8″ To Do pads: Always have one on your refrigerator for grocery needs or a note to say where you went. Target usually has these in the $1 bin. The high end Post-It version is at Staples for $4.99.
  6. Velcro Get a Grip straps: These are great to bundle wires or to contain cords for small appliances. Five colors makes this fun even for people who hate electric cords, like me. $3.99 at Office Max.
  7. Specialty-colored duct tape: Even if you think this is a stupid suggestion, you’ve got to check out this site: for all the color possibilities.  I know a teenage boy who has a ball making all kinds of things out of duct tape. He pulled his red, white, and blue wallet out to show me one day. Your loved one can join the Duck Tape Club and get instructions for all kinds of crafts.
  8. A book for a little tyke: Duck! Rabbit! Very cute and will match the above gift. Interesting take on a classic optical illusion.
  9. The new game Bananagrams: Finally, a kid-friendly version of the crossword game Scrabble. Comes in its own banana-shaped pouch.  You have to find this at specialty game stores as the inventor refused to sell to the big box  stores.

Have fun getting those little things that make life interesting.  Don’t forget to get a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. All you have to do is pour the pieces out on a table and the family gathers.  That is what makes the holidays so special.

Product Review: Double Hang Rods

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

August is the month to be thinking about organizing your closet.  Why? All the stores will be having their pre-fall sales this month.  You will want to have sorted/ cleared out what doesn’t fit or flatter so you are ready to fill in any holes in your wardrobe.

The best advice I can give in a short blog is to think of your closet as your “store”.  You want to be able to “shop your closet” just as you would at a retail establishment.  What does that mean in terms of organizing? Well, in the store all the short sleeved shirts/blouses are on the same rack. Slacks are hung together and grouped by color.  Shoes are in a separate department.  You get the idea.

Hopefully, when you get done weeding out and rearranging, you will be able to see what you have at a glance.  if you find that your clothes are still jammed in there, you may want to consider today’s product on review – the double-hang closet rod.  This is a quick fix to expand your hanging space without putting in an entire closet system.

Here are a couple examples.

Bed, Bath and Beyond


The product featured to the left from Bed, Bath & Beyond has limited adjustable ranges in both height and width, holds 40 lbs max, and sells for $14.99. If you get on their mailing list, you will get 20% off coupons every so often.

The right photo  shows a comparable rod from The Container Store, that  adjusts widthwise from 20-36″ and in height from 28-51″.  This version sells for $19.99 normally, but is on sale for $12.99 with the college dorm push going on now.

My advice is to purchase two rods and keep the width at the lower end for greater strength.  Hanging shirts/blouses on the top and skirts/slacks on the bottom makes sense in “shopping” but you make the final decision.

If you need help on where to start on your closet, my colleague, Elizabeth Hagen, is hosting a teleseminar on August 19th, 1 p.m. EST on “How to Organize Your Closet so you will get Dressed… Not Stressed!“  She is very good at walking folks through the organizing process step-by-step.  The seminar is not free, but is under $20.

Now you don’t have any more excuses.  Get crackin’ on that closet so you can go shopping while the good stuff is on sale. With your double-hang rods you can fit twice as much in there!

Small Space Solutions

Monday, April 27th, 2009

One main cause of clutter is “too much stuff for too little space.” Sometimes this problem can be solved in a tight spot with creative uses of space that is ignored. Try to take a new look at your small area with these suggestions in mind.

1. Go Vertical!

As you look around in the room, note how much of the top half of the walls are utilized. Brainstorm how you can take advantage of those walls with storage options like:

  • Floor to ceiling bookshelves
  • Floating shelving
  • A wall-mounted cabinet

If there are furniture pieces taking up floor space below, you may as well put storage above. No one will hit their head!

2. Find unused pockets of dead air

Places to look include under the bed, behind a door, near the floor in the lower half of a closet, and above the one shelf in the closet. These are great spaces for storage and tons of organizing products are available. Easy-to-install shelving is available at most home improvement centers.

3. Use dual-purpose furniture

A book shelf makes a great headboard for a twin bed – shelves for books and alarm clock above and remote storage below bed level. Place a cedar chest in a window nook or at the end of the bed to double as seating and storage. A bedside table with two or more drawers can hold 75-100 CD’s on end with the titles showing.

The good news is that these tips will enable you to fit more stuff into a small space. The bad news… you may still have leftovers. Assuming that you put away what was most valuable to you, evaluate what is left. If you don’t use it or love it, give it away. Someone else can put it to good use!