Getting Organized: The Big Picture

I've been house sitting all summer. All the homes have been beautiful, spacious, kid-filled spaces, but some of them felt more… well, welcoming than others. These were the homes it was easy to come into. It was easy to find everything I needed. There were no unused spaces or dust bunnies gathering in the corner. You're probably thinking to yourself: that's a no brainer when the house is big, there's tons of closets, just a few pieces of amazeballs furniture and a weekly cleaning service. Sorry to burst your bubble, but no. It was because they were well thought out.

Here's the thing with a well laid out and organized home: it has nothing to do with matching Martha Stewart containers and everything to do with discarding what you don't use, keeping what you do use (and maintaining and replacing it when it gets used up) and putting what you keep in a place where it makes sense. Let's see if I can break it down.

Keep It Real: The houses that worked best kept an eye on their function. Dogs had their stuff incorporated into the home's design (even if that just meant a giant garbage can filled with dry food in a color that matched the kitchen); there were hampers for dirty clothes and a place to put down groceries when you walked in the door. Before you buy one more thing for your home, just observe, for a week, how your home works. If you have a dog, do you have a place by the door to keep the leash? If you have school age kids, do they have a place to do homework? If you like to come home after work and veg out in front of the tv, is your couch comfy, with a throw, nice soft pillows and a place to put down a glass? Do you have cupboards jammed with glasses that only get used the two or three times a year that company comes over? Your house should be for you and how you live.

Pretty isn't the same as organized: Things can look pretty, but if they don't function well, chances are they won't stay that way for long. Easy is key. Is it easy to use? Which brings me to my next bullet point…

Big categories over small: When you're finished using something, it should be easy to put away. Make it complicated and chances are you'll procrastinate with putting it back. For example, unless make up is your jam, you don't need to divide your stash into eyeshadows, lipsticks and eyeliners, etc — you just need one container to store day makeup and one to store night makeup. This is especially true for kids, who can't be bothered with dividing things up into too many categories.

Where do you use it? Toilet paper, for example, should be stored in the bathroom. It's no use if it's stored under the bed. I had a roommate who did this. She also had a tendency to leave a roll with just a few lone squares hanging off it. I know this is an extreme example, but if you can see where I'm going with this, you get the idea. Other people may laugh but hey, it's your house. So, store toilet paper in the bathroom and sheets in the bedroom. Keep gloves and sunglasses and lip balm by the front door and running back in for them won't be a mad scramble that leaves the house a mess.

Test your containers: The easiest containers are opaque bins that can slide out of a shelf. Also good: big jars with easy lift-off lids that somehow make a jumble of stuff read ready for its close-up.

Have enough but not too many: You have one bed and you do your laundry weekly — do you need 15 sets of threadbare sheets? Same goes for towels, glasses, mugs, even shampoo. Yes, it's good to be green, but when you're just starting out with changing things around, a lot of stuff will go in the garbage or the giveaway pile. If you feel bad about throwing out all those dregs of shampoo, empty them into one container and use the soapy result to clean with. Tear up those old sheets into Swiffer sized squares for your mop.

Buy the best you can afford: If you buy stuff that you love and that makes you happy every time you use it, chances are you'll be happier taking care of it. Plus, if your cupboards aren't stuffed you'll be able to see what you have and you won't find yourself buying doubles and triples of things.

(Image: Lindsay Tella from Sarah & Matt's Expertly Styled Home)