To figure out what the most common missteps are, we reached out to professional organizers who have made over the homes of countless clients.

By Katie Holdefehr
October 02, 2017
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No matter how often we tidy up, there are those areas in our homes that just never seem to stay neat. And while no home is perfect, if you’re making one of these common organizing mistakes, the process may be more difficult than it needs to be. To figure out what the most common missteps are, we reached out to professional organizers who have made over the homes of countless clients. While some of the mistakes clients made were obvious—like never putting items back where they belong—others were eye-opening—like we’ve been stacking our dishware wrong our entire lives. Here, we’ve rounded up 10 of the more surprising mistakes these organizers have seen over the years, so you can avoid them, declutter quickly, and move on to more important things.

Purchasing Products Before You Organize the Space

Marissa Hagmeyer, the owner of the organizing company NEAT Method, has seen plenty of tidying-up mistakes over the years. The number one mistake she sees clients make? Buying organizing products before they have done the real work of organizing. “Beautifully labeled bins and baskets help you stay neat, but they don't magically perform the actual organizing!” says Hagmeyer.

Smart Solution: Rather than expect products to do the work for you, start by going through your belongings, sorting out what you no longer need, and separating items into categories. Only then should you make a list of the boxes, bins, or trays you need. This way, you’ll have a more accurate estimate of how many containers you need, and you’ll have a clear plan for how you intend to use them (you're also more likely to save money this way!). 

Making Your Categories Too Specific 

The second step in the organizing process (after sorting through your belongings), is to categorize everything you own. “A common mistake we see during this phase is that people make the categories too specific,” reports Hagmeyer. When the categories are so narrow, it can be difficult to keep up with the system you’ve created and you’ll end up tossing items in any container you see.

Smart Solution: When sorting, Hagmeyer recommends keeping in mind the mantra “broad is best,” and avoiding the tendency to create narrow categories. “An example of this would be in a children's space labeling one bin cars, and another trucks, and another planes. Instead, name one bin auto!” she says.

Buying a Wide Range of Organizers

“It can be hard to select just a few when there are so many beautiful organizing products out there,” Hagmeyer says, so it’s no wonder that she often finds that clients use a variety of organizers in the same space. “Too many favorites is a sure way to make a space go back to looking cluttered,” she explains. When you use wood bins, fabric boxes, and acrylic trays all on the same shelving unit, your stuff may be contained, but the look isn’t cohesive.

Smart Solution: Choose storage that coordinates. Pick a palette, like white and wood or shades of blue, and then look for products that match it. Luckily, the Container Store and Land of Nod have bins, baskets, and catchalls in enough colors to match almost any style.

Not Utilizing “Prime Real Estate”

Sometimes, a home can look neat and tidy, but a task as simple as finding a pen requires pulling out a stepstool and searching through multiple storage bins. To avoid creating a system that’s impractical, Hagmeyer suggests considering the items you use every day and making sure they’re stored within arm’s reach. “This can really make a huge difference! If you are standing on your tippy toes or crouching down multiple times a day, there is a good chance a little rearranging is needed,” she says.

Smart Solution: Make sure the items you use regularly are placed where you need them. This may require installing a hook in your kitchen so you can hang pot holders closer to your stove, or adding a tray in your bathroom to corral the products you apply every morning. The ideal organization system should complement, not complicate, your daily routine.

Stacking Dishware Way Too High

As the founder of the organizing team Bneato Bar, Beth Penn is a pro at streamlining everything from entryways to email inboxes. Oftentimes, the smallest tweaks that clients would never think to make themselves end up being the most transformative. Case in point: Penn recommends never stacking dishes or cups too high in a kitchen cabinet. “They can chip or wobble,” she warns. While the cabinet may appear tidy upon first glance, if you end up needing the plate all the way at the bottom of the stack, you’ll quickly learn how impractical this system is.

Smart Solution: Add a couple shelf risers, such at this chrome option from the Container Store ($9). “This divides the space, gives your dishes a little more breathing room, and maximizes the entire area,” she explains. Say goodbye to those precarious teacup towers.

Cramming Every Product into the Medicine Cabinet

If you own a massive stash of makeup and products, trying to fit them all into a narrow medicine cabinet isn’t going to work. If a bottle of hairspray or a tube of toothpaste falls out every time you open the door, take it as a sign that you’re overloading this storage unit.

Smart Solution: “Try adding open shelving nearby... and a big basket with a lid to hide things like a hair dryer and hair products,” Penn recommends. Show off the prettiest bottles and perfumes on the open shelving, and use the closed basket for any products you’d like to hide out of sight.

Not Using Hooks Everywhere

When it comes to utilizing vertical space in your home, whether it’s the back of a door, the side of a cabinet, or a small blank wall, nothing beats a wall hook. “Use an S-hook in the closet for purses, PJs that you don’t want to fold every day, and a sweater you wear around the house and never find the time to hang up,” suggests Penn. Customize your organizing system to suit your real habits, not the habits you wish you had. Add a hook beside the bedroom chair where you typically pile coats and scarves, and it won’t be difficult to hang up these items when you get home.

Smart Solution: Install cup hooks underneath kitchen shelves to hold mugs, add S-hooks to a closet bar for storing accessories, and use removable adhesive Command hooks if you don’t want to damage your walls.

Not Being Mindful About What You Bring In

A professional organizer based in New York City, Laura Cattano knows how to maximize storage in tight spaces and the smallest of apartments. She reports that the first step to eliminating clutter is being mindful of what you’re bringing into your home. “If you actually think about what stuff is and what it's meant to do (things are tools to help you do something), you'll be much more considerate about what you take into your life,” says Cattano. If you’re mindful about what you accumulate, you’ll own less stuff, but you’ll get more utility out of each item.

Smart Solution: Before bringing something new through the front door, consider its function and whether you already own something that serves the same purpose. If you’re debating investing in a blender, but your food processor is capable of preparing the pestos and hummus you love, the extra appliance could just end up getting purged in your next cleanup.

Not Cleaning Clothes Before Storing Them

“The only way to keep moths and other pests at bay is to clean your clothes and linens before storing them for any length of time,” says Cattano. If there are traces of food and scents on the fabric, bugs will find a way to get to them, and the last thing you want is to open a storage bin to find a moth has devoured your favorite sweater. “I've seen moths in airtight containers loaded with cedar chips,” warns Cattano. “Bugs will get wherever they want, so don't invite them.”

Smart Solution: When you’re preparing to store clothing away for the season, wash them or get them dry-cleaned. Then, follow our tips for clothing storage to make sure they won’t get ruined by dust or humidity.

Storing All Like Items Together

When organizing our homes, we tend to assume that all like items should be stored together. However, Cattano proposes a more practical plan: sort by function instead. For example, rather than store all cups together, including glasses and mugs, Cattano suggests creating a tea or coffee station by storing mugs and teacups near your coffee or tea kettle, so you can quickly prepare a drink.

Smart Solution: Consider how items function together, then rethink your storage plan. If you’ve always organized your shoes by color, but have a hard time finding work-appropriate footwear in the morning, sort them by function instead. Place office heels, running sneakers, and beach sandals together so you can quickly find a pair that matches your plan for the day.

This story originally appeared on Real Simple.

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