Top on everyone’s list in the new year: Get organized.
But a carload of organizational supplies can be pricey. And those professional closet-and-garage organizers don’t come cheap.
Luckily, you can pull it together yourself without spending a bundle. The trick: Maximize your efforts by setting up a house that’s designed for how you truly live. Not how you wish you lived.
From here on out, when you do buy something new, evaluate how it serves your new, organized life. And keep an eye out for items that do double duty by adding a little extra storage, in addition to their main purpose.
Here are six tips from pros who know how to make organization easy and beautiful without spending a fortune.
One secret to organization: The things you reach for regularly should be easy to grab, says Christopher Lowell, designer and author of “Christopher Lowell’s Seven Layers of Organization.” “The things you use every day should be at arm’s length, the things you use once in a while should be harder to get to, and things you use once a year should require a ladder.”
Don’t have enough arm’s-length storage? “One of the best ways to add storage is take a small wall and do shelves floor to ceiling,” Lowell says.
Paint them the same color as the wall,” he says. “They’ll completely disappear.”
A carpenter can do them fairly cheaply, he says. Or you can do it yourself, using supplies from a hardware or organizational supply store, Lowell says.
Another trick: Harness wasted space. For a small bathroom that “never had enough space,” Lowell installed shelves 15 inches from the ceiling all the way around the room.
He lined them with wicker baskets that hold supplies, linens and extra towels. “It’s a nice look and gives a spa feeling,” he says.
Want to raise the chances you’ll actually clean a bedroom or bathroom regularly? Keep a second set of cleaning supplies handy in the room itself, says Kerrie Kelly, author of “Home Decor” and owner of the Kerrie Kelly Design Lab in Northern California.
If you have kids or pets, you can opt for a high spot or a locked cabinet.
Put everything together in an easy-to-grab container, like a bucket or tray, she says. Making it easy and convenient increases the chances you (and other family members) will clean, she adds.
Another smart move in a multistory home: a vacuum cleaner for each floor. No more lugging machines up and down stairs every time you vacuum.
Tired of searching for scissors, or running into another room for tape? Pick up duplicates of these types of items and “keep them where you use them,” Lowell says. “It’s OK to have duplicate things strategically placed around the house.”
Want a high-priced look for the cost of a couple of cans of paint?
You can use old furniture or flea market finds to organize your garage. Dressers with drawers offer great storage for tools, spare cords and hardware. And picnic tables or long folding tables provide workspace or extra places to stack and store.
The secret to making it look pulled together: Paint all your discount finds the same color, says Michael Hydeck, owner of Hydeck Design Build Inc. near Philadelphia, and past president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. You get a neat, unified look that won’t empty your wallet.
Looking to add extra space to garages or closets?
Supplement closets with shelving systems, available at home or organizational supply stores, Hydeck says. “You can buy the kits they have or combine them,” he says.
You can make it as simple or fancy as you want, he says. “The biggest thing is have a place for everything.”
Want to add space for free anywhere in the house? “When you bring something in, you have to throw something out,” says Hydeck. “If you don’t, you start accumulating stuff.”
Get rid of the damaged, chipped and outdated stuff, Lowell says. If it’s waiting for repairs or a tailor to take it out or in, it goes.
“Any time a tailor touches that garment, it’s $4 to $13 for every single thing,” he says. “You may be able to go to the Gap and get that shirt for less.”
Plans to fix that broken whatever-it-is? Calculate what that time would cost at your present salary, he says. “Then decide whether or not it’s worth it.”
Six down-and-dirty tips for day-to-day organization:
“Go paperless as much as you possibly can,” Lowell says.
For mail: Put a tray, bowl or basket on a foyer table or by the bed for mail. “Once a week, it needs to be purged,” he says.
For kitchens: “If you can’t build out, build up,” he says. In a tight pantry, double-decker spinners “will allow you to use that entire cupboard. Seeing what you already have also saves money at the store.
Inexpensive drawer organizers “will save your life,” Lowell says.
Or use trim material, cut to fit, says Hydeck.
Have favorite tools you reach for every time? Get rid of the duplicates, he advises.
Selecting new items? Look for pieces that fit your needs and also add some storage space, Kelly says.
A trunk serves as a coffee table or end-of-the-bed bench, while adding a “closet” for blankets, clothes or other supplies. Window seats with cupboards or dining banquets with drawers are popular choices, she says.
You can also repurpose old pieces you already own. A dining room hutch becomes a bookshelf. “Give it a fresh coat of paint and change out the hardware and it could look great in an office or another part of the home,” she says.
Another hot item for storing and organizing supplies: bar carts, which run the gamut in price, she says.
Design your home around your life, not the other way around, says Lowell. That means an unused formal dining room can become a library, Internet cafe or playroom, he says.
“As you become aware of what you use, you realize there is so much space in your house,” Lowell says. “Don’t be afraid to reassign conventional formal space to something else.”