‘Remodelista’ authors discuss organization

Washington Post
Friday, December 22, 2017

Julie Carlson and Margot Guralnick, editors at Remodelista.com and authors of Remodelista: The Organized Home, joined staff writer Jura Koncius on the Washington Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

What is your favorite way to organize shoes in a closet?

Carlson: This is one of the biggest organization issues. Our favorite (but unfortunately priciest) way to stash shoes is in glass-fronted drawers in a walk-in closet. These keeps them protected from dust, but visible.

For more economical ideas, consider other solutions: storing shoes in a cubby unit from the Container Store (you can insert a couple in your closet); in a large, attractive basket (this is good for the entryway); a storage bench with a lid; or lined up on a metal tray. In the closet, we’re also fans of canvas shoe organizers (both the ones that you hang from a closet rod or on the back of a door).

What are some of the things that are hardest for you to part with?

Guralnick: I hate to part with sentimental objects of all sorts – my daughter’s dolls, my mother’s old coat, my husband’s grandmother’s vases, etc. – but that’s not to say I want to keep all of this stuff. In fact, rather than holding on to the things I know I’ll never use, I prefer to have them go to someone who wants them and will put them back into daily circulation. Donating to charities is a great easy answer. But for me, holding a yard sale is the way to go because I get to meet people, share the story of the object, earn a bit of cash and see where my beloved but unwanted objects are going.

Do you save nice paper shopping bags? How many is it reasonable to save?

Carlson: Yes, we believe in saving nice paper shopping bags! We use them for all sorts of purposes; taking clothes to the dry cleaner, delivering gifts or a bottle of wine, or sending dinner guests home with leftovers.

How many is it reasonable to save? I think it depends on how much storage space you have. If you have just a tiny closet, I would suggest limiting your collection to 20 or so (and store them flattened in your favorite bag).

Any thoughts on organizing books?

Guralnick: We love living with books and believe in Anthony Powell’s famous line: “Books do furnish a room.” That being said, how many to keep and how best to arrange them is a personal matter. Organizing by color looks great, but makes it hard to find the volume you’re looking for. So if you’re constantly reaching for your books, organize by category or type (while stepping back and assessing the overall look).

As for what is too many: You know when your stacks are taking over the floor and beginning to crowd you out that it’s time to do some deaccessioning. Selling online is a good option for valuable editions. All else can be hard to sell. Consider donating to a library (that holds book sales) or a school or hospital.

When my mother died she left me with a lot of expensive china, silver and glassware. Although we all agree it is beautiful, neither I nor my grown children will use any of these pieces.

Carlson: We hear about this issue over and over again; we can relate! My first piece of advice is to pick a few (even just one or two) things to keep. Tastes change, and in the future you may regret not having a couple of things that will remind you of your mother.

For high-end items, we list places to sell, including the online estate sale site Everything but the House (ebth.com), in our new book. The staff will come to your house, photograph and catalogue everything, and create an online sale. Another good site that allows individuals to list items is Chairish (chairish.com), where you post your own photos and descriptions of the items for sale. Finally, there’s always eBay; especially if you’re selling name-brand items (i.e. china from Tiffany) that buyers frequently search for.

Mail and the paper seems to be never-ending and overwhelming. Add that to a very busy 3-year old, laundry, life and I feel like I’m drowning. Any hints?

Guralnick:  We feel you! To help combat the onslaught, we suggest installing well-ordered systems for dealing with the mail, laundry, toys, etc. Make them easy and accessible: generous mail baskets (divided, so things get sorted on arrival), several good-looking catchall toy bins that even your 3-year-0ld can use, and a laundry area with baskets for dark, light, etc.

Growing up, we had silverfish in the house. My mother swore it was because we were using cardboard boxes to store some things. I run a dehumidifier most of the year in the storage area. Are silverfish, or other bugs, attracted to moist areas?

Carlson: Yes, we have heard that silverfish are attracted to cardboard and stacks of newspapers in damp areas (smart idea to run a dehumidifier in your storage space!). In places like garages and basements, it’s better to store your belongings in wood boxes or metal bins. Also, cedar is a good way to repel insects – you can place cedar blocks in your storage boxes, especially if you’re storing wool items, for instance.

Do you feel that consigning goods is worth the time and effort? Or should you just donate most things to charity?

Carlson: If you have high-end items, we do feel it’s worth the time and effort to consign, especially if the item is in good condition and isn’t hopelessly out of style. Most cities and towns have at least one stellar consignment shop where you’re likely to get a good return on your investment.

If the items are no longer in style, it’s best to donate them.

I have issues figuring out how to organize my craft supplies. I have a variety of bottles of paint. Most are the same size, but I have some larger, taller bottles. How do I store them all together so they look good? I’d also like to build a storage cabinet for organizing and storing 12-by-12 papers. Do you have any suggestions how to find one?

Guralnick:  If I were you I’d simply organize my paint bottles by size, so they line up well if they’re not perfectly uniform. (To get that perfectly uniform look, you could consider decanting the ones that are odd sizes, but I realize that may be a tall order.) Paints are pretty, so I think you should just aim for what makes them easiest for you to access, such as on a shelf rather than in tins.

As for having your storage cabinet built, you can definitely find a cabinetmaker willing to take on the job! Post a service request on Craigslist, if need be. You have to come up with a well-finessed prototype before you can begin trying to sell to manufacturers. But if you love the results, consider starting your own small business on Etsy, or teaming up with someone in your area who has an Etsy business. If you fill a real need, your design should have a market. Wishing you luck!

My spice collection has outgrown its lazy Susan on the counter. What’s a good way to keep spices together and organized?

Carlson: We’re big believers in corraling your spices in one place; sounds as if you need to create a designated spice drawer or shelf in your kitchen if possible. We like to buy spices in bulk at places like Whole Foods or specialty stores and store them in uniform containers, such as small glass paint jars from art supply stores with labels on washi tape.

We just featured chef David Tanis on Remodelista and we’re obsessed with his spice drawer. He stores them in glass jars arrayed upside down in a drawer, so the contents are visible. That way he doesn’t have to label them, he says.

Any good ideas for keeping vitamins where I usually take them, but not on display?

Carlson: We believe in keeping vitamins in the kitchen; several of us at Remodelista have a designated cabinet above the sink, so we can easily run a glass of water. If you have young children, make absolutely sure the vitamins have childproof caps. If you don’t have to worry about children getting into your vitamin stash, you can always decant the vitamins into attractive jars or bottles labeled with washi tape.