Five focus areas for decluttering your home – and how to tackle them

before/after shots of utility room
'In so many houses, the utility room becomes the dumping ground' say Shearer and Teplin

We’ve all been there: you spend a weekend decluttering, haul bags of stuff to the charity shop or the tip; yet just a couple of months later, your drawers and ­cupboards are full again, and your house looks messy and feels chaotic.

Getting – and staying – organised can seem like a herculean task, ­especially when you add a busy ­lifestyle, ­children (or untidy partners) and pets into the mix. So what’s the secret?

Professional organisers Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin, stars of the Netflix show Get Organized with The Home Edit, are known for reorganising the homes of celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Drew Barrymore – and documenting their work in pleasingly colour-­coordinated style on their Instagram account, @thehomeedit, which has almost 7,000,000 followers.

Joanna Teplin (left) and Clea Shearer
Joanna Teplin (left) and Clea Shearer

In their new book, Stay Organized, they claim that the key to successfully sorting out your home is to establish flexible systems that work for your ­lifestyle – and to maintain those systems on a ­regular basis, so that tidying up is quick and easy. As they put it: “Life is messy. But if you’re honest with ­yourself, and do just a ­little bit every day, it never needs to get disorganised.”

‘The Home Edit: Stay Organized’ by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin (Mitchell Beazley, £27) is out on September 26

Hallway

No matter the size of your home, your hallway is your hello and goodbye; the space that sends you off in the morning, and the cosy embrace that greets you at the end of the day. It’s a high-traffic space: as people come in and out, so do their shoes, jackets, bags, keys, sunglasses, umbrellas – the list goes on, changes with the seasons, and differs for every household.

Since the hallway is the first thing people see when they walk into your home, it’s tempting to focus strictly on aesthetics. But if you don’t think through your flow of traffic, your system will be full of roadblocks.

Hallway case study

What we see here is the remnants of a perfect system that couldn’t keep up with the life of this family. The kids couldn’t reach the baskets on the top shelf; the bench has become a dumping ground, as have the cubbies on the bottom; and the system hadn’t evolved to accommodate new activities (i.e. sports gear).

We added cushions to give the bench a purpose; wire baskets in the bottom cubbies for shoes; and repurposed the storage bay on the left with box files for homework and an inbox/outbox for post. The bags on hooks are prepacked with items for work, sports, etc. Now getting out the door is as easy as grab and go.

Need to have

  • A place for frequently worn shoes

  • A flat surface to sort post

  • A grab-and-go place for keys, sunglasses, wallet or purse

  • Hanging space for in-season coats

Nice to have

  • A chair or bench for putting on shoes

  • Hanging system for bags

  • Storage for sports equipment, dog leads, etc

  • Extra hanging space for guests


Kitchen

The thing about the kitchen is that everything ends up there. We are all guilty of dropping post on the worktop, or kicking off our shoes without putting them away. A kitchen is not just a place to cook food, but a mixed-bag space that tends to tilt towards chaos; but there are ways to manage it.

Keep appliances that aren’t used on the regular out of sight, and make use of risers, cookware organisers and drawer dividers to help keep your cupboards and drawers in order.

Kitchen case study

Most kitchens have a junk drawer (or five). Most people think it’s a necessary evil that must be endured, but here is a four-step system to tackle any kind of drawer.

1. Take everything out, even things you know you want to keep, and wipe it clean of crumbs, lint, etc.

2. Toss or donate what you don’t want, use or need, and clear a big space to group the things you are keeping into categories, clocking any duplicates (if you have five different bottle openers, you know what to do).

3. Measure the drawer, making a note of width, length and height.

4. Find an insert system that works for you and your space (try spring-loaded expandable inserts if individual inserts don’t fit) and arrange items according to frequency of use.

Need to have

  • Storage system for plates, glasses and cutlery

  • Easy access and smart storage for pots and pans

  •  Organised system for cooking utensils

  • Proper homes for appliances and leftovers containers

  • Storage for infrequently used cooking and baking items

Nice to have

  • Pretty and functional stations (e.g. for coffee, tea, breakfast)

  • Dedicated space for entertaining item

  •  Next-to-stove storage for spices and oils

  •  Command station to manage household schedules (with a calendar, key hooks, post storage, a bulletin board for invitations, etc)


Home office

People are working from home more than ever, or living hybrid professional lives, working partly in the office and partly at home. It’s a combination that provides a challenge, but also moments of magic. Your home office may be a big room with a big desk and supplies at your fingertips, or it may be a cart that you push from the sofa to your kitchen table. Some need their paper files in bona fide filing cabinets; others prefer digital files on their (virtual) desktops; but most of us need to accommodate both.

Office case study

If you’re tempted, as this client was, to keep things on the surface of your desk, ask yourself this question: am I the type of person who is going to maintain this, or am I a drawer person? This client is definitely a drawer person. To ensure the system we set up would be easy to maintain, we designated strategic zones: the drawers to the right and left hold things she uses daily; the two in the middle (which are harder to access when she’s sitting at the desk) hold stationery that she only uses occasionally.

But a workspace doesn’t have to be sterile and boring – look at the wallpaper here, and the red trays on the desk. If you fill your workspace with things that make you happy, spending a few minutes a week on maintenance won’t feel like a chore.

Need to have

  • Storage system for important paperwork

  • Charging solution for digital devices

  • Clutter-free workspace

  • Storage for small items (pens, notepads, scissors, etc)

Nice to have

  • Docking station for digital devices

  • Closed-door storage for items not in use

  • Colour-coded filing system for different subjects/family members

  • Ties or clips to keep cords in place

The organising basics
The organising basics

Utility room

In so many houses, the utility room becomes the dumping ground for all sorts of stuff that hasn’t quite found its rightful home. It’s like the garage but inside your house, especially if it’s where you also keep cleaning supplies, pet food and light bulbs. It can end up being a throwaway space that you can ignore once the door is shut. Regardless of whether yours is a big bright room, a cupboard with inadequate shelving or just an over-the-door unit for laundry supplies, you can turn it into a space that you’ll love to use.

Utility room case study

This is how lots of people deal with that random storage cupboard when life gets busy and there’s a door that closes. All we needed to turn that understairs horror show into a dream space was shelving, baskets, bins, labels and a plan.

The Elfa storage system we used here is affordable and adjustable, with a clever customisable utility track on the wall to keep items off the floor. Clear plastic boxes are perfect for things that look good, while woven baskets can store vacuum attachments and loo rolls.

Need to have

  • A basket for dirty clothes, and if possible a separate one for clean clothes

  • Adequate storage for detergents, stain removers, etc

  • Adequate storage for cleaning supplies

  • Bin for dryer lint, clothing labels, etc

Nice to have

  • A divided basket system for different family members

  • A table or counter for treating stains and folding clean clothes

  • Zoned shelving for extra supplies


Bathroom

Everyone uses the bathroom multiple times a day, in many different ways, which makes it a high-traffic space where people are generally rushing to get out the door, or into bed. Life is busy, and your bathroom reflects that, with all its bottles, cans, towels and tubes – not to mention those samples and possibly-expired products you’ve been hanging on to.

Remove everything from the space and stage a proper edit. Then, if you share the bathroom with a partner or kids, make sure everyone has a clearly labelled space of their own, for them to keep tidy. Even if your bathroom is too tiny for cupboards, you can use over-the-door storage, and never underestimate the power of a storage trolley in a small space.

Bathroom case study

This client made good use of her space, but she had allowed random items to invade the shelves (power drill?). She had also fallen prey to a common problem, which was a reluctance to get rid of towels and sheets that were well past their prime. Remember: the local animal shelter almost certainly can use your old towels.

Because she didn’t have time to fold everything perfectly, we needed a solution where towels and sheets were easy to access but concealed. Now baskets act as drawers for quick grab and go, and a woven hamper acts as a closed door for laundry.

Need to have

  • Organised, easy access for daily-use items (brushes, toothpaste, razors, etc)

  • Caddy or shelving to corral items in the shower

  • Designated zones for family members

  • User-friendly system to hold cosmetics

  • Space for extra loo rolls, etc

Nice to have

  • Under-sink storage for lesser-used products

  • Cupboard or shelving for extra towels

  • Turntables for beauty products

  • Basket or drawer for guests

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