Nicole Anzia, owner of the professional organizing business Neatnik and a monthly organizing columnist for The Washington Post, was the guest recently on The Post's Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt:
Q. We have full bookshelves in our office, living room, TV room and bedroom. Our two kids also have full shelves in their rooms. I gave my wife a Kindle a few years ago and she now has an iPad, but the library remains and she still keeps any new hard-copy book she reads. We could sure use the space for the rest of our clutter.
A. This is a common problem for many families. If space is truly becoming a problem, I suggest the two of you take everything off the bookshelves in one room at a time and try to set aside at least a third of the books for donation. Taking everything out of the bookcases serves two purposes: It's easier to see just how many books you have and the scope of the "problem," but it also forces her to make a decision before putting a book back. As for your kids, the fact that they love to read is fantastic, and you don't want to discourage their interest by telling them they "must" get rid of some books, but you could gently nudge them to give up a few to make room for some new books.
Q. I have a small, 7-by-10-foot closed-in porch area off the living room and would love to use it as a combination library and office. I currently have an old IKEA desk/shelf/filing cabinet that needs to go. I have a wonderful old farm table I'd love to use as a desk. Any thoughts or ideas on must-haves for the space would be greatly appreciated.
A. Technology has changed so much, and so have home offices. When you're thinking about setting up your space, give some real thought to how you'll use it. Do you plan to work in the space daily or only occasionally? Would you like it to be a comfortable place to sit and read a book, or is this primarily for paper storage and filing? That being said, I would suggest using the old farm table as a desk because it sounds fabulous. If the IKEA filing cabinet is separate from the desk and shelf, use that for now. Once you have those two things in place, you can decide if you need more or less filing space. Be sure to get a comfortable desk chair to go with your table, and consider low bookshelves for books, office supplies and photos.
Q. I have to drastically downsize to a small condo. All the furniture I own was purchased for a much larger home with high ceilings. Nothing will fit the new place and consignment shops have turned it down as "not what people are buying." I'm looking for an option other than Craigslist or eBay because I need everything gone quickly for the move, and I don't have time to be letting strangers into the rental I'm staying at to see the stuff. Any suggestions?
Also, can you tell me the best way to organize a small linen closet when I have a lot of bulky items?
A. Downsizing is always difficult. Do you have a neighborhood Listserv that you could use to advertise the items? Maybe even consider sending the photos and descriptions to friends, family and co-workers to see whether they might be interested. If those options aren't successful or possible, you could always donate the items and at least get the tax deduction for the donation.
Regarding your linen closet storage question, Space Bags can work to decrease the size of your items, but they don't stack very neatly in a closet. Have you considered using under-the-bed bins for some of the bulky items? That might be your best bet.
Q. I have a gas cooktop that greatly limits my cabinet space under the cooktop. I have yet to find a good storage option for my large pans. Any ideas?
A. Do you have a cabinet with a shelf that could be removed so you can place the large pans upright? Another option, although not as convenient as having the pans right in your cooking space, would be putting them in a pantry.
Q. I store the papers from my late husband's business, which are all full of confidential information. I want to be rid of them and reclaim the space. I'd also like to be rid of old household financial records. What do I do?
A. You can probably safely shred all the papers from your late husband's business. The only thing you would probably need to keep are the actual tax returns from the past seven years. And the same with household financial records. They can go!
Q. I have file folders filled with bank statements, retirement statements, etc. How long should I hang on to them? They are piling up, and retirement is still a few years away!
A. You can discard bank statements at the end of each year after you've reconciled them. If you need to get past statements, you should be able to access them online. I would keep your IRA statements for at least three years. Monthly or quarterly statements that are older than that can be discarded and you can just keep your year-end statement. Also, put older financial records in a portable filing box and store them in your attic or basement, but don't keep them in your everyday work space.
Q. Do you have any junk drawer organization ideas? Do you even believe in junk drawers?
A. I have a junk drawer in my house -- gasp! In a perfect world we wouldn't need one. But the fact is, most of us do. They key to making it work is to go through it regularly, at least once a month, and discard what you don't need. Small desk-drawer organizers can also help keep the contents at least a little bit organized.
Q. What's your best idea for shoe and boot organization at the front door?
A. Keeping shoes and boots organized near the front door is a challenge. How much space do you have? Even some very basic shoe shelves can help maximize a crowded space and keep things looking neat. Shoe cabinets, available at Ikea and the Container Store, can also be very useful. They attach to the wall and conceal shoes while not taking up too much space. I also regularly have my family take a few pairs of their shoes to their closet so that not every pair of shoes we own is in the foyer.
Q. Why don't organizing services tell you how much the service will cost? Do you (and other professional organizers) offer packages, just an hourly rate, etc.?
A. Rates for professional organizers are not meant to be a secret. Most of us charge an hourly rate, but we don't post our rates on our website because every job is different. It's better to talk with a potential client about the scope of their project either via phone or e-mail to give an accurate estimate of cost.
Q. I'm not a minimalist, but I don't want to be overwhelmed with stuff, either. I struggle with keeping things tidy and organized. What's one mantra I could tell myself to pare down my clothes closet or gifts from people? Some of these gifts are handmade with a lot of love.
A. Don't wait for the day when you have three hours to organize your clothes closet; it will never happen. Start a bag of donations and keep it in your closet, and as you decide you don't want or need something anymore, place it in the bag. A little work here and there goes a long way. As far as gifts from people, if they don't suit your taste, don't keep them. The person who gave it to you didn't want to burden you with items you don't want or need. Hold on to the truly special items and give away the rest to someone who will use and enjoy them.
Q. Can you please give me some advice on the best way to organize a garage? I have mostly storage bins, boxes and yard equipment in there now, along with some furniture I plan to sell or donate. I would like to use part of it for storage and the rest of the space to actually fit my car inside it.
A. Have you installed shelves? Getting things off the floor will open up a lot of space. Any hardware store will have sturdy shelving suitable for a garage. The Container Store's Elfa products also work well for storing large bins and other yard equipment.
Q. We just moved into a three-bedroom house from a one-bedroom apartment. We have a ton more space and storage but have more stuff, too, and not much organizing furniture or storage. I am also the least organized person ever. What would you say is the most important, easy thing that I can do to try and tame the chaos?
A. More space is always a bit of a blessing and a curse. I would advise that you not try to fill every room immediately. Live there a little while and see how you want to use the rooms before buying a bunch of new furniture. On the other hand, I understand you probably want to get settled. What type of furniture do you think you need most? Dressers for clothes storage, bookshelves, or toy storage? Pick one area and start there. It will be less overwhelming.
Q. Do you have any suggestions for an electronics charging station? Between our various phones, iPads, laptops and MP3 players, we have a nest of chargers and wires that need to be available for charging. Most electronics organizers are smaller boxes that need to be placed on a table or a shelf. Is there anything that provides more of a stand-alone option? Ideally I envision a piece of furniture somewhat similar to the charging stands at the airport, but obviously more stylish and without the ads.
A. I haven't seen a stand-alone option. The closest I've seen to an actual piece of furniture are the wooden boxes that allow you to charge three to four devices at a time. I believe Orvis and Pottery Barn have options for nice-looking boxes that hide cords. Maybe you could get a few and place them in different spaces throughout the house.