Originally posted on The San Diego Union Tribune by Caron Golden
Is your home ready for company? Not necessarily in the sense that you’ve spiffed things up with new paint and furniture or put new art up on the walls. More like, can guests enter your house without it feeling like a war zone?
Let’s face it, after a couple of years of living in a mandated cocoon, perhaps things have gotten a little lax, a bit disorderly. Perhaps you have to watch where you step because errant Legos or Scrabble tiles are strewn around the floor. Or you can’t find any of your remote controls until you find you’re sitting on one buried under a couch cushion. Or your eyeliners on your bathroom counter look like a jumble of Pick-Up Stix. Because, honestly, after a while, if no one outside of your household is going to see it, who cares?
Well, you should. Life is just better when your stuff is organized. Visual clutter is stressful — and life is stressful enough these days. And, yeah, people are probably starting to come over, too. Maybe a total decor overhaul isn’t in your future, but you can find some great, very cool storage-oriented furniture and accessories to piece together an interior space that gives you some breathing room. As professional organizer Ryen Toft, founder of Simply Luxe, explained, “Good organization is part of beautiful decor. It is interior design.”
Toft, who calls herself a “stuff designer,” has some organization precepts that she said people should consider before they invest in storage options:
Edit and declutter first: Before you purchase anything, know what you’re actually containing. It can save you money. “If you don’t edit first, you’re going to be containing stuff you don’t even want to keep anymore.”
Micro organize: Decorative baskets are a great holder of stuff — and they’re eye candy — but, Toft warned, they can also be a dumping ground. “Containment within containment is the key,” she said. If you’ve got games with small pieces, dice and cards that you want to store in a basket or other storage, put them in sturdy zipper bags with the pieces in a bag inside the zipper bag, the dice in another, and the cards in still another. Same with makeup or office supplies. Not only is it neater, but also stuff like a Monopoly iron game piece or Yahtzee dice won’t go missing. Toft finds her plastic mesh bags on Amazon.
Try to make things coordinate as much as possible, whether it’s by size, shape, material or color. It helps with visual cohesion and balance. It’s also a way to repurpose what you bought for one room in another.
Consider repurposing items meant for one job and using them for another. Toft’s best example is shoe racks. If you have a closet with a shelf at the top and a tall ceiling, make the most of that unused space and place shoe racks on that shelf to increase storage of out-of-season clothes — like sweaters or sweatshirts/pants in the summer and T-shirts and shorts in the winter.
Buy several options and return what you don’t need: Measure your space for what you need — like shelves inside a closet — and buy multiple trial options to see what fits and what works best for you. Do you prefer clear plastic or acrylic containers or colorful baskets? Round or rectangular? Larger and fewer or smaller and more specific? Would it be helpful to have something that can hold a label to make it easier to find things? Bring them home, figure it out, and return what you don’t like or what doesn’t work. Then pick up more of what you can use well.
If you have stuff to store but the stuff needs to be easily accessible — even out in public — then you need to find vessels that are as beautiful as the rest of your furnishings.
Let’s start with baskets. They’re everywhere, of course, in all kinds of materials, sizes, colors and shapes. You can find beautiful ones at vendors ranging from Target and Pottery Barn to your local farmers market. I use large, woven baskets to store rolled-up throws in my living room and dog blankets in my bedroom. I have a small, round market basket in my primary bathroom that holds extra hand towels and washcloths.
If you’re looking for beautiful, handcrafted baskets, here’s a source you should know about: A San Diego business named Kazi collaborates with artisans in Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Ghana to sell their sustainable hand-woven baskets. The fair trade company, which provides a market for the skilled African artisans’ work, focuses on empowering women. You can find them online at kazigoods.com. The raffia boxes have lids and are perfect for the bathroom or office. The Banana Bark Blocked Catch All can contain scarves and shawls or reading materials in your bedroom. The Modern Minimalist Storage Basket can hold stuffed animals, rolled-up throws or well-packaged games in your living room or playroom.
When my mom, a retired interior designer and now card maker, left her house to live in an apartment, downsizing meant that furniture had to serve double purposes. She bought two sleek, leather storage ottomansfrom Crate & Barrel for her office/guest room. Not only does the top lift off to reveal room inside for, say, a set of sheets for the sleeper sofa, but the lid flips over to reveal an ebony-stained tray top that can sit on the base, perfect for a guest’s cup of coffee and a plate of toast in the morning. So, it’s actually a three-fer. These days you can find plenty of ottomans that also serve at least double duty.
To add to her storage options, Mom bought herself an upholstered bed from Living Spaces with two drawers at the foot of the bed under the mattress. They hold extra blankets and sheets. She preferred that option to those with drawers on the side of the bed since her nightstands could block pulling out the drawers.
Crate & Barrel has a bedframe that not only has storage at the foot of the bed but also both sides. And there’s even a cool single bed for kids with a drawer at the foot of the bed and a headboard filled with shelving above and to one side — perfect for toys and books. There are also upholstered storage platform beds with hydraulics that lift the mattress to reveal full storage below. Retailers like Wayfair and Overstock carry them.
We don’t have mudrooms, per se, in San Diego, but a bench in the foyer by the front door is always welcome. Even more so, when the seat lifts up to reveal a place for jackets or dog leashes. And having a shelf underneath means keeping dirty shoes off a beautiful floor. Storage benches are also wonderful at the foot of a bed, if there’s room.
It’s not just ottomans in the living room that can serve double duty. I’ve long had an English pine trunk as a coffee table. It holds my down comforter and duvet in warm seasons. If you want something sleeker, check out coffee tables with slim drawers that can hold coasters, pens, pads of paper, and those always-missing remotes and reading glasses.
Even your couch can have built-in storage. That sectional you want could have storage hidden in the chaise. You can find versions at Pottery Barn, West Elm, Living Spaces, Room & Board, and other retailers. If that sectional is also a sleeper sofa, then you know where you can store the bedding for guests.
One of my favorite storage manufacturers is Elfa, which is owned by The Container Store. I have their white storage drawers in my kitchen, but I’m considering adding their on-door storage unit to the inside of my pantry door or one of my bathroom doors. It’s sleek, and you can select the size, style and number of storage baskets to attach to it. It’s especially great for an office or hobby room. And, if you’re looking for an easily accessible but not-in-your-face place to store pet paraphernalia, like cans of food, extra poop bags, collars, leashes and bags of treats, this is perfect on the inside of a pantry door or laundry room door.
Recommendations from a pro
Ryen Loft, a San Diego professional organizer and founder of Simply Luxe, understands that good design is practical as well as beautiful. Here are a few of her favorite suggestions for useful organizing tools around the house:
Fridge placemat holder: This magnetic metal pocket file, 19.9 inches by 14.4 inches, attaches to the side of the refrigerator and can hold place mats for the table or store school papers. Comes in white or black. $50
Slim rolling organizer: This ultra-slim cart on wheels, about 4 inches wide by 34 inches tall, slides in next to the refrigerator for handy pantry items. $75.99
White woven basket: The Montauk rectangular woven storage basket (available in multiple sizes) brings a cohesive look and works in many spaces, from the kitchen to the bathroom to the laundry room. medium size $29.99
Zipper pouches: You can use these transparent, waterproof zip-up bags, 16.9 inches by 12 inches, to decant games into, for a cohesive look, and keep all the parts together. $34.99 for a 20-pack
Clear multipurpose bin: This container works well to micro-organize items inside storage ottomans. medium size $6.99
Hat organizer: This wall organizer for baseball caps can go vertical or horizontal and holds up to 20 hats. It’s a big space saver for your closet. $18.99
Ball organizer: These wall-mounted display clips can get sports balls off the floor or out of a deep bin for quick access, either in the garage or in the bedroom. They also serve as display space for memorabilia — that special game ball can become wall art. Try this version from Amazon or this version from The Container Store. $14.99