Home: Neat Method founders Ashley Murphy and Marissa Hagmeyer on living an organized life

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If you're using closed storage, make sure you use labels so you know where to store stuff. If your child likes to climb, you might also consider affixing this unit to the wall. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

Ashley Murphy and Marissa Hagmeyer are co-founders of the Neat Method, founded in 2010 in San Francisco and now with than 70 locations in all major cities throughout the United States and Canada. They also recently launched a product collection for kitchen, pantry, closet and bathroom.

They joined staff writer Jura Koncius for a recent Washington Post Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: Where do you recommend someone start organizing their home? How would you suggest managing your time so you don’t get overwhelmed.

A: We recommend picking the space that overwhelms you most first. This is typically your most used space, such as the kitchen. If it’s functioning well it will inspire you to keep going in other areas.

Q: How do you get started when the mess overwhelms you? When organizing, do you put all the clothes you are keeping in a pile or do you take the time to fold everything neatly? Do you organize all the sewing supplies as you go, or do you just try to collect all the scissors? I get bogged down by trying to fold all of the linens so they look good in the closet. Help!

A: We recommend starting with one small area instead of trying to tackle the whole thing at once. Pick only one corner of the room and begin categorizing from there. The next day pick a different corner until you are all the way through and all of your categories are complete. It does help to organize and fold neatly as you go.

Q: What’s the biggest mistake people make when purchasing products to organize spaces in their home? Is there any particular space that is more challenging to buy for?

A: The biggest mistake people make when purchasing products is that they just buy a beautiful bin or basket without first measuring the space’s dimensions. This is the quickest way to send yourself on one or more return trips to the store. Take thorough measurements first and plan where the bins are going to live and you will be well on your way to an organized life much sooner.

Q: Our house was built in the 1950s and has small closets. What is the best way to maximize our master’s small, reach-in closet?

A: We do a lot of work in big cities and see small closets all the time. Our best advice is to make sure you are using the height of the closet to its potential. Sometimes this means doing a new closet install and sometimes just some stacked bins can get you where you need to be. Stacked bins are great for shoes that you aren’t wearing other than on special occasions, and clothing that is seasonal.

Q: My family uses the kitchen counter, mostly the island, as a dumping ground for their things. How can I organize this cluttered space?

A: Is there a way to create a different drop zone close by? Perhaps a piece of furniture as you walk in the drawer. Or even dedicate a cabinet. That way, even if it’s messy, it’s now a place to be hidden.

Q: I was recently diagnosed as an adult with ADHD, the inattentive type. The diagnosis explains a lot about me, my relationships, and of course, the current state of my desk, laundry room, living room, bathroom closet. I didn’t learn the skills and coping mechanisms to get and stay organized the way most people did. I stay on top of my bills and nothing in the house presents a hazard, but that’s about what I can manage on a consistent basis without exhausting myself. What kinds of resources are available that might help me?

A: We are definitely not experts in this area, but have found with many clients that there is a sense of calm once a space is organized. If you have the means to hire a professional, we would highly recommend it. If you do not, we have several blog topics on our website that you can search and perhaps find some inspiration from.

Q: I recently purchased my first home and am slowly getting it in order. What tips do you have for storing larger decor that you’re not using right now but want to keep for later? I have several pieces that are too large to fit in a box, such as a vanity mirror and painting, and I don’t want to just stack them in the attic.

A: Do you know where they will live eventually or are you just keeping around for a “just in case” time period? If it’s the latter, we would say to do so for a 12-month period only. If you haven’t used them by then, you likely don’t really need them. In terms of storing, do you have a basement or extra closet you could place them in? Ideally this is an area that is easy to access.

Q: No matter how many shelves, bins or labels I have, my real problem is that I’m lazy. I don’t put items away in their attractive, neatly labeled containers. How can I train myself to develop habits of neatness?

A: Being neat isn’t something that comes easily for everyone. If you have correctly labeled and categorized bins or baskets, you’ll become more inspired to keep it up. It may take one big overhaul initially, but then you’ll be good to go.

Q: We have a small kitchen and would like to keep surfaces as clear as possible, especially near the sink and stovetops. What tips do you have for organizing those areas? I would especially love ideas for organizing foods items that tend to stay on counters such as fruit, onions and garlic.

A: We are by no means decorators, but we recommend buying the prettier types of storage for these items. Consider a pretty wooden bowl, a basket or nice canisters.

Q: I’m paring down the masses of photos in albums, photo boxes and online collections I’ve taken over the years. I have limited wall space and horizontal surfaces to display them. How can I enjoy photos without cluttering up the space?

A: Are you open to digitizing your photos? There are several companies that will literally do it for you. You could also create coffee table books or collections if you enjoy looking at them frequently. This would be more costly, but it’s pretty cool once you’re done.

Q: What are some simple tips to declutter daily so the mess doesn’t pile up?

A: Our best advice is to have a home for everything. When there’s a system in place and somewhere for every item in the house, it makes cleaning up so much easier. When those bins or baskets are full, you know it’s time to declutter.

Q: What’s the best way to keep my tiny laundry room organized?

A: Use as much surface space as possible. Are there any shelves or cabinets at all? Bins or baskets are a must in any space to hold you to your categories. Store your actual laundry baskets in your bedrooms. If you have a front-loading washer and dryer, store items on top. And don’t buy in bulk.•

Q: My husband has a fairly large collection of ties and he wears one almost every day. He has a motorized tie rack that holds some of them, but it’s full and the overflow is thrown over a hanger. What’s the best way to store and organize them?

A: We typically see that our clients stick to their handful of go-to ties and the rest are really just more of a collection. Count the ties and see what the total comes to; if it’s more than 50, find a way to kindly nudge him to pare down. If it’s a collection, we would place all of those “collector” items in a storage bin and have only the everyday ones accessible on the tie rack.

Q: What do I do with small appliances I rarely use? Everything is piled in the cabinet and looks messy.

A: How often are you using them, and do any of them accomplish the same task? If so, that’s a great way to decide what to donate. Corrall what’s left in a basket or bin with a closed lid so you can stack more on top.

Q: How do I keep my kitchen drawers organized? I’ve tried everything, including utensil holders, but it’s still disorganized.

A: We encourage you to edit as much as possible. Keep only the items you use every day in those prime real estate drawers. Anything extra should be stored elsewhere.

Q: I don’t have enough drawer space for sweaters so store them in a hanging fabric shelf in my closet. But they still seem jammed in and they take up valuable closet space. How can I organize and store sweaters?

A: Those hanging fabric shelves often take up more space and end up not keeping things organized. Get an open canvas-type basket, fold your sweaters and arrange them as if they’re in a file folder.

Q: I want to keep my shoes by the entry, but my dog will steal them. What are some good closed storage options for this area that aren’t those ubiquitous, shallow units from Ikea?

A: There are some decent baskets at World Market that come with a lid that hinges closed. Search on the internet for baskets with lids; surely many retailers sell similar items.

Q: Is it possible to keep a junk drawer organized?

A: Absolutely. The key is to have a good organizer and to go through the drawer monthly to put away what doesn’t really belong in there and purge what’s actually trash. Trash would be items such as expired coupons, broken parts and pens that don’t work.

Q: I just had taller cabinets installed and am cramming everything into them. I confess I feel better when I have at least two of everything – is there hope to change?

A: We can get behind having two of everything, but we find it’s usually not just two. Take the time to figure out how much you have in each category. Get rid of items you have that are well-loved and keep only your favorites. The act of separating each category will allow you to see how much you really have.

Q: I am trying to decide between a dresser, cubbies or large drawer-style toy box to store toys. I think closed storage looks best and I’m most interested in function over form. What do you think?

A: Assuming this is for a kid’s space or playroom, we really like the use of cubbies and placing bins inside each cube. You can then decide what type of bin works best based on your child’s age; for example, what do you want them accessing? This also forces you to create categories. Make sure you use labels so you know where to store stuff. If your child likes to climb, you might also consider affixing this unit to the wall.

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