Simply Put Organizing

How to Maximize Your Space

by Kara G. Morrison – Sept. 24, 2010 11:14 AM
The Arizona Republic

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Just as Charlotte Steill was buying a cozy condominium, the rest of the Valley seemed to be doing the opposite.

That was 2004. Homebuyers were flocking to McMansions in the suburbs; Steill was downsizing from an 1,800-square-foot Mesa house to a 1,200-square-foot space near downtown Scottsdale.

slideshow PHOTOS: Getting organized

She and her then 5-year-old daughter gave up a huge yard, a two-car garage filled with storage cabinets and a dedicated office. It’s exactly what the professional organizer wanted to do.

“I didn’t want to pay for the maintenance of a house,” explained Steill, who owns Simply Put Organizing. “I didn’t want to be tethered by all that stuff.”

Today, when many in the Valley find themselves downsizing to smaller spaces and living with less in this downturn, Steill has a message. She knows firsthand how to shrink into a comfortable, uncluttered life. And she prefers it to filling a huge house with unused stuff.

“In these economic times, I wish I had all the money I wasted on all the things I didn’t use,” she said.

More than ever, all of us are taking stock of what we have, what we need and what we can give up.

Steill’s cozy condo is a crisp oasis of calm. In the serene space with a palette of white, cream, silver and black, there is no clutter. Everything she keeps has a place, or it’s out the door.

It’s inspirational.

“There’s a freedom in not having a lot of stuff,” Steill said. “I want to be surrounded just by what I love and nothing more.”

Her 9-foot-square kitchen (including the countertop space and pantry cabinet) is spotless. Her bathroom cabinets are a model of efficiency, and her organized laundry closet (painted Restoration Hardware pale blue) could be a magazine cover, with its white baskets and boxes adorned with her custom chalkboard labels.

Although the condo sometimes seems cramped to her now 11-year-old daughter, Steill’s home feels plenty big, in part because it’s so neat. She explained it’s easy to keep things clutter-free when everything has a dedicated place.

If you need to downsize or simply “right-size” to a clutter-free life, here are 10 of Steill’s best tips for creating your own cozy retreat.

1. Edit your stuff. Steill tells a story about a fondue pot she finally gave up when space was tight. She hadn’t used it in years, and she knew she could borrow one from a friend anytime. Steill urges people to purge all they can at the front end when moving into a smaller space, rather than trying to cram too much into the new place. “If you don’t love it and you don’t use it on a regular basis, don’t keep it,” she said, adding it’s easier to let things go than to wrap, haul and unpack them just so they can sit in an attic or storage locker.

2. Choose wisely. When space is limited, even the furniture has to double as storage, so choose it judiciously. Steill’s living-room end table has a drawer for coasters and remotes. Her TV stand holds DVDs, and her entryway piece has big drawers for family games. Current magazines and books go in a silver tray on her living-room ottoman. If she had it to choose again, Steill admits she’d go for a storage ottoman to hold throws.

3. Use it or lose it. Stuff without a purpose doesn’t fit into a tiny space. Still, there are always things we want to keep. Steill didn’t want to give up her green-glass biscotti jars, even though they would overwhelm her tiny kitchen. So she repurposed them for her laundry closet where they hold laundry soap and softener sheets.

4. Get the right tools. Steill uses three organizing products consistently: Sterilite clear plastic bins, turntables and laminate shoe shelves. She often uses 32-quart shallow bins without lids as makeshift pull-out drawers. There’s nary a room in her home without a turntable inside a cabinet. Turntables give her easy access to cosmetics in her bathroom and baking necessities in the kitchen. “They make high spaces and deep cabinets usable,” Steill said. She also uses 31-inch ClosetMaid laminate shelves from Target to hold shoes and clear shoe boxes filled with all categories of household stuff.

5. Donate regularly. Clutter accumulates for everyone, but it’s easier to spot in small spaces. Steill has one or two donation bags handy at all times. She fills them with clothing that doesn’t fit or doesn’t flatter, cosmetics she has tried but didn’t like (they go to a women’s shelter) or decor she no longer needs. She urges all her clients to identify a favorite non-profit and start donating often. This also alleviates the guilt of having purchased something that didn’t work. “We have charities that we love to give to because we believe in what they’re doing,” she said. “I just envision the person receiving it, and I feel good about giving it.”

6. Start a “halfway house.” We all have a few things we don’t really need, but we also can’t seem to give up. These things go in a closet Steill dubs her “halfway house.” They’re typically seasonal decorations she’s not sure she’ll reuse. They linger here until she makes a decision to keep, sell or donate them. Any designated shelf can hold “halfway” items, but Steill recommends using one that’s removed from the main living space. “If you don’t retrieve it, you probably don’t need it,” she said.

7. Make money. A painless way to downsize is to get cash for things you can’t keep. Steill takes decor and clothing she no longer wants to a consignment shop. She sells gadgets such as old cellphones to, which offers cash for used electronics. She also sells things on and has helped clients sell books to used bookstores. All told, she said, the money from giving things up adds up.

8. Go vertical. “You have to use every vertical square inch you can,” Steill said about living well in a small space. Hence, she relies on “shelf helpers” – adjustable wire shelves that help create another level to store things. Steill uses several in her kitchen cabinets.

9. Use doors, walls. “All the walls are fair game inside a closet for storing things,” she said. Hence, her utilities closet holds assorted cleaning products and household tools. She also makes use of the inside of cabinet doors using magnetic dots called Anywheres ($7.99 at the Container Store) that turn any surface into a mini bulletin board.

10. Glam the closet. Steill thinks a person’s home should be a sanctuary that relieves stress rather than adds to it. The same is true of the closet, where clutter can quickly accumulate. Her remedy is urging clients to make their closets (especially the main clothing closet) look like a boutique. If the space is welcoming, defined and elegant, one is less likely to make it a dumping ground.

click the slide show below for inspirational pictures

Slide Show

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