Every year, our annual Real Simple Home is bursting with design ideas that we love to try, but it may just be the clever organization ideas that ultimately transform our homes the most. This year we teamed up with the organizing professionals at The Home Edit to clean out the fridge, kitchen cabinet and other clutter-prone places in the house. After admiring The Home Edit’s color-coded cabinets on Instagram and seeing them take over celeb spaces on their Netflix show, we thought we knew all their clutter-busting methods (rainbow order, right?). It turns out they had a few more tricks up their sleeve. Home Edit experts Alli Bridgers, Emily Shreve, and Shaina Burrell helped us clean out every corner of the three-story house and taught us that we had been organizing our refrigerators all wrong.
For even more cleanup tips, check out The Home Edit co-founders Joanna Teplin and Clea Shearer’s new special edition magazine, The Home Edit: Organizing Feel-Good. It may even inspire you to actually organize that junk drawer.
Place your fridge
If you’re currently stacking yogurt cups and placing produce on the open shelves in your fridge, you’re doing it wrong. Clear storage bins keep things safe while making it easy to see what’s inside. With transparent bins designed specifically for everything from berries to vegetables, it’s easy to see when you’re running out of eggs or have excess carrots that you might want to incorporate into your dinner plans. Hidden near the back of a shelf, produce tends to rot until you find them runny weeks later, but sorted into clear bins, it’s easy to see when vegetables are less than fresh.
To keep order, label each bin. “Refrigerated items have a high turnover rate, so use broad categories. Try ‘vegetables’ and ‘herbs’, not ‘cucumbers’ and ‘mayo,’” say experts at The Home Edit. “This ensures that everything always has a home!” Shaina explains.
Follow the 80/20 rule
“You get the item or the space; you don’t get both,” says the Home Edit team. “Live by the 80/20 rule: don’t keep your house more than 80 percent full and leave at least 20 percent free for breathing room.” Allowing some open space will make your home feel calmer and less chaotic. Let this principle guide every room in general (no, you don’t have to cover every wall with art or fill the floor with furniture), as well as smaller areas. For example, if you have bookshelves in the living room, fill them 80 percent with books, collectibles, and decorative items. Leave 20 percent open.
Make organizing intuitive
According to The Home Edit, refrigerators and pantries are often the hardest places to keep tidy, as they are high-traffic areas frequented by the whole family. “Everyone in the house uses them every day, from adults to children. This means that the system should be intuitive and easy to use for all ages,” they explain. If the system you’re using just isn’t working, try something more realistic and less ambitious. Labeled and color coded bins make it easy for anyone to figure out what belongs where. Consider keeping kid-friendly snacks on a lower shelf so the little ones can help themselves. Arrange labeled bins for seltzers, cheese sticks, and condiments where you usually store those items, rather than creating a new system that goes against the habits you’ve already established.
Stop storing clothes you don’t wear
The biggest closet organization mistake the Home Edit team sees on a regular basis? “When people hold things they never wear,” they say. “It’s just a waste of space! If you haven’t worn it in a year, you probably never will.” Sure, you can ask if it brings joy or go through a list of questions, but if you haven’t taken it off the hanger in the past 12 months, you probably won’t in the next 12 months.
“Closets can be difficult because there is often an emotional aspect to getting rid of clothes,” says The Home Edit. “Instead of going through each piece of clothing separately, start by categorizing it. It will help you see where you have unnecessary duplicates and decide which items are worth keeping.” Strict rules (like the 12-month time limit) and practical considerations (like duplicates) can help you make more logical decisions when it comes to cleaning out your closets.
Change clothes with the seasons
Unless you have a huge walk-in closet with plenty of room for every item you own, you’ll want to reorganize your closet as the seasons change. “Winter jackets should not be in the foreground in the summer,” says Shaina. Instead, move clothes for the season to the most easily accessible places and store off-season items in breathable bins with lids or vacuum bags. Not only will your clothes have more room to breathe, but you’ll finish faster if you can see all the season’s items at eye level.
Remember: cleaning is not organizing
Say it with us now: Tidying isn’t the same as organizing. Cleaning can include sweeping away dust, vacuuming up debris, and getting rid of piles of old mail. While organizing is all about creating systems that keep order in your home. “If you don’t create a sustainable system, you will undoubtedly create another mess. If you take the time to think about your habits, your home and your lifestyle, you can create smart solutions that you can maintain,” says Shaina. Organizing your home requires thoughtful consideration of where and how items are stored.Every household is different and the storage systems you choose should be adapted to how your family lives.
Organize by how you shop
If your pantry and pantry are neat and tidy until you get home from Costco and suddenly toilet paper falls off the shelves and giant snack packs pile up on the floor, you may need to reorganize based on how you shop. “If you’re buying in bulk, make sure there’s room for overflow items that won’t fit in your bins,” recommends Home Edit. “If you have a huge amount of snacks, spend a few bins on those items so you don’t cram everything into a single container.”