If you have ever organized a space and been underwhelmed with the look of the finished product that may be because there is a difference between being organized and being neat. The first means eliminating clutter and having a home for everything. The second means that it appears to be nice and orderly.

Although most of my clients do not live in a home that looks exactly like a magazine, I strive to make spaces look more streamlined by blending my love for interior design with practicality. Think store display and then back that off a couple levels for real people in real spaces. I feel the better things look, the more motivated a client will be to keep it that way.

Now it is your turn to give it a try! Organize by emptying a space, removing the clutter, and returning the keepers to their homes. Then use some of these finishing touches to complete the look. Whether it is a cabinet in the kitchen, a bookcase in the office, or shelving in a linen closet, my goal is always to cut down on as much visual clutter as possible through thoughtful item placement and attractive containers.

Item Placement

-Use shelving and hanging rods that hang at the same level. In the case of adjustable shelving, have consistent spacing in each section. If you need larger shelves for taller items, have those closer to the bottom. If the shelves are side by side in a bookcase or on a wall, keep them all at the same height so that there is one uninterrupted line going across.

-Place items closer to the front edge of the shelf as opposed to being pushed against the back wall. If you have a grouping of items and you are left with open spaces, fill the front and cover the empty holes in the back so the front row looks full. Try to avoid letting things hang over the rim of the shelves.

-Store items facing in the same direction, either all right side up or all upside down, all leaning right, and so on. As an example, when you line up multiple pairs of shoes either place them all toes forward or all heels forward.

– Try to leave some open space between items side to side and front to back so things do not look crammed in. If there are multiples of the same item, such as four hairsprays, line them up front to back so you can use the front one until it is done and then grab the next one behind it.

-When displaying books, line them all up either by size (small to big, big to small, big on the outside and small in the middle) or by color. Always pull the spine of the book forward to the front of the shelf so that there is a flush line across the shelf regardless of the varying sizes of your books. If you like, you can remove all the book jackets and display the solid colored spines which are way less busy.

-Select a preferred way of folding clothing, towels, or linens, and use the same technique on everything so that they stack easily. I leave the rounded edge of a folded shirt or towel facing forward (as opposed to the side where the tags stick out) which is typically the way that items are displayed in stores.


-Storing items in the same or similar containers is the best way to make all kinds of different things look less messy. When selecting boxes, bins, or baskets, try to choose one or two materials or styles and stick to it, such as all plastic, all wicker, all fabric, and so on.  The same thing goes for the colors. Choose matching or complimentary colors. I often find spaces where mismatched containers have been mixed together and it really does not help the look of the space.

-Wherever applicable, color coordinate containers and loose items so that like colors are together (such as all white then all black) or create a pattern with color by mixing them up (such as white, black, white, black). Color coding is common for clothing, accessories, and shoes, but is not worth the effort in places like the pantry, under the sink, and in the laundry room.

-Out of sight, out of mind thinkers should choose translucent or opaque containers so they can see what is inside and use extra care when inserting items because any mess is visible from the outside. I prefer colored or textured receptacles because they all match on the outside and you cannot see anything that is inside until you open it so there is way less likelihood of looking cluttered.

-Remove any visible price tags, stickers or overly busy packaging and wrappers of items that you are keeping.  The same thing goes for organizing supplies. I especially recommend buying matching boxes for shoes because regular shoe boxes come in varying colors and sizes and the extra colors and text add to messed up look of things.

-Add your own labels helps to keep things looking uniformed and neat. Make sure you use the same type and size of labels and either print them with a label maker or neatly handwrite them in the same color ink.

-Wrap and secure any dangling cables and chords. You can also use plastic bags to keep loose items together.

Step back to review your work and make any adjustments if necessary. Then enjoy the streamlined look of your new space and do your best to keep it looking neat from now on.

Tatiana is a Miami-based Pro Organizer who appears regularly on Lifetime’s “Designing Spaces”. Call  (305) 502.6391 or visit www.neatwithknight.com for appointments.