Rachel Strisik Rosenthal on getting organized | Home Front

Mar 13, 2014

Rachel Strisik Rosenthal is owner of Rachel and Company, a professional organizing company that has been serving the greater D.C. area and nationally since 2006. Rachel specializes in organization, closet design and organized moves. With over 750 clients, Rachel has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, Washingtonian, NBC4, Fox5, Lucky Magazine and The Huffington Post.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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This chilly morning we welcome organizing expert Rachel Strisik Rosenthal, the owner of Rachel and Company, a professional organizing company that has been helping clients clean up their acts since since 2006. Rachel and her team have helped Washingtonians and others to  organize papers, improve closet design and streamline moves. With spring knocking on our door, it's time to refresh and renew our homes and declutter and organize. So let's get those questions going for Rachel.

Thank you so much for having me on the chat today. I am looking forward to answering everyone's questions on all things Spring organzing! Just because it is still freezing out doesn't mean we can't look forward to the warmer weather and the thought of being able to open up the windows when tackling all our organizing projects. 

Almost everyday I find something in the back of the fridge that has gone bad or worse, it is so old that I have forgotten when I even purchased it. It really bothers me that I am throwing away food because my fridge is messy but I can't keep it organized. Every time I rearrange things and try to make it look neat, it is messy by the next day and I give up. With three sons, is there any way to get a handle on the fridge and actually eat what we buy?

Yes! There is absoluetly a way to get a handle on your fridge. Throwing away food and money is preventable. When things get put on shelves they also get slowly pushed to the back of the fridge. I recommend using clear plastic containers that fit on the shelves. Label one for cheese, one for yogurt, one for fruit, etc. Then label these containers and make sure the food goes into them. This way, nothing will get lost in the back of the fridge and bonus, you can easily find things when you need them. 

i know spring is for spring cleaning but i just don't know where to begin with all the paper in my house. i am also very aware we are getting to tax season and i am beginning to get nervous i might not have all i need.. i have my bank statements, my pay stubs, receipts. what can i get rid of? i really want to get rid of things but i am nervous to. will i need that one day always is in the back of my mind. do you have any thoughts on paper?

Paper is such a big issue for everyone so you aren't alone! Paper is the number one thing that I find in people's homes despite society going more green/paperless these days. As a guide, I use the link below for a great reference on when you can let go of paper. 

http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Money/Personal-Finance/Managing-Household-Records.shtml

I've heard a lot about "going paperless" recently and everyone is saying it is the new way to organize. I'd like to try, but I don't even know if it is for me. My biggest problem is that I write on a lot of post-its and scraps and i have no idea how to go about making those digital. My paper filing system is pretty organized but I can see the benefits of going paperless and am willing to try. Do you have any tips for these little scraps that I can't scan?

Congrats on the organized paper filing system! It should be a smooth transition over to paperless. As far as what to do with those little hard to scan scraps, there are a few options. You can type your notes out by date and save a month of scrap "notes" at a time. Another option is to take a photo of them with your phone and upload it to your computer. Just make sure to label each picture you upload so you know exactly where to find things. 

It's hard to figure out the best solution.

There are so many great ways to organize shoes. My favorite is to use clear plastic shoeboxes (you can find these at The Container Store). You can put each pair of shoes in a box and label the outside, so you can find what you want to wear quickly. These stack easily on a closet floor or shelf, and can slide under your bed when they are out of season. 

I am amazed at how much we buy cheap stuff and then pay more $$$ to keep it. Some of us buy expensive stuff and keep it and never use it. At this stafe of the game (50) and clearing out homes of deceased relatives....please start unloading stuff now. Sell it give it away....Stop storing it.

I completely agree with you! These days it is much easier to buy "cheaper" items which just continue to pile up. I am not a big fan of paying money to store things. I think what people have to ask themselves is why are they storing the item, when will they realistically see the item again and how much are they paying to store it. There is so much more to say on this topic but when working with clients my first question always is: WHY are we storing it? 

My mother passed away last year and left me with a lot of designer clothing that she had collected over the years. I am having a really hard time letting go of things. How can I start to part with it?

So sorry for your loss. It is hard to part with things that our parents owned, especially something personal such as clothing. Sometimes you have to wait a bit until you can go through personal things. I guess I would first go through her clothing and accessories and pick out things you want to keep yourself. If you have family members who are interested, ask them to choose pieces they would like. It will make you feel good to see the things are being looked after or being used. After this, donate to charity things that are not current or are a bit worn. If she had good quality vintage designer clothes, you might be able to consign some of the pieces at a clothing consignment store or a vintage store. Good luck.

I started working from home about a year ago and while I was very tidy in my actually office, my home office is just a mess. I am so unmotivated and feel like everything is just so blah. I find that when i like my furniture, I tend to keep the room organized. I don't really want to purchase a new desk at this point so I was wondering if you had any recommendations for perking up my home office.

It can be really hard to find motivation when you make the transition to working from home, but a few changes can make a huge difference. In my office, I love to use products from poppin.com. They come in really fun colors and are the most inspiring office supplies I've come by! Just adding a little color to your desk can make all the difference, and these double as organization tools. I also recommend spending 10 minutes at the end of your workday to organize and clean up. Recycle any paper you no longer need, make sure your to-do list is in order for the next day and put away any supplies or papers that you used.

My whole house just seems out of control and I really want to get organized for spring. I just have no idea where to begin so I find myself not starting at all. Do you have any suggestions on how I can get started.

First, that is great news that you are taking on getting organized for Spring. When starting, I advise people to start off with short amounts of time (20 min) or with one drawer for instance. If you are able to break down your projects into smaller steps, you will be able to complete the tasks of getting your kitchen organized, for instance, done in a realistic time frame, if the tasks within the kitchen are broken down. Otherwise, you will go on an organizing "binge", work for 4 hours straight and not want to go back to things. Write down your goals for getting organized this Spring. Write down (or use an electronic device) the areas you want to tackle and start from there. I am also a big fan of doing the "editing" of an area first, creating a system to maintain the space, layering back in the asthetics you want for the space and then figuring out if products need to be involved to compliment things.

Also, if you can wait until April, I have a great new product coming out that will help you get your entire home organized! Organized in a Box (www.organizedinabox.com)

I keep archives,, photos, letters, etc. for myself, husband, and 2 sets of in-laws. as well as family history. These take up space in boxes and cupboards. Since my only reason for this storage if because our children may want to know this stuff after we are deceased, I keep it. Now my daughter, who is up to date on technology, says that they will go through it and store all they want in the "cloud" and I need not concern myself with it anymore.Problem solved.

Indeed! You are kind to do all of that!

My office is overwhelmed by piles of paper. Is it really necessary to keep every health care claim, water bills, mortgage receipts, etc? For how long? What's the rule of thumb for keeping papers when we live in an electronic world?

This is a great question because we all have times when we don't want to throw things away "just in case." This link tells you everything you need to know about what to keep and for how long and what can go to the shredder. 

http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Money/Personal-Finance/Managing-Household-Records.shtml

I have been reading your blog for a while because I have always been interested in hiring a professional organizer, it just hasn't been in the budget yet. Do you have any steps someone like me could take to get my home organized myself, especially my kitchen and bathrooms.?

Thanks so much for reading my blog! I really try to write about topics that people ask me about and need practical tips on. For kitchen and bathrooms, I would suggest first looking at what you have in there and editing down what you have do. Are there any products in the bathroom that are expired? Is there a mixer in your kitchen that was a wedding present and you haven't touched it in the 20 years you have been married? Next look for places to donate, sell or trash the items that no longer belong in the areas. Systematically put back the items into the space and decide how they are going to best be accessed for your daily life. IF you need products to aid in the organization, take measurements, decide on the look, etc. and set a budget.

I am overwhelmed with paperwork, pictures, things I want to read, etc. I have piles and boxes, drawers filled and my "bag" collection (things I carry around and never get to). This is several years of "stuff". This is really bothering me and makes me feel inadequate and miserable. I dont know where or how to start at this point. Im very short on time as well. What do you suggest?

It can be really overwhelming to get started when you have a lot to organize, especially when it comes to paper. First I would recommend creating basic categories such as "things to read, "family pictures," "must keep medical records," etc. Make sure the categories fit with your needs. Then, just start small. Try just 10 minutes a day, grab one stack of papers and go through them for just 10 minutes. Try to throw away as much as possible and put what remains into the appropriate categories. At the end of the 10 minutes just walk away, you will start to see a change sooner than you think and may even be able to do 20 minutes a day the following week.

As new papers come in, determine right away if they can be tossed, if not put them in the appropriate category as soon as possible. Just remember that the pile of paper wasn't built in a week so give yourself time to organize it and if you get discouraged take a break and come back to it later. 

I would like to paint the kitchen bm saybrook green and cool breeze with white dove trim and doors does this combo work and what about one far wall in the end of the great room cool breeze only

I love Saybrook Sage and it is a wonderful grayish green color that is right from nature. I don't see a Cool Breeze in Benjamin Moore on my fandecks.

Hi. I am sure I am not the only one out there to complain about this but I have no closet space. I live in a 1940's home and the closet I am using in my bedroom has no room for what I own. I have a wall in my bedroom that I am trying to figure out if it can help me, closet-wise but again, I am at a loss. I have heard of closet companies that build out your closets. Is this something you would recommend? I don't know a thing about it but just know I want and need more space for my clothing.

You are not alone! Older houses typically have less closet space so I recommend clients be creative in their storage solutions. There are definitely solutions through closet companies that can help maximize the space you do have. When I work with closet companies (my favorite is Bethesda Closets: http://www.bethesdaclosets.com), I make sure to take into account what the client owns, how they live (do you wear dress pants to work or jeans?), etc. as all these things should go into how you build your new closet. There are also also other solutions and you mentioned the wall that you have. I am also a big fan of the ELFA system from The Container Store and feel this might be an option for giving you more clothing storage on the wall that you do have. If you have the time, I would defintely look into this option as well. Finally, at every big box store (Bed Bath Beyond, Target) there are products that will help maximize the closet space you do have. Good luck!

I applaud your idea of cleaning out one drawer or one cupboard at a time. Some years ago, I had to empty all my kitchen cupboards because of an ant infestation. I got rid of half the stuff in them. More recently, I had a water leak under my bathroom vanity, and again I found that I could get rid of half the stuff. One small step at a time!

Thank you! All of those small organization steps really add up over time. Just a few minutes a day dedicated to organizing your home will make a huge difference. 

My boyfriend is a bit of a packrat, and I'm kind of a minimalist. I can live with his packrat ways if things are organized. We have a bunch of bookshelves, organization units, etc., on pretty much every wall of our apartment. Do you have any suggestions for maybe more vertical storage (that's not too expensive)? Thanks.

It sounds like you are taking advantage of all the walls of your apartment which is a great start! I am a HUGE fan of bookcases because they are so versatile as well as organization units. Have you thought about floating shelves? I would also recommend looking to see if you have any backs of doors that you could use for hooks, back of the door organizers, etc.  The insides of cabinet doors are also forgotten places to put up organizational items as well as magnetic strips for storage which will help with a little more vertical storage! And when it doubt, look for wall space to add hooks! Best of luck.

I'm a craft junkie, which means I have craft junk (literally) all over the place. My main storage is in the basement, which was destroyed by water from burst pipes. As I reconsider this area, do you have suggestions for good craft storage areas? I've failed at this a number of times!

You can definitely still use your basement for storage, just make sure to store all of your crafts in sealed plastic containers so everything stays dry. Try using the vertical space of your basement by storing these containers on a shelving unit. You can get a metal or plastic shelving unit that won't get damaged by water, dust or bugs just about anywhere (Ikea, Target, The Container Store, etc.). If you'd like to try storing your crafts somewhere else, you can make them blend in with your decor by using a bookshelf and containers or baskets that look good in the space. Using a bookshelf to store vertically takes up less room. Just remember to label what is inside each container so you can find what you need easily. 

For those of us who live in an apartment - unnecessary post should never enter your own front door. I sort it all in the mail room, every day. It's surprising how many days no post crosses my threshold. Be firm, hold the line. Oh yes - sorting your mail every day is really helpful too.

You are strong! Great inspiration.

Your website recommends salvaging empty bottles... which I do, and I use them -tall and thin, short and fat, and especially if they are wide-mouth and have liquid measure marks in the glass. but what do i do with them when I'm not filling them??? Right now they're in a basket on my pantry floor... but I'm about to use up stored 'stuff ... how do YOU store empty bottles? Thanks!

To be honest with you, I don't keep a lot of empty bottles. If I do keep them, have a designated bin for them and once that is filled, I recycle the rest. I know that I can't keep them all-despite how useful and pretty they may be-so usually it is a one-thing in, one-thing out kind of pace. 

My bathroom is beyond tiny and my makeup either ends up scattered across the tiny sink top or stuffed into a makeup case, neither of which is convenient or working. Any guidance on makeup storage in a small bathroom? Appreciate it!

Do you have a medicine cabinet? I fear not from what you said. I keep the basics I use every day, mascara, blush, lipsticks, eye liner and foundation,  in a small basket. The extras go in my medicine cabinet stored in small glasses and those clear acrylic makeup organizers you can buy at the Container Store and other places. I would make it a point to go through your make up every few months and dump those old products and samples that you are done with. Keep a second set of your basic make up in a small make-up bag in your purse so you don't have to keep hunting for stuff and putting it back.

A few friends are spending the next 40 days dealing with clutter. The deal is that you remove one bag of stuff from your house each day, for the next 40 days or so. Garbage bag, paper shopping bag, plastic bag--the size is up to you. The idea is that a slow and steady sustained effort over the next month or so should get the clutter under control.

I absolutely LOVE this idea! I don't personally celebrate Lent but want to jump on board. What a great motivator to give up your clutter. Please report back on how you feel after the 40 days. I can't imagine you will not be feeling lighter both emotionally and physically due to all the clutter that is gone. Best of luck on the journey.

When my grandma died in the 1980s, my mother somehow wound up with a big black filing cabinet that had belonged to her. There are a lot of photos in the cabinet. My mom has not been able to bring herself to go through the cabinet for the last 25 years... (she was very close to her mom). I don't know or recognize anyone in the photos since they died before my time. My question is, what do we do with the stuff from the filing cabinet now?? Do we hire a professional organizer? Just throw it away? Taking it one drawer at a time is not working - my mom cannot even bring herself to open the cabinet.

Oh dear. This is a problem. Ask your mom if she would help you identify the people in the photos that are stored in the cabinet. Ask her if each week, she could go through a group of photos and let you jot down the names of the people on the back of the photo and anything else she knows about them. If I were you, I would go through the cabinet myself and make piles of things. There are probably fun things in there that your mom would enjoy seeing again. It's hard to get going but I bet you can do this yourself. You will find things that have no meaning to either of you and you can feel free to part with those. Hopefully, you can get rid of this big black filing cabinet at the end of your journey.

I don't have a mud room, laundry room, or even a coat closet on my main floor. And the front door foyer is adjacent to the kitchen, our messiest and most lived in area. I've tried all sorts of tricks, but it's just hard to keep things organized, so there's no "dumping" area that's private.

Even though you don't have a private area for these "mud room" type items, you can still create an area by the door that is organized enough for even guests to see. The trick is to use vertical space. There are many ways to do this. Hang hooks on the wall near the door to hang up coats, scarves and backpacks to get them off the floor and out of the way. You can also try adding a book shelf to the area, you can store shoes on the bottom shelf and use baskets to store things on the other shelves like mittens, sunglasses and more. 

I use Google to manage my calendar and I love it. My mom uses a paper calendar, but unfortunately her system does not work. She is constantly forgetting dates and constantly asking me to re-email her the information (after the third time, it gets annoying). She sometimes forgets to put information in her paper calendar altogether, and sometimes puts information on the fridge instead (and then forgets it). She is also always wishing people "happy birthday" a week or two late. Should I try to help her with her paper system? Or should I try to get her to convert to a digital calendar? And if so, how??

I am a big fan of sticking with what is working for you and in this case, it sounds like your mother is struggling with a paper system. If she is open to it, maybe you can do a test run with her on a digital calendar. If for some reason the digital calendar doesn't work, I would re-evaluate some of the reasons why she doesn't think either system is working. Good luck.

 

We have a small house where the living room includes the front door. We're finding that papers pile up because we have no place to put them. A file cabinet would look unsightly in our living room or dining room, and we don't have space for a desk. Any suggestions of how to set up a paperwork management area in this living space that is small and seen by visitors? Our kitchen is a galley. We have kids and are deluged with papers from school. Thanks!

I am a big fan of file tote boxes that are basically small, attractive, transportable filing systems. They are great for small spaces and for culling paper. You can find them at The Container Store, Target, etc. 

The most important thing that I've done for eating food before it goes bad is to label the expiration date in BIG numbers, at least an inch high if there is room, and write it in a place that is easily visible. Sometimes I write it on both the side and the top. Sealed food gets the manufactuers' date while I'm putting it away. Leftovers have the date written on a bit of freezer tape. I still miss things, but it seems to help.

This is a great idea and obviously very helpful..and organized! 

I just keep my make-up in one of those bags they give away with samples - slide it in and out of a drawer. Bonus - I don't have to pack it when I travel .It's like the basket idea, I like being able to zipper it all up.and throw it in a drawer.

Whatever works, right?

I have employed several professional organizers over many years, and I think this is one place where your investment can reap rewards beyond what you might expect (and I'm somewhat of a miser). Rachel is truly gifted, and I have worked with her on a huge range of projects. For those who feel overwhelmed, even a little help can go a long way in relieving the stress of clutter and disorganization. And good organizers (like Rachel) are fantastic resources for a wide variety of questions and needs -- on the spot!

Thank you so much for this statement about my services as well as other organizers!

Thank you so much for all of your great questions! I had so much fun answering them and hope I helped everyone get organized. If you have any more organizing questions you can always send me an e-mail. You can find me on my site - www.rachel-company.com and check out my new product launching in April 2014 at www.organizedinabox.com

Inspiring as always to hear a professional discuss ways to organize our homes and our lives. Thanks to Rachel for being on the chat to bring some order to the chaos in our closets and cupboards. Spring will come, and we will be ready. Next week join me on this chat as I welcome Annie Sloan, developer of her own famous Chalk Paint line and one of the world's leading experts on decorative painting.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archive
Rachel Strisik Rosenthal
Rachel Strisik Rosenthal is owner of Rachel and Company, a professional organizing company that has been serving the greater D.C. area and nationally since 2006. Rachel specializes in organization, closet design and organized moves. With over 750 clients, Rachel has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, Washingtonian, NBC4, Fox5, Lucky Magazine and The Huffington Post.
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