Nicole Anzia on getting organized in the new year | Home Front

Jan 02, 2014

Nicole Anzia is the owner of Neatnik, a professional organizing business she started in 2007. She helps her clients simplify their lives by bringing order to their homes and offices. Nicole also writes a monthly organizing column for The Washington Post. She lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and two daughters.

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.

Follow @jurakoncius on Twitter.

Home Front Live Q&A archive Older Home Front Live Q&As

Good morning, I'm coming to you from sunny and snowy CO.

Hello Nicole, Congrats on the Packers! To say that my wife is a reader would be a large understatement. We have full bookshelves in our office, living room, TV room and bedroom. Our two kids also have full shelves in their rooms. I gave her a Kindle a few years ago and she now has an iPad but the library remains and she still keeps any new hard copy book she reads. HELP! We could sure use the space for the rest of our clutter. Thanks! Gary in Chevy Chase.

Gary, This is a common problem for many families, especially in Washington. If space is truly becoming a problem, I suggest that the two of you take everything off the bookshelves in one room at a time and try to set aside at least a third of the books for donation.  Taking everything out of the bookcases serves two purposes -- it's easier to see just how many books you have and the scope of the "problem" but it also forces her to make a decision before putting a book back. For your kids, the fact that they love to read is fantastic and you don't want to discourage their interest by telling them they "must" get rid of some books, but you could gently nudge them to give up a few to make room for some new books!

Happy New Year! I have a small closed-in porch area (7 x 10) off the living room and would love to use it as a combination library/office. Currently have an old Ikea desk/shelf/filing cabinet that need to go! I have a wonderful old farm table I'd love to use as a desk - any thoughts/ideas on must-haves for the space would be greatly appreciated.

Happy New Year to you too! Interestingly, my column in next week's Local Living section is about the concept of a home office in 2014. Technology  has changed so much and so have home offices. When you're thinking about setting up your space, give some real thought to how you'll use it. Do you plan to work in the space daily or only occassionally? Would you like it to be a comfortable  place to sit and read a book or is this primarily for paper storage and filing? That being said, I would suggest using the old farm table as a desk because it sounds fabulous and then go with the IKEA filing cabinet for now. Once you have those two things in place, you can decide if you need more/less filing space. Be sure to get a comfortable desk chair to go with your table/desk and maybe considerable low bookshelves for books, office supplies and photos? Good luck!

We have the perfect guest for Jan 2 - Nicole Anzia, a professional organizer and our Washington Post home organizing columnist. This is the time many of us confront our unorganized chests, closets and junk drawers. Nicole's company is called Neatnik. So let's get going to ask her how to deal with all of our messy issues.

After a divorce I have to drastically downsize to a small condo. All the furniture I own was purchased for a much larger home with high ceilings. Nothing will fit the new place and consignment shops have turned it down as "not what people are buying" even though it is all in nearly new condition (my ex and I had purchased the house the furnishings were for 6 months before the divorce). I'm looking for an option other than Craig's list or Ebay because I need everything gone quickly for the move and I don't have time to be letting complete strangers into the rental I'm at to see the stuff. Any suggestions? Additionally, can you tell me the best way to organize a small linen closet when I have a lot of bulky items from big fluffy towels, blankets, sheets, tablecloths, etc? I tried some of those bags you suck the air out of but several of them cracked upon actual use and didn't stay flat, did I just get a bad batch or do those things really work for people?

Hi there, Downsizing is always difficult. Do you have a neighborhood listserv that you could use to advertise the items? And maybe even consider sending the photos and descriptions to friends, family and co-workers to see if they might be interested. If those options aren't successful or possible, you could always donate the items and at least get the tax deduction for the donation.

Regarding your linen closet storage question, space bags can work to decrease the size of your items, but they don't stack very neatly in a closet. Have you considered using under-the-bed bins for some of the bulky items? That might be your best bet.

Hope this is helpful!

not a sales pitch but i've two great experiences i wanted to share. i live in the newest most fancy apartment building in town (no brag, just fact) but as a Virgo, my cleaning skills are lacking and my cooking is only for me so i've enjoyed where they send me meals to prepare that are super tasty each week and homejoy which cleaned my place to a degree i can't even imagine. Happy new year to all Posties and Postites in 2014. Long live Jeff Bezos.

Well, thank you for all those delicious tips. And a happy new year to you too!

I have a gas cooktop, which greatly limits my cabinet space under the cooktop. I have yet to find a good storage option for my large pans. Any ideas?

Do you have a cabinet with a shelf that could be removed so you can place the large pans upright? Another option, although not as convenient as having the pans right in your cooking space, would be a pantry.

I don't understand how people can order furniture on line. How do they know what it feels like, the color, or if they fit in it? I am extremely short and I would never be able to buy something without sitting it in first.

Ordering online has become a standard practice for customers of many furniture retailers. But it's not for everyone. If you are ordering from a major chain such as Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware, you can usually go to a bricks and mortar store to test out a sofa or chair you are considering. If it's not a large retailer, then it's important to read the comment section on the particular piece on the website. Sometimes you can glean other information there. You can also call up the company or email them to ask more questions. in the end though, it's not easy to return a sofa bed that has been shipped to your house. Order carefully. Maybe you all could share your stories about good or bad experiences ordering large pieces of furniture online?

I store the papers from my late husband's business--all full of confidential information. I want to be rid of them and reclaim the space. I'd also like to be rid of the household financial records from 2005 back. Having all this stuff stops me cleaning, and I'd like to hire a service to deal with that--who also does not use allergen filled products. What do I do?

You can probably safely shred all the papers from your late husband's business. The only thing you would probably need to keep are the actual tax returns from the past 7 years. And the same with household financial records. They can go!  And instead of shredding everything yourself or hauling them somewhere to be shred, contact Shred Ace and they will come to your house and take care of everything in minutes. Money well spent!  And there are many cleaning companies who use environmentally friendly products, just do a Google search to find one. Good luck!

Is there a way to sign up to receive it automatically each month by email?

If you want to email me at, I will add you to my list! Thanks!

Good morning: We have a dining table that is narrow and about 90 inches long. We're considering pendant lighting for the room and could use some suggestions. For example, what size pendants would look best with a table this long, and how many? I've found several that are approx. 15-16 inches in diameter, but I'm not sure if installing two lights would look too sparse or if three would be too crowded over the table. Any ideas? Thanks.

I like the idea of three narrow pendants. Your table is pretty long so I think it could carry that off.

Got any junk drawer organization ideas? Do you even believe in junk drawers?

I have a junk drawer in my house - gasp! In a perfect world, we wouldn't need one. But the fact is, most of us do. They key to making it work though is to go through it regularly, at least once a month, and discard what you don't need. Small desk drawer organizers can also help to keep the contents at least a little bit organized.

What's your best idea for shoe and boot organization at the front door?

Keeping shoes and boots organized near the front door is  a challenge. How much space do you have? Even some very basic shoe shelves can help maximize a crowded space and keep things looking neat. Shoe cabinets, available at IKEA and The Container Store, can also be very useful. They attach to the wall and conceal shoes while not taking up too much space. I also regularly have my family take a few pairs of their shoes to their closet so that not every pair of shoes we own are in the foyer.

I need to have my marble tiled shower cleaned and sealed. Do you have any company you could recommend? I live in Northern Virginia. Thanks.

Anyone know of a place?

I have file folders filled with bank statments, retirement (IRAs, etc) statements, etc. How long should I hang on to them? They are piling up, and retirment still a few years away!

You can discard bank statements at the end of each year after you've reconciled them. If you need to access past statements you should be able to access them online. I would keep your IRA statements for at least three years. Monthly or quarterly statements that are older than that can be discarded and you can just keep your year end statement. Also, put older financial records in a portable filing box and store them in your attic or basement, but don't keep them in your every day work space. Good luck!

I'm looking for a desk - or table - for my 13 year old. The desk has to be narrower than standard - say 20 inches or less deep. I'm having trouble finding something to fit the bill. Suggestions? Ikea was my first thought, but the tables/desks are all a bit too deep. Thanks.

The Container Store has some more compact desks, so you might check there.

Why don't organizing services tell you how much the service will cost? I just looked your website too, to see how much a few hours of organizing would cost - but nothing. Do you (and other professional organizers) offer packages, just an hourly rate, etc? And why is it always a secret?

Rates for professional organizers are  not meant to be a secret. Most of us charge an hourly rate, but we don't post our rates on our website because every job is different.  It's better to talk with a potential client about the scope of their project either via phone or email to give an accurate estimate of cost. Thanks!

I'm not a minimalist, but I don't want to be overwhelmed with stuff either. I struggle with keeping things tidy and organized. What's one mantra I could tell myself to pare down my clothes closet or gifts from people? Some of these gifts are handmade with a lot of love poured into making them.

Don't wait for the day when you have 3 hours to organize your clothes closet, it will never happen. Start a bag of donations and keep it in your closet and as you decide you don't want or need something anymore, place it in the bag. A little work here and there goes a long way! As far as gifts from people, if they don't suit your taste, don't keep them. The person who gave it to you didn't want to burden you with items you don't want or need. Choose the truly special items and give away the rest to someone who will use and enjoy them.

I'm not sure of a specific company, but I'm sure a tile store (The Tile Shop, Mosaic Tile, etc.) could point you in the right direction. I sealed all of my grout when I moved into my brand-new home. I just used a tile sealing product (can't remember the brand; it was in a yellow bottle) and went over the grout lines with a small brush. And I'm so grateful that my mother told me about that. Otherwise, I never would have thought to seal the grout and would have a heck of a time keeping the showers and bathroom floors clean!

This is really good info. Thanks.

Hello! Can you please give me some advice on the best way to organize a garage? I have mostly storage bins/boxes and yard equipment in there now, along with some furniture I plan to sell or donate. I would like to use part of it for storage, and the rest of the space to actually fit my car INSIDE it. Thank you!

Have you installed shelves? Getting things off the floor of the garage by using the vertical space will open up a lot of space. Any hardware store will have sturdy shelving suitable for a garage. The Container Store's ELFA products also work well for storing large bins and other yard equipment. Good luck!

I just organized our books, including my daughter's books, over the holidays. For my daughter, we moved along a lot of books - some to younger children we know, some to a waiting room for a medical clinic, and some to donate. I think it was easier for her to move some books along when she knew she was sending them someplace specific - i.e., to a younger child or to a specific place. For me, I also pass books along to friends. Also, I've worked with colleagues who set up a little library - bring a book, take a book - in the workplace. Great ways for my family to keep book numbers under control.

Love all these ideas. Children's books are so important to pass onto worthy places. You can keep your kids' favorites and donate others to family, friends or organizations that can use them and would welcome them. Also I recommend keeping holiday picturebooks. It's nice over the holidays to put kids holiday books into a basket and keep by the Christmas tree. Nostalgia for all ages.

What is the best way to organize books and get rid of ones you don't want?

As I mentioned earlier, gather all your books together to take a full accounting of what you REALLY want to keep and what you can part with. Books for America will pick up from your house. The Stone Ridge school off Rockville Pike has a book barn where you can drop off unwanted books 24/7. They sell them at their annual book fair. If Stone Ridge drop off isn't convenient, check with your local school or church to see if they collect books for sales throughout the year.

We just moved into a 3 bedroom house from a 1 bedroom apartment. We have a ton more space and storage - but have more stuff too, and not much organizing furniture/storage. I am also the least organized person ever. What would you say is the most important, easy thing, that I can do to try and tame the chaos?

More space is always a bit of a blessing and a curse. I would advise that you not try to fill every room immediately. Live there a little while and see how you want to use the rooms before buying a bunch of new furniture. On the other hand, I understand that you probably want to get settled. What type of furniture do you think you need most? Dressers for clothes storage, bookshelves, or toy storage. Pick one area and start there. It will be less overwhelming. Good luck!

Does anyone have experience using butcher block in the kitchen? Does it require a lot of cleaning and maintenance? Thanks!

I love the warm look of butcher block but have never had these kind of counters in my kitchen. You do have to use food-safe finishes on the butcher block and keep it clean by scraping off debris and scrubbing often with mild soap and water and then drying. Some people use a vinegar spray to disinfect and there are special creams sold to keep the wood in good shape. Do you all out there with butcher block counters want to add anything?

I know that Tenleytown and Chevy Chase libraries have "Friends of "associations that accept and resell used books.

Yes thanks. I have donated lots of books to the Chevy Chase DC library at 5625 Connecticut Ave. NW.

I don't have a place for sweaters/sweatshirts other than shelves. Any ideas? I don't like baskets b/c you can't see inside. The shelf dividers at the Container Store didn't work as the shelves are too thick. The shelves are quite a jumble at the moment.

What about some using some clear, and not too shallow, bins? Or if you have extra hanging space you could try something like this:

The compartments are large enough for 3/4 sweaters and will keep them stacked neatly.

Wheaton Regional Library will take donated books and issue you a tax-donaton form. They resell the books (a fantastic selection, by the way) and money goes to the library or literacy.


Just a suggestion, for those who are downsizing and the furniture is just a bit too "loved" for even the charities to pick up (some do not pick up scratched furniture): craigs list free (give away) section, and freecycle. There is a prospective owner out there for even the oddest give-away!

No matter how odd, there is always someone who wants it for free! Thanks for the suggestions!

Don't just discard-shred them (see above). Consider viewing your statements online-easily accessible, no paper and the bank will store them for a fairly long time. Works for me...


Do you have any suggestions for an electronics charging station? Between our various phones, ipads, laptops, mp3 players, etc. we have a nest of chargers and wires that need to be available for charging. Most electronics organizers are smaller boxes that need to be placed on a table or a shelf. Is there anything that provides more of a stand-alone option? Ideally I envision a piece of furniture somewhat similar to the charging stands at the airport, but obviously more stylish and without the ads. :-)

I haven't seen a stand-alone option. The closest I've seen to an actual piece of furniture are the wooden boxes that allow you to charge 3/4 devices at a time. I believe Orvis and Pottery Barn have options for nice-looking boxes that hide cords. Maybe you could get a few and place them in different spaces throughout the house?

I had butcherblock countertops in a previous house and wouldn't want them again. I could keep them clean, but they still would get discolored and the only thing that would bring back the color was bleach. That was great, but then that area would be lighter than the rest.

Thanks for telling us about your experience.

Do you have one you recommend? I did Flylady for a while, but her entire system is predicated on impossible ideas (like you can vacuum your entire house or change all the household bedding in 15 minutes). I would love to be pointed in a more realistic direction.

Systems like FlyLady can be great for some people, but don't work for everyone. I would focus on regularly cleaning the most-used rooms in your house and then set aside one weekend day every few weeks to tackle the other spaces. Just try to find a system that works for you and your schedule and go with it!

I would also recommend people put labels on the wiring/UBS connecting devices to be able to quickly know which one goes for the camera/tablet/phone/gps etc.

Yes! Some stores sell tags for cords, but you can also just use a blank address label or piece of paper and make your own. No one ever wants to take the time to do this, but it really helps keep track of all those identical looking cords!

Thanks so much to everyone for writing in with your questions. Here's to a happy, healthy and organized 2014!

It was fun to chat with you today and get inspired to get organized for the new year. I started by tossing 14 items out yesterday, mostly old makeup and old veggies! Hope everyone has a great new year and check back frequently for Nicole's organizing tips in the Washington Post. Next week's chat  guest is Kevin O'Connor host of This Old House and Ask This Old House. He will be appearing at the Home + Remodeling Show at Dulles Expo Center Jan 17-19. Thanks.

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
Nicole Anzia
Nicole Anzia is the owner of Neatnik, a professional organizing business she started in 2007. She helps her clients simplify their lives by bringing order to their homes and offices. Nicole also writes a monthly organizing column for The Washington Post. She lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and two daughters.
Recent Chats
  • Next: