Nicole Anzia on organizing | Home Front

Jan 08, 2015

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.

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Good morning everyone! Jura will not be joining us this morning, but we do have Nicole Anzia here to answer your questions on decluttering and organizing.


If you need more advice, here are 10 New Year’s tips to declutter your life.

Good morning and Happy New Year. I hope everyone is doing well and staying warm! I'm excited to be here and am looking forward to your questions.

One bite at a time. I am cleaning out one drawer or one cabinet a week. Nothing earth shattering. All clothes that do not fit... gone. Cleaning supplies that have not been used... gone. Candles that I never burn... gone. Plastic cups that have names stamped on them...gone. Twenty-five t-shirts goodbye. Ratty towels... trash. After going thru deceased family members belongings, the experience makes me want to unload all the nonsensical junk in my home and make space for what I use and need. I figure when I get rid of all the trash, I can organize what is left.

Good for you! Doesn't it feel great to get rid of stuff?! You've got the right plan - toss first, organize next. And the more you can toss, the better. So many of us have way too much stuff that we don't like or don't use and it weighs us down. Keep going - the organizing will be easy once you have discarded all that "nonsensical junk!"

I have to drastically downsize. What should I toss first?

That depends. What do you have the most of?

I have a small area off my living room. Currently have an old cabinet that needs 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 are greatly appreciated.

I love using old tables as desks - lots of room to spread out and not feel too cramped. Do you work from home? Is this going to be your primary work space or more of something you'll use on the weekend or at night? Regardless, you're most likely going to want something to store supplies and file papers, but how you plan to use the space - and the size of the space - will dictate what items you must have.

My roommate has a ton of boots and shoes. She already hangs up flats/heels in her bedroom (in a closet organizer). Where can we put her shoes? There doesn't seem to be a place for them in our apartment. It would probably be good for her to just get rid of some, but that doesn't seem to be an option.

If you're roommate has so many boots and shoes that they're encroaching on your common living space, you need to move. Just kidding! Seriously, does she have some shoes that are out of season and could be moved elsewhere until spring or summer, so that there is room for some of the boots?

I buy baskets and boxes, but end up hiding stuff in them, not really organizing. What is the point?

Good question! There is no point. I always tell my clients that there is no need to run out and buy a bunch of fancy baskets and bins that you may or may not need. The real issue question is do you need what is inside. In Marie Kondo's new book "the life-changing magic of tidying up" she says "a booby trap lies within the term storage" and she's right. Hiding your stuff to make a space look neat is not organizing. Getting rid of things you don't need and storing only the things you want, is the way to go and this rarely requires fancy bins and boxes.

I have heard more than once that the key to getting organized is to discard 70% of your stuff because you really only need and / or love the remaining 30%. I've heard this about clothing (closets), most recently yesterday on The Today Show. But I've also heard it about paper clutter, kids' rooms, kids' art projects, etc. In your opinion, how valid is this 70 percent rule?

I wouldn't get too caught up in the percentages, but the theory is valid. We all have to much stuff and there is a definite trend toward minimizing belongings. Again, check out Marie Kondo's book (she's not paying me to plug her book, but I like her ideas!). I definitely think that most people keep and buy way too much stuff and there is a price to pay for the anxiety and work that is required to keep it all organized. Less is more!

Best way to organize ties that is low maintenance? My husband just tends to roll them up and leave them on top of the dresser. There are probably 8-10 there now.

Would he hang them on something like this?


We recently purchased a dining table that is damaged. It has a removable leaf, and right where one of the nodes enters the main table, part of the wood is jutting upwards (so when you put the leaf in, part of the table sticks up and is jagged). We got a discount from the company, and because it was much more of a hassle to ship it back and we needed one for a holiday dinner, we kept it, but we'd like to get it fixed. Any suggestions for local folks who do this?

Hi there! You can also email our 'How To' columnist Jeanne Huber. She knows lots of local experts.
Just email with the subject line "How To" and include a photo or two of the table.

How do we store tools and bulky outdoor gear we use approx twice a month? Garage I assume, but in what?

In clear labeled bins on shelves. The tools should not be in a huge container, something easy to pick up and bring inside when you need it. Most people reach for a hammer, nails, tape measure and screwdriver most frequently, so keep those things handy. For the outdoor gear, it depends on what it is, but if you can put similar things together or categorize the bin by person, that should make it easy to find what you're looking for.

I enjoy a well organized home and have no problem getting rid of things I am no longer using or wearing, but my husband is another story! He first line of defense is "what if I need it down the road" Any suggestions on how to get him on board? Also, is there a market for good quality 35mm camera equipment? Thank you!

This is the case in many marriages and it does cause a lot of tension. Sometimes he needs to hear that it's ok to get rid of something from someone other than you - one scenario where a professional organizer can help. Is there a specific category of things he feels the need to keep? Maybe you could suggest he start with one category of items and maybe let go. Usually once someone starts, the process can get a little easier. Also, tell him I have never once in 8 years had a client tell me that they had regrets about giving something away. Good luck!

How can I store my 2 kids' artwork? How many years should I keep it? Some is great - some is not.

My first column for The Washington Post was on this very topic! Here's the link for some tips:

I’ll be living in an attic room that has no closets and slanted ceilings. Any suggestions for storing clothes?

A couple of low, three-drawer dressers will be helpful. I'm assuming that they will fit below the slanted ceilings, but measure first. Hanging clothes is obviously going to be more difficult, but if there's enough vertical space along at least one of the walls, you might want to use a portable clothes closet. Something like this:

My husband stores most of his ties at his office at work, where he uses them. He keeps about three ties at home for special occasions, but the rest are "gone". It helps us :).

Good idea!

Funny thing you should mention her book! I am actually on page 33 of it right now! Although she does get rather repetitive at times, I am enjoying the book and would recommend it too so far. Link to book:

I agree about the repetition, but she makes a lot of interesting and valid points.

Do you have advice on when to keep/toss certain things? I always seem to keep makeup past when I assume I should throw it out. But who has mental capacity to remember when they bought a tub of lip gloss?

If you think you've kept something too long, you probably have and you should toss it. But the more important questions are, do you use it and do you need it?

I have three types of "seasonal" clothing: winter-only items, summer-only items, and maternity clothing. What do you recommend for where and how to store the stuff that is not currently in season? My closet probably isn't big enough to store it all in there at the same time. Do I go with clear plastic containers? Vacuum bags? Something else? And do I store it under my bed, in the attic, or somewhere else? BTW, all of this clothing is stuff that I intend to wear again. I don't keep things I'll never wear again.

Good for you for only keeping what you wear! The answer to where to store the out-of-season clothing really depends on where you have space. If you have a basement or attic, you could store somethings there in water-proof, air-tight containers, but if you don't have a ton of additional storage space in your house, under-the-bed will do. I like to use storage containers that stack. Although vacuum bags can help to save space, they can be hard to store because of their irregular shape.

If you have items that you want to store, but that need to be stored in breathable bins, there are lots of options out there for sturdy, yet breathable bins. Hope this helps!

I am having a blast tossing stuff. it started new years day - after my toddler started pulling every item out from my bathroom cabinets - started tossing expired medicines and vitamins. then onto that cabinet when every time i open it i am hit with an avalanche of sippy cups. then the junk drawer that always looses my keys, then the one with all those reusable shopping bags that seem to constantly multiply. I live in a inner city row house - i am amazed at all the places junk can find a place to hide! Next - onto the toy room!!


Any ideas on places that would like my old college textbooks? As it's been 15 years since college, I'm sure there are newer versions and so mine aren't worth anything. I'd rather not just recycle them, but will if I have to. Thanks!

Unfortunately, it's going to be hard to find a home for those old textbooks. You could check with your local library, but beyond that, they may just have to be recycled. Sorry!

How timely. I am sitting in my office, which is filled with my young children's artwork, clothes they have outgrown out of, old letters from dear ones no longer living, treasures that came to us when my mother-in-law died (two years ago) and my mother downsized (same year). It is amazing I can find the computer, and I am feeling overwhelmed! Any encouragement would be appreciated. At least it is too cold to go outside for a distraction!

I'm sorry to hear you feel overwhelmed and likely don't know where to start, but the best thing to do is just start picking things up and putting them into categories using boxes labeled, keep, toss, recycle, shred. The office is not going to be cleaned and organized in a day or even a month -- all of that stuff takes time to accumulate - but if you spend 30 minutes a day, you will make progress and feel motivated to do more. I promise!

Any specific winter organizing tips, not just holiday related ones?

What types of items are you thinking of?

I have a problem. Several years ago my parents died within a couple months of each other and I had to clean out their house in Florida to sell it. What finally happened is that I basically boxed up all their tchotchkes and files and ... everything that I couldn't get rid of right away, and brought it all to my new house in New Jersey. Where it all sat in the 20 boxes until I was ready to tackle it. It's now 2 1/2 years later and I've started opening the boxes. There's a ton of stuff that I recognize from my childhood, and a lot of stuff that I don't. I'm having a very hard time letting go of the first category. Can you suggest some ways or some sentences I can tell myself that will make this easier? I can look at 2 or 3 boxes, unwrap everything and put 95 percent of it back because I just can't get rid of it. But holding on for a couple more years seems not so productive or healthy. thanks!

First, I'm so sorry for your loss. Situations like yours are very difficult and fraught with emotion. A massive organizing project like that is also physically exhausting. I would give yourself permission to keep some things. You definitely don't need to get rid of everything, but maybe you can set a limit that you will keep five boxes of important memorabilia? Whittle the load down a bit and if you end up with 6 or 8 boxes, that's fine for now. The key is to make the job less and less daunting. You can always go back and get rid of more later. Also, is there someone who can help you with this? It might be helpful to have someone with you who can help you make decisions and laugh a little bit! Best of luck. You can do it!

My husband is in the final stages of building a home office for us. I can't wait! Are there any products that you highly recommend, like must have items for the office? Please recommend a good file cabinet that will not tip over when full. Thanks!

Exciting news! The first thing I would think about is whether you want one large filing cabinet or two smaller ones -- one for you and one for him? Or one for personal use and one for business matters? This decision is also dictated by the space, of course, but don't just go out and buy a huge filing cabinet you may not need. There are a lot of good options out there though and so much great design too -- better than your old standard metal, cream-colored filing cabinets. 

My kids are grown, and I don't put up a Christmas tree anymore. I have boxes of glass ornaments in my attic. Is there anyplace that would take them as a donation?

Check with a local church, hospital or senior-residence. I bet they would be thrilled to have them!

I have limited cabinet space in my kitchen. Any ideas?

What are you having a hard time finding space for? Pots and pans, food, gadgets?

What is the best way to organize (and take care of!) good china and silverware?

How frequently do you use the china and silverware?

I have a tiny wooden desk in a small home office and need more workspace. I don't want to replace it with a table because I like having drawer space. I found an end table on-line that will go well with the aged look of the desk; it's the right width and depth but 6 inches shorter. I can make it work but I'm wondering if it will look weird. What do you think?

It sounds like it might work! Because you don't have many options, I would say give it a try, especially since the dimensions are correct and the wood matches. I wouldn't worry too much about the height. Good luck!

Have you ever reduced junk mailings for your clients? If so, how do you go about it? Between catalogues (despite discontinuation requests via catalogue choice, and new catalogues that pop up almost weekly since I frequently order online) and credit card offers (the peril of having good credit), it would be AMAZING if I could reduce the pile I need to go through every day.

I have helped people try to reduce their junk mail, using the methods you mention, and it definitely always feels like an uphill battle. Shopping online is definitely going to make you a candidate for receiving a ton of catalogues. Have you tried actually calling the retailers? I know that's a time-consuming way to spend an hour or so, but that may finally get you off the list of at least a few mailing lists.

I love Flylady and her 'you can't organize clutter'. I think the best part of her approach is that she felt she needed to be taught basic cleaning and organizing skills. Not everyone is born with them or have parents who pass them on. She gives step-by-step instructions on what papers you need to keep and how to file them. Do you find this an issue with your clients? what do you feel is your greatest challenge with your clients?

I like Flylady too! And I do find this to be an issue with some clients, but more than anything I find that people just don't have the time. Everything moves so fast and it's difficult for many people to find even a few minutes in their day to take care of basic organization and housekeeping.

Thanks so much! This has been really fun. I'm sorry I couldn't get to everyone's questions. Feel free to email me with further questions at Happy New Year and remember, less is more in 2015!

In This Chat
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.
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