Getting organized for the new year with Julie Morgenstern - Home Front

Taniya Nayak
Jan 04, 2018

Julie Morgenstern is a well known expert on organization and time management. The author of five best-selling books, Morgenstern has appeared on Oprah and NBC’s The Today Show, and helped thousands of people transform their homes, businesses, and attitudes about every kind of clutter. The New York City-based Julie Morgenstern Enterprises has been in business for more than 25 years.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, the Property Brothers or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating and design questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and decluttering. For more than 10 years, Home Front has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small, send them over.

Good morning and welcome to the new year. Julie Morgenstern is the perfect chat guest to get us going on our decluttering and organizing campaigns for the new year. Julie is an expert on organization and time management. The author of five best-selling books, she has helped thousands of people deal with their clutter. Her New York based company has been in business for more than 25 years. Ask away.

’s leading experts on organization, business productivity and time management. The author of five best-selling books, a consultant to large corporations and a sought-after speaker, Morgenstern has appeared on Oprah and NBC’s The Today Show, and helped thousands of people transform their homes, businesses, and attitudes about every kind of clutter. The New York City-based Julie Morgenstern Enterprises has been successfully in business for over 25 years.


Hello everybody.  Happy Snow Day to those on the East Coast.  Excited to join you and Jura for a New Year, Get organized conversation!


My problem is paper. Cards, handwritten notes, articles ripped from magazines or newspapers. Do I create a miscellaneous paper file? Suggestions please on where and how to start organizing these random but important pieces of paper? Thank you!

Never create anything called "Miscellaneous"--Its the easiest way to clean up, but impossible to ever retrieve anything from a file or container called Miscellaneous....because even 10 minutes later--we can't remember what we meant by "Miscellaneous.".

You need to break paper into specific categories and label according to how you would look for it.  Ask, Under what circumstances would I look for this piece of paper?  Cards and handwritten notes might go under "Memorabilia"  or "Thoughtful words Friends and Family" Articles of interest might be "Conversations Starters"  or  "Knowledge"  "Things that Tickle my Funny Bone" (as one client of mine did)

Good morning, just purchased a 2 BR 1100sq.foot condo with limited closet space. Entry into kitchen so this space is very limited. A very small coat closet and there is limited wall space here (9"perpendicular to entry door.). Do you have suggestions for getting the most of limited space? Organizing ideas for the very small coat closet. Also are there kitchen organizers you find helpful? Thanks for your ideas.

As a NYC person, 1100 square feet is actually considered close to a palace! :)    Many ways to stretch limited storage:  

1) Limit what you keep to just what you ese and love.  

2) Get out of the business of bulk purchasing...which can be great if you live in a big home, but doesn't work for small space.  Online services allow you to "subscribe to basic household supplies, which automatically come to your door every month or so.

 3) Assign very specific functions to each closet.  

4)Get furniture that stores--make each piece of furniture function. End tables with drawers, coffee tables with lift up lids,  etc.  

5) Use vertical space-inside of every door of every closet can be used for hooks, and racks, and shelves.  See if there is a wall yu can add armoire, shelves or storage to.

Hi, thank you for such a complete organizing/cleaning list! Sometimes I get so overwhelmed thinking of everything that needs to be done, but breaking it down by month is a great way to keep on top of everything. I just want to mention that for some of us, the July tasks of cleaning the fridge and dishwasher etc. are done in March or April, before Passover. The holiday is a great way to have a set time during the year to clean the entire kitchen!

Thanks for your thoughts - Our recent article by Lindsey Roberts "How to keep your house running month by month"  is a great resource for what you need to do throughout the year to maintain your home. Read it here.

The cushion on a favorite armchair is pretty broken down and I would like to have the cushion restuffed. The chair does not need to be reupholstered. Is there someplace in DC or Maryland where I can get a new foam cushion replacement? If it matters, this armchair is a chair-and-a half sized, so I imagine I would need a custom job, but that's okay.

Sending this out for your comments.

We are considering building a custom home and would appreciate your advice on the best resources to review for the latest in kitchen design and organization. Specifically Interested in cabinet and pantry design options. Thanks!

There are so many companies out there and so many beautiful options.  When I did my kitchen, I chose a company called Diamond Cabinets, who have a line of cabinets called Logix--that are totally focused on Organization.  All focused on accessibility and bringing the contents of every cabinet to you.  My kitchen was highly functional and beautiful.

This past (bitter cold!) weekend, I started tackling indoor projects. One of them was painting the dark brown pine bookshelves which were filled with mostly with clutter, not books. I am throwing away a lot of junk while emptying the bookshelves. This coming weekend I will start on my bedroom closet. I had to clean out my parents' house, so I am motivated to reduce my own junk hoard.

There's nothing like the bitter cold and snow of winter to give us the time and space to tackle organizing projects.  The feeling of lightness and energy you get from SHEDing the obsolete makes room for new adventures and expressing more parts of yourself.  Good for you--and thanks for sharing. 

How can new moms (i have a 7 month old) preserve their energy, get organized and get things done?

Congrats on your new Baby!  And welcome to the parenting juggling act.  

First advice,  become a sleep Ninja--structure to your family's routine around getting enough sleep--for the baby, and for you.  If you didn't get enough sleep at night, be sure to nap and rest during the day.  That will give yu the energy for both the baby, and any organizing projects you need to tackle.  

Then, make a punchiest of hotspots that need organizing--from cooking and cleaning routines to spaces that are feeling cluttered.  Prioritize and tackle them one at a time.


Three, remember the phrase "organized enough"--you don't need to be perfectly organized....just enough to function and feel present and enjoy the moment.

Try Reupholstery Restoration in Kensington, Maryland.


This may be the least glamorous question you receive! How to prevent/discourage or eliminate rats in an urban back yard? We love to feed birds but fear the seed attracts the rats. Have our own pets, neighborhood cats, and some wildlife (foxes, birds of prey) so loathe to use rat poison for fear of harming other animals. We grow veggies.

You are nice to think of the birds in this cold time. What do our readers have to say to this? Any advice?

My young daughter and I are taking an online drawing class together. It's great! But we now have pencils, charcoals and erasers lying around as well as a 12" model of a person and very large, flat sketch books. Is there any sensible way to organize this material while making it fairly easy to pull it out when it's time to draw?

Sounds fun!  You have a new hobby that you simply haven't found a home for.   Designate a single place in the house that will become the Art Zone.  Then assign, in that zone a cabinet or drawers to could hold all the paper and supplies.  Within the cabinet, any sort of small containers that group similar items (charcoals in one, colored pencils in another, erasers in another, etc will make it fun and easy to find things and put the away. 

You won't have a problem if you switch to high-quality seed. The stuff with millet etc. gets knocked to the ground by the birds, who are seeking the "good stuff" (sunflower seeds, safflower, etc.) The bird stores will sell you good quality seed.

Thanks for this.

You might already be doing using a hanging feeder as they are not a panacea. Best thing you can do for the birds is encourage people to have their cats indoor cats. Domestic cats are decimating the bird population - not to mention the hazard to the cats themselves ... .

Thanks for your thoughts on this.

Good Morning and Happy New Year! What a perfect topic! I just cleaned out my clothes closet this past weekend and have several bags to donate and consign. What is the best way to consign these days. In past I've been surprised at how stores will not take all clothes - especially when they are from top stores... much more selective then ever before. Do you recommend working with some of the online consignment companies?

Yes--it's always a surprise when shops won't take things---and even some charities and thrift stores won't take donations.  We are in a time when there is just so much stuff--and people want to get rid of it, so giving things away (or selling them), is not always so easy.  Some things to keep in mind:

  • Find out what sorts of items consignment shops near you want--then send them only those things.
  • Check out websites like LetGo, and AptDeco (in several cities around the country), where you can post pics of things you are selling, and people in your area who want them can buy them.  
  • Recognize that we often cherish things we've owned more than others---so unless things are in exceptional condition, it can be hard to sell them.

Good luck!

The birdseed attracts mice and rats. My parents had a mouse problem that went away after they stopped putting out birdseed. One alternative - plant bushes that produce berries. The birds eat the berries.

More good info. Thanks.

Good Morning. My mother lives in a rural area of Virginia. She would like to start pairing down what she has in her house. She has a lot of items in her basement that have moved from house to house and never used. What is the best way to sell things when you live rural area? Are there good websites that work best for this? Thank you.

I just answered a questions with some ideas for online furniture and object exchanges that are worth looking into.  But the key for your Mom, I think, is mentally prepping for SHEDing those objects she's been holding onto for so long.   Letting go is the hardest thing to do, and 80% of the success comes from the mental prep before and after letting things go.

Here are some tips that can help: 

Remember that no one lets go into a vacuum – it’s hard to let go of something without reaching for something else to replace it.   Have your Mom define what she is making room for---freedom, peace of mind, money in her pocket, sending those items out into the world for use?

Define the treasures--what is the criteria she would use for keeping anything she unearths?  It should be things that she actually can use now, and she gains energy from, nothing that depletes her.  

Pre-arrange great places to sell and give things away to. 


I am normally a very organized person. I moved and started a new job last year and my organizing skills seem to have stayed behind. I had plans to get my house organized and things at work organized fairly quickly, but it’s been 6 months and I’m still a mess. The house appears to be neat and clean, but if you look in the cupboards and closets you’ll see it’s really not. Things that belong together are not together. Things are shoved into placed where they don’t belong. Thinking about what needs to be done to get it right overwhelms me. I’m the same at work. I’ve tried to stay organized by using my calendar, to do lists in Outlook, as well as a mess of yellow stickies all over my desk. I feel like I’m drowning in work and am worried that I’m going to lose track of something important. To make matters worse, I am putting off doing things I need to do because they suddenly seem so difficult. I’m not sure exactly why I sent from being super organized to a complete mess. I’m not totally happy about the move / new job, so that may be part of it. Suggestions for getting back on track?

I think you answered your own question--not being happy about the move/new job probably led to resistance to settling in and creating a new "nest" in either place.  You kind of don't want to really root down.  

But, you are suffering from the chaos and should put your organizing skills to work for you.  Remember, the more organized you are, the more mobile you are---so getting organized to make your life function better in the moment doesn't really tie ou to your new job or home--it just makes life easier so you  have more choices and freedom.  Its the  is a great way of taking care of yourself in a place that is otherwise not as nurturing. So nurture yourself, and get things in order, one room at a time--starting with the room you spend the most time in.  Probably the bathroom--where you get ready in the morning, and unwind at night.


What's the best way to organize your scarves? They are a big jumble in my drawer.

Scarves work best on a series of hooks, on the inside of a closet door (maybe 2 rows of hooks, one at the top of the door, one in the middle).  Or, if they are beautiful, you can even hang them on beautiful decorative hooks on a bedroom wall--using them as a design feature.

What do you need to organize in your own home for the new year?

Don't try to do it all. Focus on frequently used hotspots that give you big "wins" every single day.  Some suggestions:

  • Handbag/Briefcase  (with you all the time)
  • Bathroom (used multiple time per day)
  • Fridge/Pantry (also used everyday, makes cooking easier)
  • Closet ( place you launch and land from)


I used to consign my clothes, but they rarely sold and it was a hassle. Instead, my girlfriends and I now have an annual swap. We bring all the clothing and accessories we don't wear any more, sip wine, try on each other's things and have a blast. Sometimes we even take a couple of our own things back, because we were able to put together new outfits with the help of friends. Whoever hosts takes the leftovers to Goodwill (and gets the tax slip).

LOVE THIS--and answers many of the questions posted about best places to sell/consign clothes.  A friend of mine has run a clothing exchange every year for decades--it's a blast, and very motivating to clean out your own closet to share for the swap. 

Thank your sharing!

I am the repository for a lot of inherited memorabilia from my family - books, photographs, old documents, etc. It all means a lot to me and I don't want to get rid of any of it, but I need to somehow organize it so that it takes up less space in my house. It's now distributed throughout my house, mainly in an assortment of boxes. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Memorabilia is best enjoyed on display and accessible--when it sits in boxes it's rarely ever gone through or appreciated.  For anything that remains in boxes, rather than already on display, perhaps you can get a big armoire, or beautiful piece of storage furniture,  divide the remaining memorabilia into accessible and inviting categories (e.g. journals, letters,  photos, etc), transfer each category into a beautiful archival box, and label it....and allow yourself  or other families members the pleasure of sifting through labelled categories when the mood strikes.

Could you give a ballpark range of what professional organizers charge? Really rough estimate is fine--I just want to get an idea of what I should budget. Do they typically charge by the hour or by the job? I'm in the DMV if that helps. Thanks!

Professional Organizers can range anywhere from about $50/hour to 350/hour, depending on your area, their years of experience etc.  Aside from experience (which is important!), look for someone whose energy and style works for you, and whom you have a strong rapport--organizing requires a lot of decision making, and should be done with someone who can pace the job and be a good sounding board for you, without steamrolling you into decisions you don't feel good about.

You could also buy a piece of foam online or from Jo-Ann's and cut it to size yourself. Even 6" thick foam can be cut with a kitchen knife or shears.


I need a way to contain things in my daughter's bathroom. It is the world's smallest full bath, in our basement. The previous owners put in a short cabinet above the toilet that will hold all her stuff, but right now it is just sort of thrown in the cabinet willy-nilly. Inspired by the declutter article today, I went down to clean it out. I discovered mold on the bottom shelf from prior things spilt, fresh band-aids in their packages stuck to the shelf in that area, and lots of trash. I know I can't make her keep it clean, but if it were a little more attractive, perhaps she would be inspired to do so. I plan to clean it (not sure how) and repaint it (along with the rest of the bathroom), and then what? I was thinking some baskets for everything? She also needs to store extra toilet paper down there because you don't want to run out of TP in the basement when you're alone in the house and the supplies are all upstairs. And money is tight. I already have the paint (BM Parchment) left over from painting the rest of the basement. But I'd like to find good baskets (or other suggestion?) for not much $$ Ideas?

In a small bathroom, there are typically 4 areas to stretch and find storage:  

  • The medicine chest (which is best used for everyday items like skincare, toothbrushes, etc.  (Store medicines which are not used everyday outside the bathroom in a close or cabin).
  • Under the sink--put stacking pull-out plastic or mesh drawers on either side of the J Pipe to get the most out of that space.  The drawers or baskets can then be pulled dup onto the counter to use (hair care, makeup, extra TP, etc.)
  • The shower area-add a shower caddy for shampoo, etc)
  • Over the toilet storage--which can be easier to keep clean by lining the shelves with acrylic or metal mesh drawer dividers---narrow enough for the thin shelves, and make it easier to clean the shelves below.  Plus attractive!

Thanks everybody--for joining us, and sending along such great questions.  Your energy and impulse to organize is wonderful--it's one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself.  But don't try todo it all at once.  Define one are, or one "win" that would give you the greatest t sense of control, accomplishment and freedom--and tackle that first.  Then just enjoy the results for a while. It's as important to stop and savor order as it is to create it.  

Very inspirational chat today. Thanks to Julie for being with us to get us going on our stuff. Next week: Jason Nixon and John Loecke of Madcap Cottage will be on the chat talking about color and whimsy in your home, in advance of their appearance at the Home & Remodeling Show at the Dulles Expo Center Jan 19-21.  See you then.

I've found that when I can't motivate to get my act together, setting a timer for 15 minutes does the trick. That way, you aren't facing a whole task, but something finite.

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.

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Julie Morgenstern
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