Q&A:Organizer Nicole Anzia on putting your house on a diet in 2020

Jan 02, 2020

Washington professional organizer Nicole Anzia, whose business is called Neatnik, writes a monthly column for the Washington Post on organizing. She will be here to help you set your decluttering goals for the new year. Everyone's house is bloated after the holidays and stuffed with shopping bags. Nicole has been featured in many magazines and websites. Since 2007 when she began her business, she has helped many, many families get their homes back in order.

. Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, Marie Kondo, the Property Brothers or Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest, answer your decorating, design and decluttering 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 organizing. For more than 20 years, our Thursday Q&A 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 your own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small.

Good morning everyone and Happy New Year! I'm excited to chat with you today and to provide some decluttering and organizing motivation and wisdom as we begin 2020.

Good morning to all and welcome to a new year of Q&A. It's traditional to begin each year with a professional organizer here to get us going and Nicole Anzia is ready to answer your questions as you sort through your post-holiday shopping bags. Nicole write our Washington Post organizing column and runs a Washington-based organizing business called appropriately Neatnik where she strives to remove clutter, chaos and stress. Let's chat.

I have the exciting task or preparing my finished basement for a long overdue paint job - and have 2 large walk in storage closets that I am emptying so that he can paint the interior shelving/walls. After 16 years in this home, I am trying to declutter as I go but it is overwhelming. I am able to put things in the unfinished area while he paints and I do plan on NOT putting things back on the newly painted shelves. Any thoughts/tips?

Having a room painted is always good motivation to declutter and organize, so good for you! Don't try to tackle it all in one day or even in one week. Instead, set aside and hour or two every other day and when you start to feel overwhelmed, just stop. Another tip - have a friend come to help! And why do you plan not to put anything back on the shelves? It's ok to keep some stuff!

I am fantastic at purging old/broken/useless items from every corner of my home...but when it comes to clothing, I struggle. I don't change size, and I'm very careful when I wash things, and my style is very simple, so most of my clothes remain in good/wearable condition for years and years. I am VERY conscious of clothing waste and avoid 'fast fashion', but I do purchase updated items from time to time or receive an item of clothing as a gift. I feel guilty getting rid of, say, a 5-year-old pair of yoga pants that might be a little worn but are perfectly fine for hanging out at home and have no cosmetic stains or rips. I worry that I'll get rid of something and then realize I shouldn't have. Is there a good rule of thumb to follow here? Obviously I'll hang onto those special occasion clothing items that I truly treasure, but when it comes to the every day stuff, picking what to keep or toss is way harder than it should be!

Good for you for taking such good care of your clothing and avoiding the "fast fashion" phase. One thing that may help is to consider that since you have taken such good care of your things, someone else could likely use the things you're no longer wearing. Generally people will say that if you haven't worn it in a year, you can get rid of it, but you need to use your own metric. And just as with all the other items you've managed to purge, clothing is just stuff too. I've written a column on this topic -- you are not alone in having a hard time parting with your clothing and I applaud you for your thoughtful approach. Hope this helps!


I'd LOVE to hire an organizer but no website clearly state hourly rates and I'm wondering if I can afford it. Can you give us any clues?

The reason most organizers don't publish their rates is not to be secretive, but because every job is a little different and may require more/less time than a client thinks it will. We don't want to intimidate people by costs- better to talk through what we can do within your given budget. That said, most organizers charge between $75-$200 per hour and the best way to find out or to get in touch to find out more is to just send the organizer a quick note! 

I am overwhelmed by the clutter in my house. I find it exhausts my very soul. How do I find time to exercise, work, clean the house and de clutter? Is there a way to do this that isn’t overwhelming?

Clutter is overwhelming and exhausting - you're not along in feeling this way and studies have proven that clutter impacts your mental health. And you're also right that it's very hard to find time to focus on decluttering and organizing. Couple of thoughts: Set a timer for 30 minutes and try to conquer one space. If you finish before the time is up - move on to the next spot. Don't try to do it all at once. And, have a friend come over to help if you can't do it on your own or schedule time with an organizer. Putting the work on your calendar also helps! Good luck!

Organized pots and pans and removed dented damaged and unused ones. Glasses I ditched old faded mismatched. Now using my best cause I am having my BEST year!!! Next are plates. Mixed matched old faded,out they go!!!

Congratulations! You're doing it right - a category at a time. 

What do you see as the main things that derail resolutions to get organized?

Trying to do it all in January and then stopping. People work really hard at decluttering and purging at the beginning of the year and then think they're done. But organizing isn't really something you're ever done with - as long as things are coming into and leaving your home, it's a continual process. Do a little bit here and there, but schedule some regular time weekly or monthly to continue the work. 

I often cut out interesting articles from newspaper or magazines, but then I wind up with boxes of yellowing articles. I'm at a loss for how to organize these for later retrieval - or if I even should try! How to decide what to keep, what to toss?

I see this a lot actually. Do you ever go back and look at the articles you've cut out? If not, I would just try to stop cutting them out. Or if there are a few categories of articles that you like in particular, create file folders and label them, i.e. travel ideas, home decor, books. Then once every couple months, go through the files and get rid of any that no longer interest you. And last, I would toss any article that is more than a year old.

How do I deal with a spouse who likes clutter and leaving his things out and loves piles of papers? I am a bit of a neatnik and do not keep things I do not use so it makes me a bit frustrated. We have been married 50 years, so no luck trying to change his habits. Thanks

Many people hire me because of this exact issue - one person in a relationship is a Neatnik and the other more messy? Unfortunately, if you've been married for 50 years, your spouse is probably not going to change his behaviors. The bet you can do is to contain his stuff to his spaces where you don't need to see it. And, if you really want him to start getting rid of some stuff, it may be worth bringing in a third party to help. Sometimes advice from an impartial person helps! 

My husband has an EBay business/hobby, reselling items that have been minimally used on EBay. His business has taken over not only most of our garage, but many areas of the house. How do we manage storage for a business and having a house that is not so cluttered as to be unfit to have guests over.

I am not a fan of storage units, but for this purpose, it may be something to consider. Or could he find an office space where he could work and store some of the items? It is a lot to ask to run a business like that out of your home, especially if there is a lot of inventory. If an outside area isn't a possibility, I would try to designate one space for the things he is selling - one room in the basement, half of the garage or a spare bedroom and try to limit it that way. Also make sure he's taking advantage of the space and using shelves so that not everything is scattered on the floor. Good luck!

One drawer at a time. Kitchen stuff really? How much do I really need? Cookbooks except for the ones I have used in 2019 all the others are out of my home. I am tackling pots and pans and takeout plastic wear. Stuff with no tops gone. Pans that I don't begin to use gone. I think if my home loses weight of unnecessary stuff then I can lose the excess poundage too.

Love it! Good for you!

I have a huge pile of paperwork to get organized. Some is remodel stuff I need to save, some are old bills that I maybe don't need to save, and who knows what else is in the pile. How do I get started and in what do I put all of the stuff to save?

Like with all organizing tasks, you just have to start. I know a huge pile of paperwork in intimidating, but once you get started, you'll find it's much easier than you imagined and you'll be motivated to continue. Remodeling papers can be sorted and kept in a plastic bin with dividers for the various categories. Old bills? Unless they are for valuable items or related to a business, do you really need to keep them? Files can be stored in portable file boxes or  in a filing cabinet. Most people can keep their current files in just 2 drawers. Anything that isn't current -- and definitely needs to be kept - can be kept in plastic file boxes. 

I have inherited generations of memorabilia from both sides of my parental tree. Both sets of grandparents - and great-grandparents - took copious amounts of photographs and saved every last thing. I have my father's kindergarten notebooks (he would be 96 if he were still alive today), locks of his hair and his baby toys. I have marching band programs from events my mother participated in in 1936, and I have logs of business transactions that my grandfather kept at the turn of the 19th century! And these examples are the tip of the iceberg. I am overwhelmed and feeling responsible for all of it. Right now I have probably 3 dozen banker's boxes filled with photographs and other stuff and don't know how to deal. Help!

This is a very common scenario and one that is especially challenging. First, is there anyone else in your family who would be willing/able to help? If so, get them on board stat! Regardless, I would separate the items by person or category and then cull through each group. For instance, put all the business transaction logs together and then get rid of all but two. Take photos of things like locks of hair and baby toys and kindergarten notebooks and then discard. And for the photos, which I'm sure are the most overwhelming - I would just try to look through a box a week. If you and/or your family members can't identify the people in the pictures, it's probably ok to toss, even though I know that's very hard to do. Once you have the keepers, send them to get digitized so you have a permanent record of them and are better able to share with family and friends. But this is not a one month project and probably not even a one year project, so pace yourself and again, enlist help! 

Hi Nicole, what are your favorite organizing and storage products for those on a budget (from Target, Walmart, IKEA, etc.)?

Hi there! I love clear shoe boxes - they are great for so many things - batteries, craft supplies, office supplies, as drawer dividers, to stack shoes, etc. The Container Store sells them at a reduced rate when you buy in bulk. At IKEA, I love the EXPEDIT shelves. They are great for books or customized with doors or drawers, and hold bins and baskets. And they can be situated upright or horizontally. Generally speaking though, clear bins from anywhere are great because you can see the contents clearly. Whatever storage containers you decide to purchase, I would suggest buying a few extra so you have some on hand in case you can no longer find them later. 

Just moved into a new home and the garage was not finished--just drywall and nothing else. I have boxes from my former home and other stuff in the garage. Need to prepare to have the garage finished and organized. Where should I start? Would this be a good project for a professional organizer?

Yes, this is a very typical job for an organizer. The place to start is to buy some adjustable shelving to line at least one of the walls. Look at any of the big hardware chains or at a place like The Container Store, to see what works in terms of your aesthetic and your budget. Buy more than what you need now, so you have space to grow and leave some wall space for hooks for garden tools and other outdoor supplies! 

I don't hang on to clothes I don't wear, EXCEPT some things with sentimental attachments, such as the dresses I wore to our sons' weddings, even though I know I'm unlikely to wear that long gown ever again! suggestions?

Love the suggestion to take a photo, but if you absolutely must keep a couple of things, put them in a garment bag and store them separately from your everyday clothing. If you have space, it's totally ok to keep a few things, just not EVERYTHING. 

Many of my women friends say they want to declutter but their husbands hate parting with their things and get grumpy when they are presented with a plea to purge their sock drawer. Is there something about woman wanting to be more organized or is that sexist on my part? What can you do to get someone to get on board to let go of stuff?

This is a very common challenge and something I suggest a third party help with. Your spouse may be more likely to listen to someone who isn't you and open to purging things when someone else is helping. Plus, someone outside the relationship is likely to be less judgmental and may be able to make suggestions for where to donate things or use them differently. And typically, once someone gets over their initial resistance and starts seeing progress, they see that it's less difficult than they think and feel motivated to do more. P.S. I see resistance to organizing almost even between men and women. :)

One of the benefits of organizing your stuff, is putting stuff where you can find it. My older sister retired abroad and left a bunch of boxes at my house. In sorting through them, I found 14 rolls of scotch tape, dozens of pens & pencils, etc. If you know where your scotch tape is, you don't need to buy another one!

That is true! Even though getting organized takes time and money, people ultimately end up saving both when they can find what they need!


Welcome Nicole! I have a ton of blank walls in my house and a great need for storage, and would love to put up some shelving and picture rails in each room, but am intimidated at putting a bunch of holes in the wall. What shelving products and picture rails do you like that would be easy for a novice? Thanks!

Don't be scared to put holes in your walls! It's no big deal to patch and paint if you make a mistake - just go for it! Also, do you want to do picture rails or could you just hang the photos? The latter is much easier. If you feel intimidated by hanging things on your own, ask someone for help. Not many of us can hang shelves or rails up on our own, but you can purchase them and give direction on where you want them installed. This is one of those things you don't want to overthink. You'll be thrilled to have the photos and art you love up on your walls, so go for it!

Do you travel with your dog? Just in case you missed this article, you might want to check it out - it's about the etiquette rules for traveling with your dog. They are not what you expect. Read it here. 

What are the philosophical differences and methods?

I like Marie Kondo's philosophy about only having things in your home that are useful and things you love, but it is unrealistic for most of us to systematically go through every one of our belongings and make those decisions. So you have to do your best and focus on the areas where you tend to have to be the most challenged. I also think that some things are just worth keeping and I've written a column about it. 



You're the expert, but in my experience women are more likely to want to declutter because we're the ones stuck with responsibility for maintaining all the clutter, putting it away, and telling everyone else where it is. Hopefully we'll see more equality on this front in the coming decade!

An interesting take on this!

I am under contract on my first house and, if all goes well, I'll be moving in at the end of this month. I've lived entirely in rented apartments as an adult so this is a whole new world for me. I'm very excited about all the projects that are in store for me. The house is from the 40s and has been well-maintained and updated but there are still things to do. The kitchen, for example, is original to the house. How do I approach the next few weeks (prior to move in) without going off the deep end? I'm feeling overwhelmed with projects and to-do lists. What should I do before I move in? What should I take my time on? Thanks!

Congratulations! What an exciting time. I've written a column on this - I hope this helps!


I want to get rid of my bed skirts, but I use underbed boxes for storage of out-of season clothes. (I have very small closets, so this is necessary.) Any suggestions on how to make visible underbed storage look good ?

You should be able to find some decorative boxes and/or canvas under the bed bins the will at least hide the contents of clear under the bed bins. 

Nicole, please remind people that old clothes, sheets, towels, etc. that are too worn/torn to be donated can be recycled. Many communities have material recycling bins at their City Halls, and some Goodwill stores also do material recycling. (Call first, and clearly mark the bags so they don't go into the donation sorting process.) These materials are turned into insulation or similar products, and keep old clothes out of landfills. Thanks!

Yes, Yes, Yes!! Absolutely!! Try to think about other ways these items can be used. Old clothes, towels and sheets can be recycled or turned into rags and towels, in particular, are often needed at animal shelters.

I am preparing for a kitchen remodel that will include refinishing floors on the first level of our home and moving our furniture and china to accommodate the floor refinishing. We have begun purging unused kitchen items and other household items. Could you recommend a plan of attack for this endeavor? We have lived in this house for 25 years and I am a bit of a pack rat. Thank you.

I would go drawer by drawer or cabinet by cabinet. Start early enough so you're not rushed. Do a little bit each day and things that you haven't seen in a decade can go. Give some real thought to what you use most and set the things you're undecided on aside to consider the following week. There are many good places to donate kitchen and household items where they will be put to good use by someone who needs them!

So motivating to read all this and also realize how everyone is struggling with their stuff, especially in the new year. Nicole, thanks so much for all your wisdom and inspiration. Next week we will have Andrea Magno from Benjamin Moore with color trends for paint for 2020. Have a great week and keep tossing that stuff.

Thank you everyone for the great questions! This has been so much fun. I'm sorry I wasn't able to answer all of your questions, but you can search for my columns at washingtonpost.com and follow Neatnik on Instagram @neatnikdc, where we're always sharing tips!! Happy 2020 and let's all be smarter shoppers this year! 

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 and organizing.

Home Q&A archiveFind Jura on Instagram
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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