Q&A: Jane Francisco editor of Good Housekeeping on organizing

Feb 27, 2020

Since Jane Francisco took over as editor in chief of Good Housekeeping in 2013, she has been bringing a new modern viewpoint to the brand across multiple platforms. Good Housekeeping is celebrating its 135th year and provides 50 million readers the latest information on lifestyle trends and products. Jane is keen on bringing more attention to the Good Housekeeping Institute, the testing laboratories that evaluate products, as well as the Good Housekeeping Seal. Jane is also editorial director of the Hearst Lifestyle group.

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.

Welcome to Jane Francisco, editor in chief of Good Housekeeping and editorial director of Hearst Lifestyle Group. Jane recently finished renovations on her Queen Anne Victorian in New Jersey so she's done a lot of organizing lately. Their March issue is all about getting organized as well. So bring on your questions.

Hi, it's Jane from Good Housekeeping. I'm so excited to be here + can't wait to hear all your questions.

Do you have any tips on decluttering a garage? I think gone are the days where homeowners bought every tool - I think there should be places to loan tools! What do I do with 20 years of hammers, screwdrivers and boxes of nails and screws?

This is a great question! And apparently others have been thinking of it too + coming up with some interesting solutions. First of all, did you know that some libraries allow you to sign out anything from a power tool to a kitchen appliance. They take donations from the community, then offer those items up for lending. 

Other options...

There are apps specifically designed to help lend items + keep track of them. Here are some: iLend, Lend Me It, Borrow It -- and there's even one for tools called MyShed.

Hi Jura and Jane! Do you have any ideas for how to handle your uglier toiletries?? I have a lot of cute jars and old containers for my cuter cosmetics, but struggling to organize ugly bottles, cotton balls, products still in the box etc. I want to find a solution where I can have the ones I use daily near my mirror/makeup where I get ready in the morning, and the rest can go somewhere else.

Here are some ideas:

1. Cotton balls or cotton swabs in glass jars or ceramic cups.

2. Decanting shampoo or lotions into simple or prettier containers.

3. Put ugly items on a high shelf where they can't be seen.

4. Stash in decorative boxes.

5. If you have a linen closet in or near your bathroom, you could put less-used items into a bin on one of the shelves.

6. Discard/recycle the exterior boxes + perhaps even remove unattractive labels from bottles or tubes.

Now that both parents are deceased, there will be four adult siblings cleaning out 65 years of accumulation in our parents' home to get it ready for sale. What advice can you give for how to accomplish this, hopefully in a week? As an example, do we go through each room together? We're hoping you can advise us on the most efficient way. Thanks.

Depending on your family dynamics there are probably any number of ways to approach this. However, if you're looking to be most efficient, each of you could take a room to create piles/boxes of items in the following categories: 1) keep 2) sell 3) donate 4) discard.

Then you could each lead the others through your room and selections to make sure everyone has input.

You can donate hand tools and power tools to Habitat for Humanity Restore. Also, Home Depot and Lowe's rent tools.


How can I organize a few hundred family photos from when my adult children were little? I hate pasting them in albums and don’t know much about digitizing. Help!

I just did this for my family (turns out there were over 2,500 pictures in a chest at my parents' house!!).

Here's how I did it. (Note: I had both of my siblings help when they had time.)

I started by sorting images by setting aside all images that weren't of family  members or close friends. Then I started making piles based on groupings of subjects. For instance, all my dad's family in one pile, mom's family in another, family portraits in another, separate piles for me + my siblings, etc.

Then I found a digital image specialist who does photo scanning + restoration in my area. The advantage to pre-organizing was that I received the digital pics back in folders labeled to each grouping. 

(I preferred using a local service that I could drop off in person.)

Good luck!! My experience was grueling but totally worth it!Last summer we had a family reunion + showed off the collection in a slide show.

I have learned through (bitter) experience that it doesn't matter how "organized" anything is if it isn't extremely easy to put things away where they belong. If my coat doesn't hang right by the door, it goes on the sofa. (Closets? LOL.) I will get things out because I want to use them, but any system that requires me to expend effort to put them away is doomed. My husband is the same way, so I can only imagine what habits we're already teaching the baby. How can we set up our house to accommodate this weakness, without just keeping everything in laundry baskets next to the sofa?

Personally I love hooks!!! And it sounds like they could work for you. There are so many different styles, that it's even fun to shop for them. (Just make sure you actually put them on the wall!) You can get different styles/sizes for different parts of the house: I have put hooks in the bedroom, bathroom, mudroom, front hall, even in the hall outside my bedroom for hanging outfits while I am getting ready. 

Plus, the 3M Command Hooks are super easy and can be installed in seconds, moved/removed anytime!

P.S. Our executive editor swears by putting baskets in entry ways for things like socks, hats, gloves, etc.

I had my photos digitized by Costco. Super easy. I went through and took out any I didn't want. Then put them in rough chronological order. Costco prefers if you then put a number on the back so they can be sure of what order to scan them in, but I didn't. Eventually, I'll go into the digital photo and rename them to indicate who/where they are.

Thanks for sharing this. Good to know.

I picked up this idea somewhere and am not sure if it is accurate: Can I have wool (not synthetic) carpet bound into a rug, and are there any pros/cons to doing so? I find the selection of natural fabric rugs lacking and expensive, but I'll need a new area rug soon. Does anyone local to DC (VA) have recommendations of stores that do this?

Posting this in case someone locally has a recommendation. Thanks.

What are techniques for organizing fresh vegetables when the cooler drawers are small?

I use clear glass/plastic containers for veg and fruit. They are a great way to see what you have, they stack, they're easy to clean + you can also keep a small amount of water in the bottom to keep organics crisp.

Don't forget, some vegetables actually fare better outside the fridge: potatoes, tomatoes, citrus, peppers, garlic, onions, bananas, cucumbers, zucchini, etc.

First of all, Habitat for Humanity Restore shops will take tools, nails, screws, hardware, all kinds of stuff. Check with your local store to see what they'll take. Second, you can rent power tools at many Home Depots when you need them. It's silly to own a power washer you'll use once a year.

Good thoughts here. Thanks for your post.

Our home has an open pantry wall and while I know it's not realistic to imagine myself decanting vinegars and oils into pretty bottles and repackaging everything in matching mason jars, I have to admit is complete visual branded chaos. Any pro tips?

Decanting is obviously ideal for open shelving. Perhaps having jars on hand will make it easier. Ball/Mason jars are fairly affordable + go with most kitchen styles. Wire bins for cans, baskets for loose items and taller canisters for pastas, cereals and snacks. If you are able to spend an afternoon doing so pre-planning, this could be easier down the line. And make you happier with your shelves!

I have tons of cosmetics, brushes, etc. I buy large, plastic, attractive zip bags from the Dollar Store. (They are meant for makeup.) They come in all different sizes & they add color to any shelf. They can easily be stored. I put all my lipsticks in one, brushes in another, face creams in a third. Hair items like ponytail ties & bobby pins are organized & easy to find. You can stack them under the sink or in a drawer.

This sounds like a great solution. Thank you! Love Dollar Stores!

organizing a move from a small apartment to a storage bin, where do I start?

I think the most important step is thinking hard about what you'll realistically want/need in the future, especially considering how long you plan to store your stuff. Then start the piles: 1) Keep 2) Sell 3) Donate 4) Discard.

Once you've decided what you're taking with you, Getting uniform, reusable, stackable bins that you can label will be a lifesaver, especially when you retrieve your belongings.

We have a truly tiny kitchen with limited space for storage, and precious limited counter space. What are your favorite visible storage methods for things like pots? Pegboard like Julia Child? Ceiling pot rack? Small shelves wherever we can fit?

As I've mentioned in other posts, I'm a big fan of any kind of hook, but it depends on what works best in your kitchen. A pegboard (you could paint the same color as your wall to blend seamlessly into your small space) could be magic. I also really like ceiling pot racks (so handy if you spend a lot of time in the kitchen), but sometimes they overwhelm a small room. 

And yes!!! Little shelves wherever you can fit them!

I keep the plastic tupperware type containers easily organized in my house by limiting the shapes I buy. I have 5 sizes of plastic food keepers and I find that these sizes and shapes are all I ever need. I like the round shapes with the screw top lids because the lids stay put, especially for soup or other liquid leftovers. I buy the 2 cup and the 4 cup size and the lids are the same. I buy the rectangle shape in 4 cup and 8 cup and again, they use the same size lid. The same shaped containers stack well in the cabinet and the fridge too. The fifth size I use is the 4 oz round with screw top lid. When random plastic shows up at the house, I keep it in a separate bag in the pantry to use for taking food to other people and I beg them not to return the "dish"!

I agree -- keeping the variation to a minimum is the real trick! Thanks so much for sharing what works for you!!

Any ideas for organizing scarves? Right now, the ones I use for the winter are draped over hangars and jackets. I also have a pile of them in my closet, and I'm not sure how to organize them. I've seen the hangar type with holes in them but I'm not a fan.

So you're already doing some of the recommended scarf storing techniques (hanging each scarf over the corresponding jacket/coat). Other ideas:

1. I roll them up and keep in a bin in my coat closet.

2. Again...hooks are always amazing!

3. IKEA shoe storage bins

Decluttering can be massively overwhelming and truthfully it's not fun!!! So a few times a week, I find stuff I can donate, trash or recycle. I figure cleaning off a desk is enough. Cleaning out 2 shelves enough. Recycling the plastic carryout containers enough for a work night. Before the week is out I am tackling the utensils drawer. Getting a little further bit by bit is progress. The benefits are that I am using the "good" glasses and stemware for everyday and the other good things in my life.

I'm totally on board with your suggestions of staying on top of the clutter in small doses every day -- and really love the fact that you're using the "good" stuff as much as possible!

I have 2 closets that are mostly storage for two recent college grad children who lack space in their apartments. But in each closet, the storage is a mix of out-of-season clothes and sports stuff, some books, etc. What is the best way to store and organize these things?

You could try putting a small bookshelf into the closet, so you can hang clothing, but put other items into bins and/or onto shelves.

Space saver vacuum-sealed bags might also help with out-of-season clothes.

I love, love, love this chat, the trend, decorating and organizing tips are wonderful. I would also equally be excited about a spring and fall handyman special where we home repair challenged could get advice about the mundane drips, mildew, cracks, leaks, what kind of specialist I need for maintenance and repair. How do I get an energy audit? Know if we should spring for new windows? Paint, powder coat, or buy new patio furniture? Creaky or stained floors,etc. That boring stuff....

I'm actually doing a story that is scheduled to run in April which will be talking about small jobs in your house and how to tackle them and how much you might have to pay.

Good Housekeeping was known for being about homekeeping. How much of that part of your DNA is still important information for the modern woman?

Homekeeping is still very much part of our DNA. In fact we call Good Housekeeping "Life's Headquarters." We think of your home as the place to get ready to face the world, take care of your family, welcome your friends and express your creativity.

The GH Institute has an amazing Cleaning Lab that tests products, appliances and new cleaning techniques every day! We cover organizing, storage, laundry, fabric care, food prep + safety, and more in every issue! And we think it's all relevant to modern women!!

How many of your kids things should you save in an archival box. Clothes? Toys? Artworks? Books?

I think this is intensely personal. Try to imagine what you might do with these items as your kids age. Will you display them? Show them off to their children? 

One of the things I've done is photograph our most cherished items, then pass them along to other kids. I also framed two of my son's handknit baby sweaters + they now hang in our hallway.

I have spent lots of time organizing but after awhile I do not remember where I do not remember where I put it. How do I file (organize) things so I can find it again?

Labels, labels, labels!!! (They've saved my many times!)

I used to write on my bins with Sharpie markers. But then I found these plastic pouches online that hold a 3x5 index card. Perfect!

Thank you so much for all your great questions -- and for sharing your tried-and-true decluttering tips! The March issue of Good Housekeeping is all about organizing, so check that out. And if you have more queries, goodhousekeeping.com is full of genius solutions and beautiful ideas for streamlining your home.

Organization brings out the best questions in this chat and Jane thank you for such practical and smart answers. I appreciate you joining us today. Next week we will have a kitchen issue for you and joining my chat will be Barbara Sallick of Waterworks whose latest book The Perfect Kitchen is just being published in March. See you then. 

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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.

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