Erica Thompson started her career organizing the stockrooms and designing the window displays of New York and L.A. retail stores. She assisted busy executives and friends and family members in organizing their homes, businesses and lives. Eventually she opened Organized by Design—a business that creates joyful, peaceful environments for clients. Here we ask Erica for a few tips on creating order throughout the home.
How did you get in the business of organization?
I’ve always gravitated toward making wherever I live look and feel better—clean, calm and relaxing—ever since I was young. Even when I moved away from home, I would return to the South Bay to visit my parents, and my mom and I would go through the house and cut down on clutter. In the kitchen. In the living room. Everywhere. Half of my dad’s closet would be gone by the time I was hopping back on a plane. This was always a fun way that my mom and I bonded. It was instilled in me, and it keeps her memory alive.
What value does a “clean slate” bring to a household?
Having a clean slate is healing and liberating. It’s literally a way for a home to shed unwanted weight. Holding onto things is holding onto memories of the past. Cleaning it out is living in the present and opening up space for the future. You can focus and function, and you’re not embarrassed to have people over or open your medicine cabinet or drawers. Because I can guarantee they will. One of the biggest surprises clients find—besides how much better their home looks and feels—is how much time they gain by knowing where things are.
For beginner organizers, what part of the home do you suggest they tackle first?
Organizing can be very emotional. For this reason, I start on an easier space and move gradually toward the true hot spots. My approach is to organize homes without any judgment. And it can take clients an hour, a session, maybe two sessions, to gain that trust. If you’re doing it on your own, I suggest this approach as well. Your success will have the greatest chance of snowballing when you start easy and build to bigger clutter challenges. Go for the easy win to build confidence, then forge ahead.
Is it important to “let go” of some items?
I’m not a fan of the rip-and-roar school of organizing. If something is meaningful to you, why would you throw it away?
It’s not always about getting rid of things—though the more you can discard, the more breathing room you will have. Sometimes it’s a question of how frequently you use things and creating a system around that. Items that get used less don’t need to be front and center.
But if your home is causing you stress or hindering your life in any way, it’s probably time to make some changes. It doesn’t mean you have to get rid of everything or can’t keep things. They just need to be organized and stored in a way that is functional for you, so your home brings you calm.
What components make for a well-designed shelf or bookcase?
A bookcase is a perfect example of a hybrid between design and function. It can display plants, candles, things you’ve picked up traveling, sentimental and decorative and functional items all at once. A pretty basket can house keys, sunglasses, a dog leash or other necessities and add to the overall look. If you have books, organizing them by height and color is a great way to showcase reading material. The key to shelves is to underfill them; leave a little empty space.
Any easy tips for keeping the kitchen pantry in order?
Pantries are usually a high-traffic area, and keeping them running smoothly is important to making your life easier. A few simple steps to keeping things flowing:
- Keep like items together and create zones.
- Get matching bins and turntables so things are easy to access and you can see what you have.
- Take inventory before you go grocery shopping to avoid buying duplicates or keeping expired products.
- Store the snacks you want your kids to consume at their level and occasional ones up high (“out of sight, out of mind”). Use an open bin rather than a canister if you have younger children.
After a homeowner crosses some organizational projects off the list, any advice for keeping things tidy?
Make it easy: The less convenient it is to put something away, the less likely you are to do it. Go with systems that make it simple to tidy up.
Make it visible: Trays, baskets, clear bins and labels give spaces visual symmetry and make things easier to find.
Be flexible: The only constant is change. Marriage/divorce, new job/retirement, moving/remodeling, expanding families/empty nesters. What worked before might not work now; adapt your space to accommodate your needs and current lifestyle.