One Family’s Life Changing Organizing Makeover
Like most families, the Taos have a schedule so packed with work, school, and activities that it's tough to find time to straighten up. Gwen Tao, a physical therapist, and her husband Pete, an electrical engineer and college-football official, are raising three sons they adopted as babies: Isaiah, 10, and Caleb and Cody, both 14. The family has five rescue dogs, and they also open up their Drippings Springs, Texas, home to weekly community events, including Girl Scout troop meetings and Pilates classes, which take place in a room above the detached garage.
The family's nanny, Caitlin McCollom, took notice of their growing mess—and then took action. "I am writing on behalf of my boss," her e-mail to Real Simple read. "Gwen is a wonderful woman, but her house needs organization so badly! If your editors could help her, it would be an enormous blessing." And so the RS team swooped in for a whole-home overhaul, helping the Taos whittle down their belongings, contain them smartly, and establish some systems. The redo was transformational.
Dining Room: Before
Stained microsuede seats and an over-populated bookcase dragged down the dining area. A floor covering with good intentions—carpet remnant covering main carpet, to keep it clean!—ended up looking messy. The large wall was crying out for more personalization beyond the pair of prints hung there.
Dining Room: After
To make this area feel warm and welcoming—it’s the hearth of the home, after all—RS swapped out the white rug-on-rug for a colorful indoor/outdoor rug that’s easy to vacuum (bonus: the bold design masks dirt). Recovering the chairs with a pretty patterned fabric also helped. The easy how-to: pop out the seat, stretch the fabric over it, staple-gun taut in back and pop the seat in.
Instead of piling kids’ creations in a closet (that’s where we found some of the pieces shown here), put them on display. Command Medium Picture-Hanging Strips help the frames stay straight. Last, we slimmed down the book and game collection and stored it on a smaller shelf unit.
To buy: Jallvik and Virserum frames, from $7, ikea.com/us. Mali Indigo indoor/outdoor rug, $1,142 (8 by 10 feet), dashandalbert.annieselke.com.
Originally intended to be a command center for Gwen, this room quickly became a repository for the random—broken electronics and all sorts of paper scraps. Hand-me-down furniture pieces became overrun with outdated paper piles and picture frames, while a keepsake quilt hogged valuable vertical space above the desk.
“This room was so crowded that I avoided it entirely,” says Gwen. “Now that it’s neat, it’s my favorite spot in the house.” To transform this room’s purpose from clutter catchall to efficient command center, the RS team installed a multilevel shelving unit above the desk to keep photo paper, envelopes, and stationery hidden in plain sight. (Pete’s vintage comic book collection lives here too.)
We sorted the remaining paperwork into categories—school, summer school, medical, vets—then loaded them into clear, labeled filing boxes with handles, designating one per cubby. Keep active files in easily accessible bins, like the clear, handled ones here, and move files you don’t need often—but still want to keep close—to a high shelf in a closet. Every three months, give the active files a once-over and shred or toss outdated documents to make room for new ones. A corner rolling cart serves as a streamlined printing area, with printer up top and paper supply below. A good trick: Put a plant on top of a table or bookshelf—it’s a visual cue that prompts you to keep that space sacred (i.e. junk-free). A low shelf of cubbies separates the room from the hallway. Each family member gets a column of two for bags and backpacks. Gwen’s are closest to the wall, beside a mounted organizer holding mail and permission slips, and bills to handle at the end of every week.
To buy: Coffee & White elfa freestanding study, $843; Bigso Stockholm Office Storage Boxes in white, $13 each; Grey Marten magazine files, $13 each: containerstore.com. Original painting by Caitlin G McCollom, cgmccollom.com for info. Grandview Tall Task Lamp, $249; Leather Schoolhouse Chair, $219: rejuvenation.com. Texas Map with reclaimed barn wood frame, $89 (11 inches square); Go Your Own Way print with reclaimed barn wood frame, $179 (16 by 20 inches): minted.com. Go-Cart white three-shelf table, $129, cb2.com. Home Decorators Collection cut-to-width white premium faux wood blind, $100 (72 inches), homedepot.com. Trimaran Stripe indoor/outdoor Wouf dog bed, $180, freshamerican.annieselke.com. Pike Office Chair in grey, $199, roomandboard.com. 2015 Great Big Wall Calendar, $25; Multi-color A2 stationery set, $17: papersource.com.
Not shown, but also donated: Full of Leaves in dark blue with white premium wood frame, $138 (16 by 20 inches), minted.com. Slim Open Recycler, $70, simplehuman.com. Portable File Boxes, $16 (black) and $22 (clear), organizeit.com. Hanging Key Holder, $41, overstock.com. Wood Wall Pocket, $119, ballarddesigns.com. Espresso Mitzy Baskets, $15 each, worldmarket.com.
Master Closet: Before
With flimsy shoe bins stuffed beyond their brims, unmarked cardboard boxes full of puzzles and purses, and a stuffed-animal menagerie taking up prime shelf space, the master closet felt more like a rummage sale than a functional clothing storage space. A mix of wire and plastic hangers left outfits slipping off and in need of ironing before getting dressed.
Master Closet: After
This spot needed a relentless edit (old clothes and shoes were boxed up and donated, and keepsakes like the plush toy collection were stored in sealed bins in the garage). Now the remaining items can breathe! Storage racks keep all shoes visible and within reach, and clothes—sectioned by category and color—are hung on new slim, space-saving hangers. The hanging shelves in the middle hold favorite folded shirts; others are stored in the deep drawers at the right. A small indoor/outdoor rug gives the closet a boutique-like look.
The top shelf, reachable with a step stool, is reserved for occasional-use items like travel bags and formal shoes. Boot shapers keep tall styles from toppling over. Without them, floppy footwear would derail Gwen and Pete’s organizing efforts.
To buy: Real Simple slimline flocked suit hangers, $30 for 50; Real Simple Boot Shapers, $8 for two pairs; Real Simple 6-Shelf Hanging Organizer, $20: bedbathandbeyond.com. On the Double step stool in aqua, $69, landofnod.com.
Not shown, but also donated: Kallax shelving unit, $65, ikea.com/us for stores.
Laundry Room: Before
This room’s ample square footage (14 by 8 feet) tempted the family to dump more than just their dirty clothes. Real Simple editors unearthed tubes of gift wrap, wads of plastic grocery bags, hockey sticks, an ice-cream maker, and extension cords. Without bins or baskets to corral items of with similar functions, everything became jumbled together and, ultimately, unused.
Laundry Room: After
The Taos enter the house through a nearby door, so RS morphed this into a laundry-slash-mud room. (Lesson: One room can serve two purposes, so long as the purposes are clearly defined.) Two multi-pronged hooks hold everyday jackets. A punchy striped doormat defines the mudroom area just like a rug would. Baskets above the washer and dryer hold beach towels, extra linens, and pillows (and leave no surplus surface area for stuff that strays). Pushing the appliances together gave them a neater look and left an eight-inch space at the right to slot in a stepstool.
To buy: Our Men’s Shoe Boxes, $3.80 each, containerstore.com. Dyson AM05 Hot + Cool fan heater, $400, dyson.com. Tanker Clock in Swiss Chocolate, $199, schoolhouseelectric.com. Navy Bead TwoPeck baskets, $228 each, hableconstruction.com. Slate and Cast Iron Dog Tail Leash Holder, $30, plowandhearth.com. Werner 2-step Step Stool, $23, lowes.com. Half Tone Floor Baskets, $59 each, landofnod.com. Black and Gray Stripe Doormat, $39, rejuvenation.com. Mollie Hooks in peacock blue and antique black, $69 each, schoolhouseelectric.com. Honey-Can-Do 4-pack wooden suit hangers, $9, bedbathandbeyond.com.
Not shown, but also donated: Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal + Allergy vacuum, $700, dyson.com. Grook Utility Holder, $20 (large), containerstore.com. Style Selections wall-mounted iron caddy, $15, lowes.com.
Kitchen tools and rogue food crowded the counters, tchotchkes took over the tops of cabinets, and a bulky stepstool no one really needed was a tripping hazard. The too-small island was used as a drop spot rather than a functional workstation and the open trashcan was an intriguing spot for curious canine noses.
Clearing off the surfaces and the floor were the cures for this cookspace’s chaos. Cutting boards and the most-used cookware and appliances stayed put, but the rest of the counter space was preserved for prepping. We even extended the work area on the 24-by-36-inch island by securing a larger butcher block (about $200 Lumber Liquidators) on top with brackets. No more having to hunt for a dishtowel or an oven mitt if you stick a few adhesive hooks in a central spot, like on the kitchen island.
A dark, bulky ceiling fixture weighs down a space. Give it a few coats of white paint, and the room is instantly airier. Keep your most-used plates, utensils, and napkins on a rolling cart (far right) to make dinner service a cinch (and let the kids pitch in).
To buy: Traditional Classics weathered nickel cabinet knobs, $4.30 each, homedepot.com. Cuisinart Metal Classic 4-Slice Toaster, $55; Denmark 10-Piece Ceramic Nonstick Aluminum Cookware Set, $100: bedbathandbeyond.com. Wallies Removable Chalk Panels, $20 for four; Classic Bistro Chalk Markers, $14 for four: papersource.com. Stenstorp kitchen cart, $199, ikea.com/us. Real Simple Round Dinnerware in white, $25 (four-piece place setting), bedbathandbeyond.com. Large Bronze York Open Stack Baskets, $25 each; Utility Hooks (underside of butcher block), $3 for four: containerstore.com. Aster Stripe Dish Towels, $6 each, crateandbarrel.com. Edge-y Cutting Board in charcoal, $118; Dipper Ceramic Dog Bowls, $22 (medium): waggo.com.
Not shown, but also donated: Copco Two Tiered Non-Skid Turntable, $13, bedbathandbeyond.com. Expandable Shelf Organizer, $15, containerstore.com. 10 Piece POP Container Set, $100; POP Cereal Dispensers, $23 each: oxo.com. Batik Slate shelf paper, $65 per 10-foot roll, chicshelfpaper.com. 48 Litre Steel Bar Recycler, $250; X-large Pet Food Can, $140; Wall Mount Grocery Bag Dispenser, $10: simplehuman.com. French Kitchen marble utensil crock, $25, crateandbarrel.com.
Items stored on a shelving unit built by Pete had little rhyme or reason (random scuba gear lived with baseball rosters). Cardboard file boxes and unlabeled opaque containers that housed necessities of yesteryear became overlooked. And, eventually, discarded pieces from inside the home piled up in front of and around these stacks, contributing to the confusion.
To help the family keep track of all their oversized luggage, camping equipment, pet supplies, and home improvement tools, RS first got it all off the floor, and then sorted and stored it in categorized sections. Tools are mounted, suitcases are stashed on top shelves, and the rest is neatly arranged in large, clear bins below. Pegboard is a go-to for tools and oddly shaped gear, to keep everything in arm’s reach. And it’s easily adaptable as you add to it.
Interlocking rubber tiles cordon off a parking spot and keep clutter from encroaching. They also prevent car fluids from staining the garage floor.
To buy: Iris Plastic Storage Boxes, $22 each, organizeit.com. Grook Utility Holder, $15 (small), containerstore.com. Indoor/Outdoor Stripe Polypropylene Rug, $53 (3 feet 7 inches by 5 feet six inches), overstock.com. Gray PVC Multi-Purpose Raised Coin Garage Flooring, $40 for six tiles; and Flooring Trim Kit, $30 for 18 edges: craftsman.com.
Not shown, but also donated: Heavy-Duty Triple Storage Bin, $49; Rothko Rolling Bike Stand, $35 each: containerstore.com. Richelieu Hardware storage hooks, $18 for 14, homedepot.com.
Craft Room: Before
An awkward and underused wide hallway outside the eldest boys’ rooms turned into a playroom of sorts. But after a few games, the air hockey table became a drop spot for last year’s school supplies and forgotten science projects. Some of Gwen’s physical therapy tools even ended up residing here.
Craft Room: After
Relocating the physical therapy machine and other non-essentials made room for the air hockey table to move out of the corner. A massive bulletin board now gives the boys a place to keep score and display artwork. On the other side of the space, RS editors set up a compact desk and craft supply station for creative moments. A graphic sisal rug helps define the space and make it feel less like a hallway and more of a room to be enjoyed.
To buy: Beadboard Message Board, $499 (53 by 83.25 inches), ballarddesigns.com. Blue Ikat Hand-Braided Jute Bima Area Rug, $150 (5 by 8 feet), worldmarket.com. Loft Floor lamp, $189, landofnod.com. Ikea PS 2014 Secretary, $189; Alex drawer unit on casters, $119; Bygel Rails, $3 each; Bygel Containers, $1 each: ikea.com/us. 104 Airplanes by Jenny Odell, $185 (11 inches square, framed); and 125 Stadiums by Jenny Odell, $60: 20x200.com. Pike Office Chair in grey, $199, roomandboard.com. See Jane Work pushpins, $4, officedepot.com. Crayons and colored pencils courtesy of Crayola, crayola.com.