Robin Helman Art director and mother of two, Irvington, New York
Artful Order in the Cupboards
Robin’s crisp, curated kitchen features a pullout cabinet with 33 alphabetized spices―from allspice to wasabi―in matching glass jars on tiny tiered shelves. Another cupboard has colorful grains and dried beans and reflects the same modernist design sense. Each container is labeled in lowercase letters, in the same typeface.
Genesis of the system: “I love to cook, and when I lived in London, I got into spices,” says Robin. “Some were in jars, others in bags. They were begging for uniformity. Now my sister brings me spices from Italy, where she lives. I have extra jars on hand so I can just pop them into place.”
Payoff: “Looking at these cohesive spots makes me happy. Plus, it’s more fun to cook when you know exactly where to find things.”
Advice for newbies: “Buy uniform containers, use the same font size for all the labels―I set my label maker on small―and place the labels near the tops of the jars so they’re easy to see all at once.”
Born labeling: “I was labeling things with my computer long before I had a label maker. Even my label maker has a label on it that says ROBIN.”
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3 Ways to Create Your Own System
Make spices and grains match. Oxo’s stackable containers (shown here; from $8 each, oxo.com) come in 11 sizes, so you can use them for grains, sugar, and cereal. Three-inch-high jars are the perfect size for spices; Oggi makes spice jars ($30 for a set of eight canisters, including four spice jars, macys.com) similar to those Robin uses.
Hide spices in a deep drawer. Place spices cap-side up and label the tops. Keep favorites in the front row and arrange others alphabetically. To hold the spice jars in place, outfit the drawer with a cut-to-fit cork liner ($20, williams-sonoma.com).
Display spices on a wall. The 14½-inch-long iron spice rack ($20, containerstore.com) holds about 20 jars and is only three inches deep, so it won’t eat up space.
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The Photo Archivist
Michele Bender Freelance writer and mother of two, New York City
Digital Drawers to Die For
Michele’s home-office storage includes a drawer where cords and chargers live in tangle-free bliss. Just below is her showpiece: a photo filing system that holds a decade’s worth of family shots, beautifully organized on colorful CDs. Whenever Michele transfers images to discs, she deletes them from her iPhoto library.
Payoff: “Since having kids, the number of pictures I take is ridiculous,” says Michele. “My computer was so overloaded. Now, if the school needs a recent photo for my son’s cubby or a shot of my daughter as a baby, I don’t have to click through a thousand pictures. I know exactly where to look.”
Advice for technophobes: “Do it in pieces. If you wait till the end of the year, you’ll never get to it. When you go on a class trip, come home and put the images on a disc―it takes two seconds.”
Humbled by her habit: “I love having everything in order. It gives me a faux sense of control over my life. But my family always makes fun of me. When I say the word organize, my daughter puts her fingers in her ears. If my son wants candy, he’ll say, ‘I’ll let you organize my toys!’ ”
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2 Ways to Create Your Own System
For digital images: Color-code your collection by storing discs in vibrant cases (slim jewel cases, $11.50 for 25, staples.com)―blue for parties, green for trips, and so on. Use empty cases positioned vertically and marked by the year as dividers; they’ll extend about a half inch above the others.
For old-school snapshots: Mail photos to ScanCafe.com and get them back in digitized form. About 1,200 images (from 29 cents a photo) fit on a DVD; CDs hold far fewer. The company touches up images in a climate-controlled facility monitored 24/7 by armed guards. You can track your precious cargo online every step of the way, and the originals are returned when the process is complete.
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The Closet Conqueror
Margot Fooshee Fashion executive and mother of one, New York City
Cleverly Rigged Shoe Storage
Inside Margot’s impeccable closet are two drawers set up to house 15 pairs of shoes each. Wedge-shaped wood inserts run the length of the drawers to keep everything in place. Short boots sit just above; tall boots live in the back. Margot’s toddler daughter enjoys a similarly soothing shoe-scape.
Genesis of the system: “The drawers were built for shoes,” says Margot. “But laid flat, my shoes didn’t fit well. Angling was the solution, so I hired a carpenter. It took a few tries to get the pitch right.”
Payoff: “I can always find the pair I’m looking for, but my shoes are otherwise out of sight.”
Seminal organizing memory: “As a kid, I would organize my sister’s soap collection when she wasn’t looking.”
Advice for shoe lovers: “Keep only your main pairs where you have easy access. Those I wear less often are in hot pink boxes at the top of the closet, where they don’t take up valuable real estate.”
Too much of a good thing: “My husband’s also very organized, but we both have separate systems. So sometimes we end up unintentionally hiding things from each other.”
6 of 8William Abranowicz
3 Ways to Create Your Own System
Turn shoes into art. Tuck the toes of your sneakers and pumps into the sculptural, stainless-steel J-Me ($119, gnr8.biz)―a simple, wall-mounted shelflike unit that gently holds the fronts of your shoes so that the shoes look as if they’re floating.
Slide footwear under the bed. The mahogany under-bed rack ($26, holdnstorage.com) is on wheels and moves out and in without much effort.
Use a ladder-style bookcase. Steps on the Manhattan ladder bookcase ($120, target.com) have raised lips in back to keep shoes from slipping off.
7 of 8William Abranowicz
The Happy Wrapper
Janet Simon Interior designer and mother of four, Morristown, New Jersey
An Amazing Gift-Wrapping Station
One wall of Janet’s spare room is outfitted with drawers that house 30 rolls of paper and 100 spools of ribbon. There’s a closet with hold-for-later presents and a glass-topped counter for wrapping.
Genesis of the system: “Wrapping is something I love doing,” says Janet. “Having a place to keep all my supplies―and not having to wrap big gifts on the floor―was a dream of mine.”
Payoff: “It makes putting together a nice gift relaxing. My family uses it, too. They like having everything there when they need it. And I never have trouble locating presents I’ve bought in advance.”
Advice for wrappers: “Don’t junk up your supplies with little scraps you’re unlikely to use. And keep your scissors sharp. I have two pairs―one for paper, one for ribbon and fabric―and they never leave the wrapping area, so they don’t get overused.”
Can't live without: “My Black and Blum heavy-weight tape dispenser [$60, dwr.com]. You can use it with one hand, and it never budges.”
Seminal organizing memory: “Taking the tip of the iron and pressing my Barbie’s black-and-white sundress. I ironed all her clothes and hung them by length in that little pink case.”
8 of 8William Abranowicz
3 Ways to Create Your Own System
Use an old dresser. Dedicate one drawer to rolls of gift wrap; one to tissue paper and packing materials, like bubble wrap; and one to gifts to save. Small drawers can hold ribbon, twine, bows, gift cards, tape, and scissors.
Trick out a bucket. Stick rolls in a tall, sturdy bucket outfitted with a Bucket Boss ($17, amazon.com), a wraparound canvas organizer with plenty of pockets for tape, scissors, and more. It can easily travel with you from room to room.
Tuck supplies under the bed, but in a deliberate way. The Holiday Gift Wrap Storage Station ($20, bedbathandbeyond.com) slips easily under a bed frame and, with separate compartments for rolls, ribbon, bags, and bows, everything can be easily accessed. Bonus: A special ribbon dispenser allows you to access the accessory and keep them tangle-free.