According to Marie Kondo, organizational guru and star of Netflix's viral series Tidying Up, sentimental items should be the last category of things that you address when decluttering. For many, this means childhood photos and cherished objects. For me, a beauty editor, this means my vast collection of makeup and skin care products, because I could argue that each and every single serum... and sheet mask... and lipstick... and highlighter... and dry shampoo sparks joy. I have one entire room and a hallway closet dedicated to storing my beauty items, and still, they were both overflowing in product. If you walked into it, you might assume that I hadn't fully unpacked from moving or that I was a hoarder: There are unopened cardboard boxes piled on top of each other and a collection of tiny tote bags filled to the brim with makeup goodies. Clearly, going through and organizing it all was not a task I could do all by my lonesome. It was going to require the professionals.
Enter Jen Robin of Life In Jeneral. Robin has not only built a career around professional organizing, but she has also created a widely successful company where she and her team of "angels" (as she calls them) go into people's homes and help them declutter their spaces. Robin has worked with everyone, from families who haven't touched their "junk" closets and drawers in decades to celebrities who need help creating an organizational system for their new homes, because let's get one thing straight — mess does not discriminate. It happens to all of us.
(One of the storage units in my beauty room/office before & after)
Robin is very much a believer in the same tenets that Marie Kondo lives by — that disorder in your home can lead to chaos in your personal life and by "purging distractions and clutter," one can live a better life with a clearer mind. While some may thrive in their own style of mess, I 100 percent agree with this organizational mantra. Just thinking about how disorganized and messy the room and the hallway closet were made me incredibly stressed. Every time I tried to clean it up myself, I became overwhelmed, frustrated, and so, so anxious. It was affecting me personally and more than I think I realized. Not only was I thrilled that Robin and her team were going to help me — I was desperate for their guidance.
When the Life in Jeneral team arrived at my house, it was clear that they had a specific plan of action. The four (yes, four) of them weren't there to just just tidy up and categorize items — they intended to move furniture around, build new organizational pieces to install, and get rid of a lot of stuff.
Here's the exact process they went through when organizing my beauty products.
Step 1: Take Everything Out & Categorize
Cathleen Simmons, one of the Life in Jeneral team members, explains to me that the very first thing they do with every client (after assessing the situation, of course) is to take all of the items out of their bins, drawers, and piles and put like items together into different categories. For my beauty products, that meant separating the lipsticks from the eyeshadows and putting them into their own areas. This not only helps you take the first step in organizing your stuff, but it also gives you the chance to see everything you own laid out in front of you.
Step 2: Decide What You Want To Keep & What You Want To Get Rid Of
"The next step is to go through and get rid of all of the things that [you] don't need or use or want," Simmons instructs me. This is arguably the most difficult part of the process, she shares, especially for people who are trying to organize more personal, sentimental items. However, having everything laid out in front of you makes it a lot easier to realize you have too many of the same thing or that you favor one item over the other more. For example, in the photo above, you can see that I have about 20 different nude lipsticks — do I really need that many? Probably not.
While there wasn't a strict rule for how much I needed to get rid of, my goal was to eliminate about half of my collection. It took me almost two hours to go through all of my beauty products and decide what to keep, what to toss (there were a lot of products that were expired and needed to be thrown away), and what to donate. After going through every category of items and deciding what I wanted to part with, I already felt lighter.
Step 3: Strategize
A week before the Life in Jeneral team came to my house to organize, they popped over to look at the furniture I had and suggested other items to get to provide more storage from The Container Store. If you follow Life in Jeneral's Instagram page, you know that everyone on her team are huge fans of The Container Store and are there a lot — like, a few times a day sometimes. It's where they get a majority of their organizational tools, from large shelving units to the tiny plastic baskets that go inside drawers. They made me a list of everything they suggested I have ready for when they came over to my house on organization day.
After we figured out which products I would keep, Simmons and the other team members decided to move some furniture around to maximize the space in the room and make way for the new organizational pieces, like these Elfa Mesh Closet Drawers. Once they did that (they switched where my futon and my desk were and rearranged a bookcase and a dresser), it was time for the fun part.
Step 4: Install
Now that the Life in Jeneral team had mapped out a place for every category of items, it was time to "install" and put all of the products into their new homes. But it wasn't as easy as just throwing lipsticks into a drawer. Simmons stressed the importance of having organizational tools, like these little plastic bins, inside of the drawers so it doesn't just become a mess of objects. Doing this not only allows you to see all of your items, but it also prevents you from just piling things into a drawer or cabinet.
Step 5: Finalize & Label
The last step of the process is to label everything so that you know what's in each section. While other professional organizers (like Marie Kondo) don't do this, the Life in Jeneral team stresses how helpful it can be with staying tidy going forward. Although my beauty closet is clean and organized now, there's a very good chance that it will get out of control sometimes, but the labels will guide me to where everything should go.
After an entire day, the Life in Jeneral team had successfully organized my entire room and hallway closet. The changes were dramatic.
Here's what my room looked like before they arrived and after they went through the entire process.
Here's what my hallway closet looked like before and after.
I couldn't believe how different my room and closet looked, but most importantly, how relieved I felt to have an organizational system put into place. Every category of items had a home now. I could easily find an eyeshadow palette I needed to try for a story or a highlighter I wanted to wear for the night. I knew where to file new beauty products when I brought them home, instead of just throwing them into a bag and tossing it into the closet (only to be left there for weeks at a time).
But what was I going to do after the team had left me to keep the system going on my own? Robin had some easy tips for me to remember and follow.
- As items come into the space, put them where they belong right away. Robin stressed the importance of "creating good habits, like keeping your desktop clear of clutter and filing paperwork as you receive it," she tells me. "It will make an big difference in keeping your space tidy. Get out of the habit of building up a stack of things that you will have to tend to later," Robin says.
- Containment is really important to ensure everything has a home. This is where the bins and baskets come in. Once something doesn't have its own "home," it's easy to just toss it, forget about it, and let it pile up on top of each other.
- Maintenance is key! "Dedicate five to 10 minutes every day to tidy up and put things back in their proper place," Robin advises.
- Every season, go through your items again. Robin recommends going through items and donating or getting rid of anything "that no longer serves you" at least four times a year.
- Remember — having less stuff is easier to maintain. This is especially true "when you truly care and love everything you own," reminds Robin.
The Life in Jeneral team taught me lessons about organizing and tidying that have seriously changed my life and I plan on implementing them into the other rooms in my house until every item has its own place — or at the very least, there are no more piles of bags and boxes on the ground.