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To help guide you through the tidying process, we asked professional organizer Stephanie Sikora—owner of Denver-based Sikora Solutions, which has spruced up more than 750 spaces in Colorado and around the country—to reveal her secrets for decluttering some of the most irksome corners of the house.
Six dusty cans of garbanzo beans. Forgotten, half-empty pasta boxes. Loose soy sauce packets from takeout orders eaten long ago. If opening your kitchen pantry makes you want to retire from cooking for good, try these tips.
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Phone a Friend
Small pantries require strategic organization. “What space do we have, and how do we maximize it?” Sikora suggests asking yourself, noting that this is best done with someone who doesn’t use your pantry every day. “It’s really hard for people to see their space any differently, but having a third party with an objective perspective can help you find opportunities, like leveraging wall space.”
A crowded pantry is a money waster. “If you can’t see what you have, you over-purchase…because you don’t know you have three ketchups and buy more,” Sikora says. Her solution: Remove everything from your shelves, discard expired goods, and rearrange each item so you can see its label—like you’re strolling the aisles at Sprouts. Have unwanted (unopened and unexpired) pantry goods? Consider donating them to Denver Community Fridges, which has five fridge-and-shelf setups across the metro area that anyone can grab food from at any time.
Give Every Item a Home
Sikora creates specific homes for each food category, placing cans on risers so she can quickly see if she’s out of something. Labeled bins for categories like pasta and snacks also help. “Labeling is such a powerful communication tool: It makes it very obvious to everyone in the house that this is where a particular item goes.”
Make It Easy
Think about how everyone in your household navigates the pantry and arrange it accordingly. For example, if you’re a green tea addict, corral your kettle, matcha, and whisk onto one tray. A frequent bread baker? Keep your go-to flours closest to your pantry door. Strategic placement is even more important for parents. “If you have kids, putting their snacks down low so they can reach them makes sense,” Sikora says. “Put them too high, and they’ll scale the shelves!”
Decanting pastas, flours, and other foodstuffs into resealable containers looks much neater than a lineup of sundry boxes and bags. “It keeps your food fresh and allows you to see at a glance how much you have,” Sikora adds. Plus, decanting is easier on the environment: You can BYO bags and buy grocery essentials in bulk from stores like Sprouts and Natural Grocers and avoid the wasteful packaging altogether. But Sikora has a decanting caveat: “I always ask people, ‘Is it realistic for you? Do you think that, week after week, you’re going to refill this jar?’ If your answer is no, then don’t do it. It needs to fit your lifestyle.”
Once you’ve cleared your shelves, your pantry will undoubtedly need a deep clean before being restocked. To get the job done, check out the cleaning brand Bona. With its U.S. headquarters located just south of Denver, Bona makes products that are EPA Safer Choice certified, dye free, and made with plant-derived ingredients. Boulder Clean is another local favorite that offers everything from Valencia-orange-scented dish soap to plant-based disinfecting wipes.
The Bedroom Closet
When Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw stuffed extra sweaters into her oven because there wasn’t enough room in her closet, we felt that. Very few of us have California Closets–worthy storage space, whether we’re fashionistas or we wear the same Patagonia pullover day after day. Here’s the fix.
“The average person only wears about 20 percent of their wardrobe,” Sikora says, meaning that up to 80 percent of the clothing in your closet could be adding to the clutter. The solution: Remove every item and ask yourself what you really use. For example: How many pairs of black leggings do you actually wear and need? “Before you even think about organizing it, you have to simplify it,” Sikora says. Fair warning: If you skip this painful step, any system you create will inevitably fall apart.
Keep Your Goal Top of Mind
Even KonMari devotees know it’s not easy to give away clothes tied to memories. Maybe you wore that blazer on your first date with your wife or donned that skirt at your baby shower. “If your goal for the space is to walk in and see your pretty sweaters, bring it back to that [to stay focused],” says Sikora, who challenges her clients to ask themselves, “Are these additional items worth taking up that space?” If you can’t bear to part with, say, your bridal gown or your granny’s mink stole, Sikora advises putting such sentimental items in a protective container and tucking it away in a climate-controlled area of the home.
Work With What You’ve Got
Wondering whether to fold or hang your jeans? Unless you’re going to entirely redo your closet, be sure to work with the space you have—whether that’s shelving or hanging rods. “Some people want to fold everything, but if they don’t have shelf or drawer space, it won’t stay organized,” Sikora says. And this may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget: Keep the items you wear most frequently front and center and relegate lesser-worn pieces (Christmas sweaters and 4-inch stilettos, for example) to a higher shelf. Coloradans know the weather is always changing, so it’s better to hone your wardrobe to what you really wear than attempt a seasonal rotation.
Divide and Conquer
Drawer dividers “create specific homes within drawers so they don’t turn into hot messes,” Sikora says. Use them to build cubbies for socks, bras, and more. “Good shoe organizers can often help leverage underutilized spaces, too.”
Sikora partners with Littleton nonprofit Shiloh House when clients are looking to purge certain items that still have a lot of life in them, including bedding and baby gear. Want to consign a few investment pieces for some extra cash? Try Common Threads, which sells gently used pieces from brands like Hermès, Bottega Veneta, and Chanel at its Platt Park and Boulder storefronts.
When it’s a dumping ground for sports gear, DIY projects, and lawn care equipment, a garage can quickly become an abyss. In fact, according to a survey by the National Association of Professional Organizers, some 50 percent of American homeowners have deemed the garage the most disorganized place in their house. “For a lot of people, the garage is the first point of entry into a home, so that’s not the feeling you want to have every time you arrive,” Sikora says. Here, her tips for tackling this space.
“In garages, you have to maximize every square inch,” Sikora says. Creating specific vertical storage spaces helps get items off the floor and out of your hair. “If it can be hung, I want to hang it, because there’s so much underutilized space on our walls for scooters, bikes, camping chairs, tents, and more. Hooks [and pegboards] are your friends!”
Do a Seasonal Deep Clean
At the very least, garages require a seasonal cleanout, Sikora advises. “Each season is an opportunity to assess: ‘Are we still using this?’” she says, adding that this is the perfect moment to chuck kids’ broken sidewalk chalk and other items that may have been needlessly stockpiled over the past few months. Skis and snow boots can be tucked away—and bikes and scooters rolled out to a more accessible spot—come spring.
Be a Taskmaster
Next to the entry door of her garage, Sikora built a simple shelf that she can reach from inside the house. This functions as a landing zone for boxes that need to be broken down for recycling. “With the cars parked in there, there’s no room, it’s cold, it’s dark, and you just want to throw [the box],” she says. Problem solved!
Let’s face it: Those cans of dried paint stacked in the corner aren’t doing you any favors. For old paints and wood stains, call your local paint supply store to inquire about recycling. “Some take 25 gallons at a time and may already be at capacity,” Sikora notes. The Happy Beetle, a local, subscription-based recycling company, will pick up old paint, plus lightbulbs, toys, batteries, electronics, and other items collecting dust in your garage.
If you have a garage full of things you’ve been meaning to schlep to Goodwill, call Denver-based Junk Trunk, Sikora’s go-to recycler for everything from electronics to chemicals. “They go through all resources before anything goes to the dump, creating a one-stop shop for the client,” she says.
Reset the tone in your home with these tools and techniques that tap into the metaphysical. —Michelle Johnson
Cast a Spell
Self-proclaimed “magical curator of this and that” Kerri Cole shares seven items from Confía Collective—her new South Pearl Street boutique that sells an array of spiritual home goods and gifts—designed to help de-stress your space.
1. White copal incense, $28. An ancient aromatic resin derived from tree sap, copal was burned ceremonially by Mesoamerican cultures for its healing and purifying properties.
2. Energy clearing kit, $28. Perfect for first-time smudgers, this handy kit includes all the necessary ingredients for clearing stagnant and negative energy from your space.
3. Cast of Stones smudge spray, $28. Infused with clear quartz crystals and calming essential oils, this room spritz offers the energy-clearing effects of traditional sage smudging, without the cloud of smoke.
4. Beaded evil eye ornament, $18. Hang this updated version of an ancient symbol of protection where you’ll see it daily.
5. Good Vibes Only obsidian crystal candle, $47. This two-wick, vanilla-lavender-scented candle includes two obsidian crystals, which are said to shield against negativity.
6. Concrete incense holder, $48. Available in White Terrazzo or Black Lava Rock, this stylish dish conveniently catches incense ash for easy cleanup.
7. Elemental Energy: Crystal and Gemstone Rituals for a Beautiful Life by Kristin Petrovich, $34. Not sure what to do with the pretty piece of rose quartz or amethyst that’s been collecting dust on your shelf? This guide provides fresh ways to incorporate gemstones and crystals into your home, work, and beauty routine.
How to Smudge Like a Pro
If you recently moved into a new home that doesn’t feel like yours yet, or your family finally recovered from a virus that kept you cooped up for weeks, it might be time to clear the energy in your home. “We’re sending out energy all the time, and our emotions can imprint upon spaces and objects,” says Matthew Tenzin, founder of Aspen- and Boulder-based True Home Design. Here, he shares three simple steps for wiping your home’s energetic slate clean.
“The first step is to ‘listen’ to the space—notice how you feel in your body, what sensations or emotions you have when you’re in that space,” Tenzin says. Maybe you feel anxious, tired, or a bit frustrated—whatever the reaction, make a mental note of it.
Set an Intention
“Starting outside the house or room, light a candle or some incense, sage, or cedar, and take a moment to set an intention,” Tenzin says. Think about what feeling you want to evoke in that space, whether it’s a sense of happiness, clarity, or ease.
Let It Go
With the incense, sage, etc. in hand, walk around the space. “Open the windows and doors to let the smoke travel throughout the room(s),” Tenzin says, adding that you can also close your eyes and visualize light filling the space. “Repeat your positive intention to release the stuck energy.”