My kitchen is a direct reflection of my psyche. When it’s under control, I feel under control. When it’s bright and shiny and put-together, I’m bright and shiny and put-together. But when it’s a mess, well …
Lately, my kitchen and I have generally been a hot mess. We’re overcrowded, overextended and have too much going on. But the new year provides a clean slate and renewed resolve to get our acts — and perhaps our houses — together. I didn’t need Kondo’d dish towels in perfect triangles, I just needed a place for everything. But I didn’t know where to start.
Enter Rachel Corwin, owner of Spruce with Rachel, a Seattle-based professional organizing service with a mission to streamline and create space in homes and offices. The idea is that time is a precious, limited resource, so if your home is organized and efficient, you’ll have more time to focus on the things you love instead of spending 20 minutes looking for your keys every morning (or is that just me?).
“When people are out of ideas on how to approach their space, I’m a fresh set of eyes,” Corwin says. “I help them streamline their stuff and create space so they can love their home again and get back to the things they want to spend their time on — family, friends, pets, travel, hobbies.”
My editor introduced me to Corwin. She volunteered her services, I volunteered my kitchen, and we’re here to explain what professional organizers do and how they can help.
How it works
Corwin starts with a consultation, walking through the space the client wants to address. It helps to see in person the volume of stuff in the room or closet, as well as the overall layout of the home. She then creates an action plan for organizing the space.
“On organizing day, we start pulling items out of the closet/cupboards/room, sorting like items, and making decisions on what to keep, toss or donate. There’s no judgment as we go through the items. I ask questions to understand what’s important to them, their household, their lifestyle. As space opens up, we’ll reorganize items back into the area and ensure everything has a home.”
There is no typical client. Corwin has seen it all, helping everyone from bona fide hoarders to ongoing clients so dedicated to staying on top of things, they hire her to return biweekly. “Most people have a couple rooms in their home, or a room plus a couple closets they want help on, but I work on single-room projects, too,” she says.
Part philosopher, part moral support and all hands-on, Corwin arrived at my house with a two-tier stepladder, a couple of boxes and a folding table that would act as a workstation for things to be moved or purged. We filled the entire table. She brought a couple of clear organizing cubes, which she gifted me, putting them to use to corral Tupperware lids (which should be stored together) and the mini salt and pepper packets I pack in my lunch.
But we started with the big picture. “What are your pain points?” Corwin asked. I had a few. I collect things. I know I’ll need those two dozen tiki glasses when we finally host that party, and I can’t let go of the vintage tea sets from my baby shower a decade ago. I need them — but maybe not right here, right now.
And what should I do about all that Tupperware? And the plastic wine cups that tumble down on my head every time I dare to open the overhead cupboard?
Speaking of cupboards, the one under the stove is a catch-all with a door that barely closes. Overhead, I can’t reach the top shelves, so who knows what’s up there. There’s not a clear place for everything, so when the kids help put dishes away, I have no idea where things will end up.
And where should we put the microwave? We’ve moved it three times already, and still aren’t happy with it.
Corwin got to work, literally on her hands and knees, poring through my cupboards, pulling everything out for me to divert into keep, purge or move piles. I tried to be decisive and not change my mind once I allocated something. It wasn’t easy. I’m sentimental. I learned it takes more than asking, “Does it spark joy?” It requires asking, “Do I use it? Do I want to use it? Will I actually use it?”
We moved two full grocery bags out of the kitchen and into storage — enough to supply an entire kitchen for my teenage stepdaughter — and purged another bag of unused items.
After everything was emptied, we wiped down each shelf and drawer and found a place for each category and individual item that I had decided to keep. I was shocked by how little time it took — about 3 1/2 hours.
And I was surprised by the difference a few small changes made, such as neat rows of cups with even spaces between them instead of teetering piles.
But the biggest surprise was the questions Corwin asked that helped me approach my space in a new way:
How does your day begin? Coffee, of course. Since that’s a daily habit, we left the kettle and French press on the counter while vanquishing the lesser-used Instant Pot to a cupboard. Corwin suggested moving the microwave to a corner to make room for a coffee station by the window. The change makes the start of my day so much better, because I can now watch the birds and enjoy the morning light while I make my coffee.
What are your goals? I want to eat healthier in the new year. When we unearthed the NutriBullet, we moved it to center stage in the most-used cupboard, so I’ll see it every day and be more inclined to use it. Corwin put other things I use frequently in one area, including Ziploc bags for packing lunch. We made a snack shelf so the kids can help themselves.
What do you like about your space? The spice rack is about it. And the wine glasses. Apparently, I can organize the things I really care about.
What can you not deal with? That is your signal that you need to let go. For me, it was the Tupperware cupboard. Purge mercilessly — or at least move them out of sight.
Review your routine. When you come in the door, what do you put down where? It all needs a place. Corwin recommended a wall-mounted file holder that would use vertical space to corral the mail, stamps, checks and school permission slips.
As we worked together, themes emerged that soon became lessons learned:
Live within your means and space. If you don’t have room for a Costco jumbo pack of paper towels, don’t buy it. Corwin buys only the veggies she will use that week. If it doesn’t fit in the space prescribed, she doesn’t buy it.
Hide the bulk. I buy bulk rice and dog food to save money. Both were sitting out on the floor, which was as unappealing as you might imagine. Now a cute jar filled with rice stays out for easy access, while the rest is stored in a cupboard. Reorganizing — not even purging — my dishes made room for the dog to have her own shelf. The dog food, treats, brushes and waste bags are hidden away, and come out only when needed.
Maximize smaller spaces by using vertical space. We bought a pretty rose-gold hanging produce basket and now I actually have counter space to prep the fruit and veggies it holds.
Repurpose what you already have before purchasing storage containers. We used lidless Tupperware to organize small items. Corwin suggested only a couple of space-saving purchases, including a foldable or over-sink dish rack and a smaller microwave to reclaim more counter space. I also ordered a two-tier stepstool like the one she used to reach those upper cupboards.
Revisit and revise. Make a choice, live with it a few weeks and then decide if it’s working. You can always change it up.
Embed organizing in your routine. Corwin’s nightly routine includes a quick tidy-up of her living room to keep it under control when her schedule is packed. If an area needs more organization, she schedules time on her calendar so she knows it will get done.
Enjoy your space. It’s your home. Put it to work for you. The better organized and efficient it is, the more time you’ll want to spend there and the happier that time will be.
So far, I’ve succeeded in keeping things in their new spaces for three weeks. The positive influence reverberates: Because it’s less cluttered, we want to keep it that way. I’m enjoying my house more. Strategically moving things has given me back about 10 minutes a day, which is a lot when you always feel behind.
Rachel emphasizes that organizing is different from cleaning and designing. “There’s a lot of work that goes into staging the highlight reel we see on social media and in lifestyle magazines of organized and designed spaces,” she says.
Making the room, physically and mentally, inspired me to decorate my kitchen with a “Drink coffee” banner. And, best of all, now I’m almost ready to tackle my bedroom closet.