One of the greatest feelings is when you organize every nook and cranny in your apartment, all the way from vacuuming the dust bunnies to re-decorating and putting away items that have been sitting around a little too long (looking at you take out boxes and balled-up socks). Although we spend so much organizing our apartments, mistakes are also made throughout the process.
I spoke with professional organizer Margaret Ellison, who's the founder of boutique organizing company Sunday Plans. Ellison gave me a run down on mistakes folks make when organizing their apartment as well as solutions that’ll serve with correcting these errors.
10 home organization mistakes renters always make
1. Buying in bulk
A lot of the time if you're renting, your space is limited. We've become obsessed with buying in bulk from places like Costco or Amazon, but the money saved sometimes isn't worth the space sacrificed.
Assess your space and determine if you need that 100-pack of toilet paper, or if you could set up an auto-delivery (from Amazon, for example) of a smaller quantity. In most cases, because you are subscribing to a product you can save on the price, too.
2. Buying everything you see at The Container Store
This is one of the biggest mistakes Ellison sees people make in both purchased homes and rentals. Buying and organizing products before doing the actual sorting and editing is a mistake in general, but if you do this in a rented property, it's likely that the product won't transfer well to another property.
Ellison advises organizing your items, getting rid of what you can, then buying a few bins that you know will look good in different scenarios.
When you're ready, our guide on the best home organization products is right here.
3. Getting a storage unit for your future self
Ellison sees this a lot with renters. They have more items than they do space and they think that these items will be perfect for their future selves and homes. While this can be true to an extent (maybe you inherited a beautiful set of dishes or a side table that you do want to hang on to), storage units can quickly become dumping grounds and graveyards for unmade decisions.
Ellison encourages you to live in the space that you're in now and make that space as wonderful as you can. For example, she toted around paintings and posters all through her twenties that she was sure she’d want in her "forever home," only to find that once she bought a house, those items were no longer her taste. Ellison should have just hung them in her 20s and enjoyed them instead of saving them for some future "perfect" home.
4. Asking too much of your drop zone
Drop zones are areas in your home where you drop things like shoes and mail upon entry, which can be tricky. This usually ends up being your entryway or a section of your kitchen. Ellison is honestly not a fan of drop zones at all because she thinks they are just holding areas for decisions that need to be made. However, in practicality, you do at least need somewhere to put your keys and bag.
In a rental, this can be as easy as installing a hook right inside your door or having a piece of furniture that has a shelf or cabinet where you can put your bag, keys, sunglasses, and umbrella. However, Ellison believes the following shouldn’t go in a drop zone:
Shoes: Put them in your closet or in a specific shoe organizer system.
Jackets, sweaters, and winter gear: Unless you're in a seriously cold climate where you need a scarf and mittens daily, these items should go into your closet or wherever you store them, like in under-bed organizers.
Mail: A mail tray is fine, but her rule of thumb is that you deal with mail as soon as it comes in. Open the invitations, RSVP, toss the junk mail, put the bills or anything that needs further action into a spot like an office, or leave it in the tray with the idea that if it's in the tray, it needs to be addressed.
5. Mismatching your mugs and cups
In the kitchen, one of the easiest ways to look and feel disorganized is to have a hodgepodge of cups and mugs. Most of Ellison’s clients have upwards of 30 mugs, 15 water bottles, 20 or so plastic cups, and a few travel mugs. That's too many, and odds are, you're only using a small percentage of them.
The quickest way to have a uniform and organized kitchen is to get rid of the outliers and buy one nice set of mugs, matching water bottles, and a set of matching plastic cups. Donate the rest. They will fit nicely in the cabinets and you'll free up a ton of space.
6. Hanging onto all those skincare samples
Everyone from your dentist to your hairdresser is giving out samples. These can quickly overcrowd a bathroom and as much as we tell ourselves we will use them when we travel, we often don't.
Ellison’s rule of thumb for samples:
1. Don't take them if you can help it
2. Use them immediately. If you get a skincare sample, work it into your routine that very night. These samples don't stay good for longer than six months, and often no longer than three, so they should be tossed if they've been in your bathroom for a while.
7. And hanging onto (basically) empty products
When you move onto a new product — shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, makeup, etc. — don't hang onto it. Bathrooms are boneyards for old products sitting a quarter full just waiting to one day be used again. And those containers that have one drop of a product left that you're still trying to squeeze more out of? Just toss them.
If you look at these products, there should be a small circle with a number, usually either: 3M, 6M, 9M, or 12M, which indicates the shelf life in months. Ellison says you should periodically scan your bathroom as well as your makeup bag and throw out the items you're no longer using or that are past their prime.
8. Having a chair or bench in your bedroom
The idea of a chair or bench in the bedroom to sit down in seems lovely, but more often than not, it just becomes a surface to drop things on — usually laundry. The clothes chair may be convenient temporarily, but it's a quick way to make a room feel disorganized.
Ellison’s biggest trick for keeping a bedroom clean is having nothing but the essential furniture, such as side tables and a dresser. Not having the option to lay your clean laundry, pajamas, gym clothes, or work clothes on those surfaces means that they have to be put away immediately. She is not a fan of middle grounds — they're just decision delayers.
9. Putting single-use items in the kitchen
If you have the largest kitchen in the world and are not pressed for space at all, this may not apply to you. But if you're renting and happen to be limited on space, you need to do a kitchen inventory and determine what items are extra fluff and what's essential. We live in a time where everyone thinks they need an air fryer, a blender, a food processor, a slow cooker, an instant pot, a juicer, etc. We also love things like salad spinners, avocado cutters, and peach pitters. Are they all necessary? Def not.
Ellison is here to tell you that you do not need most of these things. A good chef's knife will replace almost all the specialty peelers and cutters. As for the appliances, pick one or two that you use and have a hard conversation with yourself about the others. You have to decide if you need an air fryer and a slow cooker. Also, opt for smaller kitchen appliances if your countertop space is limited.
10. Overbuying cleaning supplies
A lot of the time, Ellison sees homes where you'd think the people own a professional cleaning service. We often lug cleaning supplies from apartment to home and don't ever use them up.
Ellison recommends everyone do a real edit on their cleaning supplies and try to stick to the best basics. This list includes a multi-surface cleaner, some sort of bleach wipe, a glass cleaner, and maybe one or two specialty solutions or tools.