How to organize a nightstand like a pro

Six steps from experts on how to organize a nightstand

Composite image with rounded bedside drawer left and open bedside drawer showing dividers on right
(Image credit: NEAT Method/Martin Vecchio)

If your bedside table is a jumbled mess of items, learning how to organize a nightstand can help you feel calmer before sleep and improve the aesthetic of your sleep space.

We've spoken to professional organizers to find out how you can ditch the mess that's accumulated in this small area and create a sleek nightstand where everything has a home.

This six-step guide will tell you which bedroom organization tips you need to sort your nightstand, how to approach the task, and the items you should be storing in this nifty little space.

How to organize a nightstand like a professional

Our experts are professional organizers, helping hundreds of clients achieve the peaceful bedrooms they yearn for with clever bedroom organizers, storage solutions and advice on how to organize a nightstand from the years they've spent doing it.

Alongside our pros' easy-to-follow guide, our expert in-house shoppers have curated useful buys.

1. Define purpose

White nightstand with spindly legs and two drawers with round black handles. On top, a white pot plant with a baby monstera plant

(Image credit: Katie Riedel)

Before you start learning how to organize a nightstand, consider what you want the purpose of your nightstand to be. Is it solely for items you might want while you're in bed, is it acting as an overflow closet, or simply a small bedroom nightstand you style for aesthetics?

"Determine ahead of time how you want the nightstand to feel — minimal, beautiful or functional — and what types of items you want it to contain. These could be things you use at bedtime such as a book or a lip balm," says Katie Riedel, owner of Making Space Organization. "I typically limit nightstand items to chargers, magazines, a book, a notepad, and pen."

Your nightstand could contain go-to items for your bedtime routine, or you could use it as an extension of your dresser or closet.

Ashley Murphy, co-founder of NEAT Method, says, “For the most functional use of space, we don’t recommend using your nightstand to store items unrelated to the bedroom." 

Amy Bloomer, founder of Let Your Space Bloom, stresses that there are no right or wrong answers here. 

"You want to create a central repository for items you may use as part of your bedtime routine," she says. "For some, that could mean many items and for others, it's a clear surface. The right answer is what works best for you."

Katie Ridel author shot - white woman in a white shirt
Katie Riedel

Katie Riedel is the founder of Making Space Organization, LLC, a professional organizing company based in West Michigan. She also publishes an organizing blog packed with tips and advice for first-time homebuyers and small space dwellers.

2. Take everything out

The next step is to remove all the items from your nightstand. You may be tempted to skip this step, but Katie stresses its importance, aligning with what we know about the things organizing experts never do in small bedrooms

She says, ”Starting with a clean slate always prompts the inevitable 'a-ha' moments like finding a lost item, realizing how many duplicates you have, or just seeing the empty space with a fresh perspective.”

Ashley agrees: "Start by pulling everything out of your nightstand until it is completely empty. This will allow you to visualize everything and begin categorizing in order to identify any excess."

You might like to keep a handy basket (this set of five WeThinkStorage rattan baskets from Target will work well) or small strong Hommaly trash bags from Amazon nearby to help you organize your bedroom.

blonde white woman in a black top
Ashley Murphy

Ashley Murphy co-founded NEAT Method along with Marissa Hagmeyer. Over the past decade plus, they've grown NEAT Method into the largest organizing brand in North America, with more than 95 locations. In August 2020, NEAT expanded once again by introducing a robust organizing product collection for kitchen, pantry, closet, bathroom and beyond. 

3. Start on the surface

A rustic and ornate three tiered nightstand with neatly stacked books and a bulbous round glass decor item on top

(Image credit: Amy Bloomer)

There are a few ways you can proceed once everything is out of your nightstand. Amy suggests starting with the items that live on the surface of your nightstand as these are likely to be your nightstand essentials

"Then if there are shelves or drawers, review those next in sequential order," she advises — especially important when learning how to organize a small bedroom and its various elements.

white woman with blond hair in a cream jacket
Amy Bloomer

Amy Bloomer has a Masters in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. She's been helping people flourish through organization since 2016, and has been in thousands of homes, helping families, professionals, and retirees to transform their spaces, and in turn their lives.

4. Purge and sort

With everything out of your nightstand, it's time for the purging and sorting stage. Sort your items by putting them into categories. Books go together as do hand creams for example, and then decide which items you no longer need.

Be realistic at this stage. "You don't need eight hand lotions in your nightstand," says Rachel Winter, founder of Happy Home Organizers. "And, how many pair of readers do you really need?"

Rachel adds that deciding on the items you want to keep in your bedside storage, be it in your favorite Urban Outfitters nightstand or a nifty nightstand alternative, will be down to personal taste. 

"In my nightstand drawer, I like pen and paper — those are my go-tos — but it's personal taste," she says. "Everybody's different. There's no right or wrong in terms of what you're going to keep inside of your nightstand. This stage is all about what you need and what you use."

Aim for being able to find what you want easily and quickly when you need it.

image of a white woman with dark hair wearing a blue shirt
Rachel Winter

Rachel fell into professional organizing when helping her in-laws declutter and organize their basement. Her company, Happy Home Organizers, LLC was started in 2012. She is a proud member of NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals), is a Golden Circle Member (5 + years) and served on the Board of the NAPO-Arizona Chapter.

5. Consider storage

Rounded bedside table with storage basket underneath

(Image credit: NEAT Method/Martin Vecchio)

Before you add items back into your nightstand, consider whether the space could be utilized better. "Add elevated brilliant drawer organizers and dividers to provide boundaries within drawers and prevent items from shifting," suggests Ashley.

Drawer organizers, such as these Royal Craft Wood extendable dividers from Wayfair can be helpful to subdivide the space so each item has a distinct home. 

Katie says, baskets and boxes can also help keep things tidy. "Conceal visual clutter on open shelves using decorative opaque baskets or stacking boxes," says Ashley. 

Other small bedroom storage ideas you might want to consider are trays for the top of your nightstand (we love this beautiful scalloped marble look tray from Anthropologie), or even upgrading your nightstand to one with more drawers or storage built in.

6. Put items back

Angled view of rounded wooden bedside table with storage basket under

(Image credit: NEAT Method/Martin Vecchio)

Once you've purged and sorted your items, then thought about storage options and the best drawer dividers and organizers, you can intentionally add back in the items  in line with your initial vision and nightstand purpose. 

Our experts have a few tricks for making the space look good and work smartly. "Allow books you’re reading to double as decor underneath a small picture frame or stem vase," says Ashley.

Katie suggests having some areas that are more functional, with other areas focused on style. 

"If you have hidden storage such as a drawer, I’m focused more on function than style. But, for open shelving (we have rounded up the best renter-friendly shelving) and the top surface, simple pretty decor such as a lamp or a houseplant can really add to the atmosphere," she says.

Be careful not to add too much to the top of your nightstand, though. "Limit the number of items located on top of your nightstand and lean into a clear space in order to encourage a calming visual in your bedroom," says Ashley.

And remember that your nightstand doesn't need to look like it belongs in a catalog. The most important tip from Amy is to style your space to reflect your personality

There are some things that you may not want to add back to your nightstand. 

Shantae Duckworth, owner of Shantae-ize Your Space avoids putting her cell phone on her nightstand. She says, "Doing so will create a habit of that being the first thing you grab in the morning instead of getting up and getting your day started without your cell phone." 

The overall goal, according to Shantae, is to keep your nightstand as clean and as uncluttered as possible. "Your nightstand is connected to your bed. It should be a place of serenity and tranquility, and you want to invite that into how you present your nightstand." 

black woman in a black t-shirt that says 'tranquil space' on it
Shantae Duckworth

Shantae Duckworth is the owner of Shantae-ize Your Space. Her business launched May 2021 and specializes in decluttering, repurposing already owned items, and showing clients that they can get organized without spending any extra money. 

Organizing your nightstand will mean no more fumbling around in the early hours for that lipbalm or wading through lots of junk you don't need cluttering up your drawers. Now you're in the sorting mood, our shopping experts have compiled the best bedroom organizers to help you maximise your storage.

Rosie Hilder

I'm deputy editor on Real Homes' sister site, Creative Bloq, which covers all things art and design. In a former life, I lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I was deputy editor on Time Out Buenos Aires magazine. Reviewing hotels, restaurants and shops, I developed a love of quirky and stylish interiors. 

Since moving back to the UK, I've worked for a variety of titles, including Woman & Home, graphic design title Computer Arts and traditional art magazine Paint & Draw. 

I've recently moved in to a townhouse in Bristol, where I am slowly but surely redecorating and restyling every room.