We Asked 4 People to Tackle the Messiest Spot in Their Homes

Here’s what happened—and yes, there are before-and-afters.

June  9, 2020
Photo by Laura Fenton

I have never tidied up as much as I have in the last ten weeks. And that’s because I (just like you, you, and you) have never spent so much time indoors. The relationship between the two is directly proportional—the more time at home, the more my eyes go to every wall scuff and teetering shelf.

Naturally, I’m not alone. I’ve seen more pantry reorgs and spice cabinet clean-ups in these three months than—dare I say—ever. The lockdown period for most of us also coincided with spring cleaning season, which made tidying up more pressing than ever. But also, overwhelming. So what if, this year, instead of scrubbing the entire house from top to bottom, we each tackled just one decluttering project—a cabinet, a corner of a room, a countertop? A smaller project, but with an outsized impact.

We rounded up four of our favorite professional homebodies and asked them: What would you organize, if you had to tackle it in 30 minutes or less? They had plenty of ideas (and were game to sign on). Here’s how each of them took on the messiest corner in their home, and showed it who’s boss.

Kitchen Drawers

“I'm going to tackle a couple kitchen cabinets and drawers,” said Dabito, an interior designer who has homes in New Orleans and Los Angeles, but has swapped travel for nesting in one place. “Now that we're cooking so much more, we've been feeling the need to purge and organize!” It's hard to believe there's a single messy corner in Dabito’s beautiful color-drenched home, but he insists: “You'd be surprised. I'm notorious for being a drawer stuffer and I'm really trying to change that."

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“This is so inspiring! Thank you to everyone for opening up their homes and to Arati for sharing their stories and tips. ”
— Kristen M.

His advice? Start with just one or two drawers—set small goals and eventually work your way up.

The Transformation

Hmmmmm. Photo by Dabito
Aaaaaah. Photo by Dabito

The Takeaway

  • Purge items you don't really use. Dabito found “so many random things,” like a gingerbread cutter that he's never used. “It feels great not to hang on to things that don't really add any value to the space," he says. Have the same problem with accumulating more than you can handle? Take a second before you trash things to first check in with your community—you might find a friend who could use an item or two. Donating to the Salvation Army is another possibility (they're offering pickup services in several locations), as is selling unused or gently used items online.
  • Where possible, use expandable in-drawer organizers to help you find your kitchen tools. It’ll keep shelves from turning into the dreaded junk drawer. “It brings me so much joy whenever I open the drawer and see everything organized," he says.

Bonus Tip

Just like most of ours, the cabinet under Dabito's sink was overflowing with bottles, cleaning supplies, and stashes of garbage can liners. "The easiest way to approach this mess is to yank it all out onto the floor and stack it up again," he says. Once the cabinet is empty, take stock and do a purge. Next, categorize whatever you have left by sorting and grouping (can some cleaners be moved to the bathroom or utility closet, for instance?). Dabito stacked up what remained of his cleaning products in a large storage bin, and organized his trash bag boxes neatly. "It made a world of difference," he says.

How does it all even fit? Photo by Dabito
That's practically magic. Photo by Dabito

Kitchen countertops

Birchbox co-founder Mollie Chen has a very full life—as a brand consultant, investor, and mom to a toddler and a baby. She still finds the time to bake for friends, organize socially-distanced happy hours with neighbors, and write a list of daily gratitudes (on Instagram Stories) that I personally love reading. For our decluttering challenge, she chose to take on her kitchen countertop. “We have way too many things on the countertop—and it’s getting in the way of actually cooking,” she told us. Her goal was to edit things down to the stuff they actually use on a daily basis, reorganize them into smart (durable, see-through, labeled) containers, and “revel in all the newfound space.”

The Transformation

A busy countertop. Photo by Mollie Chen
Now rising above the rest. Photo by Mollie Chen

The Takeaway

  • "We found a handful of cooking utensils that neither of us could remember purchasing or using—those went right out. We also realized that we'll often take something out of the cabinet (a vinegar, a spice) and then leave it on the counter, even though we don't reach for it daily," Mollie says. Just putting those things away frees up valuable real estate. With what remained, Mollie employed a counter rack that doubled the space by clearing the counter of kitchen miscellany, and leaving room for more storage underneath.
  • A useful swap-out? Their old knife block that Mollie says was "a clunky, ugly wooden thing" that had traveled with her through three apartments and took up too much space. "I love our new universal knife block because it's sleek and fits any size knife easily," she adds.

Junk drawer and art supplies drawer

When he’s not taking us into the most swoon-worthy homes, interiors writer Garrett Fleming is busy making his own, that he shares with his partner in Chicago, chic and organized. Both a source of joy and a challenge for him: the fact that it's an open-concept home, which means that anything lying around on the counters can be seen from every angle and room! “I am always looking for ways to get things in drawers and out of sight,” he told us. Unfortunately, that has also led to many a full, chaotic drawer.

Decluttering those drawers, as Garrett discovered, was more rewarding than he ever thought. "It's one of those projects I always say I'll undertake but that inevitably plays second fiddle to more exciting projects that have a 'wow' factor to them, like painting or decorating," he says. "Not anymore."

The Transformation

Chaos lurking inside. Photo by Garrett Fleming
Clutter under control. Photo by Garrett Fleming
Art supplies gone awry. Photo by Garrett Fleming
Trays corral all clutter. Photo by Garrett Fleming

The Takeaway

  • "The knife drawer organizer is my new best friend," he says. "Anything that gets clutter off my counters and into a drawer gets an "A+" from me."

  • His next spring cleaning project will be to fully organize his art supplies drawer. "I have slowly started, but it's time to go all in and make it really functional. If I can open one of the drawers without something getting snagged, I'll be happy," he says. To begin with, Garrett has employed acrylic trays to corral the clutter. Looks so much better already.

Linen closet

If anyone knows how to declutter, it’s Laura Fenton. As the author of a book on living small, this Home writer and editor is full of brilliant tips for living comfortably (and happily) in a small space—and cleaning as you go. Still, as she said, there were two spaces that really needed tidying: the linen closet and her son's toy cupboard. She picked the linen closet, because it felt doable, and she knew it would "have an oversized impact on how tidy the whole home feels."

The Transformation

OK, not terrible, but could use love. Photo by Laura Fenton
Lookin' gooood. Photo by Laura Fenton

The Takeaway

  • Fenton was seriously surprised by how quickly she got it in order. After letting the closet be a mess for months, it really only needed 15, maybe 20 focused minutes of attention.

  • The storage bins were a savior! "It wouldn't be my usual instinct to use a soft-sided bin for toiletries, but I discovered it's actually better than a hard-sided one, because it subtly expands to accommodate the bottles, meaning I can fit more into the same amount of shelf space," she explains. Containing their stack of washcloths was also a game-changer: they were always in messy piles before, and now they sit snugly inside a bin.

What's next, Laura?

"I need to figure out a better storage system for the larger bulk purchases we've been making: of grains, legumes, dried fruits, and nuts.

Also on my list: My dad's desk! We visited my family in Connecticut a couple of weekends ago and when I opened a drawer in his desk, I discovered that the man has three calculators, a flip cell phone, and a Blockbuster card inside. This might make sense if he was still living in my childhood home, but he and my mom have moved three times in the last ten years."

What's the one spot in your home that could use some TLC? Tell us in the comments below!

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Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.


SSChilders July 27, 2020
Where is that small hanging shelf in the linen closet from?
Kristen M. June 10, 2020
This is so inspiring! Thank you to everyone for opening up their homes and to Arati for sharing their stories and tips.
Arati M. June 10, 2020
Thank you Kristen! What’s on your list? :)
Kristen M. June 10, 2020
At this point in quarantining with a toddler, what isn't? But top of the list is probably the counter where we throw our mail and keys and baby sunglasses and everything else...
kim August 16, 2020
Ohhhh baby sunglasses! I those days. :(