Get it Together

After 25 years in the hotel business, North Babylon-based Patty Barr started The Elegant Organizer around her passion for helping others. She approaches a project to gain space, but also to make it easier for others to let go of the clutter and embrace a new way of living. If it sounds like a drastic change, it is, which is why Barr takes her time with homeowners, creating zones within a room to keep the process from getting overwhelming. “I need to build trust with the client,” Barr said. “They often feel the entire home has to be done all at once. But we work together and take our time.”

Barr’s philosophy is simple—heave, hold and help. Closets are emptied and every item in the room is sorted into piles to throw away, keep or give to charity. This is easier said than done of course, but Barr has some ingenious ways of helping clients. Even the best storage system needs fine tuning because it’s all too easy to let the clutter build up again until closets become chaos and the garage resembles the trash compactor in Star Wars.

The Mudroom
From a counter to help unload groceries to a durable floor to sort snow-covered boots, a mudroom is a nice addition to a home. Luckily, a renovation isn’t the only way to get one. “An entry way or small alcove can be easily converted into a mudroom,” Barr said. The key to getting the most out of the space is to design the storage around the users.
Start with an entryway bench that has separate storage baskets for shoes, backpacks or toys under a padded seat. Then pair that with storage at eye level: a wall rack with a message center and coat hooks built in. Top a small table with a simple ceramic bowl to encourage the routine of placing keys or a phone in the same spot, which saves time searching the couch cushions. The beauty of the mudroom is that everyday essentials are right at the family’s fingertips by the door as they leave.

Pro Tip: Souvenirs from years of family trips taking up too much space? Take photos of them, make a digital scrapbook, and give the items away.

The Attic
Older homes may have a full attic, while newer ones usually only have a crawl space. Either way, it’s a good storage area, but one that should be carefully assessed since temperature and humidity swings could wreak havoc on items like wood furniture or delicate photos. Barr likes Rubbermaid’s clear plastic bins with tight-fitting lids, which seal out dampness and pests. “I never use cardboard boxes for attic storage,” said Barr. “And I elevate bins to keep them off the floor and install a dehumidifier if necessary.” She uses attics to store seasonal items like holiday decorations, winter coats and boots or heavy comforters.

In the case of an insulated, full attic with a dedicated stairway, she’s created everything from a teen hangout spot to a craft center, leaving the existing areas of the home quieter and clutter-free. The craft storage cubbies, worktable and rolling carts from the Martha Stewart collection are attractive solutions that offer lots of room for supplies. But Barr encourages homeowners to utilize items they already have before running out to The Container Store. If the attic allows for a home office, an old armoire, stripped of its doors and fitted with a simple shelf can accommodate a computer, printer and supplies. Barr watches Lara Spencer’s Flea Market Flip on HGTV for creative repurposing ideas.
The Garage
Barr has walked into garages so filled with bikes, canoes, camping equipment and lawn furniture that there’s literally no space for the car. Her first rule is to get everything off the floor. She and the homeowners haul everything out to the lawn for the heave, hold and help process then look at the space with fresh eyes. She also has them look up to see the potential of overhead storage. offers ingenious solutions like telescoping ceiling shelves, a kayak hoist and the Garage Gator platform that take advantage of high ceilings. But the backbone of garage storage is the metal, three-tiered shelf. It provides space for heavy boxes and bins and, for an attached garage near the kitchen, works as a pantry.

Sporting equipment also usually ends up in the garage, Barr uses a simple solution of adding a piece of lattice on the wall and securing balls, bats and even shoes with bungee cords. For maximum efficiency, Barr groups gear so sporting equipment is in one place and long handled gardening tools are in another. Bicycles, the biggest space-hogging offenders, need their own racks to get them out of the way.

Maintaining the Peace
Barr, who is studying psychology to better understand why people find it so difficult to get rid of things, turns to five trusted items to make storage simple.

Corner Commander
Stack several of these 11 1/2-inch tall corner shelves and take control of the pile in closet or pantry corners. $17;

Door Butler
The classic 19 x 52-inch behind-the-door storage bag gets a face-lift in an attractive, versatile pattern that still holds a ton of shoes, crafts or school supplies in 23 clear pockets. $30;

Peel-and-Stick Chalkboard
Use these stickers to label everything from glasses of wine at a dinner party to bins in the garage. Barr uses these in the mudroom, either on the wall or on lockers, to list chores or goals to keep family members on track. $13;

Stackable Bins
Pile up to four of these six-gallon plastic containers and form a recycling tower in the garage or line a basement wall with them to corral everything from toys to tools. $10 each;

Tool Tamer
Make use of that often-wasted space on either side of the garage door with a rolling caddy that holds up to 40 tools like snow shovels and rakes. $41;

annette rose-shapiro

annette rose-shapiro

Annette Rose-Shapiro writes about decor, interior design, art and architecture. She is currently working on a short documentary about the creative process.