Are organization companies worth it or can you do it on your own?
Some projects require a pro, and some can be done by you.
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While major landscaping projects, full-on additions, and completely revamping your kitchen layout require a pro, there are a few areas that sit in the gray area of DIY vs. paying an expert. For some, one such category is organizing a space. The question is not only can you do it, but should you do it, as your small areas like walk-in closets, pantries, and offices have big potential to be stressful projects.
If you’re deciding between tackling it yourself or leaving it to professional organizers, we’re here to help you organize your thoughts.
When to do-it-yourself
Organize your closet with storage bins, baskets, and hooks
The historical touches in their 1915 Chicago duplex bring Jennifer Fortney and her husband happiness, but they also bring small funky-shaped closets. Ten-foot ceilings and strange angles left the couple feeling uninspired with the useless space.
“I briefly entertained the idea of hiring a professional, but the job is small, and I liked the challenge of coming up with a solution on my own,” says Fortney.
At first, the marketing communications professional would just stare at the closet, willing it to tell her what to do, but that wasn't getting her very far. Pinterest took the wheel, with scrolling and searching, and eventually a starting point—the use of French country-inspired hooks originally purchased for a bathroom project. This tiny detail started a cascade of ideas.
Shopping on Amazon (local shops were closed during the pandemic), Fortney chose cube units and decorative storage bins for foldables. She filled the tall walls with small canvas-lined wire baskets for belts and clutches and clear Command Hooks secured on wood panels for purses and bags. Large fabric bins were placed under the hanging clothes held jeans, casual pants, and slippers.
“I was so excited about the outcome, and it felt good to figure it out for myself,” says Fortney.
Sort your pantry goods with the food-safe storage containers
The real-life solutions for clean and fresh-looking closets and pantries on her favorite home improvements shows were just what Rastisha Smikle, a Central Florida RN, needed to get motivated.
“Watching transformation and DIY videos, I realized I could do it myself,” she says. Her focus was her pantry, an overcrowded space rife with expired ingredients and canned goods, which made for a tremendous undertaking.
Armed with energy and inspiration (hello again, Pinterest), Smikle went to task. “I set aside two days to complete the project and never looked back,” she remembers.
One key element of her dream pantry was a place for every item. “It was hard for me to determine how many things would fit in each container and how the space would accommodate the various size containers,” she says.
Simple trips to Walmart and Dollar Tree, along with Amazon deliveries, and she eventually found the right shapes, sizes, and the number of bins.
“One of the biggest misconceptions [about doing this yourself] is that the project might be more challenging than you initially thought, although it looks easy,” she says. Despite common DIY obstacles (losing motivation, becoming overwhelmed), Smikle was pleased with her outcome, posting the results on Instagram to motivate others to DIY organize.
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Mix and match storage pieces for a custom closet
If you don’t have a lot, your messes are minor. So when a cross-country move to San Francisco paired down Kara Harms and her husband’s household, she thought they were on track.
“We didn't have many belongings, so we made the mistake of not implementing organizational structures in our home. Suddenly it felt like our apartment was bursting at the seams from stuff we collected over the years,” says the co-founder of Whimsy Soul. One area of concern was the walk-in closet known affectionately as the “room of chaos.”
“I remember not wanting to hire someone because I was embarrassed by how out of hand my closet got,” she admits of the mountains of clothing and household items. The budget was also a concern, so she tackled it herself, spending an entire weekend clearing it out and installing new organizing structures, so the couple could see and easily access everything.
“I approached my closet clean out with the mindset [of] starting from ground zero,” she says. She dug in, pulling everything out and creating donate and toss piles a la Marie Kondo (does it strike joy?).
A rental agreement prohibited the installation of custom closet systems or new shelves, so the couple got creative with big square storage cubes, stackable shoe racks, and multi-piece hangers. They swapped a thrifted dresser for more spacious IKEA ones, and found a better way to store jewelry with The Home Edit’s small bins and trays. “I slowly added everything back [into the closet] one piece at a time,” she says.
It was a successful endeavor, but would Harms DIY again? Probably not. “I'm happy with the job I did for ourselves, but in the future when we live in a large apartment or even a house, there’s no way I would take on organizing multiple closets on my own.” She also wouldn’t say “no” to a custom closet (she has her eyes on an IKEA PAK or California Custom Closets). “When that happens, I'll want a professional to make decisions on how to utilize that space best,” she admits.
Get The Home Edit 10-Piece Plastic Modular Storage System at Walmart for $24.98
Get the Bigso Flax Fabric Storage Cube from The Container Store for $14.99
- Get the Simple Houseware 3-Tier Stackable Shoes Rack Storage Shelf on Amazon for $26.97
When to hire professional organizers
Lack of vision often drives people to hire more forward-thinking professional organizers. But in the case of Heather Robertson, gravity also played a part in the decision.
After strolling into her walk-in closet to discover clothes all over the floor due to a fallen rod, this university professor made an educated guess: It was time to get organized.
With an impending listing of their home on the market, Robertson decided an improved walk-in could serve as a selling point. But with two kids and a military husband traveling on active duty at the time, it was a professional organizer or no one at all. “If the closet rack hadn’t fallen, I doubt I would have done it. But I have zero regrets and I would do it again,” she says, adding that a small monetary gift from her nana also helped the choice along.
The original space was a mess with white wire racks, milk crates and bankers’ boxes bulging with sweatshirts and sweaters, and shoes tossed haphazardly. This was the right decision for the space to reach its full potential.
The process was simple. A local organizer viewed the space, took measurements, and spoke about the couple’s motives for the closet. Digital drawings followed, and after a month of planning and ordering pieces, the one-day install created a better space. The pro route was so good that the couple hired them to organize another room with a new closet and built-in desk and dresser.
“I could never have imagined all the nooks and crannies they used,” she remembers of the closet’s sloping lines thanks to the roof. “What I had assumed was all dead space, they turned into storage.”
Robertson was also inspired to think more creatively. “I got a low bench that ran the length of my closet and had storage underneath,” she explains. “Also, they added open shelving on top and bottom of the racks, and along the walls at the end of the closet so we wound up with more storage space than before. I had no idea what the space could do until a professional showed me.”
The psychological benefits of organizing your home
Sometimes an organizational professional’s heavy lifting goes beyond hoisting up new shelves or lugging away donation boxes.
“There’s a huge psychological side to organizing that most don’t realize,” explains Kristy Rynk, an instructional designer in Charlotte, N.C. who has used professional organizers three times – to assist her parents in purging during an interstate move, in their new home, and when her mother moved in with Rynk and husband Tom upon her father’s passing.
“Time, emotions, and deadline are key factors in why [hiring] a professional organizer is amazing,” says Rynk of working with her organizer Courtney. “She would say the same ‘you have three, which one is your favorite’ I said, but [no one] would argue with her. She took the emotion out of it. Even though the words were the same, they didn’t see her as emotionally involved.”
Rynk got her husband and mother involved in the process, as they worked on the various levels of organization needed throughout the years and different homes. “[Courtney] and I would come up with a game plan in the morning and she would execute it,” says Rynk of managing the mayhem. “Seeing things organized and put away encouraged more organizing in all of us.”
By the time Courtney had organized the two merged households, Tom had his photography (unearthed from a messy closet) on display above the couch, the linen closet was organized, craft items were shelved in the guest room closet, the kitchen was paired down, and more.
“Our motto is still ‘Purge!,’ but now we laugh when we say it. No one cringes or gets their feelings hurt,” she laughs.
The relationship, approach, and actual organization each person uses makes a difference for who you work with, according to Rynk, who suggests choosing a professional who will facilitate the organizing process but still respect your boundaries.
How you follow up on the project also makes a difference. Translation: your organization is only successful if you stick with it.
“Your [space] can quickly revert to its unorganized state in record time,” agrees Smikle. “There have to be newly established habits to maintain the area.”
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