How I Finally Decluttered My Tiny Apartment

In honor of the launch of the new (but same old), we’ll be debuting makeovers all week. First up was Monday’s makeover-that-wasn’t-a-makeover with Stacy London. Yesterday, hair was on the menu (but please don’t eat it). Today we’re talking home; later this week, life and style makeovers are coming in hot, so if you’re into before-and-afters, do stick around. And if you’re not, see me after class. We need to talk. Happy makeover week!

This post was not sponsored, but Wayfair kindly gifted me the items mentioned/linked, and Kate Spade gifted me the duvet cover. 

My Manhattan two-bedroom apartment is small but reasonable. The living room sits plenty of friends if everyone agrees to just get over themselves; my roommate and I can brush our teeth at the same time if one of us perches on the toilet while the other stands; we’ve got a great kitchen that I mostly use for walking into then forgetting why I am in there; and my room — my beautiful sanctuary of a room — is a sunny little walnut.

I love it so much, but it drives me to the kind of insanity that you hear about on that show Snapped. For six years I have lived inside this kangaroo pouch of mine, which means I’ve collected, jammed and hid an admirable amount of things into every space and open crevice, like a squirrel with a consumption habit. I can never find anything. I’m constantly crouching, crying, flustered, sweating, tearing drawers apart, dumping makeup onto my bed to look for the ONE thing I need, dragging duffel bags of useful items out from under my bed frame, dropping top-shelf boxes on my head, kicking my toes into the shoes that line my walls and capture dust. With so much crap and so little storage, I long ago accepted that there was no solution other than to suck it up.

Then one day, I had what you might call a “shit fit.” I couldn’t find something — and don’t want to go into the details — but it ended in an intervention which led me to Whitney Giancoli, an interior designer who wasn’t afraid of the monsters under my bed. I handed her the keys and the reins then rendered myself absolutely unhelpful until she was finished. She changed my life, you guys. Marie Kondo who? What feng shui? My world is a calmer, happier, easier-to-find-things place and now, I think it’s only right to pass along her knowledge.

1. Before you begin, purge as much as you can. Whitney had me re-read my own closet organization post with Tidy Tova and get to work a week before she came over.

Duvet by Kate Spade Home.

“Purging is the most crucial step to take if you want to get organized and well-styled,” she said. “It also forces you to re-familiarize yourself with stuff you probably haven’t even laid eyes on in a calendar year, and prioritize the items that you grab with the most frequency. That way, you can cater the organizational design of your space to meet your functional needs.”

2. Store the unsightly.

Shoe container on wheels from The Container Store

“Baskets and boxes and vessels of all kinds are the perfect way to hide all of the miscellaneous crap that doesn’t deserve to be displayed on a shelf. Invest in good-looking, uniform containers to give your room a balanced look.”

She stashed all miscellaneous beauty and hair products in a wicker basket on top of my desk — “easily reachable, but out of sight.”

She also used the hidden space under my bed for shoe storage. I had everything thrown under there haphazardly. Not only would forget what I’d hid under there, I had to flop on my stomach and use a broom to drag things out. “Do yourself a favor and buy storage with wheels to help provide easy access!”

Even though jewelry is not “unsightly,” Whitney said having a ton hanging out in the open can look cluttered and overwhelming. She used various containers to organize by type.

3. Display your prettiest and most frequently used things.

Not everything can be hidden. She left out perfume bottles, books and beauty products that I’d want out in the open should I ever find my room raided by Into the Gloss. But it’s not all for show. “Keep out the things that you use the most frequently. For a more polished look, compartmentalize the items by combining like with like.” (See what she did with the tray on my desk? This has been a wonder of tidiness. It’s this one by House of Hampton.)

4. Take advantage of height.

This Beachcrest Home stool from Wayfair is my favorite thing Whitney found for me. The desk is by Home Loft Concepts, basket is by Artifacts Trading and the jars are Birch Lane, all from Wayfair.

When space is tight, the best ground rule is to keep your floor as clear as possible, Whitney told me. “Make the most of your room’s height by either using or creating additional storage space.”

Whitney took advantage of the completely underutilized space above my kitchen cabinets. What have I been doing all this time with so much ROOM? We packed a few long wicker baskets with winter clothes and that which I can’t seem to get rid of but just don’t use (plus pots, pans), then hid them up high. I haven’t had to get anything from them yet but I guarantee that when I do, I will mind at least 80% less than when I can’t find something in my room.

She also made the most of the height in my bedroom — something I’ve never even thought about before — by installing shelving to host books and photos. She told me that the desk-turned-vanity on the opposite side of the room (which she found on Wayfair for so much less than the one at the Container Store) balanced out the shelves. I didn’t know this was a thing. “When ‘creating’ height in a room, always consider it a balancing act. Don’t overwhelm one side of a room with tall shelving and leave the other side height-less. Counterbalance tall shelving with artwork or a lamp at a similar height.”

5. Give everything “assigned seating.”

Whitney is a fan of having a designated place for everything you own. “Meaning, at your best, when your apartment is at its very cleanest, every piece of clothing, every accessory, all beauty products, shoes, etc., has a home. This will help keep you organized once you get organized.”

6. Flowers never hurt.

Plants are Whitney’s number one must-have in every room. “It’s amazing how much cheer it brings,” she said.

I COULD SAY THE SAME THING ABOUT WHITNEY. Thanks to her, I can breath inside my walnut again.

Whitney Giancoli is an interior designer who moved from California into a fifth floor walk-up in the Lower East Side, where she made it her mission to make the most of small square footage and get creative when it came to design. She now works independently with clients. She also designs for Homepolish. Follow her on Instagram @5thfloorwalkup and @whitneygiancoli. Photos by Nicole Cohen. Follow her on Instagram @sketchfortytwo.

Amelia Diamond

Amelia Diamond

Amelia Diamond is a writer, creative consultant, and Man Repeller alumnus living in New York City.

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