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18 Things Professional Organizers Never Buy

Don’t waste your money—or accidentally create more clutter. Here’s what you need to know to truly streamline your space.

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Tricks of the trade

No matter what your clutter challenge, you can be sure there’s an organizer somewhere out there designed to solve it. However, just because you can buy something, doesn’t mean you should. Some of those supposedly genius solutions don’t actually work all that well, while others end up wasting space or causing more clutter in the long run. If that’s the case, they’ll end up on this list of things in your house you should throw out. To make sure that doesn’t happen, find out which products professional organizers think you should skip—and which ones they think you should pick up instead. Once you streamline your products, learn these other organizing tips you’ll wish you knew a lot sooner.

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Filing cabinets

Certified Professional Organizer Ellen Delap confirms what we all suspected: “Papers go into filing cabinets, but they rarely come out.” As a result, file drawers get cluttered, making it difficult to find the paper you’re looking for. Instead of inefficient, space-hogging file cabinets, Delap prefers a more functional and decorative option. Buy single file boxes, label them by year, and store important documents inside. She recommends dedicating another box to annual tax returns, along with their supporting documents. Speaking of which, these are the 11 tax-related documents you should never throw away.

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Fancy gift-wrap organizers

You’ve probably seen them adorning the pages of magazines, and they sure look great. But looks can be deceiving. You’ll end up wrinkling or ripping wrapping-paper rolls by trying to stuff them into specialty containers, many of which don’t hold rolls of all sizes; they also generally don’t have enough room for all your bows and ribbons. Instead, stick the rolls in a tall, slim, open-top trash can, suggests Kathi Burns, founder of Organized & Energized. That way, the rolls stand up and are easy to see and grab. Did you know that you shouldn’t recycle gift wrap? Here’s why.

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Shoe organizers that sit on the floor

Sharon Lowenheim, aka the Organizing Goddess, makes a good point about those shoe organizers that take up the whole floor of the closet: It’s too dark to actually see the shoes! Plus, she notes, “some of your hanging clothes obscure the shoes.” Instead, she likes to keep shoes at eye level by putting them in a shoe organizer that hangs from the rod in the closet. So, what’s in your collection? Here’s what your favorite shoes say about your personality.

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Toy boxes

“Tossing a bunch of random toys into a box is a terrible way to organize them,” explains professional organizer Jodi Granok, owner of Organizing Magic. You often have to dig to the bottom and toss out half the contents of the box to locate the desired item, and this setup also leads to broken toys. Instead, she suggests using a toy-storage organizer with open bins and cubbies. For the solution that keeps on giving, go one step further and create labels with both words and pictures for each bin; that way, kids can easily understand what belongs where.

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Countertop spice racks

Using up limited countertop space to store a turnstile filled with jars of rarely used spices like rosemary and thyme isn’t the best idea. Instead, store spices off the countertop in a nearby kitchen drawer; keep them organized with an expandable plastic spice rack. You’ll free up prep space, and the jars will be kept splatter-free, so there’s less to clean.

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Suction-cup shower organizers

Real estate is limited in your shower, and if you’re a person who likes lots of potions and lotions, you’re likely looking for a solution. Suction-cup organizers seem like a good idea…until they start sliding down under the weight of a bottle of shampoo. Burns prefers a more secure option, like a 3M Command shower organizer that stays put with water-resistant adhesive strips. No more bottles or bars of soap sitting in the windowsill or on tub corners. While you’re on an organizing kick, get rid of these 10 things in your bathroom right now.

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Mismatched food-storage containers

The perfect recipe for a cluttered kitchen cabinet? Buying food-storage containers in varying shapes and sizes. (Holding onto mismatched takeout ones doesn’t help either.) If they can’t be nested or stacked, “they clog up your plastic leftover container drawer and fall out onto the floor,” says Delap. Instead, store leftovers in space-saving, nesting, rectangular glass containers, like these from Pyrex. Delap suggests having small, medium, and large on hand to suit all your storage needs.

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A basic box for batteries

It’s always a good idea to have a variety of batteries on hand so you always have the type you need when you need it, according to Burns. But tossing your stash into a random box is not a good way to organize them. You’ll waste money rebuying ones you own but can’t find, and it’s easy to overlook what you’re running low on since everything’s jumbled together. Instead, keep them securely stored in a special slotted battery organizer; many even include a battery tester.

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Jewelry boxes

Hold on—isn’t storage what a jewelry box is for? Yes, but it’s still not the smartest storage solution because it makes it difficult to see what you own. And when you can’t see it, you might forget you have it. On the other hand, when you display your pieces, like on a wall organizer, it allows you to see all your options, and that makes you are more likely to wear them. Plus, hanging them helps to keep them tangle-free. Once you clean out your jewelry, you might realize that some of it could use a good cleaning.

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Paper trays

“Do not ever buy paper trays to hold your papers,” Burns warns. “They are merely piling devices, and you never know what is in them without looking through each piece of paper.” Instead, she suggests dividing papers into categories and using a desktop incline file. That way, you can see the papers you need to act on. This is also a good solution for mail. By the way, these are 5 types of mail you can safely throw away (and 4 you can’t).

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Tiered clothes hangers

Tiered hangers sound great since they save space—until you need to get the item that’s underneath five pieces of clothing and it comes out a wrinkled mess. Skip the hassle and streamline your closet using slim, non-slip hangers. Burns says they make it super easy to find what you want to wear—and they can save up to 30 percent of rod space.

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Round storage containers

Round containers don’t sit flush, so they waste precious storage space. Burns prefers rectangular or square containers that can be aligned right next to one another, especially in the pantry and kitchen cabinets. Here are more smart ways to declutter your pantry and cabinets.

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Using baskets for storage isn’t ideal because they are rigid and not durable. According to Delap, you’ll be a lot better off with foldable or collapsible storage options made specifically for storage. As she points out, they can be tucked out of the way when not in use, and she especially likes ones with clear windows, so you can see what’s in there without opening it.

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Compression bags

It’s tempting to try those storage bags where you use a vacuum cleaner to suck the air out. The big complaint is that over time, the seals fail and the bags start to inflate. A better alternative? Covered, wheeled, under-the-bed storage bins. The cover keeps the contents dust-free, and the wheels make it a breeze to slide the bin in and out. Here are another 15 things you’re doing to your closet that professional organizers wouldn’t.

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A standard turntable

Turntables can be a great addition to your organizing arsenal: They allow you to reach things that would otherwise be too far back to reach. And they’re great in a kitchen pantry, bathroom cabinet, and even a craft area. But when in motion, things tend to fly off the standard version. That’s why Delap prefers the newer turntables that are designed with sides to prevent items from toppling off. Many even have removable dividers so you can create sections for all of your stuff.

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Acrylic makeup organizers

When they’re sitting on a bathroom vanity, these organizers look beautiful, but unfortunately, they’re not nearly as practical as you might imagine. The small slots and divided drawers are rarely the right size to store products by multiple manufacturers. However, small, clear organizing bins do offer the versatility you need to store your various beauty supplies.

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Drawer organizers

Usually made of plastic, metal, or bamboo, drawer organizers are shallow boxes with dividers that split up larger sections into smaller ones. They are great for every drawer in your house, but Delap points out that the box portion of the organizer takes up valuable drawer space. Her solution? Don’t buy the whole organizer—just go with the partition part. All you have to do is insert the spring-loaded, non-slip divider. “Truly, this saves space!” she raves.

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Opaque storage containers

All four of the experts we spoke to for this piece agree on one thing: Clear plastic bins are the best for long-term storage. They offer protection from water and humidity, allow you to see what’s inside without unstacking and opening each one, and they also stack easily. (Delap suggests investing in the 50- or 66-quart sizes.) One more note when you’re choosing between containers? “Avoid bins with recessed interiors,” Burns warns, because so much space is unusable.

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Jamie Novak
Jamie Novak is the author of “Keep This, Toss That: The Practical Guide to Tidying Up.” A cleaning and organizing expert with more than 20 years of experience, she covers these home topics and more for Reader’s Digest. When not on deadline, Jamie spends her time clipping recipes she never prepares.