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My college roommate was a total neat freak. I'm actually pretty sure she had undiagnosed OCD because if you offered her a handful of M&Ms, she had to take an even number. (I once tried to give her seven and she began hyperventilating.) She couldn't stand for anything in our apartment to be cluttered, out of place, or messy. I, on the other hand, thrived on chaos. I would spend hours hunting for a shirt in my disaster of a closet only to find it days later crumpled in the bottom of my laundry hamper. And I was fine to let after-dinner dishes sit in the sink until the next morning -- or the morning after that. My roommate, understandably, fumed at my disorganization, while I rolled my eyes at her need for perfection. But years, and a husband and two kids later, I appreciate one of the lessons she taught me when we lived together: Everything should have its place.
When my 2-year-old son's trucks and books threatened to take over our den, I remembered her mantra and bought six small wicker baskets to keep on the bookshelves flanking the fireplace. Every night my son now "cleans up" his toys by putting them in the baskets and I can walk on the carpet after he goes to bed without a plastic steering wheel jabbing me in the heel. I'm not completely reformed (my closet is still a mess), but I am thankful that some of her organizational skills rubbed off. The point is, we all know someone so impossibly organized and tidy that it makes us feel defensive. But, if you pay attention, you can learn some pretty good tricks to make your life a little bit easier. Just ask these neat freaks.
"When people see my closets, they immediately think I'm OCD. But when they see how I store my shoes, they think it's a genius idea and can't wait to copy it. I buy clear Tupperware shoe boxes with lids. Then I take a picture of each shoe, print a 4-by-6-inch photo, tape it to the end of the clear shoe container and stack the boxes with the photo side facing out. That way my shoes are always paired, my closet is extra neat, and at a glance I can always find the pair of shoes I'm looking for -- even if they're on the very top shelf."
- Jill Kolp, Phoenix, Arizona
"I hate how grimy bathrooms can get in between major cleanings, so I keep a clean, dry rag under my vanity (I hang mine on a hook in the cabinet, but you could also hang it over the drain pipe). Just before I leave the bathroom after getting ready each morning, I take the rag and quickly wipe the countertop, faucets, and mirror to get rid of splash marks, makeup residue, and smudges. I change the rag every couple of days. I know this sounds a little crazy, but it takes about 10 seconds and keeps the bathroom fresh and clean all week long."
- Hunter Phoenix, Vancouver, British Columbia
"You know those three-ring binders we all had in high school? I was the girl who would coordinate her binders to be the same color as each textbook in order to keep her locker organized by subject. I'm still a bit of a binder fanatic. I have one for gift ideas and each person I buy gifts for has a section. When I come across a great gift idea in a magazine or catalog, I rip out the page and put it in that person's section. This way I'm never at a loss come birthday or holiday time."
- Lauren Dupriest, Smyrna, Georgia
"I'm obsessed with style, so when it comes to my clothes and accessories, I like everything to be perfectly arranged. I have a pinboard that I covered in a pretty fabric hanging on the wall between our closet doors. I hang all of my necklaces on it so they don't get tangled. I can see all of my options when getting dressed each morning, and at the end of the day, I hang my jewelry where it belongs."
- Erin Bransford, Atlanta, Georgia
"I love being organized, but I'm also cheap! So instead of buying expensive organization tools and containers, I reuse food containers. Plastics like frosting containers work great for storing Q-tips and cotton rounds in the bathroom. Glass jars are perfect for the pantry, keeping items like rice, pasta, and flour where you can see them. And I use coffee cans in the garage for paint brushes, small tools, and pet items. I always remove any brand stickers from the containers and make them look nice with contact paper or handwritten labels."
- Alexandra Hruz, Macungie, Pennsylvania
"I'll admit I'm a little regimented with my organizing -- even my lipsticks are laid out by color on my vanity. This is really helpful when I'm doing my makeup because I can easily find the exact shade I'm looking for -- a clear gloss is all the way to the left and any dramatic reds are all the way to the right. My boyfriend jokes that I have a problem, but whenever he asks where something is in the house, I can always tell him its exact location."
- Allison Hart, Brooklyn, New York
"I'm such a hardcore closet organizer that I recently went too far and gave away almost all of my partner's shorts. Oops! So I came up with a new rule that puts us each in charge of our own clutter: Whenever we buy a new item of clothing, we have to give away one we don't wear much anymore. I keep shopping bags in the closet we fill up with the old stuff. When we've collected a lot, I drop it all off at a donation center. This helps avoid closet overload and that bad habit of holding on to stuff that doesn't fit, is out of style, or I'll never wear. Our son is 2 years old, and we've started doing the same thing for him."
- Jennifer Abad, San Antonio, Texas
"My husband and I are compulsively tidy and we both like to store things in the place that we'll use them. It sounds simple, but it's amazing how many people don't do this! For instance, instead of putting all the sheets for the beds in one hall closet, I keep the guest sheets in the guest room closet, my son's sheets in his bedroom closet, and so on. I always wrap presents in my bedroom, so gift wrap, tape, and scissors all get stored in a Tupperware bin under my bed. I also keep bathroom cleaners under the sink in each bathroom, rather than in one central location. That way I don't have to run all over the house looking for stuff when I'm cleaning."
- Megan Barner, Charlotte, North Carolina
The Neatnik Files
"My motto: File, don't pile! I'm an organized person, but my counters seemed to be a catch-all of daily mail, bills, coupons, phone messages, and kids' school papers. So I bought a small desktop filing system that I keep right on the counter."
- Lisa Woodruff, Cincinnati, Ohio
"I label everything -- and I mean everything. I keep a labeler next to my refrigerator to mark all plastic tubs and freezer bags with the name of the food and the date it was stored. That way there's no mystery meat or expired stuff that can cause food poisoning. The labeler makes a big difference because my handwriting is so bad it can't be read by me, much less my family."
- Alexis Moore, El Dorado Hills, California
"When I was a kid my mom's stacks of paper used to drive me nuts, so I'd reorganize all her receipts, bills, and mail -- which always made her furious! Stacks of paper still drive me crazy, so instead of using a filing cabinet, I scan all my important paperwork and store it on my computer. I organize it in different folders on my desktop, like car insurance and repairs or big-item purchases like appliances or my flatscreen TV. If I ever need a receipt or warranty information, I know exactly where it is. And it makes tax time a hundred times easier."
- Marissa Hermanson, Charlottesville, Virginia
"I separate all my lingerie into clear plastic ziplock baggies in my underwear drawer. It keeps bra straps, panties, and knee highs from becoming one tangled mess and I can always immediately find the underwear I'm looking for. I guess it's a little extreme, because my husband will no longer put laundry away -- he just leaves it on the bed for me to organize properly!"
- Tara Kurian, New York, New York
"It drives me nuts when things are lying around the house and not put back where they belong, but with a 12-year-old daughter and a husband, it's hard to keep everything contained -- and I refuse to clean up after everyone. My easy solution? I keep a decorative basket in our family room and at the end of the day throw everything that's left out into the basket. When someone asks "Where's my _____?" I just pull out the basket. Everyone is responsible for putting their own things where they belong."
- Karen Eschebach, Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan