Maintaining a tidy home can feel like a never-ending mission—no matter how hard you try to put items back where they belong and keep countertops clear, mess always seems to mount up. Encroaching clutter isn't just an aesthetic issue, though. A study by UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives and Families found that women who live in clutter have higher levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone. Yes, your messy home might actually be making you sick.
To tackle the affliction once and for all, we called on Melissa Michaels, organization expert and author of Make Room for What You Love, to find out how a professional manages mess. Beyond the basics, these are the tricks of the trade she swears by to maintain a pristine home. Take note: Truly tidy people never trip up on these common organizational mistakes.
Mistake 1: Leaving Tabletops Clear
If your first impulse is to remove all items from tabletops when tidying your home, you're making a mistake. Instead, pinpoint the key areas where mess tends to pile up and position a tray in each space. "Trays give small items a place," Michaels explains.
Set out a tray for common things that get left on the table or lost in the house, like keys, cell phone, wallet, sunglasses, a bus pass.
Mistake 2: Keeping Off-Season Clothing in the Closet
If you're dreaming of a Khloé Kardashian–style closet but can barely shut the doors of your wardrobe, you might be making one simple error. Michaels says closets should be strictly seasonal, and any leftover items (think strappy summer sandals and dresses) should be stored away in vacuum-sealed bags to maximize space.
Still struggling to edit your clothes? She swears by this pro tip: "Hang all of your hangers backward. Every time you wear an item, put it back into the closet with the hanger facing forward," she says. "Whatever hanging is still facing backward after a month is not worn often enough to take up your valuable real estate!"
Mistake 3: Not Coding Your Closet
Those pristine celebrity closets on Pinterest all have one thing in common: They adhere to an organization code. Don't have one? Michaels swears by these rules: "Put your clothes back in your closet, from shortest to longest, category by category, left to right: hang the pants, then the shirts, followed by the longer sweaters or jackets, then the dresses," she recommends. "If you have hanging accessories, such as belts, hang them on a belt hanger or looped through a regular hanger on the left side of the closet if there's room."
Mistake 4: Owning Too Many Towels
It's important to be discerning about what you keep and toss—especially if linen closet space is limited. Michaels says you shouldn't own more than two bath towels per person. "Pare down towels to only your best of the best. To simplify, set a goal of just two bath towels per person, two hand towels, and several washcloths," she says. Any more is unnecessary.
Mistake 5: Leaving Papers Unfiled
"The secret to controlling paper clutter is having a plan for it as soon as it enters the house," she says. Try this simple process: "Avert the crisis by knowing exactly where to go with each piece of paper. Find a spot near your entry or office area where you’ll take all incoming mail," she says—don't let it build up in a pile at the front door. "Put a shredder and recycling bin near this station so you’ll be able to immediately deal with papers you don’t want."
Mistake 6: Having Only One Hamper
Guilty of discarding clothes on the floor after a long day? Minimize mess by being strategic about where you place hampers. Give each person in your home their own hamper, and position them in changing areas like the bathroom or next to wardrobes and mirrors. Leave baskets at each entryway to store strewn shoes.
Mistake 7: Not Utilizing Hanging Space
In a truly organized home, every corner and crevice is maximized for storage. Feel like you've made the most of your space? Michaels says there is one area people often overlook. "Do you have hooks on the back of your doors and on the wall? If not, make a note to add them," she says. The aim is to keep every item off the floor.
Mistake 8: Keeping Paper To-Do Lists
Keeping a task list is a great way to stay organized, but Michaels has a handy hack to end your mounting paper pile. "Utilize the backs of cupboards by adding over-the-cupboard organizers, painting them with chalkboard paint for grocery lists," she recommends. When you need to shop, take a photo of the list and rub it clean so it can be used again.
Mistake 9: Keeping Hard Copies
Developing a paper filing system is important, but before you store letters and bills, be discerning about what really needs to be kept. "Use a scanner to store files when you are not required to keep an original document," she recommends. Streamline your digital filing system so it mimics your hard copy process, and be sure to back it up on a hard drive or cloud system so it's secure.
With just a few simple expert tweaks, you might notice those mounting piles of mess slowly diminish.
Saxbe D, Repetti RL. For better or Worse? Coregulation of Couples’ Cortisol Levels and Mood States. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2010;98(1):92-103.