Transforming her dresser took Kelly from overwhelmed to empowered

Transforming her dresser took Kelly from overwhelmed to empowered

All names have been changed to respect my clients’ privacy.

Kelly is a woman with a great sense of style. When we met, her clothes, shoes, and jewelry were on point. Her home is filled with interesting art and artifacts, and there’s a story about every piece. And usually the story is entertaining, because Kelly is hilarious!

Kelly and her husband Sam met many years ago when they were next door neighbors. (How cute is that?!) Their respective homes were full of personality, but there was little overlap in their senses of style and the purposes of their spaces.

Shortly after they were married, they bought a place together. Suddenly there was a collision of his stuff and her stuff — not to mention their personalities, senses of style, and tolerances for clutter — in a 1,000 square foot house.

Kelly’s space is designed to be beautiful, soothing, and practical, full of antiques, soft colors, and cozy fabrics. It’s a haven! Sam’s touches are more reminiscent of bachelor life parties and include global artifacts and eclectic mementos from military travels.

Although they’ve done a lot of harmonizing over the last five years, there is still some difference of opinion about how different spaces should be used and what they should look like. This has resulted in accumulated clutter in random places, and items sitting around waiting to be “placed” in their home.

Sam was on board with our organizing efforts and trusted that Kelly would take his opinions into consideration during the process...something I made sure stayed top of mind during our session.

Where to start?

In our planning session, Kelly gave me a walkthrough of her home, and I noticed that although she exudes a polish and charm in person, this wasn’t reflected in what she considered “her” places in the house: her desk, her dresser, and her kitchen.

She had the best of intentions, but as things started to pile up over time, she developed analysis paralysis about where to start to clear out the clutter.

As she walked and talked her way through each room, it became clear that several areas caused her agita...but also that she was enthusiastic about their potential to be great spaces. Her hands fluttered about, conveying alternating states of optimism, stress, frustration, and excitement, and culminating in an exasperated statement of, “I just don’t know where to begin!”

I had my own ideas of where we should begin our organizing efforts, but I wanted to hear hers. I asked her questions like, “What is getting in your way when you go through your normal day?” and “What causes you the most stress just from looking at it?” and “What do you think would bring you the biggest sense of peace if it were clear and clean?” We also took into consideration that we had a fixed amount of time that day to work.

We agreed that her bedroom dresser (which she’s had since childhood!) and her jewelry collection would have the most, and most immediate, impact on her day-to-day. It’s one of the first things she and Sam see when they open their eyes in the morning, and it’s where she spends a few minutes every day preparing to face the world.

Later, Kelly told me, “the other driver for picking this particular project what that I knew I had a hot mess on my hands when I gave up even ‘fake-organizing’ (shoving stuff into drawers) when my mother-in-law came to visit.”

We scheduled our session and off I went to plan!

Organizing day

Here’s Kelly’s dog Dewey to show you what we were working with. Look at that expression of anticipation! Typically I ask clients to remove distractions such as pets and kids, but I made an exception for this sweet ole boy.

Dewey says, "I know, right?!"
A closer look.

I asked Kelly to describe how she felt when she looked at this dresser. I should note that in our phone consultation, I learned Kelly is generally an organized and on-top-of-things person. I was sad to hear her say that she was surprised at herself, dumbfounded at how she could let it get this to this point, and overwhelmed because she didn’t have a vision for what it should be.

I was ready to tackle this fine mess and rebuild Kelly’s confidence. I had a vision! We were ready to begin.

The Gathering

In addition to what you see in the photos, Kelly had a large collection of costume and vintage jewelry scattered about her bedroom and closet in various boxes and bags.

Step one was to gather everything in one place. As she worked, I scanned the goods and labeled some small plastic bins:

  • Rehome: for items that we knew belonged elsewhere in the house
  • Get rid of: for items she might want to give away, sell, or donate
  • Keepsakes: for items that were sentimental but not used regularly
  • To do: for items that needed to be fixed, needed further thought, etc.

As part of the gathering process, I asked Kelly to look at each item and see if she could make a quick decision about what box it might belong in, if any. We also had a trash bag on hand, and there were some pieces that she threw away immediately.

She did great! She worked much faster than I would have expected for someone with sentimental tendencies and a lot of family antiques.

Anything not tossed or put in one of the labeled boxed was laid out on the bed. Next, we opened up all of the large and small jewelry boxes and she made a second round of sorting decisions. I loved hearing the little stories about some of the pieces of jewelry, like “These are for the day when I dress as a person from the 40s for Halloween,” and, “This is from my Monica Geller phase!”  

After everything was gathered and unboxed, here’s what the bed looked like.

Putting it all back together

One of the fundamental principles of organizing is grouping like with like. There are a million ways to group items, and it’s important to pick the one that makes sense to you.

We talked about what groupings we might want to use, and then started putting items into those groupings.

  • Everyday jewelry, further broken down into necklaces, bracelets, and earrings
  • Special occasion jewelry
  • Little keepsakes that make her happy

Kelly was surprised at the number of empty boxes, organizers, and other containers we had at our disposal and said, “Take a picture! Take a picture of all those boxes!!” There would be no need to buy new storage containers. Always a plus!

We knew we wanted to put the keepsakes in Kelly’s closet, keeping them out of daily sight but easy to get to when she wanted to look through them. We divided them into two types:

  1. Family heirlooms and mementos
  2. Other keepsakes

We took one of her large wooden jewelry boxes and packed all of the family keepsakes neatly into it. We took another smaller jewelry box and did the same with the other mementos. She tucked them into a shelf on her closet and right away we felt our load lighten!

Once we knew what we were keeping, we cleaned and assessed the space.

When I first saw the dresser, my immediate thought was, “It has a perfect drawer for jewelry!” When I pointed this out to Kelly, she had a “Wait, what?” moment, because she had always, always, always used this drawer for slips and socks and general junk (her words, not mine!). But she instantly saw its potential to help her keep her dresser top clutter free.

We did a quick analysis of whether we could find new homes for the stuff that was in that drawer. We could! So we did.

Next, we looked at the boxes and containers we had left over. The divided jewelry organizers were a no brainer. We started putting the everyday jewelry into them, in order of category (necklaces, bracelets, earrings) and within each category, by weight (most delicate to most chunky).

There were a couple of pieces — her watch and a silver necklace — that she wears almost every day. We pulled those out and set them on top of the dresser. Now if she has an activewear day, she won’t even need to open the drawer because everything she’ll need will be right on top.

Next we looked at our pile of super-chunky bracelets that didn’t fit in the organizer cubbyholes. Kelly had already been using a container for these that I found really clever...a plastic spinach box. Reduce, reuse, recycle! Love it!

We had lots of space behind the organizers so we put all of the special occasion jewelry in back, in small boxes to protect it. We also put her glasses case and lint rollers in the drawer.

After organizing the drawer, we really didn’t have much left! Just some lotions and perfumes and the watch and necklace. We found some nice containers from our stash for those, and we arranged everything nicely on the top of the dresser.

What’s wrong with this picture?

While it is impressive, it’s boring as all get-out!

This is when things got really fun. We went on a shopping trip... without leaving the house!

We looked through the unhung art in Kelly’s office and scanned the living room for a tray for the lotions and perfume, and I asked Kelly if she might have a little lamp tucked away somewhere. In fact, she did! It was stashed away in a closet until she figured out a good place to use it. (I think we all have such a lamp stashed away, don’t we?)

Within minutes, we created this lovely little vignette.

Normally I would suggest putting a mirror over a vanity like this, but there’s already a full-length mirror to the right of the dresser, so there was no need.

And it gave us an opportunity to showcase Dewey!

Before and after

In just a couple of hours, we took the dresser from a multi-level pile of clutter to a clean space that reflects Kelly’s classic style and put-together-ness and gives her a lovely, calm space where she can start her day.

Doesn't that just make you go, "Ahhhhhh!"

But wait, there’s more!

Because we finished the dresser project early, we looked around the house to see what else we could declutter or finish.

Kelly had been meaning to hang a mirror in her dining room for quite some time, but she wasn’t sure how it looked. We took turns holding it up and scooching it around until we both agreed it was perfect for the space. Voilà!

Next I noticed a rolled-up rug leaning against the wall in the living room. “What’s this?” I asked. Kelly said it was a rug that Sam had bought three months earlier, and she wasn’t sure if she liked it. Since it was too late to return it, I encouraged her to give it a try.

Turns out she liked it better than she thought once it was on the ground, and Dewey thought it was a hit!

Finally, I left Kelly with a short task list so she could keep the momentum going. The tasks included tackling a little project she’d been planning (covering some books with fancy paper and using them as decor), buying some 3M Command picture hangers and picture hanging strips, and hanging some more of her artwork.


I checked in with Kelly the next day to learn how Sam reacted to the changes and she said, “He’s super happy! My ‘new’ dresser is no longer a dumping ground!”

Personally, I loved seeing the shift in purpose and confidence in Kelly as we worked, and I could feel an electric sense of motivation in the air. I look forward to going back and seeing everything she’s accomplished all on her own. Go Kelly!

Kelly’s take

Kelly says, “Before our session, I was annoyed every morning by not being able to find what I wanted in my dresser. The struggle was real. I started piling stuff on top, which made me feel even more overwhelmed and frankly, embarrassed.  Each time I tackled the mess myself, it went back to being a disaster in just days…I’d feel even worse. How did such a small space become such a huge drain?

“I realized that my priorities had changed since I moved into this house. My style changed. My preferences. And my lifestyle. And with those, how I organize my home needed to evolve to reflect that. Especially for the stuff I use (or want to use) daily. I’d be  ‘organizing’ stuff out of habit and not considering how I actually used it... say compared to five years ago.

“I was initially hesitant to hire a professional organizer. I didn’t want anyone seeing my mess. Before the session, I felt (self-induced) pressure to clean up the space. But Lisa told me not to do that because she needed to see how I interact with my stuff in my  ‘natural habitat.’

“Lisa coached me through the process, asking questions, listening, and proposing suggestions and options. She helped me make decisions, take actions, and feel empowered with the progress. And most importantly, she did not judge. She’s a pro.

“I think differently about my stuff now. With Lisa’s guidance, I was able to take control of my space, and now I have more of it. My only regret is that I wish I’d hired her sooner!”

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