How To Have An Adult Apartment (& Life!) In 2016

Photo: Courtesy Erica Gannett.
There are few things more daunting than coming home to a messy apartment. I, for one, may have a tendency to "clean" things up off of the bedroom floor by stacking them in a giant pile on the bed. A mess is the last thing you want to face at the end of a long day.

But, for a lot of people, a perfectly organized apartment seems like too much to ask for. I'm here to tell you that it's not! To prove it, I asked professional organizer Laura Cattano to craft a three-week plan that will empower you to tackle your clutter, your mess, and your secret shame. (Maybe some of us have a tendency to eat entire pints of ice cream while Hulu-ing The Mindy Project instead of cleaning. There's an action plan for that.)

Click through for our thoughts on everything from DVD collections to under-bed storage — and get started exorcising your downsizing demons just in time for the new year.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 1
What do you really want by the bed? It’s a great question, and one that a lot of people don’t have the answer to. "Keep only those things that you deem absolutely necessary, and move everything else," suggests Cattano. "If you have an open-style nightstand, as opposed to a cabinet or drawer unit (which I highly recommend), measure for a decorative box or bin to keep things hidden.”

As someone who has eschewed a traditional nightstand in favor of a chair for the past few years, I can attest to the power of decluttering in this area. Now, I just keep a light (on a dimmer) by the bed and have a place to plug in my iPhone if need be.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 2
“So many people having trouble sleeping; and sleeping over old dusty tax papers isn’t helping,” notes Cattano, who suggests pulling everything out from under the bed (with a dust cloth and cleaning spray at the ready) to start the sorting process. “Tax papers? Box them and put them on a top shelf of a closet. Same with memorabilia or holiday decorations—if you need to keep all these things at all.”

Cattano suggests only storing things here as a last resort, but if there’s no other option be sure to use under-bed storage boxes, drawers or zippered bags to make things easy to get in and out (and to clean). Try to keep an itemized list—or Google Doc—of what is stored here so that accessing things you may only need to reference once in a blue moon is as painless as possible.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 3
“Take a good look at all your pillows and sheets. If your pillows are yellow, it’s time to get new ones," says Cattano. This applies to your sheets as well. “Pillows should be replaced every 3-5 years and cleaned at least twice a year. If you can’t even remember when you bought them, it’s time for a refresh.”

Sheets, blankets, comforters, pillows, and towels can be donated to a local veterinarian or animal hospital.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 4
"Many people make the mistake of using their bedroom as a dumping ground for things they need to deal with, but don't want to," says Cattano. "Get on that shit. And by get on it, I mean get it out."

We all have that one thing we've been meaning to get rid of for months — now is the time! Cattano suggests donating larger pieces or listing them for free on Craigslist. Services such as Move Loot also offer an easy and affordable way to dispose of unwanted home goods.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 5
"Start by pulling out any empty hangers and anything you know you don’t love anymore — but leave the things you’re unsure of," says Cattano. "Write out what you want your style to be and what your lifestyle is, and use this as the basis for editing — not whether you’ve worn it in the last year."

"Now that you have a little room, think about how you get dressed, and group things that way," Cattano adds. "There’s no one way that is best for everyone. If you’re unsure, start grouping by category: tops, dresses, pants, skirts. If you don’t have a lot of clothing, go by color. After everything is in categories, go through it again, pulling out anything about which you're on the fence."
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Days 6 & 7
You’ve done it! The first week of your challenge has come to a close. How does it feel? All kinds of amazing?

“This process isn’t about getting rid of things you love; it’s about editing out the things that aren’t adding to your life, to make room for the things that do,” advises Cattano. “Your home should be your stuff, put there by you. Take this time to make sure everything is exactly how and where you want it.”
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 8
Products don’t last forever, but too many of us take expiration dates for granted. “Toss anything that looks or smells funny, as well as products you’ve tried but don’t like,” says Cattano. “Group the remaining products by type: face or body, day or night, hair care, oral care, nails, etc. Once it’s all sorted, go through the remaining products again, and think about what you need in your daily and weekly routine.”

Keep in mind that a beauty routine takes time to hone in on, as products don’t show their effects overnight, and your regimen — as well as the products required to keep it up — will change over time. “Clean out containers as you go, so you can recycle according to your city’s requirements," Cattano continues. Dump thick lotions, conditioner, and shampoo in a trash bag; water-like substances can be put down the sink or even the toilet.”

Keep the things you use most often in the medicine cabinet, with extras and larger products, like mouthwash, in the lower vanity. "Think about drawers or baskets to make the most use of this space," Cattano suggests.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 9
"How much stuff do you really need in your shower?" asks Cattano. "Old bottles that haven’t been used — or never will be — can go. If one product is almost gone, either use it or lose it; don't hold onto it."

After tackling the product situation, Cattano advises assessing your storage needs. Now that you've minimized the area, you'll hopefully find these needs far less pressing.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 10
"If you don’t use washcloths, get rid of them — or, better yet, use them for cleaning," advises Cattano. "And did you know that fabric softener ruins towels? It builds up in the fibers, eventually making them scratchy."

To dry towels, add hooks to back of the bathroom door. When towels get dingy, keep one or two on hand in case of a large spill in the kitchen. "Think about what towels would be best for your bathroom," says Cattano. In my experience, Coyuchi's Air Weight towels in Slate are a great option for shared spaces, since they dry quickly and are unlikely to show discoloration.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 11
"Is everything where it should be?" asks Cattano. "Sometimes, moving things just a couple inches can make a huge difference." Cattano suggests playing around with seating and furniture arrangements.

Flow is key; it seems straightforward enough, but don't place an item somewhere just because it feels like it should be there. Yes, you need an outlet near your desk, but if that puts it in an awkward position, you can use an extension cord or surge protector to give the floor plan a little more wiggle room. Paint cords the wall color, so they don't stick out.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 12
"Recycle old, dusty magazines you’ll never read," says Cattano. This seems like an obvious solution, but it's easier said than done — to this I can attest. My solution? I cut out pages from magazines that I think I'll want to reference later, and keep them in sleeves in a binder.

"Go through your books, one by one, touching each book as you go along the shelf to fully see the titles," Cattano adds. "Pull out anything that can be tossed." Unwanted books on a stoop is a common sight for most New Yorkers, but if curbside decluttering isn't an option, local donation centers and used bookstores are a great way to unload troublesome tomes.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 13
"Old DVDs and CDs — when was the last time you used these? And will you again?" asks Cattano. "If you actually use them, keep them — but still take the time to go through each title to see if there are any you can part with."

Be honest with yourself: If Netflix has obviated the need for your deluxe box set of Sex And The City, it might be time for some soul-searching. "It’s not all or nothing," notes Cattano, "[But] is it something that tells a story about who you are? Or is it clutter?" If you realize it's the latter, "think about boxes to store the things you don’t want to look at."
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Days 14 & 15
Stay home! "Gather images of spaces you like and analyze why you like them, whether it's a color scheme, style, or floor plan. Think about the space you have and if any of these ideas could be made a reality in your home," says Cattano.

"It’s like bringing an inspiration picture to your hairstylist — and having them tell you you can't pull it off (in a nice way)," Cattano adds. "Keep in mind your personality, lifestyle, and emotional needs."
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 16
Breaking up your kitchen into key problem areas will help keep things manageable — starting with your countertops. "If you can reach your microwave, and it’s not often used, keep it on top of the fridge," advises Cattano. "Don’t keep a hundred of something if you use just one every now and then. Think about what you want out. Can anything be put into drawers? Can your cooking tools and utensils be kept in a drawer instead of in a cup?"

As you did in the closet, take stock of the items you use most, and keep them handy, arranging and organizing so that they're easily accessible — and easy to put back.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 17
You heard it here first, ladies and gentlemen: "No one has room for a junk drawer," says Cattano. "Wouldn’t you prefer a coffee-and-tea drawer instead?"

Having a space dedicated to junk means you'll always keep junk — because you think there's room for it! Cattano advises you to "start pulling things out and toss them directly into the trash: old pens, empty matchbooks, random screws, take-out menus, twist ties, batteries, broken rubber bands — the list goes on and on, and we're almost all guilty."
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 18
First things first: "Remove any expired food or anything you know you won’t eat," says Cattano. "Clean the shelves, both the top and under the shelf, and the walls, including the back and top. Add a small box of baking soda — like you've been telling yourself you'd do for the past five years — and find a permanent spot for anything you use daily."

"Doing these little things takes the thinking out...and actually makes [cleaning] easier. If you know you don’t eat leftovers, toss them right away. For those of us [who are] addicted to Seamless [and] never reuse the plastic [utensils], opt out of getting them," Cattano advises. "‘Reduce’ is the first word in ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ for a reason. Recycling is a last resort. Stopping it from coming in is the best way."
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 19
"How many plastic grocery bags do you need?" Cattano asks. "Use a small, structured shopping bag to hold them so they’re not all over the place. People with the cleanest spaces usually have the least amount of cleaning supplies. They know that products don’t clean your home — you do."
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 20
Now that you've eliminated a good chunk of the clutter throughout your home, it's time to make a basic cleaning kit, so that everyday maintenance is a breeze.

Cattano suggests keeping an all-natural general-purpose spray on hand (or making your own) and stocking up on heavy-duty paper towels that can be used and reused. (And don't forget that you now have a dedicated "spill towel"!) "Baking soda and vinegar is less than $2.00 and can also be used as a disinfectant in kitchens and bathrooms," notes Cattano. Other staples include Goo Gone, a Magic Eraser, microfiber cloths, and an upholstery spot cleaner. "For pet owners, Nature’s Miracle is just that — a miracle," Cattano adds.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Day 21
You did it! You are now well on your way to living a happier, probably healthier, more intentional life.

Some important takeaways, so that you don't stray:

- Everything starts with purpose. Take stock of what you have and what it means to you, and be honest with yourself about how things function in your life.

- Keep any empty bins, boxes, and baskets you have in one area (like the top shelf of your closet) so you can reuse them throughout your home as needed. Repurpose old packaging and shipping materials as organization tools; small boxes are great drawer dividers, for instance.

- Clean as you go. "The secret of people with generally clean, neat, and clutter-free homes (I’m one of them) is doing a little cleaning every day," says Cattano. "I rarely spend an entire day cleaning my apartment. Keep clearing your space, so you can truly see and feel the changes."

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