Thinking inside the box

By Joanne Furio, Photograph by Jaime Beechum | October 22, 2010 | Story

Jenny Boyle's spotless Pacific Heights condo is full of clues that reveal what she does for a living. On a dresser, baubles are artfully arranged across the tops of colorful boxes that stash additional jewelry, and belts are wound up in serpentine fashion in a basket. A 19th-century table hides the dog's leash in a drawer and displays a ceramic bowl for keys. Boyle lives to put things in their place—yet as her company's name, Organize with Style, suggests, she's not just an organizer. She can make over an apartment with a sense of proportion mastered by most talented interior designers. “What I'm after is an attractive way to do it,” she says. Four years ago, Boyle left the high-pressure advertising world to help individuals declutter, rearrange closets and cabinets, and move to new digs. With the eye of a decorator and the sturdy good sense of an old friend, she often ends up ushering people through life's major transitions while tossing out expired cans of peas. At this time of year, Boyle hits her stride: dividing and conquering the requisite decorations, gifts, and guestrooms that come with the season. Here, she tells us where to start. (Junk drawer, beware—your days are numbered.)

Do you abide by the “one in, one out” rule—that for every decoration you put out, you have to take something away? For established households, yes. Organizing is about being a gatekeeper, controlling what comes in and out of your home.

What's the best way to store holiday decorations? Unlike the things you use the most, which should be stored where you spend the most time, decorations should be stashed far away in less desirable real estate, like the garage. Plastic boxes with labels are fine, because they'll be hidden away.

What about all the other holiday add-ons that create stress—the parties, the visitors? How do you organize those? The holidays are an excellent time to declutter because they motivate people. If you're throwing a party or having relatives in, you need to free up space on night tables and in drawers, or at least have a rack or a chair where they can open luggage. If you tackle one room per week prior to the holidays, rooms will be trimmed down, and you won't feel that last-minute, crazed stress.

I bet you're not one of those people found frantically shopping on Christmas Eve. I start my list three months in advance and keep it in a notebook in a specific pocket in my purse for use when I'm out and about. It's a more thoughtful way of shopping because you're buying when an item strikes you, not when you're desperate.

Do you believe in keeping a cache of hostess gifts at the ready?
Yes—it's fun to bring something that's not wine. I store candles, tea, and soaps, and I also keep ornaments on hand to give as gifts at holiday parties.

When kids leave home, should their bedrooms be left as shrines?
Parents need to redo them. It's important to reclaim the space and at the same time not make the kids feel as if they don't have a home.

What are these rooms turning into? A guestroom, a den, or a man cave to watch sports or market tickers. You can make simple improvements, like painting and getting new bedding, but I usually recommend a daybed with storage underneath for the kids' stuff. Keep certain mementos, so the room still feels very familiar.

How do kids tend to react? They often feel impressed, as if it were done for them, even when the parents do it for themselves.

One client claims that being organized saved her marriage. Is that really true? Not having peace and order in your home affects every aspect of your life. Mail and paperwork are two of the biggest things couples fight about. Confine letters and bills to one place—maybe an attractive bowl or box—and go through the mail every day next to the recycling bin. Better yet, pay bills online and have separate inboxes to pass things to each other.

Is there a simple organizing technique that everyone can use? Create a catchall station in a major thoroughfare where people go in and out. It can be as involved as a shelving unit where you place bins for each family member, or as simple as a wall with hooks.

How do you solve the eternal problem of the junk drawer? Dump everything onto a table and group items into categories. Then measure the drawer and the objects that go in it. Buy separators and, once everything is in place, adhere them to the drawer with foam mounting squares or a glue gun, so they don't move.

What's the one thing people collect too much of? Clothes. People are convinced that a Ralph Lauren blazer from 1998 is going to come back in style. In the meantime, it's taking up closet space for 15 years.

Every organizer has a limit on how long to keep a rarely worn piece of clothing. What's yours?
One year. You had 365 days to wear it, and you didn't.

In terms of arranging clothes, how can you make a closet function more efficiently?
First, you have to put shirts together, jackets together, and pants together, then organize by color. Once people have a visual, it's easier to realize that you have nine pairs of black pants. Then you can really look and say “enough.”

You've said that organizing closets is how you got started doing all of this.
I was working in advertising in Chicago and going to L.A. all the time. My cousin Lara [actress Lara Flynn Boyle] got lots of designer clothes, so it was fun to help her organize and play dress-up. We'd always end up in the closet.

Home goods
Jenny Boyle's go-to organizing tools.

Huggable Hangers: “Having uniform hang­ers is essential. These are the thinnest, light­est hangers, and they grip clothes beautifully.” At
Zia baskets: “These stackable plastic containers with gridlike openings are intended to store bath products, but I also use them for cleaning supplies and Tupperware lids.” At
Open canvas bins: “The Container Store carries three sizes, with places for labels on two sides. They're functional, simple, and clean looking.” At
Metro Shelving: “These incredibly sturdy, stainless-steel, restaurant-style com­ponents are for people who don't want to invest in building out shelves. They work in laundry rooms, garages, and basements—and they look great inside, too.” At and


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