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A professional shares 11 tips for organizing your home

Kati Wadsworth working with pantry goods and baskets piled on a client's kitchen counter Florence home organizer Kati Wadsworth whirls around a client's kitchen during a pantry reorganization project.

“It’s like a puzzle.” 

Kati Wadsworth’s shoulders and blond ringlets are just visible behind packaged noodles, tinned vegetables, bags of nuts, and cracker cartons piled on the kitchen island. Behind her, the pantry in this otherwise immaculate home on Florence’s north side stands emptied, a blank canvas awaiting her methodical masterpiece. 

Kati Wadsworth organizing drawers in a client's kitchen island

Reorganization projects aren’t just about making rooms look pretty, they’re about putting in systems to keep them tidy, says Kati Wadsworth, who founded Custom Organization in 2012.

The first challenge of the day? Too many canned goods for the clear plastic risers she’s brought to better display them. (Her clients have added to their collection since her last visit.) But the unflappable 38-year-old takes it in stride. “Tetris was my favorite game growing up,” she says cheerily. 

A morning with Wadsworth, Muscle Shoals’ only professional home organizer, is a study in the kinds of details many people overlook—the ones that not only make spaces look tidy, but also help keep them that way. Before she’s finished, there will be no ragged box tops, no homeless jars of sauce, no hard-to-see corners where clutter can collect.

“It really is my pleasure to do this for them,” she says. “I love living an organized, efficient life. I know it sounds cheesy, but I want other people to live like that.” (The enthusiasm is real. Her van’s license plate reads 0RGNZE).

More people are discovering the art of tidying up, and not just because spring cleaning season has arrived. Japanese decluttering guru Marie Kondo sparked joy across the country in recent years with her inspired purges. The duo behind Netflix’s popular The Home Edit, Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin, fill their Instagram feed with picture-perfect playrooms and satisfyingly color-coded closets. 

When Wadsworth launched Florence-based Custom Organization in 2012, not many folks may have known what home organizers did. In that sense, the latest limelight on the industry has been a boon. But, as she expertly positions cookies label-side up in one of the woven baskets she purchased for this project, she explains that her work is more functional than “frilly.”

Printed labels marking "chocolate," "gluten," and other pantry categories

Neatly printed labels are among the final steps in a Florence kitchen pantry reorganization project.

Of today’s 3-hour session, less than 15 minutes will be spent on calligraphed labels, the type that Pinterest boards go wild for. Wadsworth sorts by use first, not color, and items are stored for easy access and upkeep, rather than for display, though the finished products are very eye pleasing.

As if to punctuate this point, she gestures toward a collection of clear plastic storage containers she’s discovered on the client’s top shelf. They’re empty save for a lonely handful of spaghetti noodles. Do-it-yourselfers often mistake products for solutions when, really, it’s a system they need. 

In general, Wadsworth starts with a purge, which can be difficult for clients to do themselves. She then catalogs and sorts, measures spaces, purchases products, and fits items into their new homes. 

“On TV, it looks like they show up with all the bins and baskets and just put everything in,” Wadsworth says. “You have to measure. You have to do inventory. They don’t always talk about that part.”

Wadsworth had a brush with fame in 2020, when she was tapped to help organize the home of a Mississippi woman on A&E’s Hoarders, which focuses on people with extreme compulsions to save possessions. In that episode, the woman had acres of property littered with old cars, trailers crammed with estate sale items, and a home so packed, there was no room for a bed. 

Wadsworth’s real-life clients rarely approach disordered behavior. Most just need a little assistance with a problem area (garages are a biggie), making a room more efficient, or downsizing. Even so, inviting someone in to look at messes typically hidden from visitors can be intimidating, says Deb Barnes of Muscle Shoals, who first called Wadsworth in 2017.

“I felt like, ‘Deb, you’re a woman in your 50s, you should have a handle on this.’ But it had just gotten away from me. I needed a professional,” says Barnes, now a repeat client. “She put me right at ease. She told me, ‘Deb, I’ve seen everything, and nothing embarrasses me.’”

These days, she calls Wadsworth’s work “wizardry” and her own master closet “my Kim Kardashian closet.” When Barnes shops, she sometimes imagines what Wadsworth would say if she slipped a few more rolls of holiday ribbon—a personal weakness—into her cart, she adds with a laugh.

“She’s been through my lingerie,” Barnes continues. “Seriously, I trust her with my life.”

It’s not just physical spaces Wadsworth has a knack for organizing. High school friend and longtime client Katie Gamble recalls mentioning she had trouble getting her young children ready for school without a fuss.  

Wadsworth, a mother of 2 herself, suggested a series of alarms: When the duck quacks, it’s time to brush teeth; when the motorcycle vrooms, the bus is nearly there. 

“That’s so genius. The mornings are much smoother now,” Gambles says. “She just makes everything more efficient.” 

It’s always been that way for Wadsworth. “I was the weird kid who’d organize my friends’ rooms during sleepovers,” she confides as she works. One parent had even called to ask when she could sleep over again. “I’d organized her entire pantry. I think I was, like, 8,” she laughs.

Kati Wadsworth sorting items into baskets in a client's kitchen

Home organizer Kati Wadsworth sorts snack items into tidy baskets during a Florence kitchen pantry reorganization project.

Back in the Florence kitchen, the pantry is starting to take shape. Matching baskets group together snacks, dinner items, and candy. Rows of cans stand at attention on risers, a precise quarter inch of space between each and its fellows. Despite most items being back on their shelves, the space somehow looks just half full.

Now comes the tricky part. On the kitchen island, a few small items still need logical homes (are chocolate-covered almonds considered nuts or candy?). And the client has texted, asking for a gluten-free section but all the baskets are spoken for. The following shuffling and resorting happen at a thoughtful, steady pace. Suddenly, the last piece falls into place, and everything fits.

“I love doing a pantry,” Wadsworth says. 

How to organize like a pro

Kati Wadsworth offers these 11 tips for anyone wishing to bring order to their personal chaos. 

Kati Wadsworth standing in front of her home

The founder of Custom Organization, Kati Wadsworth, stands in front of her Florence home, where she puts her professional organizational strategies into practice.

1. Pick 1 project

Tackling clutter can feel overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it all at once. “Just take it 1 box at a time, 1 pile at a time, 1 shelf at a time,” Wadsworth says. “Eventually, you’ll get there.”

2. Purge first

Get rid of unused items beforehand to better gauge how much you must store. “Sometimes, you just can’t make it all fit. You have to let things go.” 

A pantry crowded with open boxes, unsorted cans, and stacks of snack bags

A kitchen pantry before a professional organizer’s touch.

3. Take stock

Do your regular shopping and laundry before starting. That way, you organize for your typical volume.

4. Rulers rule

“Always, always, always measure shelves before purchasing anything,” Wadsworth instructs. If those chic shoe cubbies or fancy baskets don’t fit, they’re of no use. 

5. Size matters

Containers should fit the items they’re meant to contain. If you put a 3-inch-high layer of scarves in an 8-inch-high basket, that unused 5 inches becomes a magnet for random junk. 

6. Easy access

The easier it is to find and grab what you need, the less likely you are to muss up organized spaces. Put frequently used items at eye level. Use pull-out bins and trays on lower levels. 

Sorted cans and jars inside a newly organized pantry

After professional organizer Kati Wadsworth works her magic, items in closets, pantries, and garages are ordered by use and displayed for easy access.

7. Quick fixes

Trimming off excess packaging—like the cardboard flaps on cracker boxes or the oily sleeve of a half-eaten bag of chips—is an instant tidy-up for cupboards. 

8. Product placement

Two low-budget, big-impact items?

  • Extra-large, 2.5-gallon resealable plastic bags. “I always have these in my van,” Wadsworth says.
  • Wet-erase markers for hard plastic containers. “They’re easier to change than stickers or pricey labels.”

9. Break down bulk

Clamp-lid jars make pretty displays but they take work. Wadsworth decants bulk items such as sugar and flour into see-through storage.

10. Resist overbuying

Bins, baskets, and trays are visual clues for just how much space you have for certain types of items. “You might be saving money on the bundle, but there’s a cost associated with storing things.”

11. Scheduled maintenance

Don’t let rushed mornings result in piles on the closet floor. Build a 5- to 10-minute maintenance session into your evening routine to get everything back in order so you can start the next day fresh.

Award-winning journalist, guide author, and travel blogger Jessica Fender writes about the South and beyond from her perpetually cluttered home in New Orleans. Follow her adventures crisscrossing the country at

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