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Alabama’s Kati Wadsworth offers clutter cures for every room

Kati Wadsworth. Professional home organizer in Florence, AL Photo by Kerry Maloney

“It’s like a puzzle.” 

Kati Wadsworth’s shoulders and blonde ringlets are just visible behind a mound of 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. 

The first challenge of the morning? 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 36-year-old takes it in her slow, deliberate stride. 

“Tetris was my favorite game growing up,” she says cheerily. A morning with Wads-worth, the Shoals’ only professional home organizer, is a study in the kinds of details most people overlook—the ones that not only make spaces look tidy but 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,” says Wadsworth. “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). 

Professional organizer Kati Wadsworth. | Photo by Kerry Maloney

Professional organizer Kati Wadsworth. | Photo by Kerry Maloney

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

When Wadsworth launched Florence-based Custom Organization in 2012, nobody knew what home organizers did. In that sense, the limelight on the industry has been a boon. But, as she expertly positions cookies label-side up in one of the new woven baskets she purchased for this project, she explains that her work is more functional than “frilly.”

Of today’s three-hour session, less than 15 minutes will be spent assembling the neatly 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. 

Kati Wadsworth sorting through a messy pantry. | Photo by Kerry Maloney

Kati Wadsworth sorting through a messy pantry. | Photo by Kerry Maloney

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. Then, she 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.”

Kati Wadsworth adds labels to bins for easy access to items. | Photo by Kerry Maloney

Kati Wadsworth adds labels to bins for easy access to items. | Photo by Kerry Maloney

Last year, Wadsworth had her own brush with fame when she was tapped to help organize the home of a Mississippi woman on an episode of A&E’s Hoarders, which focuses on people with extreme compulsions to save possessions. In that case, 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 kept hidden from visitors can be a little intimidating, says Deb Barnes of Muscle Shoals, who first called Wads-worth 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 is out shopping, 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 two herself, suggested a series of alarms. 

Now, when the duck quacks, it’s time to brush teeth. When the motorcycle vrooms, the bus is nearly there. 

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

Read more: How to organize your travel photos like a pro

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

“I was the weird kid who’d organize my friends’ rooms during sleepovers,” Wadsworth confides as she works. One parent even called to ask when she could sleep over again.

“I’d organized her entire pantry. I think I was, like, 8,” she laughs.

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 shuffling and re-sorting that follows happens at a thoughtful, steady pace—yet nonetheless has the mystifying effect of a three-card monte game. Suddenly, the last piece falls into place, and everything fits. 

“I love doing a pantry,” Wadsworth says. 

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 travelerbroads.com. 

You can fit more in when you have an organized pantry. | Photo by Kerry Maloney

You can fit more in when you have an organized pantry. | Photo by Kerry Maloney

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11 tips from a professional organizer

Kati Wadsworth may be a natural-born organizer, but that doesn’t mean mere mortals can’t tackle big projects. Whether it’s a cupboard, closet, playroom, or a garage in your spring-cleaning crosshairs, Wadsworth offers some practical advice for anyone bringing order to their personal chaos.

1. Pick one project

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

2. Purge first

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

3. Take stock

Do your regular shopping and laundry before you start, so you organize for your typical volume.

4. Easy access

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

5. Rulers rule

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

6. Size matters

Containers should fit the items they’re meant for. 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. 

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 Ziplocs. “I always have these in my van,” Wadsworth confides. And wet-erase markers for hard plastic containers. “They’re easier to change than stickers or pricey labels,” she adds. 

9. Break down bulk

Clamp-lid jars make pretty displays but 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 of any one item you have space for. “You might be saving money on the bundle, but there’s a cost associated with storing things,” Wadsworth says. 

11. Schedule maintenance

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

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