Back Room Makeover: the Before

Have you ever visited a home and noticed that nothing is out of place?

That it’s really clean and clutter-free?

And everything is arranged oh so neatly, it almost looks like no one really lives there?

And then you start to wonder, “Wait… does someone live here?” Because the hangers are oddly the same distance apart, like no one ever moves them to get their coat. And where’s the messy stuff?

So you start peeking around, looking for a little mess. Or maybe a little bit of stuff jumbled up. Something, anything.

The bathroom shows signs of life, but it mostly looks untouched.

And then you find that even the glue has it’s own drawer, and there’s another drawer for seed packets.

Doesn’t that seem weird?

Doesn’t everybody, no matter how neat or clutter-free they are, have at least one place of messiness in their home?

Somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of the house, a place where clutter can thrive?

Mine is called the back room. It’s my Monica’s closet.

It’s the kids’ bedroom closet, but since it’s spacious at five by seven square feet, we use it for general storage.

Lately we’ve been tossing stuff back there. It’s gotten bad.

And I’m going to clean it out.

Where does the clutter get tossed at your house, and how on earth should I start this makeover?

Next: Should I pull everything out or do a little at a time?

Back Room Makeover:

  1. The Before
  2. The Strategy
  3. The Clean out
  4. The Results!
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Jackie @ Lilolu says:

    My basement storage room is starting to get out of control. Start by just taking everything out of the closet – sort, reassign to new homes for some things, give away what you don’t want and neatly put back whats left. Good Luck!

  2. Sandra Gonzales says:

    I would love to be Rachel for a day. Your home is crazy clean.

    • No, I was just having fun with this post! Some parts of my home might be clean, but it is never all clean at the same time.

      Some of the photos are from before the baby was born, and I was doing some crazy nesting. I took pictures because I knew it would never be that clean again.

      Don’t take the “clean” photos in this post too seriously, but the back room messy photo, yes, it really is a mess.

  3. Oh, this makes me feel much better :) Thanks for sharing and good luck on tackling this project!

  4. Right now we’re feeling the constraints of living in a small space with an infant, three cats and two fish. I’ve been saying for MONTHS, I need to really get in there and start weeding out the stuff we don’t need. It’s embarrassing to admit, but we actually pay $50/month for a storage space for the stuff we don’t know what do with/can’t part with/etc. I’m determined to get us cleaned up and out this year, but I, too, have no idea where to start. Good luck to you and yours!!!

    Toni Turbeville´s last post…LINK LOVE : Curious Pages

  5. It is OH so unfortunate that currently the space that attracts the most clutter is the master bedroom….

    Since our last babe was born (and it became clear very soon he’d need his own room) our bedroom has also served as an ‘office’ space – the desk is forever collecting clutter and when we’re entertaining this room seems to attract all the ‘extras’ that don’t quite get put entirely away.

    My suggestion for your space (which I’d LOVE to have that amount of storage indoors by the way!!) would be to start grouping like items with like items – then it will be clearer how to store them best or possibly move to another area OR get rid of altogether…

    I love a good organizing project – is it weird that I would totally volunteer to help you out if I lived nearby? ;)

    heidi @ wonder woman wannabe´s last post…Clear the Way for Choleric

  6. When I was growing up we had a little walk in closet we called Chuck’s Room because everyone would just chuck stuff in there. Now, as an adult, it’s our little closet off the balcony. Ugh. What a mess. Time for me to clean that out too!

    Anna´s last post…Happy Weekend…and…What’s Coming Up

  7. I aspire to have my coat closet look like that!

    Sharon´s last post…Challenge Update.

  8. For us it is frist the laundry/sewing room where people will trow the junk in, but since I need the space to function, I just pass it on to the garage, because it is next door, LOL. And so our house is pretty clean, but the garage….. it’s still not finished, needs shelves and other storage areas. We really hav eto make it work in the spring.

  9. My apartment is so small that my current space for clutter is my closet! Like I have a pile of unused white felt and scraps of fabric right next to a pile of heels and hats, haha.

    I think I read somewhere that a good rule to follow is for every 1 thing you want to keep, you should throw away (or donate) 1 thing. So you only get to keep half of what you have in your “junk.” I’m interested to see how your clutter space turns out!

    And I love that you posted photos of your clutter space online. That’s so fabulous!

  10. I try to keep things “clutter-free” for the most part. I have a hiding spot though too. The door to our attic is off the upstairs hallway. When you open it, there is a stairway to nowhere right now (the opening is sealed by a heavy door in the wintertime). I tend to toss things in there on the stairs when I want to “de-clutter” the rest of the house. In the spring, we take off the heavy door seal and move all the clutter up there. Eventually (once a year) I go up there and organize things.

    Rachel´s last post…Out With the Old, In With the New, and Keeping a Few Good Ones

  11. Denise C. says:

    Great post! At least you have a door to close out the mess! Our main mess is our family room which also happens to be the main room when you walk into our home… door to close it off!

  12. Until recently I had an area we called “the upstairs landing”; a space at the top of the stairs that had two large tables and all my photo stuff; keepsakes, etc. It was a huge eye sore that we passed daily going to the upstairs bonus room. When the house went on the market in December, I knew I had to deal with this area. It took two days and help from my oldest daughter, but it’s DONE!! And every time I walk by it, I feel FABULOUS!

    Okay, one more confession… the store room above the garage. If I could just finish that off…!

    My #1 advice: PURGE.

    Amy blogs @ River Rock Cottage´s last post…Videos of Work in Haiti

  13. Ours is called “the garage”. But thank goodness…we cleared it out last August and we’ve kept it tidy since then! No more holding onto stuff…if I’m done with it, it goes to the thrift shop…even if it’s one small bag to give. I just get it OUT of HERE!

    Michelle´s last post…good eating. and a school report.

  14. Where does my house get cluttered? Does “everywhere” count as an answer? With four boys tearing around the house, it’s difficult to keep anything clean for more than 38 seconds.

    Coach J´s last post…"Cooze," and other words that bastard Steve taught my two-year-old

  15. We just re-organized our junk spot like that about 3 months ago (it was the closet in the 2nd bedroom, soon to be baby room). I bought several big clear tupperware bins for storing the misc things like with like, in easy view. Then we threw out/donated a whole bunch of stuff, including materials for several projects that I hadn’t gotten around to starting for years, and 2 old tvs. (Why we had two, I don’t know…ask my husband!) :)

    For 2 1/2 months it was beautiful…a neat stack of clear bins, lots of empty space…then someone just gave me 4 trashbags full of hand-me-down baby clothes. I am super grateful for the gift, but now the closet needs re-organized again, there are tiny clothes everywhere!!

  16. ok, that was too funny. i just organized our fridge to the “nth” degree! but don’t you dare look in the garage : )

  17. That was the best thing I’ve seen in a long time! That’s our garage. Dumping ground for the things that don’t “fit” in the house. Shameful!!

    Thanks for the chuckle.

  18. Rachel, it will be an undertaking, but we know you are up to the task!
    My advice? Find a 3 hour chunk of time, if possible.
    1)Remove everything from the closet.
    2)Immediately sort into “toss” “donate” “return to closet” or “return to other parts of the apartment” piles.
    3) stop and have a cup of chai or the like :-)
    4) place bulky/infrequently used items on the higher shelves.
    5) organize the rest in whatever way works best for you.

  19. haha! love this! ours is the kids extra closet and the storage unit off our apartment. yikes…it’s bad there.

    aas for where to start? i would just do one box at a time. good luck!

  20. Hahaha. This post really hit close to home. I have OCD when we have guests coming over. I clean my house to where, like my husband says, looks like no one lives here. When I’m getting close to finishing, my husband asks… “Okay, does it look like no one lives her yet?” But, like mentioned above… don’t look in the Garage or the guest room closet. It is SHAMEFUL!! : )

  21. dear me, haha, our’s is the ‘back room’ as well. lots and lots of clutter, but not untidy. my boyfriend’s obsessed with storing everything and anything to its perfect place. so we have shelves etc and boxes and oh my! even in the basement… men are such mysteries to me sometimes…

  22. Love it! Reminds me of the Friend’s episode… “The One With The Secret Closet”!

    jill´s last post…And the rain is not helping either.

  23. Unfinished basement = clutter, dumping ground, tossing spot “storage” you name it. I want to clean it up but I am not sure how to start! I look forward to seeing the “after” photos of your project!

    Catherine B´s last post…365 Days of Photos Update

  24. It all goes into the spare ‘oom and then the basement. Everything appears tidy when you walk into my house, but don’t look in any drawers. My 9 year old daughter had miscellaneous on her spelling list and didn’t know the definition. My husband opened a drawer in the kitchen and said in his broken English, “Miscellaneous”.

  25. OH RACHEL! I love you. Thank you for posting this!!!

    Do you remember way back in early 2008 I think it was when I did my Seven Rooms in Seven Days challenge? Yeah, well, things have gotten pretty bad around here again, and I foresee another week-long declutter spree in my VERY near future.

    Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last post…WFMW: Stop Collections Harrassment

  26. Also, this reminds me of Monica’s closet on Friends. I think somewhere, everyone has one. :)

    Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last post…WFMW: Stop Collections Harrassment

  27. Ahhhh the secret closet! I’m not telling where mine is :) Unfortunately, the only way I’ve found to deal with things like this is take EVERYTHING out and start fresh. Toss and organize items and then put them back in a fashion that makes sense. I hate it because it causes more mess before it gets better, but it works!!

  28. Your post makes me feel so much better. I am really trying to tackle clutter this year. I’m still looking for one of those library card files that you have…love it :)

    I can so relate, just look at my most recent post that is linked below.

    Kristia@Family Balance Sheet´s last post…Tackle That Tough Spot – Toys

  29. Pull everything out of the closet. Sort as you go putting all things together that share a function or use. (Of course, purge if you can.) You may need to add some shelves or purchase more plastic bins so things that are stacked higher can still be easily accessed. Is the door to the closet a door that things could be hung on the inside such as the level and step stool? Is there a narrow vertical gap for the step stool? I’m wondering if anything like the table could be hung flat against the ceiling. Don’t let anything that isn’t easily moved block anything else. Could the table and chairs rest against the back center wall with other things in front of them? That depends on how often you use the table and chairs. Is there anything stored in the cooler? Maybe the cooler could be moved to the right side of the picture on one of the two lower shelves with the tool bag inside of it. Try to make everything stackable or designate a perfect fit for the item. Don’t leave any dead air space. Decide how you want to store something before you looked to stores for solutions. Their solutions aren’t always what you need. Don’t quit until you like the finished look of the space. Post your results! (I like how my closets look more than I do my home. I’m in the area if you want help. I’ve been working on my closets and just did the garage -oh the horror – over the summer.)

  30. I always pray that guests will not have some reason to have to go into our bedroom… rest of the house=clean, our bedroom=where all the clutter goes. I think I may be on board with the challenge of tackling the clutter space.

    Adele´s last post…A Child’s Temperament

  31. Oh, it’s the basement. Unfinished and full of stuff. I’ve been bringing my kids down there lately with me – they ride bikes and such and I have been purging. Goodwill here I come!

  32. Advice for your closet? Empty it out – you could do one side a week – a little bit at a time. When we lived in an apartment, there was an outside closet off of the balcony and that was so full that every time I’d pry it open something would fall on top of me. Ugh.

  33. Wow! I’m pretty sure that’s a picture of my BASEMENT! My number one goal this year is to declutter and purge the out-grown and unused items that are weighing me down. Thanks Rachel for keeping it real!

  34. It reminds me of my basement. It has become the catch all for everything. Thank you for sharing your mess, it gives me some inspiration to get cleaning and organizing myself…especially as we have a move coming up!

  35. Elizabeth B says:

    Heh. I’ve been working my way slowly through our apartment for something like a year. (!!!) I joined a LiveJournal community called Unclutter 2009 in which we blog what we’ve done and support each other. There’s an Unclutter 2010 this year. The idea is that we’re “ridding ourselves of a thing a day, every day.” So much easier to do this in company, even virtually.

  36. Hi.

    This would be my approach, somewhat influenced by Peter Walsh.

    1. Decide the purpose of the space. What do you want this space to do? Is it really the kids closet and that’s ALL it’s supposed to be, or do you REALLY want it to have a split personality?

    2. Pull the stuff out.

    3. Sift through it. The get-rid-ofs, the keeps, the move-to-another-rooms, etc.

    4. Group it. Like with like. Like could be shape, type of use, or some other categorization like how long should it be saved before it’s OK to get rid of it.

    5. Determine the size and shape of each grouping.

    6. Determine the containers or other storage requirements of each grouping. Example: A box of X size for this, a hook for that, a hanger for something else. Buy containers only if you don’t have the right thing on hand. Take measurements to the store.

    7. Determine the ‘most used’ vs ‘least used’ and put the ‘most used’ in the most accessible spot. Least used goes in the least accessible spot.

    8. Arrange the stuff in the space. Make sure there are labels for the stuff/areas so it’s clear what goes where.

    9. Take the giveaways to the car and put the trash outside. Put away anything that needed to move to some other spot.

    10. Celebrate!

  37. I literally laughed out loud when I saw the pic of your back room! I was beginning to get a bit jealous of the tidy and clean organization…that last shot made me feel so much better though!

    We have a downstairs storage unit that’s similar. The ceiling is about 13 feet high and out light bulb went out…so we’ve been blindly (literally) throwing things in! I’m dreading the day we have to actually clean it out!

    Kait Palmer´s last post…Wardrobe Challenge Day 7 & 8

  38. AlaskanAndi says:

    Take it all out, sort it into keep, donate, throw. Analyze any storage container needs. Buy storage containers. Label if desired. Put what you want back. Tried and true way to go through it all. Get three boxes and get to work lady! Just Do It! ;-) BTW, I need to follow my own advice. Lol! Our garage is SUCH a mess!

  39. Oh I feel your pain! We live in a 2 bedroom apartment with 2 kids and a dog, and the “stuff” is so hard to keep up with. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) we don’t have a back room (or large back closet), so the stuff is either out on display, or I get rid of it. I would take everything out of the closet, sort through, and make sure what’s going out goes out immediately. I find when I bag things up to donate and put them in a corner, they tend to stay in that corner an awfully long time!

    Now I just wish that my place was as clutter-free as your other pictures!

    Mother Necessity´s last post…Oh Yeah – It Plays Music Too!

  40. Am I the only one who doesn’t think your messy closet is all that bad? I’ve seen worse I guess.

    I would get overwhelmed taking everything out. My advice, do one shelf at a time. Like FlyLady says, don’t take out any more than you can put back in neatly in one hour. With your two kids it sounds like you don’t have huge blocks of time but bits here and there so this approach may work for you.

    As a couple people already mentioned, try to put similar items together. For me, I’ve found this really helps trying to figure out the size and number of containers I need.

    Looking forward to ‘After’ pictures.

  41. visiting by way of steadymom. so happy to have found my way here.


    exhale. return to center.´s last post…one small change

  42. Wow… if even one room of my house looked like the majority of your house, I’d be so happy. My whole house is my clutter/stuff dumping space, but the kitchen table is by far the worst. The only place where things are somewhat neat and orderly is my office. I can just go in there, shut the door, and pretend the rest of the house doesn’t exist.

    I would say the way to start is like anything else – just start! And when it gets hard, keep on starting until it’s finished.

    Jess @OpenlyBalanced´s last post…Frustrated Friday

  43. Funny that you should mention that…what a week!
    The garage is the place where the mess has compounded.
    I have boxes in there that haven’t seen the light of day in probably two shifts and sadly when I was sifting through the contents, some of the things were damaged.
    My son’s pre-primary photo was mouldy and bent.
    School work suffered by dampness and jewellery strewn around in strange places.

    This made me think of what little I do have and make the most out storing and keeping those momentos in a safe way.

    So no more cardboard boxes.
    We are going for plastic storage containers, especially now when we are moving interstate and our belongings could be waiting awhile to be unpacked into our new home.

    Love your blog and your honesty.

  44. Oh this is classic!!! Our house is perfect, right down to the three bath toys!!! We have even had two features on Apartment Therapy in as many months… We have a small house: Lounge, Kitchen, Bedroom one, Bedroom 2 and a bathroom… AND then there is the lab, which is so our back room!!! A small room off the kitchen… stacked with computer remnants, cables everywhere and chaos… Also the printer and the kids school workbooks… So there are things that I have to go in there for everyday – Keeps me grounded in reality!!! I have to clear ours out before we start school in a couple of weeks but until then I am “rising above”… Hope you all have a great weekend!!

    se7en´s last post…The Se7en Brilliant Bag Bonanza …

  45. Our spot in the house is my basement and that is my goal for the month of February. I’m cleaning it out. It has become the dumping ground for everything. I’ve got my plan of attack set out on paper. I hope to get it all done in a months time. It’s a big mess. Happy decluttering!

    Rana´s last post…There and back again…

  46. That last photo so made me smile.

  47. First of all. That isn’t bad!! All of our clutter goes in the basement. Well, that and an even thin layer throughout the rest of the house :)

    Andrea @ The Train To Crazy´s last post…My dress

  48. Oh yeah! We have one of those spaces in our home…we call it the basement. It is not out of control, yet. But there is potential for it to be.

    Good Luck. Can’t wait to see the “after” picture.

    Paige´s last post…Networking Tips

  49. I agree with Vanessa, I really don’t think that your room is all that bad. Haven’t we all seen much worse???

    BTW the front of your house is beautiful! But getting back to the back room – I really don’t think that it needs to be organized. Kept under control, but not made perfect. You need one junk room. The trick will be keeping it from getting out of control.

    If you do need to organize and it sounds like you do want to, group like things together and don’t forget to use clear plastic bins so that you know exactly what you have.

    And just to let you know we have a very similar room called the “attic.”

    Onlinehandyman´s last post…By: Melody @ Party Cupcake Ideas

  50. i would love to have only one “back room.” instead, i have several.
    can’t wait to see the after!

    nicola´s last post…the truth is…

  51. I’d say the messiest places are my closets, since they’re hidden away. The office closet is probably the worst, but they’re all bad. Since I live in an apartment without a lot of storage (no walk-in closet for me, sadly), everything gets tossed in those hidden places. Lately however, the mess has begun creeping out of storage. I just recently told my fiance “We have to do something about all this stuff!” So we’ll be tackling the whole apartment soon, bit by bit. I’m hoping your back room makeover will encourage me to start soon and have no mercy! Thanks for all your wonderful posts. They help me keep my life sane.

  52. I have one kitchen drawer that is pretty much clutter-filled all the time – no matter how many times I purge & organize the thing. Inevitably it’s where “it” all goes. Next up would be the “bar” counter space in the kitchen. I hate it – nobody sits there because the cabinets are hung too low, so those seated can’t see eye-to-eye with the person standing on the other side!! (1960s home). But it’s where all the “temporary” stuff resides; so I went & bought up several different-sized cloth-lined baskets to put on the counter top & that’s helped some, but it still looks like “clutter” to me.

    Where to start on your closet? Pull it ALL out. Then start separating it all – a purge pile, a save pile. Then sort the “save” pile – items you want back into that closet & items that belong elsewhere in the home.

    Once you have your saved closet items in front of you, then you can look at what type of storage solutions you already have (bins, baskets, shelving, etc.) & organize as much as you can into those as much as possible. That way you’ll know that everything that resides in that closet SHOULD be there (for now) & it can actually fit properly, so you’ll find the stuff easier when you want to get to it. Plus, it will give you more “real estate” to start up a new pile of clutter – because everyone needs a temporary space for stuff – EVERYONE.

    I bet if you have a plan before you start the project, it will go much quicker than you think. Also, I noticed a lot of cardboard boxes in there…it would probably be better to have those stored items in plastic bins both for keeping those items in better condition as well as being able to label the bin for future access. Good luck!

    Vicki´s last post…Status update

  53. Ok, I am currently pregnant with baby number 2 and we have limited space. I am trying to clean up something every weekend. I love the idea of little drawers with the lables. It reminds me of the old library catalog system. Do you know where I can find some???? My office is exploding and I think that will really help. I just don’t know where to begin my search.

  54. Lol! Ours is the “baby room”. The next baby is due in March but the last one moved out of that teeny room a few months ago so it now houses the ironing board, some drying laundry, stuff to go up the attic and anyhing else that needs a temporary home.
    Actually, thinking about it, maybe the attic is the ultimate dumping ground in this house.
    Ah, well, seven months pregnant – I can’t do anything about the attic right now ;-)

  55. Ours is the guest bedroom. I moved into this house in July when we got married, and all my stuff went into that room. I’m still trying to unpack what I moved in, and we keep throwing stuff in there so it’s out of the other rooms in our small home.

  56. I’d be all over this closet. I love organizing– for other people that is.

    Use cute baskets and containers and you’ll be inspired to create a beautiful space worth looking at.

    Good luck!

  57. This last year I’ve been trying to figure out why I was having such a hard time keeping the house picked up and organized and suddenly I realized – in this new house we no longer have “that room” or “that closet” and so the extra stuff collects on kitchen counters, tops of desks, everywhere. So I’ve decided if something can’t find a place in the house to belong I need to just get rid of it.

    Lisa´s last post…Chinatown

  58. Mine is my laundry room. It’s been out of control for some time now. You have inspired me to tackle it this week. I should take some after pictures to remind myself of what it should look.

  59. HI, this is KATS sister in law! I love you blog. We are in the process of cleaning out our back room (a.k.a OUR ENTIRE HOUSE!) We were amazed that it took us 3 hours to do one room! BUt we press on. If it really had to be one room, I would say “the office” is the worst. It really is only called the office because it has a desk in there! Good luck and and look forward to pictures!

  60. Right now the basement wins the clutter contest. To be fair, it has been worse. My husband has been chiseling away at the disorder. As for your back room, perhaps my husband’s method with our old tool shed help: He took out everything. Ev-ry-thing. He laid it all out so he could see it all at once. Then he began to group things into to keep, toss, give away. He organized the Keep pile into subgroups and then assigned spaces to them in the shed. It was so much better after he was done. I would have dissolved into a pool of sobs by such a task.

    Jen in KS´s last post…Project 365, Week 3

  61. GREAT post! We are currently in the process of trying to sell our townhome which we are quickly growing out of, so we have had to be very creative on areas we can stash clutter since our house has to remain staged! Our son’s closet and garage have been the main sources – great read!

  62. For us it’s our garage. In the last 3 years we’ve never been able to park in our garage. Usually it is just because when we don’t have a place for something we just throw it in the garage; and by “throw” I do actually mean throw in most cases, so long as it is small enough and not breakable.

    This past summer I spent a weekend cleaning out our garage. When we had moved into our new house in May 2008, several weeks afterwards we had a heavy rainstorm and water and mud got into our garage. So, this past summer, I organized, put up shelves, labeled boxes, threw away old, ruined, and/or unnecessary items and old files then cleaned all the mud out of the garage. It was a major job but I was so happy when it was done because we could actually get a car in there!

    That didn’t last long though. There were a few things that ended up out there again but when my dad downsized his apartment I got several large pieces of furniture and a ton of miscellaneous boxes of family items and such. Now, I can barely get from the door from the house to the garage door. I am anxious for it to get warm again so I can get out there and have another go at it.

    My advice to you would be to take everything out of the room/closet first. Then divide things into groups/piles of importance. Put the most important items back first and then stop when it is as full as you want it to be. Then either sell, give away or throw away the things that are left (or put in storage if you have to).

    Sarah´s last post…Financial Update #1

  63. Our ‘dump’ is our guest room and our basement storage room. It is disgraceful. I clean the guest room about once a month and then when we don’t have guests, all the crap that we don’t know what to do with goes there. It would be nice to get out of that cycle and not have to spend 2 hours every month or so cleaning. :)

  64. Are you ready to shed your guilt? We call our messy spot the 3-car garage! Yep, we have a 3-car garage and not even a mini Cooper would fit in there.

  65. Maybe someone has suggested this already, but here is what I would do: Get 3 big boxes and follow the Sidetracked Sisters/FlyLady routine. Label one Give Away, one Throw Away, and one Keep. Stuff to find a new home for goes in one box, stuff that needs retired goes in the next, and stuff you want to keep and put back in goes in the last box (you may need more than one of each box). When you are done clearing out the area, put back only what you need/want. Then you don’t get it all out at once and get overwhelmed. In your case, if you’re interrupted, you could probaly just stack you boxes in the doorway, close the door, and pick up later where you left off.

  66. guess every house has one of that kind.
    I know somebody having every room as messy as that hehehe!

    nice share!

    Jaydee´s last post…How to speed up a slow or sluggish computer