With kids heading back to school now is the time to freshen up your space for the fall season.

Work from home space
Stephanie Helguera

You attempt to walk through the hallway of your home but end up tripping over sneakers, soccer cleats, and flip-flops. You pick yourself up and head into the kitchen only to discover Tupperware spilling from your cabinets and dishes leftover from last night’s meal. This is not how you pictured your kids finally going back to school.

However, falling back into some of our old routines can provide the opportunity to reset from a summer full of fun and sand trapped in the house. Yes, it’s time for fall cleaning.

Have no fear: We talked to Lauren Kellim from Humble and Grand, a shop dedicated to functionality and organization, and Katie Donohue, a professional organizer, about everything you need to do to refresh your home.

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“The fall is my favorite time to tidy up,” Donohue says. Halloween will be here before you know it, and by the time the spooky season passes, it’ll be time for New Year’s resolutions. “If you can have your ducks in a row now it’ll help you get through the holiday season.”

Class Is out of Session (in Our Homes)

Homeroom has become all too literal after school went virtual for many families. But now that some children are back in the classroom, it is time to reclaim your virtual school space (or adjust it to be a homework station).

Donohue thought back to the start of the pandemic when virtual school was a mere announcement. “A lot of people’s first thought was, ‘We don’t have the space,'” Donohue recalls. Nonetheless, many families adapted and made room for students to be successful in a virtual learning environment. “A majority of people are going to be happy to have that space back,” Donohue says.

Virtual classrooms taught us how to be adaptable and creative in our space, Donohue adds, and that same creativity can be applied to areas in your home that need sprucing up this season.

The quick fix? Clear it out. “It’s a stale environment in your home, so you’ll want to get rid of it right away,” says Donohue. That desk placed in the middle of the hallway as a makeshift classroom? Find a new focus for it, or if you simply don’t have the space, donate it or toss it out. “Your child has moved on from it so you should, too,” Donohue says.

If the classroom corner has proven to be successful, perhaps convert it into a homework corner. Store all notebooks and folders in wicker baskets to create space on the desk and pin up a dry erase board to allow your child to decide how they want to stay organized. They can use the board for lists, math problems, calendars, and more.

Work-from-Home Hot Spots

Courtesy of Stephanie Helguera

Our work-from-home spaces haven’t disappeared yet, but it doesn’t mean you should settle into your space completely.

Studies show that our work environment affects our productivity, and working from home is already distracting enough. From lawnmowers interrupting your Zoom calls to dogs barking in the background, you deserve a workspace that promotes functionality.

Donohue suggests “closing up shop” when you’re done for the day. Working from home may feel like you’re never off the clock. To combat this, Donohue finds a way to clock out at the end of the day from within her home. For her it’s the little things: “You can make it as simple as putting paper and files away.” She suggests finding a drawer (or box with a lid) and putting all of your work items—even the pencil cup—inside when you’re done for the day. Out of sight, out of mind.

If you’re someone who works from the comfort of their bedroom, it is very important to clock out at the end of your workday. “If you work in your bedroom, you need to create a space that’s relaxing and initiate a downtime when your work is done,” Donohue says.

There are other ways to quickly tidy up your work-from-home space as well. From making your bed in the morning to fluffing up your pillows in the living room, quick fixes can create a cleaner space that leaves your work environment looking refreshed and promotes productivity.

Enter the Entryway

The entryway is the first room you see when walking into a home but many people neglect its importance. A cluttered entryway can already be problematic, but a year of living at home has furthered that problem.

Kellim suggests refocusing the space and keeping only the essentials. “When you first walk into your house, you don’t want to feel the mess,” Kellim says.

This means keeping shoes and coats hidden away in the closet and keeping only the essentials out like keys and a charming family picture.

Cooking Up

This past year we finally got the time to try out all recipes we saved to our Pinterest boards, but our kitchens suffered the collateral damage. It is time to reconquer the kitchen. 

Lunchboxes and water bottles that have sat in storage for an entire year need to be re-assessed. A year in storage may result in mildew for products that were exposed to moisture. For the lucky packs that survived, Donohue suggests making a lunch box station by labeling and organizing snacks for school. This area can be hidden within a cabinet or on a shelf within your pantry.

Spring Cleaning Pantry

Sara Tramp; design by Emily Henderson

Before you create your station, make sure to clear out the pantry of any expired products. After a year of poking through for an afternoon snack, Kellim says she believes this part of the kitchen took one of the biggest hits during quarantine. “Going into our clients’ homes, we’ve noticed their pantries needing a revamp,” she says. “Over quarantine, they got overstocked and are quick to be overlooked.”

You’ll also want to dust off slow-cooking appliances like crockpots. These appliances are going to be lifesavers when getting back into a fast-paced lifestyle with packing school lunches and attending after-school soccer practice. You will need to find a new spot for these appliances in your kitchen. Keep your slow cooker on top of the stove while cooking, but otherwise stow it away in a lower cabinet for easy access.

Donohue also urges people to dispose of, or find other storage for, any kitchenware that no longer has a place in their home, such as “the wedding gifts that are never used again, like crystal and glassware. They’re no longer practical.” She also mentioned those extra coffee cups and silverware that no longer match the rest of your set. “People have come out of COVID cooking a lot more which means they need to keep that space even tidier,” she says.

For Tupperware that never seems to stay organized, Kellim suggests stacking the lids on one side of a cupboard or drawer and the containers on top of each other on the other. But, “like everything else,” she says, “you have to stay on top of it.”

When it comes to cooking, Kellim looks to her husband Josh, a sous chef at El Encanto in Santa Barbara, who taught her that the best way to run a kitchen is to clean as you go. “Put things back while your meal is being prepared and that way you won’t have a mess to tackle after your meal,” she explains. This allows less clean-up time and more time to be enjoyed with family at the dinner table.

Cleaning out the Closet

Cleaning out the closet may be the toughest to sort through but the most rewarding. “The biggest issue I find is people holding onto things you don’t need that weigh them down,” Donohue says. When she leaves a client’s home, they often tell her that they feel 10 pounds lighter from cleaning out their closet.

Donohue classifies the clothes that you’re hoping to fit back into and old college t-shirts you’ll never wear again as old promises. “We are good enough as we are right now,” she says. “Stop holding onto things you’re hoping to fit into.” Every adult can have a few of these items but they do not belong in your closet. They belong in storage placed among other memories, Donohue says. She also suggests donating the items that no longer fit to shelters in your area.

For a quick fix, hang all of your clothes on uniform hangers and organize by type of clothing. For the fall season, you’ll want to put those summer swimsuits away and switch them out for comfy coats. Kellim suggests pulling forward the pieces you’ll wear in the fall season, and giving them a fresh new look by wiping down or washing coats and air drying them on a rack for ultimate freshness. Kellim stores her sweaters in linen bags when they are put away for the season.