If there’s one thing TikTok’s algorithm gets right, it’s my affinity for scrolling, sometimes endlessly, through home and lifestyle content. I’ve tried everything from viral recipes — hello, dalgona coffee and baked feta pasta — to hacks for deep cleaning the microwave and finally figuring out how to neatly fold a fitted sheet.
Further down this rabbit hole, videos of seemingly mundane tasks like color coding a closet or organizing spice jars get millions of views.
The videos are extremely satisfying, no surprise given the reliance of visuals in our society and popularity of organizing superstar Marie Kondo, who rose to fame more than a decade ago after publishing her first book about tidying up and minimalism.
Like most aspects of influencer culture, what we see on #cleantok can also be incredibly unrealistic. Who has time to painstakingly “decant” dry goods and other products into sleek containers or meticulously restock groceries into the refrigerator? If your space is in disarray, where do you even begin?
That’s where the expertise of a local organizing whiz can come in to set you on the right path.
We spoke with two professional organization experts on the North Fork who shared their thoughts on tidying up.
“A place for everything and everything in its place.”
That Benjamin Franklin quote has been ingrained in Mia Russell’s head by her mother ever since she can remember.
The Southold native recalled how growing up, her Barbie dolls’ clothes were neatly arranged into categories. She’d often tag along with her mother while she cleaned homes in the area, assisting with chores and organizing spaces throughout clients’ homes. As a teenager, she couldn’t help but start organizing a friend’s wardrobe while hanging out at their house.
“It was just my thing,” she said. “I see something out of order and need to fix it.”
After years of informally organizing — and a formal diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder — Russell founded Creating Happy Homes last year, realizing that what she had been doing instinctively for years to calm down was her passion.
With people spending more time at home than ever over the past two years, Russell said the timing was perfect. “A lot of people were home, looking at their space and tired of living in disarray,” she said.
Her most common projects are for maximizing space in kitchen pantries and bedroom closets for many new full-time residents on the East End.
“A lot of people moved out here from the city and were really combining two homes into one,” Russell said.
A lifelong fascination with cleaning and organizing also led East Marion resident Sofia Lioreisis toward a new venture in professional organization. She channeled skills honed as an executive assistant at a global corporate law firm to launch The Graceful Space, which serves Long Island, New York City and surrounding areas.
“When I get anxious, I’ll just start organizing,” Lioreisis said. “It really does bring me a sense of peace.”
She too credits her mother with first instilling order and structure in her life, with no shortage of adages passed on through generations of mothers and daughters.
“Growing up, my sister and I heard the constant reminder that things have a purpose and a home and we should take care of them,” Lioreisis said.
Now as a mother herself, she’s grateful to be able to pass down those lessons to her own daughter, all inspired by simplicity.
“It’s easy to navigate and manage,” she said. “And it’s not perfect, but at the end of the night I don’t get stressed and she doesn’t either.”
Lioreisis said she especially understands the desire of expectant parents to buy, buy, buy. “When you’re a new mom, you think you need everything,” she said. It was an eye opening experience for her when she had her daughter and realized the toys, clothes, gadgets and other gear was simply too much.
She set out to declutter her own space. Then, she started organizing as a favor to some of her husband’s real estate clients, helping sellers downsize and buyers move in. When her old boss called asking for her help decluttering as he prepared to retire, something clicked for Lioreisis, who now lives on the North Fork full-time. “It solidified that this is what I should be doing,” she said, noting that her mission is to ensure spaces are both functional and beautiful.
IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM
Aware that it can be intimidating to know where to start, the first step is always a consultation.
There, Russell wants to see it all: the good, the bad and the ugly.
“I have [clients] walk me through their worst spaces, where they feel the most overwhelmed,” she said. “I always recommend starting there.”
When jumping into an organization project, Lioreisis said where she begins depends on the client’s needs.
In a small apartment, she’d start with shared living spaces: entryways, living rooms, kitchens and bathrooms.
For a project encompassing an entire home, Lioreisis said tidying storage spaces can make room for things encountered in other spaces that need storage.
Primary bedrooms can also be an apt starting point, creating a soothing space for rest that can help you wake up inspired to tackle the rest of your home.
CONQUER THE CLUTTER
Hands down the hardest part. On my own recent decluttering spree, it pained me to part with a favorite pair of well-worn jeans despite a fraying hole beginning to form along the inner thigh and a handful of beloved Beanie Babies collected as a kid that turned out to be, well, worthless.
It’s tempting to simply conceal the clutter, but that’ll just land you in a never-ending cycle of stress and chaos.
A self-described minimalist, Lioreisis said the lifestyle is easier to achieve than one might think. “It doesn’t have to be archetypal stark white walls and minimal things. Your home can still be your home, full of color and things you love,” she said.
She knows firsthand that it can be hard to get rid of objects, especially sentimental ones. When her husband lost his father, an amateur painter, it was emotionally exhausting to sift through dozens of paintings that were stored in a basement, some beyond repair. “I told him, we aren’t honoring him this way,” by leaving them in storage, Lioreisis explained.
Now, a beautifully restored painting hangs in their home, a daily reminder of their father and the hobby he loved.
Keeping a tidy home, she said, can shift your entire perspective.
“When you take inventory of what you have, it makes you a more conscious buyer,” Lioreisis said.
Though Russell, on the other hand, doesn’t consider herself to be a minimalist, she advocates for keeping things in a more meaningful, curated way. “I like having memories and stuff in your home that is a part of your life. It makes you, you,” she said.
One client kept a large collection of greeting cards she’s received over the years.
“We sat down and went through them. And I was like ‘OK, you have six from this person. Which one is your favorite? Do you think you can let go of three of them?’ It’s working little by little at letting things go,” Russell said.
Online, it can be as simple as a jump cut or swipe to see a space go from cluttered to immaculate. In real life, this is where the nitty gritty magic happens.
Sometimes it comes down to having the right tools at your disposal: baskets, bins, extra shelving, labels, drawer dividers, which can all make spaces more functional.
Both Russell and Lioreisis take measurements, send estimates and customize a product list before installing and organizing the space.If a new set of containers is out of reach, Russell said it can still work. She once cut the flaps off of cardboard boxes to organize a closet. “It doesn’t always have to be Pinterest perfect,” she said.
RINSE AND REPEAT
I always feel more at ease when my space is clean and didn’t always appreciate the value of keeping a tidy space. (Thanks, Mom.)
Professional organizers say there’s a reason for that. Decluttering has a naturally calming effect, allowing a space to release negative emotions, a way to take control and lower stress, even by simply tackling an overflowing laundry basket, stack of dishes piled in the sink or a digitally cluttered inbox.
Organization isn’t about perfection and entropy dictates that things will always naturally move from order to disorder.
So perhaps more importantly than leaving clients with a visually appealing space, both Russell and Lioreisis teach clients how to implement sustainable systems that are easy to reset when things inevitably start to get messy again.
“It’s a great feeling to have created a solution and sense of relief,” Lioreisis said. “You feel like you’re helping empower them,” shesaid.
Before-and-after shots of finished projects are nice, but Russell said it’s fulfilling to be a presence for clients during milestones in their life, whether they’ve just had a baby, moved into a new home or are a recent empty-nester.
“It’s a vulnerable thing,” she said. “A stranger is coming into your home, they’re in your space, in your stuff. You get to see their life. And it’s just so rewarding at the end when they get to see the after. The new space. The new them.”
Mia Russell: When your space is tidy, so is your mind. If the items in your home have a designated place your home can and will stay organized.
Sofia Lioreisis: Organizational systems create a background for your life inspired by simplicity that empowers you and your family and brings a sense of peace and calm into your daily life.
FAVORITE RECENT PROJECT
Lioreisis: Helping a friend take control of an overcrowded entryway.
The entry way is an area dedicated to act as a catch-all for everyday items. Backpacks, shoes and all the bulky cold weather gear for winter in New York can create an overwhelming number of items to store.
The solution was to create a designated section for each family member that included hooks, labeled baskets and bins. I love this project because it had an immediate impact on a person’s daily routine and holds each family member accountable to put away their things the minute they walk in their home.
Russell: I had a client who was really frustrated with how her closet was getting more and more out of control. Helping her to take back that control and actually want to put away clean laundry instead of avoiding it was so gratifying. We installed a system that worked for her and in the process, we were able to let go of a lot of items she no longer needed. Now, we have a beautiful space with everything in its labeled, designated basket.
You can follow Russell at @creatinghappyhomes and Lioreisis at @the.graceful.space