Ask Martha

How to get a clean and organized start in your home

The garage-shed was transformed into a homekeeping room. Each area is designated for a particular task.
The garage-shed was transformed into a homekeeping room. Each area is designated for a particular task.

When I bought my farm in Bedford, N.Y., a decade ago, there were many run-down buildings on the property. They have since either been restored, altered, or demolished. One charming structure, dating from the late 19th century, was a two-story stable-garage-goat-shed that had stamped-concrete floors, mahogany-stained horizontal wainscoting, and a peaked roof.

The building, however, was a mess – there were very small doors, few windows, and smelly interiors (goats had actually been housed there); and the second floor, a nice space, had no access from below and no windows at all. We redesigned the building and created a two-car garage, a bright central room and a storage room. A lovely stairwell was built, affording access to the second floor, which now houses a very good home gym.

A cabinet was converted into a cleaning station.

I reserved the central area on the ground floor for one of my dream rooms: a “homekeeping room.’’ I didn’t quite know how I would create such a room, but last autumn I finally was able to formulate my plan with the help of my merchandising department and Martha Stewart Living’s efficient and task-oriented home editor, Anthony Santelli.


Using my crafts room as a model, we designed an extraordinary grouping of ready-to-assemble furniture for Home Decorators Catalog. I changed the line’s primary use, crafting, to homekeeping for this particular project. We measured the room and retrofitted the pieces. I wanted to maximize the use of the space, but I did not want a crowded or confining layout, since I often have more than one project going on.

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I am very, very excited to finally have a room like this, organized into “stations’’ by the most common tasks that we face as homemakers. There is absolutely no excuse now for me to put aside or discard a damaged beloved object, because I have everything needed to fix, alter, adjust or refresh just about anything that needs it.

Cleaning station

Cleaning becomes more pleasant when you have supplies at the ready. Keep everything in a central location, and then take what you need from room to room as you clean. Adding labels helps keep it all organized. My station gives me a place to post a schedule with tasks to be done weekly, monthly and seasonally, as well as list products that need replacing.

Organizing solutions

Open-front bins: Plastic bins keep everything neat. Group similar items together, and add labels.

Swing hooks: Maximize your space by hanging things up. On the side of the cleaning station, I installed foldable stainless steel swinging hooks for whisk brooms, a dustpan, and a cleaning brush. The hooks fold flat when not in use.


Shallow drawer: Many items are best stored lying flat, such as window-washing squeegees and sleeves, and bottle and scrub brushes.

Divided drawers: Cleaning cloths (flannel, chamois, microfiber, and cotton) are folded and placed in short stacks – more manageable than an easy-to-topple tower. Group other items, such as surface protectors, nonskid shelf liner and dusters, in divided drawers (plastic bins could do the job instead).

Hardware-repair stations

When you need to rewire a lamp, change a light bulb, or hang a picture, you want to do the job with a minimum of fuss. You’ll be able to do it if you have all the tools set up at one station. To get organized, first take an inventory of what you have, and plan how many bins you’ll need. It’s worth the investment to set up properly – do this once and enjoy the system for years.

Organizing solutions

Magnetic strip: Repurpose a magnetic knife strip meant for kitchen knives and use it to keep tools handy. This is also a great way to hang paintbrushes to dry.

Specialized kits: Group similar items and the things you need for specific tasks in bins: batteries or electrical supplies, for example. Keep them in stacking bins so you can grab one to take wherever you need it.


Magazine holders: Use sturdy holders for magazines you want to keep as well as catalogs, instruction manuals for appliances, repair records and receipts, and other household documents. Add labels to keep track of them all.

Packing station

Whether you’re packing a gift to mail or a box to store away, you’ll be glad to have the materials in one spot. A setup like this saves time on trips to the office-supply store and post office.

Organizing solutions

Dowels: Unwieldy, heavy rolls of butcher and kraft paper are easy to handle on dowels, which also keep spools of string and twine from tangling. Pull off only what’s necessary for a job and everything stays neat.

Small supply drawer: Stock padded envelopes in the sizes you use the most. Keep office-supply basics – pens, glue sticks, rubber bands – tidy by separating them in small acrylic containers.

Hooks for hanging: Adding a double-pronged hook on the side of the hutch provides a sturdy spot for shopping bags. A magnetic strip on the other side holds scissors and a tape gun.

Paper and large supply drawer: Sheets of newsprint for packing and acid-free tissue for storing items fit in a shallow drawer. Below it, I keep a scale for weighing packages, stretch wrap, mailing tubes, and tape guns.

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living.