Expert Advice on Organizing Drawers

Colleen Collins Josellis founder of Organized Chaos Plus. Photo by Jordan Josellis

In her 16+ years as an organizer, Colleen Collins Josellis, founder of Organized Chaos Plus, has developed a philosophy that serves her clients whether she’s coaching, organizing or consulting with them. “You need to look at your ideas or things, get rid of the ones that don’t work for you, and move forward with those that do and get them organized,” she counsels. Colleen also believes that organizing a small space has a ripple effect, especially when there’s chaos everywhere (like our lives this summer?!).

Feeling good about the impact that organizing one small drawer would have, we got down to the nitty gritty advice we needed before emptying out those pits of forgotten dreams and mysterious frozen hunks (lol, aka our drawers).

Set Up a Structure

Nothing in life is one and done, and that includes keeping drawers organized. For the freezer drawers (where multiple people in the household fill and empty them), Colleen recommends setting up zones: prepared foods, frozen vegetables, smoothie ingredients, etc. Organization also means keeping a sharpie and masking tape on hand, so it’s easy to label new items before adding them to the freezer. For Marjie’s bedside drawer, Colleen recommends using smaller containers to subdivide the drawer. She’s a big fan of clear shoebox-size containers that you can get at Target or Container Store.


Once you know how you’re going to keep things neat. It’s time to actually do it! For Marjie’s bedside table, Colleen recommends considering that drawer as a sacred space that only belongs to her. It’s not the place to keep stamps or extra chargers. “Now that we live in a condo, I don’t have that much space for myself,” Marjie says loving Colleen’s affirmation. “That bedside drawer has become important to have as my own.” She also thinks a bedside drawer shouldn’t be storage, but should be for the book you’re currently reading, the journal you’re using daily, etc. For the freezer, the obvious triage is to check edibility and the probability anyone will eat that mystery food. When in doubt, throw it out!

Time It

Colleen recommends setting a timer for 30 or 60 minutes, so you don’t get overwhelmed and can focus on the task at hand. Then, once you’ve tossed, categorized, cleaned out the drawer and replaced everything in nicely separated and grouped sections, you’ll only need 15 minutes every now and then to maintain the order.

What drawer are you going to tackle? Let us know how it goes!

Laura Loves… Nut Butter Granola Bars from Bon Appétit

You’ll see from our latest challenge—where we restyled our most embarrassing drawers—that my drawers were the duo of deep freezers that sit beneath my side-by-side refrigerators. Once I took everything out, it was clear that we are overflowing with nuts! Raw pistachios, raw cashews, raw pepitos, raw almonds… we overindex on that Trader Joe’s aisle. Before I could organize, it was crucial to use up some of our vast supply. Which led my daughter, Emmie, and me to the Nut Butter Granola Bars in the August 2020 issue of Bon Appétit. Delicious and easy to pull off. This recipe is useful for using up a lot of nuts, and it’s the perfect snack for any late-summer outdoor adventures. It’s probably healthy too, so win-win-win!

Marjie loves… CBD and Melatonin gummies

When I was organizing my bedside table drawer, I came across these two yummy products I wanted to share with you—gummies for relaxation and better sleep. On the left are the decadent Lord Jones CBD gumdrops which promote a sense of calm and well being (but won’t get you high). Mine are blood orange, but Lord Jones offers a selection of sophisticated flavors. The second product is Olly’s Sleep, a combination of Melatonin, L-Theanine & Botanicals which definitely make me drowsy. I don’t use these products that often, but when I’m feeling a bit anxious or frazzled (sound familiar?) or really need rest, it’s comforting to know that I have some sweet treats to help me get a good night’s sleep.

Meet Laura and Marjie, Style Challengers

Laura Hine and Marjie Killeen at a 2017 Dermaflash event.

Laura Hine and I have been exploring style and culture together as friends and colleagues for years. Now the lines are so blurred, it’s hard to know where one role leaves off and the other begins. We originally met through our book club on Chicago’s North Shore and then Laura became Editor in Chief of a magazine I wrote a sex column for. We took a Paris Cafe Writing workshop and stayed in the Marais district in a chic little AirBnB, jetted off to the islands for a couples’ trip and hit a lot of theatre, fashion and beauty events. When Laura moved over to a new editing post at Modern Luxury, I continued to write for her and even took on some editing work of my own there. A few years ago, as empty nesters, we both sold our suburban family homes and moved to downtown Chicago, starting an exciting new urban chapter of life that has continued to keep us close contact. Now we’re ready for a new project and voila, Style Challengers is born! Our plan is to tackle new approaches to living, looking and feeling our best, and share our progress with you. While we have a lot in common, Laura and I have very different skills and perspectives, so you’ll see two unique versions of each challenge. We hope it will be entertaining, informative and fun to follow along with us. We invite you you to join in our challenges yourself!

Capsule Wardrobe Challenge Complete!

Marjie and Laura during their Capsule Wardrobe Challenge

We were a little bored—tired of pulling on the same shorts and t-shirt every day—it was all a little too comfortable and too easy. Plus, we’ve both got a closet full of great clothes that weren’t getting worn. So, to break us out of our rut, we accepted the style challenge and chose seven pieces that we would mix and match for the next seven days.

What Marjie Wore

I started planning my capsule wardrobe by consulting the weather forecast and my calendar for the week. I had a couple social events and a lot of running around to help my daughter move into her first apartment. The four tops/three bottoms split seemed most versatile. I chose some patterned and colorful pieces to make the looks more vibrant and interesting. It took me about an hour to choose the seven pieces. I tried on everything and made sure each item could be worn with at least two others. At the last minute I swapped the sleeveless black tee for a warmer black top because the weather looked unseasonably cool for August and these days, all my socializing happens outdoors. Here are the pieces I chose, with a few substitutions because mine wasn’t available:

Striped tee, 525 America

Shirred Keyhole top in Blanc, Frame

Three Quarter Sleeve Tee, Noir, Majestic Filatures

“Mara” Jeans, DL1961

Navy Petal Shorts, J. McLaughlin,

Black & White Bias Midi Skirt, Anthropologie

Whimsical Pintucked Blouse in Red Motif, Anthropologie 

What Laura Wore

I looked at the challenge as something like packing for a summer trip, aww remember going on trips? I knew the weather; I knew what I’d be doing for the next seven days (and there were some fun things) and the key was flexibility. My initial picks were a little too boring, with too many solids, so I swapped in a floral and a stripe, which definitely livened up my picks. I also had two dressier tops, one silk and one with puffy sleeves, so I felt like I could go anywhere from the library to drinks on the Riverwalk. Here are the pieces I chose, with a few substitutions because mine wasn’t available:

Floral blouse, Madewell

Denim Skirt, Tomas Maier

White Jeans, JCrew

Khaki pants, Nili Lotan

White t-shirt, A.L.C.

Striped shirt, Rebecca Minkoff

Blue silk shirt, Frances Austin

Here are all our outfits for the week:

What Marjie Liked

Getting dressed every day was a snap. After selecting my seven pieces it was like the rest of my clothes didn’t exist. No rooting through drawers or hanging racks to try on various options. My closet stayed neat and tidy. Also, I only wore one outfit a day. If I wasn’t perfectly dressed for my dentist appointment or dog walk, I just rolled with it. It was liberating.

I looked better. Choosing a week’s worth of clothes in advance made me up my style game. I know most of us aren’t going many places these days and it’s easy to hang out in sweatpants. But it felt good to put on actual outfits for a change, and having fewer options made me pay more attention to the details. Even a trip to Home Depot felt more like an occasion and I think my husband appreciated it.

It was fun. Taking on this challenge was like working a puzzle with many creative solutions. How could I mix up the seven items and tweak the look with shoes, belt, bag, mask to look my best and suit my day? Also, it was really great to do this capsule wardrobe challenge with a friend. I loved seeing how Laura approached the challenge and comparing notes with her. It was a welcome bright spot and point of connection during Covid.

What Laura Liked

Keeping it Basic. What I did right was to choose a color palette, navy plus white (or cream) so everything went with everything else. The blue silk top was a little dressier for drinks outside on Friday night and the striped shirt was pretty casual. I felt like I could have gotten dressed with my eyes closed if necessary, since it was pretty hard to make a mistake (and anyhow, I don’t believe there are any mistakes in fashion).

Time Saver. I’m hardly in the rush I used to be when my routine included a workout, shower, getting dressed and commuting to the Loop all before 9. But if I was in a hurry, I would absolutely recommend a capsule approach. For a tiny investment on the weekend (really the photos were the most complicated part), getting dressed took me minutes each morning. I hung everything together and they were the first things I saw in the morning, and I didn’t have my usual internal debate about pros and cons.

What Marjie Learned

As chic French women have always known, less really is more. If you love your clothes, you don’t need a lot of them. This challenge made me realize that normally, I avoid being seen in the same things, which is kinda ridiculous. It’s not my job to entertain people with an endless array of original outfits. My job is to buy clothes that make me feel great and wear the hell out of them. I’ll keep this in mind whenever I go back to shopping—if I don’t love a piece enough to wear it a couple times a week, I don’t need it.

Also, I learned some lessons that I’d use when doing this challenge in the future.

  • Precious pieces aren’t practical—garments need to be robust enough to withstand frequent wearings and be easily maintained. No ironing, hand washing or trekking to the dry cleaner for this chick.
  • I’d swap in a layering piece. It was a cool week, but even on the hottest summer days, temperatures fluctuate. A light sweater or long sleeved buttoned shirt would have been more useful than one of the tees.
  • I’d use a more consistent color scheme. For example, I couldn’t wear the black tee with the navy shorts. Next time I’d choose black or blue as a basic color – not both! (Jeans go with everything, hurray.)

What Laura Learned

First, weather apps aren’t infallible. Even after multiple checks of the forecast, I was unprepared for a few cooler nights that weren’t predicted. I should have included a jean jacket or an army jacket. If we’d had eight items, I would have been set, but if I had to give one thing up, it might have been the khaki pants. There was really no day when I couldn’t have subbed the jeans for the khakis—white jeans are as versatile and blue ones. This challenge also helped me realize that I have a habit of saving clothes for “special” occasions. That fancy-schmanzy event isn’t happening right now (and indeed, even in normal times, it may not), so wear pieces you love now. Why not? The worst that can happen is a trip to the drycleaner or an extra delicate wash.

Should You Try This?

If you want to save time, reduce stress, pare down your closet, develop a signature look or just try something new, give this easy capsule wardrobe challenge a try. What else could we have done? Any ideas or suggestions? Let us know what you think and what you’d try.

Here are our looks for the week: