Photography by Zoe Ching

Published on August 25, 2021

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It wasn’t like photographer and freelance content producer Zoe Ching didn’t think about storage when renovating her Portland, Oregon, Craftsman bungalow back in 2018. In fact, she thought about it a lot, particularly how she wanted plenty of closed cabinets to hide all her cooking and entertaining tools. “You don’t want everything on open shelves, my interior designer reminded me a couple of times,” recalls Ching. But as what often happens a few years (or months) after a reno, that new-home-new-me feeling fades and you fall back into old habits. For Ching, it was stuffing her built-ins to the brim. “There were things hidden in every nook and cranny,” she says. “I was running out of room. Items were spilling into the garage.”

Fortunately Ching’s roommate’s sister was in town recently, and she happens to be professional organizer Shira Gill (Gill is also the author of Minimalista—officially on stands October 12 and available for preorder). “Zoe was like, don’t even look in that cupboard,” says Gill with a laugh. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’” Before leaving to catch her flight, the pro helped Ching overhaul her pesky pantry and bathroom vanity drawer. As it turns out, they used a few of the same clever bins in both spaces. Read on for the lowdown on each 15-minute task. 

The Kitchen Pantry

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Before Gill entered the scene, Ching, like a lot of people, was in the mode of utilizing every last square inch of her cupboards. But it turns out that strategy actually makes it hard to get to things. “She had so much stuff jammed on the shelves that condiments were going bad because she was forgetting to use them,” says Gill. 

Step 1: They emptied everything out onto Ching’s kitchen island and made a pile for any expired goods that could be composted. “Goodbye, ancient Almond Roca,” says Ching, laughing. This left her with items she uses regularly, like her Asian sauces and collection of Fly by Jing tasting packs. 

Step 2: Gill put on her supermarket manager cap; in other words, she “merchandised” Ching’s space by placing already opened snacks in the front and surplus options right behind them. “You use what you’ve got, and then as soon as it’s done, you move up to the next one,” says the organizer.

Step 3: All tall oils and sauces were placed neatly on turntables, while nearly everything else went in deep dividers. Gill scored bamboo lazy Susans and sleek bins (they start at $5) from the Container Store, while Ching found some old glass jars in which to decant dried fruit. “It is so pleasant to cook and spend time in the kitchen now,” she says. 

The Bathroom Vanity Drawer

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“What else can we do?” Gill asked Ching after curing her kitchen woes. The bathroom has always been a big pain point, notes Ching, because she could never find the things she uses on a daily basis. “I knew that everything was located somewhere in the bathroom, but I could never find what I needed when I needed it,” she says. “I would open all my drawers and cabinets just to find a Band-Aid or a tube of mascara.”

Step 1: Rather than sort all of her belongings by category (i.e., separating face oils from eyeshadow palettes), Gill and Ching took a different approach: They picked out the frequently used (like deodorant, lip gloss, mascara) from back-stock makeup and products. Then they dedicated one top drawer in the vanity to those items. In the sorting process, Ching ditched expired products and donated duplicates to friends. 

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Step 2: Ching threw one treat-yourself item in the drawer. “My facialist was telling me I should be doing masks once a week in the summer, and I realized I wasn’t because they weren’t displayed in a way that was appealing to me,” she says.

Step 3: The duo had some leftover Container Store drawer dividers from the kitchen makeover, so they repurposed them in here. The long containers are ideal for keeping tubes of cream and sharp tweezers from rolling around. “This system was the catalyst I needed to inspire me to start organizing the rest of the bathroom,” says Ching. “It has made day-to-day life honestly much more relaxing.”

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