For all its lofty goals of cleanliness and order, the laundry room is very often a place of barely contained chaos. Orphaned socks, torn jeans, and missing-button shirts commingle with detergent bottles, dirty and clean clothes, and dryer sheets. Don't fret: There's hope for even the slimmest of laundry-focused spaces, thanks to these expert must-dos, tips, and hacks.
1. Flat is Where It's At
Clean laundry is one thing; folded laundry is quite another. "The thing that people forget is the putting away part," says Deborah J. Cabral, certified professional organizer. "It ends up staying on the stairs or in a basket." Cabral advocates skipping stackable appliances in favor of front-loading side-by-side options; then top both with a piece of affordable laminate countertop for a fold-ready spot.
2. Start with a Schedule
The biggest, prettiest laundry room in the world won't work clutter-taming wonders if you don't establish a schedule, the experts say. Cabral does laundry every day, and her children are responsible for their own clothes. "Sit down with your family and figure out what your needs are and what will work best for them given your schedule and obligations," she says. For example, sports uniforms may require a soak on both Tuesday and Thursday. Kathy Jenkins, certified professional organizer, has preset days to wash both towels and sheets. The benefits are twofold. First, a specific washday eliminates the forgetfulness that often accompanies cleaning those items. And she never has to wrestle with putting towels or sheets away. "Once they come out of the dryer, they get hung back up or put right back on beds and we never have to fold them," Jenkins says.
3. Where's the Real Clutter?
Often the laundry area is part of a closet or mudroom, so it becomes a repository not only for single socks, but a bunch of weird stuff—extra lightbulbs, travel accessories—for which there's no other storage space. "It's this place where, if we don't know where something belongs, it gets put in the laundry room," Jenkins says. Let all those items pile up and all of a sudden your laundry room becomes a dreadful mess. Instead, find real homes for those objects—even if they really belong in the laundry room—with dedicated, labeled, visually accessible containers.
4. About Those Missing Socks...
In the land of lost socks, there's always hope that a missing sock will reappear. Is that realistic? Designate a container to hold socks without mates (and a timeline for tossing). Another idea: Toss single socks back in the correct dresser drawer, says Mindy Godding, certified professional organizer. "Then you know where to look when or if their mates show up," she says. Or give each family member a mesh bag to hold dirty socks for washing, so—ideally, at least—pairs are never separated. Stash clothing repair essentials—thread, needles, scissors—in the laundry room so you can take care of mending those hems right away.
Editor's Tip: Some charitable organizations take clothing in all conditions—ripped up, stained—to sell in bulk to fabric recycling companies
5. Don't Be a Basket Scrooge
Godding recommends using laundry baskets in every bathroom. Cabral suggests families with kids rely on color-coded laundry baskets—one for lights and one for darks. Wherever you place them, lots of laundry baskets in various places discourage family members from dumping dirty clothes on the laundry room or bathroom floor.
6. Sorting is Your Friend
Godding loves her wheeled laundry sorter; it's divided into three compartments for whites, darks, and bright colors. Whatever your sorting routine, invest in something that helps you keep laundry off the floor, she says. "I've seen laundry rooms with heaps of clothing and linens covering the floor, filling the appliance tops, and overflowing baskets and hampers, with no way to define what's clean versus what's dirty," she says. "Inevitably, this chaos leads to clean items being washed again and again just to be sure they are indeed clean." And keep the sorter as close to the source—the appliances—as possible, Jenkins suggests. "I'm not regimented with laundry, but if I look at my sorter and the white compartment is full, I know I need to get a load done," she says.
7. Go Small
Particularly for pint-size laundry spaces, small loads help mitigate the crushing laundry onslaught that can lead to clutter. "I'm a big fan of doing smaller loads more frequently during the week instead of having one laundry day where this chore takes over," Godding says. Smaller loads are quicker to fold and put away, too.
8. To Dry or Not to Dry
Accordion-style drying racks can be both space-savers and clutter-cutters. They push back flat against a wall when not in use but pull out easily for air-drying delicate items. Skip the wooden ones, Jenkins says, to avoid the risk of mold.
9. Claim Your Real Estate
Many laundry "rooms" are actually closets, and the closets very often have doors. "Very few people take advantage of that real estate," Jenkins says. Opt for a slim storage unit that screws into the door back and you'll gain critical inches for storing boxes of dryer sheets or other laundry necessities. If you have a small stretch of empty wall, fill it with hooks to hang items as they come from the dryer, eliminating the need to iron, Cabral says.
10. Look Up
If you can't install a cabinet above your appliances, opt for specially designed shelves that attach at the back of the washer or dryer. "Throwing items on top of the appliance can cause clutter, and this solution gets everything up and away," Jenkins says. If you do have a cabinet, group similar supplies together—stain removers in one clear container, for example—to make things easy to grab, use, and put away.
11. Time it Out
Lack of planning leads to clutter, and lack of planning includes failing to allot time to do the laundry. "The average load of laundry takes me five minutes to fold. It doesn't take as long as people think," Jenkins says. Try using timers, if your appliances don't include them, to eliminate loads languishing in the washer and dryer, Godding says.
12. It Might Not Be Your Laundry Room's Fault
If you're digging in the clean laundry basket every day to find something to wear, the blame may not rest with your laundry room. "Usually, this is symptomatic of a crowded or nonfunctional dresser or closet," Godding says. "The clothes a person is currently wearing are in the basket because his or her closet is full of clothes that no longer fit or that are outdated." Decluttering your laundry room AND your closet helps. "Good laundry systems lengthen the life spans of clothes and ensure that getting dressed is stress-free," Godding says.