The Closet – solving one of the big mysteries of our time…

Tis the season for closet talk – and organizing – at least in my mind…

We love, love, love our closet.  We like that it is conveniently located directly adjacent to the bathroom and near the laundry room.  We like that it is organized. We like that it is clean and easy to keep clean – see my New Year’s cleaning project here. We like that it is functional.  We like that it is just plain nice.

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For those of you that aren’t specifically interested in how to design/optimize space for a closet – you might still be interested in some fun numbers?  For that reason, I will start with the numbers:

Our new closet is 2 steps from the shower.  You can’t get more convenient than that.  Our old closet was 2 rooms away from the shower.   The purple room beyond will some day be the master bedroom.

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Our new closet is 5 steps from the laundry room.  It could be more convenient if our laundry was in our closet, but we think 5 steps away is pretty dang close.  Our old closet was through the bedroom, into the hallway, through the dining room, into the kitchen (and to grandmother’s house we go…)  Simply put it was a trek.

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Our old closet is 64″ X 68″ for a total of 30.2 square feet of space.

Our new closet is 93″ X 52″ plus two bump outs – the laundry bump out is 43″ X 24″ and the drawer bump out is 30″ X 17″ – for a total of 44.3 square feet of space.

The old closet has 13.2 linear feet of hanging space.  The new closet has 13.8 linear feet of hanging space.  This amounts to about 5% more hanging space – and it is the right kind of hanging space – a bit more long hanging space.

The space for folded clothes/shoe shelves in the old closet is a mere 23.7 linear feet.  The space for folded clothes/shoe shelves in the new closet is 39.3 linear feet.  Our new closet has a whopping 40% more folded clothes/shoe shelf space!

In summary, our new closet is about 32% larger than the old one in square footage, but is about 45% more efficient than the old space – when you combine additional hanging space and shelf space. I know, I know – this isn’t a scientific calculation, but still- it feels at least 45% better than our old closet.  So, I figure that counts for something…

Now for the mystery solving (referencing the title of this post), tips, suggestions, useful stuff, etc:

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#1 – Keep in mind that you can’t cram more stuff into your closet than you have room for.  This is common sense, but I think it needs to be said.  We are Americans, after all.  We have a bit of an obsession with accumulating stuff – and clothes are at the top of that list.  This means some sorting, donating, and tossing of items is probably in order.  I talked about how I keep my closet contents in check during the last post – exciting stuff here.  Simply, I ask myself two questions.  Is it comfortable?  Does it fit well?  If the answer is yes to both questions, the clothing item gets to stay.  If either answer is no, the item gets donated or tossed.  This may be too extreme for some, but I promise it is worth a try.  It is good for body image, the soul, and self confidence when things are comfortable and fit well – I think.  Once, you have edited your stuff and you know exactly what you need to store, on to the next step.

#2 – Get out the measuring tape.  I have talked about the importance of a measuring tape in the past.  For example, my bathroom vanity drama could have possibly been avoided with a simple measuring tape.  I use my measuring tape at least once per week – probably more than that.  I am always measuring something.  I like measuring stuff.  Anyway, back to the closet.  I measured our hanging items and figured out how much of it needed to be for longer clothes – such as Tad’s long pants and my longer dresses and sweaters. Obviously, you need more vertical space for longer clothes.  That is why I measured the long clothes seperately.

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Our bedroom is not really big enough for a bunch of dressers (or even one dresser) so we need to store all of our clothes in the closet. I have gotten used to the no dresser thing.  I like the no dresser thing – one less piece of furniture to buy and keep dusted.  It is easier to put stuff away after doing laundry as well – you just go to one place rather than 2 or 3 or more places to put clothes away.  I also like that I can see all my clothes at once – it makes it easier to decide what to wear.  Ok.  So, I laid out our folded clothes in organized piles and measured how many linear feet we needed. For underwear and socks, we knew we wanted at least 4 drawers – 2 for Tad, 2 for me.

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We didn’t have dedicated shoe storage in our other closet so we just piled shoes on the floor.  My goal with our new closet was to have shoe storage that wasn’t on the floor.  I didn’t want to have to move a bunch of shoes when I vacuum in there.  I wanted it to be easy to keep clean.  We store our frequently worn shoes in the mudroom so we don’t need a ton of closet space dedicated to shoes.  I figured 5 or 6 shelves that could accommodate 3-4 pair of shoes each would be adequate.  I’ve never really been a “shoe person” but I think the same rule could apply to shoes as does clothes.  If the shoes aren’t comfortable and well fitting, then they should be donated or tossed – no matter how cute or fashionable they are.

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We needed a spot for our laundry baskets – one for our white clothes and one for colors.

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Finally, each of us wanted a hook.  Tad for his robe and belts. Me for hoodies.

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That completed our list of wants and needs – and measurements.

#3 – Take over some adjacent space if available.  I realize this is easier said than done.  I think it is worth mentioning though because some creative reallocation of space made a big difference for us.  We like our new closet – a lot – as I already mentioned.  We feel like we are living the life of luxury in our beautiful, organized, and spacious closet – mostly because 100 year old houses don’t come with regular sized closets, let alone, walk in closets.  Our house was no different.  We got this walk in closet only because we were able to reconfigure some space when we had a small addition built.  Our new closet isn’t huge.  We didn’t want huge.  We just wanted efficient.  So, during the planning/construction stage, we took our previously mentioned measurements and stepped into what would be the new closet space to see if we could fit everything we wanted.  We found that we were still a little short of space.  We needed a bit more to accommodate the drawers for our underwear and socks.  We decided to bump back into the kitchen about a foot to get this space.  The TV/Zebra art wall in our kitchen is the back of the closet drawer bump out.

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This was Tad’s idea.  I wasn’t crazy about it at first.  I mean, who wants to lose kitchen space in an effort to accomodate underwear and socks.  In the end, it worked out great.  I am happy that Tad persisted with his idea.  I love the drawers in the closet.  In fact, the drawers might be my favorite feature of the closet.  I don’t miss or need the space in the kitchen.  In fact, the bump out created a niche for some built in shelves in the kitchen – which I love.  I like to give credit where credit is due.  Good call Tad!

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#4 – Build it.  I think a lot of people might think that the only way to build/organize a closet is with a closet system sold at the home improvement, organizing, or closet store.  Initially (oh so briefly), we were those people.  We went to the closet store, gave them all of our measurements (space and stuff), and hoped for a magical, perfectly efficient space.  It didn’t happen.  The plans we received back didn’t utilize our space to it’s fullest potential – and didn’t give us exactly what we wanted – despite being sold as custom.  And – it was really expensive.   We shopped around at all the other places hoping for better results.  No go.  We decided closet systems – the DIY ones or the custom built ones – aren’t for us.  The one thing we did like though were the mesh drawers from The Container Store.  We opted for a truly custom closet built to our specifications (with MDF and wood) – and metal mesh drawers from The Container Store.  It was significantly less expensive than a closet system from the store and our space is optimally utilized.

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Now for the subset of tips for building your own closet – according to me…

Tip #1 for building your own closet  – Go for the  strong, steel rod for hanging clothes.  The inexpensive aluminum or wood ones sag – and the hangers don’t slide very well on them.

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Tip #2 for building your own closet – Use adjustable wood or painted MDF shelving rather than wire shelving.  It looks better. It is easier to clean.  It is easier to customize.  It is less expensive.

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Tip #3 for building your own closet – Make some space flexible if the opportunity presents.  We did this with Tad’s current hanging dress shirt/pants area.  We divided the space with a piece of MDF – so we could individalize each side separately.  Next, we created an upper shelf for Tad’s sweaters and installed the hanging rod below that.  We also made it so either area or both could be turned into shelving rather than hanging clothes if we wanted to change it in the future.  If you look really close, you can see the holes for adjustable shelving are already present.  The shelves were made with leftover MDF – painted and ready for use as needed – stored in the basement for now.

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Now for a bit of random info…

Miscellaneous tip #1 – Get a light weight stepping stool/ladder to access the top shelf of the closet.  Because we utilized a lot of vertical space and our ceilings are 9 feet high, we can’t reach the high stuff.  We got the fold up step ladder for less than $20.

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It has been great.  We store it next to the drawers when not in use.  It only needs 4 or 5 inches of space.  We planned for this slim storage space when we built the bump out.

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We easily pull it out when we need to reach the higher piles of clothes on the top shelf.  We also use this portable step ladder around the house to change light bulbs, clean/dust high spots, etc.  It is very handy.

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Miscellaneous tip #2 – a bit more about drawers in the closet.  We initially thought about moving an existing furniture piece that we had into the new closet for drawer space – it was too big.  We also thought about buying a new dresser of some sort to fit into our bump out – we couldn’t find anything shallow and/or skinny enough.

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The list is long why we ended up liking the mesh metal drawers from The Container Store best.  First, they are really nice looking with the combination mesh metal and wood trim.  They open and close easily/reliably/sturdily – the slide mechanism seems good qualtity.  They hang off of a track that is attached to the wall – so they don’t sit on the floor and I can easily clean underneath.  The drawer size is shallow from front to back but deep in height – perfect for underwear and sock storage – in my opinion – and takes up minimal space.  Just a reminder that our bump back space is only 30″ X17″ – you can’t find comparable storage space in a free standing furniture piece of that size.  Deep drawers are available – we got 2 – they have been quite useful and offer some extra storage for us.  Tad uses his deep drawer for his slippery sweat pants (those things don’t stack very well) and other miscellaneous items.  I use mine for folded sweaters that I don’t wear often.   I highly recommend these drawers.  I am not being paid or cajoled or under a spell by The Container Store (or Elfa – the manuafacturer) to push these drawers.  I just like them.

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Miscellaneous tip #3 – a final suggestion for keeping the contents of your closet in check.  Hangers.  I bought a limited number of hangers for our new closet – white for me, black for Tad.  I do occasionally buy new things and occasionally don’t follow my rule of getting rid of something old if I get something new.  My hanger system serves as a back up system when my other systems don’t work.  When I run out of hangers, I know I need to get rid of something old.  This has worked really great for getting Tad on board with my sometimes obsessive organizing and simplifying.  He knows that we only have a certain amount of space available so the hanger system reminds him when he needs to sort through his old stuff.  The hanger system (aka having different colors assigned to each of us) has also helped me defend my space.  Initially, he wanted to “borrow” a few hangers and/or space because I had just seriously cleaned out my clothes and had both open hangers and space.  No way.  The white hangers and the space they occupy are mine :)

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You would think I could call this space completely finished – making it the only room in our house completely finished.  Sadly, I cannot say that.  Just as with the new bathroom, we need to rearrange the radiant floor heat so the closet floor isn’t cold in the winter.  The closet and hallway fall along a strip of flooring that lack radiant heat because there was a wall in the basement that blocked access to that joist space when the heat was installed.  The wall in the basement is now gone.  We just need to get some heat up in that joist.

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It’s on the list…