Closet Basics: Part 1 The Well-Organized Closet

Her Home Logo This article was featured in Her Home Magazine.

To obtain reprint permissions, click here .

We have always wondered about those wonderful, spacious closets we see pictured in designer and home magazines - expansive rooms filled with shelves, drawers, trays, and baskets on all sides but containing exactly 6 suits, 12 shirts and one drawer of socks - all in white.

If all you own is 6 suits, 12 shirts and one drawer of socks, why do you need a closet the size of Yankee Stadium?

.

These pictures are all fantasy, of course. We don't have giant, garage-size walk-in closets; we have small walk-in closets if we're lucky and tiny reach-in closets if we're not.

The 21st Century Closet Solution

A typical closet provides truly hostile storage. It is usually poorly lit, especially wherever you happen to be looking at the moment. Clothes get tangled, drop to the floor, are seemingly always out of sight or reach. There is no good place to store shoes, belts or ties. It's a mess.

Reach-in closets, a largely 19th-century innovation, just do not work well for the 21st century's more extensive storage needs. Just as closets replaced armoires and wall pegs, now it is time for closets to be replaced by something more effective in handling the great quantity and variety of stuff we now need to store… (Continues)

If any of us actually did have a closet the size of a gymnasium, we would already have it filled to the rafters with stuff.

Because we all collect stuff. Lots of stuff. And it all has to be put somewhere. It resides mostly in closets. The closet keeps us from constantly tripping over stuff.

The closet is some of your home's most valuable real estate. But it is also the most under-utilized, unappreciated and least respected part of your home.

Closet Clutter

The biggest problem with our closets is clutter - and the fact that most closets have a door. By shutting the closet door, the catastrophe that lies inside the closet is out of sight and out of mind, so we can ignore the clutter problem - until we have to actually find something, that is. Then it's hard to ignore.

There are three basic reasons why our closets suffer from clutter:

  1. We have very distinct seasons in Nebraska. They all require different ward­robes: winter, summer, and football. Everybody knows that bulky winter wear takes up many times the space of summer wear. Plus, we need a whole third ward­robe of red clothing just to watch Husker football - something that utterly mystifies folks who aren't from around here.
  2. We live in an age when fashions change rapidly by design. We like to hold on to the clothing that is so out of fashion that we don't really wear it anymore - just in case it ever comes back into style - it won't but hope springs eternal.
  3. But the third and most dreaded reason for closet clutter is that a lot of our clothes just don't fit anymore. But we keep them around anyway - because they will fit again as soon as the ol' diet kicks in, right?.
.

Getting Organized

There is only one way out of the closet catastrophe: Organize your Closet. That's it. We wish there were another way, Unfortunately, there isn't. But, before we get to actual organizing, there are some preliminary steps.

Go ahead and very carefully  open the closet door and stand well back until everything stops quaking. This may take a few moments. Just be patient.

Now, carefully remove everything from the closet. This requires the utmost dedication and concentration. You are inevitably going to find things you have not seen for years, if not decades: your high school yearbook, that souvenir kayak paddle you thought was lost, and so on. These archaeological treasures tend to bring on bouts of nostalgia and day-dreaming. Resist these temptations and stay focused. Otherwise, we'll be at this all day.

Organize your ward­robe into piles. If you are like most people, you only wear 20% of your clothes and shoes on a regular basis. Sort them into seasonal groups and then further separate those clothes into the "keeper" group, the "may come back into style" group and the "may wear sometime" group. Then, donate all but the "keeper" group to the Salvation Army or Disabled American Veterans. They will thank you warmly and make very good use of them. And, you get a nice tax deduction for your generosity.

This may seem needlessly ruthless at first but it will make your closet reorganizing so much easier and more meaningful.

Take out-of-season items, pack them into containers and store them in the attic or basement so that they are out of your closet but accessible when needed as the seasons change.

Now you are ready to organize your closet.

Making Better Use of Closet Space

Let's face it, our closets are typically pretty small. In an older home, we are lucky if we have closets along one wall of our bedroom - those rows of unsightly bi-fold doors. If we're not lucky, our closets are suitcase-size, stuck in one corner as an afterthought by the builder.

When our houses were built we simply did not have so much stuff, so not much thought was given to where to put it all.

Minimum Dimensions for Residential Closets

Minimum Closet Depth

Closet Rod Height

Closet Rod Length & Spacing

Distance Between and Depth of Shelves

Still, there is much that can be done to relieve the situation. Even a small closet can hold lots of stuff, organize it and make it more accessible when we need it. Most closets just do not make efficient use of space. There is more wasted space in American closets than there is in all of Arizona. (The guy who figured that out obviously had too much time on his hands.) Making more efficient use of that space is the art and science of closet organizing.

There are two main plans of attack. Hire a professional, or do-it-yourself. Let's look at both options.

Doing It Yourself

If all you need is a shelf or two and maybe some pull-out baskets, doing it yourself is definitely an option. You will need to be able to handle a hammer and screwdriver without hurting anyone but if you can do that, you are a definite do-it-yourself candidate.

The sources of supply for closet organizers are almost endless. Wire shelving from Rubbermaid and Closetmaid is almost universally available. All of the large home centers: Menards, Home Depot and Lowe's carry lines of DIY-ready wire shelving and accessories, as do most hardware stores and even Wal-Mart. These are wire grids coated with an epoxy or vinyl finish that is almost indestructible. There are literally dozens and dozens of accessories available to make the most of the smallest closet space: drawers, baskets, belt and tie hangers, you name it.

The Kendo Method For Achieving Organizing Bliss

Marie Kendo is a 30-something Japanese organizing genius whose book, Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, has created a decluttering craze across the globe.

Her approach to organizing is basic but radical.

First, lay hands on everything you own and ask "does it spark joy." If the answer is no, thank it for its service and then off to Good Will. Second, put every one of your joy-giving belongings in a place where they are visible, accessible and easy to reach. How to achieve that organizing goal is the substances of her book.

If this sounds too simplistic to actually work, keep in mind that many thousands of people have now tried Kondo's method, and have found decluttering nirvana, including Cate La Farge Summers, editor of the influential One Kings Lane blog who writes:

"[A]s a working mother I can barely keep up with the demands of daily life (laundry! groceries! deadlines!). But once I read Kondo's book, I got totally sucked in. It turns out, tidying really may be the way to bliss."

Here are the steps to a decluttered life.

1. Organize by Categories, Not by Rooms: The traditional approach to organizing is room by room: the bedrooms, the baths, the kitchen, etc. Kendo says organize by category - all of your clothing, for example, no matter where it is located in the house, then all of your books, and so on. This way items do not get pushed from room to room. Kendo suggests starting with clothing, which is the least emotionally charged of the things you own. Old photographs, one of the most emotionally charged categories should be near the last.

2. Treat Your Belongings With Respect: Kondo suggests that you think about your clothing's feelings: Are your sweaters happy being squashed in a drawer or your jackets crushed on their hangers? Do socks really like being balled up?

3. Nostalgia is Your Enemy: Decluttering is going to bring to light lots of stuff you forgot you owned, old books you never got around to reading, photos and mementos of all kinds tucked away in odd places. All of these things will tempt you to a little nostalgia and day-dreaming. Resist, or you'll never get done.

These are very easy to install. The only tools you are likely to need are a hammer, flatbar (for extracting the wood shelf now in the closet), screwdriver, 2-foot level, a hacksaw, sandpaper, and possibly a cordless drill.

The first step is to remove the single shelf and clothes hanging rod. Spackle and sand any nail or screw holes left in the plaster and apply a fresh coat of paint. (Once you add shelving and brackets, painting gets much more difficult.) Then measure the space carefully to see how much area you have to work with as you plan storage groupings.

Now a visit to your home center is in order to buy all the shelves, brackets and accessories. While you are there, pick up one of the free brochures that show how to install the closet system you just bought.

Use our handy Closet Dimension chart (above right) to locate the new shelves at the right height. Cut the new shelves to length (follow the manufacturer's instructions), screw the mounting brackets to the wall, and snap the shelves into place.

If you have bought drawers, sliding trays or other accessories, they mount right to the shelves in most instances.

There, wasn't that easy! Now put all of your clothes and shoes back into the closet and admire how neatly they are organized. You might want to leave the doors open for a few days to receive justly deserved accolades from your spouse, friends, the cable guy, etc.

Hiring a Professional

If the organizational problems are more than a few shelves and baskets are going to handle, or you are just not the do-it-yourself type, then you may consider hiring a professional to organize your closets for you.

There actually are professional organizers - folks you can hire to organize your entire house - or your entire life. They even have a national organization, the National Association of Professional Organizers that defines a professional organizer as one who…

".. enhances the lives of clients by designing systems and processes using organizing principles and through transferring organizing skills."

And there you have it: the professional organizer …

For your closet, however, such large-caliber assistance may not be needed. What you do need is a firm that designs and builds storage organizing systems.

Franchise Closet System Providers

Closet organizing is big business, and almost all of the national chains like Closet Masters, California Closets, and ClosetMaid have local franchises in our area, or you can shop online at Easy Closets.

They are very good at what they do.

What Are the Most Requested Closet Features?

Seating

With no place to sit - chair, bench or window seat - putting on hose or shoes is unnecessarily difficult.

Lighting

A window or skylight may not be feasible but bright lights that show true colors help you see what you are picking out. Note carefully however that exposed bulbs in a closet are a fire hazard and are strictly governed by building codes. Consider "daylight" fluorescents or LEDs as an alternative.

Media

With a radio or flat screen TV, you can keep current while getting dressed.

Wash Basin

An idea that is increasingly popular is a make-up sink in the dressing area - away from the steam and fog of the shower.

What they do is provide you with a modular closet organizing system made of vinyl or epoxy coated wire (yes, the same stuff you can get at Home Depot), or laminated particle board. Typically the laminate is Melamine but some also offer high-pressure laminates like Formica®, which is usually patterned to look like wood grain. (You do know that the "oak look" is not really oak, it's paper veneer printed to look like oak.)

They offer

  1. Free in-home consultation,
  2. Free design,
  3. Free delivery, and
  4. Free installation (sometimes).

We offer all of the above, plus

  1. Customization to a degree that the franchise companies cannot provide,
  2. Real wood or cabinet-grade plywood instead of particleboard with simulated wood grain,
  3. An innovative, state-of-the-art design service that goes beyond looking merely at the closet (see more below), and
  4. A lifetime cabinet warranty. (Try to get that out of the other guys).

And - now, here's the best part - we do all this extra stuff for less money than they charge.

Closet Organizers Compared

Comparing closet systems is not easy. There are so many configurations and so many options available that it is nearly impossible to get an apples-to-apples comparison. So we created our own using the most common closet in America - the 8' wide 2' deep reach-in close with 6' bi-fold doors - as our test closet.

The organizers specified include (4) 36" shelves, (4) 36" hanging rods, a 24" wide central organizer unit with four drawers and three adjustable shelves. Prices vary considerably, and most do not include installation in the price. Prices shown here include any available discounts.

Floor-Mounted vs. Wall-Mounted

There are two basic kinds of closet systems: floor mounted and wall mounted. A floor mounted system must sit on a bare floor and flat against the wall. So if you have a base-molding and carpet in your closet, they will have to be removed to install the closet system. Wall-mounted systems do not require tampering with either the baseboard or carpet but are more difficult to install even with the tailored mounting rails provided by manufacturers. Unless you have at least moderate DIY skills, we recommend you don't try it.

StarCraft Custom Cabinets - $855.40*

For comparison, here is our price for the test closet. This includes delivery but not setup or installation so the price is comparable to the other systems listed, which don't provide installation. We estimate installation of any of these closet systems to be between $100.00 and $160.00.

General: Local to Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska only. While we will manufacture closet systems for delivery out of our service area, we will not install them anyplace but within 50 miles of Lincoln, Nebraska. Sorry.

Construction: European-style frameless or American-Style framed cabinets. Wall- or Floor-mount systems. All cabinets are constructed of solid wood and furniture grade plywood with full extension drawer slides. Our closet systems are made in the same shop that makes our kitchen and bathroom cabinets and to the same high standards. For more information on how our cabinets are made, see Comparative Kitchen and Bath Cabinet Construction. For more information on cabinetry in general, see Cabinet Basics. We have about 100 standard finishes and can custom mix any color or finish.

*Price local to Lincoln, NE. Does not include shipping. Price does not include installation.

Closet Organizers U.S.A. - $1,089.67*

General: Although we have become very good at ferreting out company information, we are unable to find out about this company. It offers free shipping on Web orders and had a fairly easy-to-use closet designer on its website. We don't like the fact that it automatically stores a tracking cookie on your computer when you start a design. All systems are wall hung from a steel mounting rail.

Construction: European-style frameless cabinets only. Cabinet and drawer material is Melamine laminate over particle board. Drawers are solid maple with dove-tail joints at all four corners. Full extension slides in all drawers.

* Online price. Does not include installation.

Closets-To-Go - $1,039.47*

General: Local to the West Coast, Closets-to-Go also sells online. You can design your own closet, get a price, and order immediately. Every order is custom made and ships within 24-48 hours. Shipping by Fed-Ex Ground (3-7 days) is free on orders over $1,000. Both wall-hung and floor-mount systems are available and both styles can be combined in one closet system. Six colors available including simulated maple and two cherry laminates.

Construction: European-style frameless cabinets only. Cabinet and drawer material is Melamine laminate over particle board. Full extension slides in all drawers and baskets.

* Discounted on-line price. Showroom price is higher. Includes free shipping. Does not include installation.

Solid Wood Closets - $959.97*

General: This California company makes a floor mounted system out of 100% solid hardwood, including the shelf and cabinet panels which are fabricated in the company shop using a "state of the art wood paneling process". Baseboard clearance is included in the design, so baseboards do not have to be removed to install the system - a definite plus. Four finishes are available: maple, maple spice, cherry, and empress. The website does not disclose the wood species used but from the photographs on the site, it looks like soft maple. A good choice. If we did not make our own organizers, this is probably where we would buy them.

Construction: European-style frameless cabinets only. All cabinets, shelves, drawers, and doors made of solid hardwood. Full extension slides in all drawers.

* 40% Discounted on-line price. Does not include shipping or installation. At the time we priced this company, a free shipping promotion was in effect but we have no indication how long that will last.

Easy Closets - $$778.78*

General: A division of the Stow Company that also owns Easy-Track Closets and ProClosets (a wholesaler which does not sell directly to consumers) Headquartered in Holland, Michigan, it is a well-respected fabricator of store displays and office furnishings. Easy Closets is a floor-mounted organizer system that is available in white and two simulated wood grains. For the wall-mounted version, see Easy Track Closets by the same company.

Construction: European-style frameless cabinets only. Cabinet and drawer material is Melamine laminate over particle board.

*Online price. Price does not include shipping or installation.

Easy Track Closets - $694.90*

General: Also a division of the Stow Company (see Easy Closets, above), the Easy Track closet system is a wall-mounted organizer that is available in several colors and two simulated wood grains. Its website designer is the easiest to use of all the websites we visited for this survey.

Construction: European-style frameless cabinets only. Cabinet and drawer material is Melamine laminate over 100% recycled particle board.


*Online price. Shipping is free. Price does not include installation.

How can we do that? Very easy. They are franchises and pay big franchise fees. We don't. They order their materials from distant places, paying lots of shipping charges. We buy ours here. They maintain large, expensive showrooms. We don't keep a showroom, so we don't need to pass on that large overhead expense.

We also differ considerably from those "other guys" since we can deliver broader solutions than merely outfitting your closets with organizer modules. We can look at all of your storage requirements and suggest solutions outside as well as inside the closet. And, if your storage problems are best solved by better closet organization, we can build systems to exactly fit your situation. We are not limited to whatever storage modules the factory happens to provide.

Our Design Process

The scope of our design process is much more expansive. Our "closet" design does not start with your closet. It looks at your storage situation as a whole.

If you have, for instance, ample drawer space in a chest or bureau, you don't need much drawer space in your closet. If you own lots of suits, we need to organize your closet differently than if you ordinarily wear jeans to work. Does your closet have interior lighting or does it rely on room lights? This will have an effect on the materials we use - or we may suggest you install a light.

Your Closet Doors

We look at your closet doors. Doors provide marvelous storage opportunities.

The best doors, if you have room, are swinging closet doors, because you can hang organizers on them. These swing out into the room to you when you open the door - very handy. They also allow the most access to reach-in closets.

The next best are bi-folds, and finally sliding doors. Sliding doors permit access to only one side of a closet at a time - not good. You spend a lot of time moving the doors back and forth to reach stuff.

If you do not have swinging doors, and you have space for them. We generally recommend you replace your bi-fold or sliders with swinging doors. That's an automatic 20-25% addition to your effective closet space. And it's actually not very costly to replace the doors.

Your Closet: The Inside Scoop

Finally, at long last, we look at your closet.

The standard American closet is a small room the same height as the rest of your bedroom enclosed by a standard height door.

This arrangement does not allow good access to the top of the closet - as anyone who has ever tried to retrieve a box from the closet shelf well knows.

Real Wood vs. Simulated Wood

The Interzum Exhibition held every year in Germany is the major European cabinetmakers' show. This year the emphasis among exhibitors was on how realistic photo-engraved simulated wood grain has become. One exhibitor featured its new process of using an embossing press to make the simulated wood grain of its cabinets more true to life.



Our thinking on the subject is that if you want something to look like wood use real wood. Nothing looks more like wood than actual wood - Which is why our closet organizers and cabinetry are made only of real wood and real wood veneers over real wood cabinet grade plywood.


For more information on how we build our cabinets, see Cabinet Basics Part 5: Details of Quality Cabinets.

Closets are the traditional storage option for clothing because:

They are not necessarily the best ward­robe storage solution, however.

Non-Traditional Storage Solutions

It could well be that a non-traditional storage solution would work better for you. Imagine opening up your closet from floor to ceiling, then take a look at the space and visualize how it might be better used. Here's a radical idea - let's get rid of the closet altogether and replace it with a ward­robe wall. Built-in cabinets hold all of your hanging items. Built-in drawers with specialized organizers hold everything else.

But, if what you need is organization in your current closet, we take measurements, discuss with you your storage needs and expectations, and go back to the office and prepare up to three different closet designs. Once that's done and you have selected one, we order the materials, fabricate what we need to fabricate, and put it in. The fabrication generally takes place in our shop, and the installation usually requires about a day.

Once it's finished, might want to leave the closet doors open for a few days to receive justly deserved accolades from neighbors, friends, the UPS guy, etc.

Rev. 05/20/18