Ask Unclutterer: Closet woes

Reader Sue submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My bedroom closet is about 6′ deep and 3′ wide. How do I maximize that kind of space. I also have MS. I walk fine and look fine. But I need it to be as convenient as possible to limit fatigue. HELP

Sue, I must admit, you have a strange closet. Six feet deep but only three feet wide is an awkward setup — but all hope is not lost! The first thing to do is to imagine your closet from a new perspective. Visualize it as half of a traditional walk-in closet:

Get rid of any structural elements that are currently in your closet, and replace them with fixtures that take advantage of the length of your space. I recommend installing a storage system that will allow you to move rods and shelves around easily, in case your needs change over time. For example, the Ikea Stolmen system allows you to raise and lower shelves and rods without too much effort:

And, the Elfa closet system sold by the Container Store might also work for you. The drawers of the Elfa system are nice because they’re on ball bearings and pull out and push in easily. Unfortunately, the price tag on the Elfa system is higher.

Good luck to you, and I hope you are able to find a solution that works for your space and needs! Thank you, Sue, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

25 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Closet woes”

  1. posted by Dawn F on

    I would definitely suggest setting up a system that can be altered easily as your health condition changes.

    Sue, I also think that you should go through all of your closet items and REALLY determine what you need to keep – storing only what you absolutely love to wear or need to wear might help you eliminate a lot of unnecessary items that you have to store in the first place.

    I really love this type of storage system: I have almost 30 clothing items (including quite a few sweaters) stored in this single storage unit! Talk about a space-saver!

    Also, might I suggest using one of those shoe organizers that hangs on a door (either your closet door or behind your bedroom door) – the type with the pockets that holds individual shoes. Perhaps you could rotate the current season’s shoes or most worn shoes to the section that it most convenient for you to reach.

    Best wishes for a happy, organized closet, Sue!

  2. posted by Jen on

    The elfa system might be more expensive, but at least once a year, the Container Store has a sale, I think it’s usually 30% off all things Elfa. May or may not include installation, I’m not sure. So you could just look in to what you want and then wait around for the sale. I think it’s usually in January.

  3. posted by Rue on

    I so wish I could afford an elfa system. I drool over it every time I watch Clean House. 🙁

  4. posted by Mid America Mom on

    What a strange space! Older place or cape cod?

    With it only 3 wide I would not recommend any hanging clothes near the door due to limited space getting past them into the rest of the closet. Even at the back, reaching may be hard.

    I would place a rod at the 3 feet on the back wall and line the rest of the 4 feet to the door with a shelve unit/system for folded clothes.

    Mid America Mom

  5. posted by Kacie on

    If you go that route, on your bare wall you can hang purses, belts and other things that don’t take up a lot of space.

  6. posted by Kari on

    I’d second an elfa system. They are remarkably well engineered. We have a list of closets we want to outfit, and save up for one each January. We’ve done this for the last three years and now only have one to go! Well worth the money.

  7. posted by JustGail on

    I agree with Mid American Mom about swapping the hanging area and the shelf area. Hanging items take up about 18-24″ from the wall. 12″ deep shelves can hold most items, I’d also suggest putting them in more closely spaced if possible. That way when the item you want is on the bottom, there’s not so much on top of it and it would be easier to get it out. I’ve also seen hanging rods that can be pulled down for easy access. One of those might work if installed on the 3′ wall and shorten up the shelves a bit. Or they might work if used above the shelves on the long wall (using shorter shelves of course).

  8. posted by lucy1965 on

    I’ve just measured my bedroom closet: 40″ wide by 60″ deep by 9′ high. I’m in a 1912 bungalow and I share that closet with my husband.

  9. posted by Mike on

    That is… a FANTASTIC idea. And a great IKEA pick for the solution.

    I tend to be pretty critical of Erin’s posts sometimes so it’s only fair that I speak up when she hits the target beautifully.

  10. posted by Jennifer on

    My closet is like this too! 1929 bungalow. Thanks for the idea!

  11. posted by CR on

    Ikea Stolmen can work well but be warned it is not necessarily easy to install unless your closet has perfect angles and all surfaces are completely level — and no one’s house has that kind of closet! My spouse and I have installed two Stolmens now (we didn’t learn from our mistake the first time) and it was very frustrating on both occasions. Definitely hire someone for the installation!

  12. posted by photojenic on

    My closet problem is somewhat similar. Move the door across from the hanging rods and make it only two feet wide. I can only easily access the clothes hanging directly in front of the door, and have to contort my body to reach anything down the side. Fortunately it’s my son’s closet, but even then it’s nearly impossible to use for storing toys, unless we never want to play with them again. *lol*

  13. posted by Jo on

    Our house was built in 1988 and the master bedroom closet is 4-1/2 feet wide and 10-1/2 feet deep.

    I agree with Mid America Mom and JustGail in suggesting that the hanging clothes go at the back of the closet and shelving at the front. Hanging clothes take up 24 inches. The remaining foot of space may be okay if you’re slim/petite, but it’s not much space otherwise.

  14. posted by chacha1 on

    Or, if there’s a little more time/money available, tear down one of the long walls and turn it into an open wardrobe?

  15. posted by GirlOverboard on

    @Dawn F I was actually going to suggest the same thing! For items that need to be accessed daily, having these little hanging shelves are awesome. They’re not always great for storing a lot of clothes, but they’re perfect for keeping all of your staple items. They’re also really good for storing shoes. :]

  16. posted by Kathy on

    mine is similar! Though, it does have a structural impediment that makes the rear 4′ more narrow than the front 2′!

    What we did:
    Shelves installed against the back wall for long term storage

    Two rods across — one in front of the shelves and one to the front of the closet.

    Then, on the side wall, from the front, where the structural impediment is NOT, I have 4 clear plastic stacking boxes (2 across, 2 up) for purses and such, and stacking shoe shelves above it. The front closet rod goes through the shoe rack.

  17. posted by Debbie M on

    None of these ideas are very odd. So here’s one: You could just put a three-foot rod across the front where it’s easy to reach. Keep the back as a cave for visiting kids to play in.

  18. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    I have exactly the same setup as in the suggestion, except that my closet is about 2 feet wider. It works well for me, but I don’t see it working in a space that’s much narrower than what I have.

    I would put two rods across the back, one above the other. That would give you 6 feet of hanging space. Maybe a few valet hooks along the wall for full-length items (like this: And some very shallow shelves along one of the walls — no more than a foot deep — for purses and such and maybe some baskets for smaller items.

    If you live in a climate where you have different wardrobes for different times of the year, I’d consider two sets of rods across the back; current season’s clothes on the front set and out-of-season clothes on the back set. Just switch the contents when the seasons change.

  19. posted by Sue on

    My closet is 4 feet wide and 12 feet long. I have a rod for hanging items along one entire side. On the other side, I have 12″ deep elfa shelves.

    I even put a couple of 20″ deep elfa shelves along the back wall. This closet is awkward but now that I’ve redesigned it, it holds an amazing amount of clothing.

    Unfortunately, the Sue who asked this question only has 3 feet of width. I suggest she use one side for hanging items, and use lots of hooks on the other wall to hold purses, belts, and other accessories. She could get shelves along her back wall.

    An option is to split the 6 foot wall into two 3-foot sections. The one closest to the door could have a short rod and several shelves above it. The section in the back could hold the longer hanging items. She could change up the amount allocated to each section if she has more shorter items or more longer items.

  20. posted by TanyaZ on

    I would put a shelving unit at the far end, and get a rolling rack to roll in and out of the closet for maximum convenience. This way, the width is not an issue.

  21. posted by gypsy packer on

    Thank you! This will also work for awkward spaces in older homes where a small bath or powder room has been partitioned off from a larger room. I’d be stacking sealed storage bins for off-season clothing in that end, putting a shelf on top for current season shoes or camping gear.

  22. posted by Mrs.Mack on

    This would be an appropriate question for They and their readers usually pretty good at helping with this kind of stuff.

  23. posted by Leah on

    I had a closet like that in a rental. Actually, I don’t even think it was 3 feet wide — maybe 2 or 2.5? I definitely didn’t have room to hang things depth-wise and still be able to see them. I ended up moving the clothes bar forward about 3 feet to allow me to put a black metal rack in the back, and I adjusted the shelves on the rack so that a rubbermaid bin could fit in there for storage. Above the clothes bar, I had two shelves. I also put a shoe rack along the side I didn’t have too many hanging clothes, and the shelves allowed me to store all my off-season stuff, bedding, etc in neat bins. It worked well without being an expensive change in my temporary rental.

  24. posted by Steve on

    One of my relatives had a similar problem. The best solution for her was a rolling rack that she could roll out of the closet, pick what was needed and then roll back in. You can get them with box storage at the bottom as well if necessary.

  25. posted by Beth on

    If you own, you could possibly install a pocket door…

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