Super storage closets

A well-organized storage closet can be a beneficial attribute in any home or office. You can easily find what you need, when you need it, and have an exact space to return an object when you’re finished. On the other hand, a disorganized closet will end up wasting your time and energy when looking for items, and make putting things back after you use them even more difficult.

In our previous home and workspace, we outfitted an existing closet with Elfa shelving to create an ideal storage space. I usually referred to it as our “Mary Poppins Closet” since it held so many things:

It took us one weekend to tear out the old wood shelf and clothing rod, paint the walls and ceiling, install the Elfa shelving system, and put objects into the closet. A week later, we rearranged some items and added a few storage bins (such as the crate holding the records in the bottom right-hand corner of the photograph). We ended up spending a few hundred dollars on the makeover, but for six years it improved the quality of our living and working experience.

Our new office doesn’t have a closet as makeover-friendly as the Mary Poppins Closet. For starters, it only has a coat closet that measures a mere 22″ x 36″. Additionally, since we’re renting the new space, we can’t rip out the existing shelf and rod and replace them with Elfa shelving. To create a storage closet that will still meet our needs, we had to make some adjustments:

  1. Got rid of clutter. I had already purged the vast majority of my yarn collection before the move, but we still had to let go of a number of things. The board games were significantly culled, we decided to store the record albums in another room, and we gave away most of the print photographs since we had them all professionally scanned.
  2. Used steel shelving that sits on the floor of the closet and doesn’t need to affix to the walls. It’s not as pretty as the Elfa shelving, but it’s sturdy and does its job well. Plus, we can take the shelving with us when we move.
  3. Labeled the lips of shelves since different types of objects are co-mingled on the shelves. With the help of my trusty label maker, I created category labels to make finding and returning objects easier (media clips, payroll records, etc.).

If you’re looking to create a storage closet that helps instead of hinders your life, try a similar method — get rid of the clutter, have a storage system in place that works best for your needs, and make it as easy as possible to retrieve and return objects. Also, don’t forget to store the objects you use the most often on shelves that are between your knees and shoulders. Heavier objects should be stored on shelves at waist height or lower, and lighter objects should be stored on the shelves above waist height.

Do you have a storage closet that needs organizing? If so, what steps can you take to get rid of the chaos?

Finally, I apologize for not having a picture of the new closet. I have yet to unpack the camera or the cables that make it possible to transfer the images to my computer. When we do a post with a final reveal of the new office, I’ll be sure to have a picture of the new closet at that time.

25 Comments for “Super storage closets”

  1. posted by Kathy on

    Your ‘Mary Poppin’ closet is an inspiration. I look forward to seeing how you manage the dual challenges of a small storage place and restrictions applicable to rental accommodation.

  2. posted by Bilbo on

    Everything looks so organized and contained!

    But I don’t really see the point of a label maker. If you have a printer at home, why not make the labels yourself? Unless I’m missing some extra functionality provided by the device…

  3. posted by STL Mom on

    Bilbo – I love my label maker. The labels are smaller than most computer labels, the adhesive is better, and I can make them one at a time right where I want to use them, instead of going to the room with the printer. It’s much quicker than turning on the computer, opening Word, finding the right template for the labels, loading the printer, etc.
    I use my label maker to mark snack containers and reusable water bottles, and the labels are still there, although with faded writing, after many trips through the dishwasher.

  4. posted by JustGail on

    I second STL Mom’s comments about a labeler being much easier for a quick label and portability. If I were making a large number of labels on a frequent basis, I’d probably have labeling software on a laptop and a small label printer.

    Erin – I love the Mary Poppins closet, and look forward to seeing the new compact version.

    Maybe having the camera & cables should be in one of the “easily accessed” boxes during moves? Not just for before/during/done move shots, but it would be useful to take a quick shot as a reminder (“need a shelf here”). It might be easier than trying to find things to make a note. Yeah – I’m still in the dark ages – my phone has no camera, and I don’t think it has a recorder.

  5. posted by Karen on

    I work from home and I have a lot of paperwork that I have to access frequently. My desk is right next to a closet, so I put a small bookcase inside my closet for extra storage. It isn’t quite as efficient as the shelving shown in the picture above, but it was a very inexpensive and quick way to add some extra shelving. I bought some build-it-yourself bookshelves at Target for under $20.

  6. posted by Living the Balanced Life on

    I love the closet you have here. Too bad you couldn’t take it with you! I am sure you will create something that will work for you, but this one looks amazing!
    I have a large laundry room with lots of shelves. It also serves as a pantry and a utility room. The floor ends up cluttered with bigger things making it difficult to get to the shelves. Need to work on this system overall and see how I can improve. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. posted by Mary on

    A timely feature. I’m planning a shelving wall in my master BR closet. Erin, do you know of any reasons for choosing the Elfa system over those white-plastic-covered wire systems? You know the kind, don’t you? — you can get kits of shelves with appropriate anchors, or I hear you can get Home Depot to cut the shelving to the width you want. I was planning to use the wire shelves, but the Elfa looks nice, too. Thoughts, anyone?

  8. posted by Leslie on

    For our closet organization, we had 3 different companies come out to show us what they have, come up with a layout and give us a price. We did end up going with one of those companies, but given the layouts provided, we could have easily taken it to a home improvement store and purchased everything ourselves. But it was nice seeing what the pros had to offer and researching what we could do-price range for a full wall of closet was from the thousands down to a few hundred dollars and our own labor.

  9. posted by Ari on

    We did the same in both of our kids bedroom closets (our newest arrival is in our old office that we still have not completed organized so the closet is both baby and office). We used the closet maid system at home depot and opted for the adjustable shelf system. It is very handy and has many options, easy to install and cheaper than elfa.

  10. posted by Dorothy on

    In my new house I used steel wire shelving in all the closets including the pantry. It is strong as a horse, easy to assemble, lasts forever and can be re-configured if needed. I found excellent prices (even with shipping added), as well as great service and an extensive selection at They are having a 35% off sale right now.


  11. posted by Mike on

    Classic Axis & Allies! Settlers of Catan! I heart that closet so much!!! Are you absolutely certain you aren’t my long-lost sister or something, Erin?

  12. posted by Wendy on

    What do you store your records in? Is it a milkcrate? I’m looking for a better solution that our tattered cardboard wine boxes but that doesn’t cost alot of $$.

  13. posted by K on

    I was impressed with your organization and position on uncluttering before I read this post. Now that I know you are a knitter (crocheter?) (lover of the fiber arts?) I am doubly impressed. Yarnies are the worst clutterers ever. I have yarn coming out my ears. Would love to see a post on how to manage this (rather than re-evalute as a hobby).

  14. posted by Anita on

    I second Mike’s comment re: board games. And if that blue box behind the door is by any chance Carcassonne, I am coming over for a games night 😛

    I have a bit of a catch-all closet in our office/guest bedroom/get-away-from-each-other room. It holds all manner of household items (tools, painting supplies, spare consumables, vacuum cleaner and cleaning products, laundry products, spare extension cords and power bars, rarely-used appliances…), photography stuff (tripods, camera bags, light stands…), some sports equipment (badminton stuff, yoga mats), and some misc. items that don’t really fit anywhere else.

    We’re also renters, so can’t customize as much as we’d like, but I am looking to improve the overall function of the closet. I’ve done several purges of it, so I’m not sure how much more I can get rid of, but adding some sturdier shelves would definitely help. Also thinking of getting some heavy-duty hooks to hang on the closet rod to hold things like yoga mats and camera bags and free up some of the floor/shelf space. For small items I have two hanging shoe organizers which are great.

  15. posted by Raquel on

    Thank you Erin for this story and the link to your story about Saying Farewell to a Hobby. The loved but unused hobby supplies will be leaving our home soon. The thought that we will gain space while someone else enjoys all these goodies makes me giddy.

  16. posted by Rita on

    Hey there! Great closet! Just so you know, Elfa also has free standing – just like you described – so you could have the shelves up against the wall, under the existing shelf – without having to screw anything into the wall. Not many people know that!

    Also, the Container Store now has installation for Elfa! What took you a weekend to do, the installers will do in the matter of hours (its fabulous)! They will rip out the existing shelf/rod, patch and paint over the holes and install the new closet – they can even cut certain pieces on site to ensure a great fit.

    Someone asked why have Elfa as opposed to a do it yourself, and I can simply speak from experience – it’s the quality of the product. Cheaper systems just don’t hold up over time. Some people I know have had their Elfa for 30 years and it looks like they got it yesterday! If you are looking for something that isn’t terribly expensive, custom designed for you, with minimal installation (only one piece actually gets screwed into the wall), that will actually hold the weight of what you want, and will last for..well, forever…then that’s why you’d want Elfa.

    If you can’t tell, I love Elfa!

  17. posted by Mynahbird on

    Ahh – a lightbulb just went on! I want a ‘get away from each other’ room!

  18. posted by Brian on

    As a general rule of thumb, I usually toss anything I haven’t used in over three months. Helps keep my stuff organized and I don’t ever have too many things at a given time. That’s much easier than getting a bigger closet for sure!

  19. posted by Brigitte @ Clutter TOSS on

    Another suggestion for shelving that is free standing and adjustable is the 5 shelf wire shelving from Target. Target has them on sale pretty often. Then I buy wheels that fit the unit at Lowe’s or Home Depot. This way I can wheel the unit out of the way for cleaning.

  20. posted by Jen on

    Ugh – we have a fairly large closet in our (finished) basement that we use to store just about everything. I’d like to get rid of roughly 60% of what’s in there, but my (otherwise wonderful) husband won’t have it. Among the things in there: a bounce house that we’ll never use (hand me down from my brother in law), old wall hangings, kids’ toys that should be given away because my son is too old for them, you get the idea. I managed to convince him to get rid of some stuff a few months ago, so hopefully I can do it piecemeal. Part of the problem with organization is that it’s such a catchall – I’m just not sure how to organize things down there. It stores everything from rarely-used holiday decorations to extra picture frames to rarely-used kitchen items to bed linens for the pull-out couch down there. There’s plenty of space but no obvious way to organize it.

  21. posted by JustGail on

    Jen – when faced with spots like this, all I’ve been able to come up with is “like things together” and put those things that ARE used occasionally on the middle shelves. Put the never-used items on the top or bottom where it’s more difficult to get them out.

    One one hand, if they aren’t used for a while longer, it might be easier for the DH to let go of them. On the other hand, he may say if they aren’t in the way, why get rid of them.

  22. posted by Jae on


    This is how i want my closets to look!
    Can you please elaborate on what’s stored in the various boxes?
    Thanks ~

  23. posted by Emma on

    I have a walk-in closet at home that stores all our clothes and some other things like the boxes of our electrical appliances, the vacuum cleaner. It’s not a lot, actually, but I can never get it to look as organised as I want them. It is quite frustrating! I suppose I will need to purge some before really getting down to organisation.

  24. posted by Vanessa on

    You actually inspired me to take care of one of our closets, containing our bedspreads, pillow and blanket covers and towels:

    And my brother’s bookshelf:

    Next up, the closet next to the bed-ware, containing many plushies and games we plan to donate.

  25. posted by katrina on

    Cool closet. I’m a third fan of the board games.

    @Anita – have you seen the small cupboards on stands that go over a toilet to give extra storage? They’re an easy way to put shelves into a wardrobe/closet without damaging it. You can add hooks on the inside and outside of the stand. And there’d be room for the vacuum etc underneath.

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