Getting the most out of your storage closets

I have often written about my office closet on Unclutterer. In fact, the last time I mentioned it, I received an email from a reader doubting its existence. “How big is your office closet? You write about it like it’s Mary Poppins’ purse.”

My office closet is in fact real, and it is quite large. It’s 10′ wide, 8′ tall, and 2.5′ deep, which gives me 200 cubic feet of storage. The space is accessible by two sets of panel doors and takes up the whole of the west wall of my office. Here’s a peek into half of the closet:

The second half of the closet looks quite similar to this one, but with the addition of a hanging bar for out of season coats and wrapping supplies. Most everything in the closet sits two rows deep and the shelves are Elfa brand. My husband and I built the closet, gladly sacrificing the 25 sq. feet of floor space on that side of the room.

Items are located on shelves in the closet based on how often they are accessed and their weight. You’ll notice, too, that like things are grouped together:

Office supplies, business documents, and my yarn and fiber are at waist or eye level because I open the closet for these items on a daily basis. Games, which usually are only played on weekends, are a little higher and more difficult to reach, but well labeled. Our comics are at waist level because they weigh a lot and would be difficult to access at a different height, and the same applies to our records. We only pull our photographs and albums out of storage 10 to 15 times a year, so they’re the most hard to reach items in the closet. And, to be perfectly honest, my hope is to have the majority of these digitally scanned this year, which will free up a good chunk of this space.

When organizing your closets, ask yourself the following questions: Do you have sufficient closet space or do you need to build your dream closet? Are you using all of the space in the closet effectively? Could a shelving system, like the Elfa system, improve your functionality? Are items grouped together by type (games with games, photographs with photographs)? Are items most regularly accessed at waist or eye level? Are the heaviest items at waist level or lower? Are boxes well labeled or clear so you don’t waste time hunting for specific items? Do you have a small step stool nearby to conveniently access the hard-to-reach spaces (we have a kik step, which reminds us of our elementary school libraries)? Are you faithful about returning items to their proper place in your organized closet?

Taking the time to plan your storage closets will really improve their functionality and effectiveness in your home. If you have questions or want to share tips about your storage closets, feel welcome to discuss them in the comments.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

43 Comments for “Getting the most out of your storage closets”

  1. posted by Kate S. on

    Ya know, it would be much easier for me to become uncluttered if I had closet space like this! In my house, there is one closet about half as wide as the one in the photo. That has to hold all of our coats (family of three) plus any athletic stuff (rollerblades, etc.) and games. I’m jealous that you not only have this (huge!) closet, but that there’s another half to it too! My kingdom for a decent closet!

  2. posted by Steph on

    Nice stash!

  3. posted by Photojenic on

    I miss having “normal” closets! Our last home had closets like yours, wide with bi-fold doors. This our though, has the stupidest arrangements of closets I’ve ever seen.

    They are all shapes and sizes, with most of them having doors that are *half* the width of a normal door. (Bathrooms included! What’s up with THAT?!?!?) My DD has the only normal sized closet in the whole house. DS has this weird closet that is only about 2 feet deep, but goes off to the left about 4 feet, requiring all sorts bizarre contortions to reach anything back there.

    I wonder how many WOMEN are designing/building houses? Surely it’s not females coming up with these bizarre floor plans?

  4. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Kate and Photojenic — If you own your homes, consider what we did and build your own closets. Our house didn’t come with this beauty.

  5. posted by Rachel on

    Very organized! I think though if this closet was in my house I’d eventually find myself in there trying to see what I could get rid of! I get overwhelmed by the sheer volume. You could get rid of a bunch of it by putting “archive” items in storage.

  6. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Rachel — This is our storage. If we don’t use something, we don’t keep it in our home. We have way too little space for keeping things we don’t use.

  7. posted by Rae on

    That’s awesome. Love the bins for all the yarn! Also, Settlers of Catan is a great game.

  8. posted by Drew Bell on

    Have you ever considered Princeton files for your comics? It keeps them out in the open, and you’re much more likely to re-read them (or purge every now and then).

    Love the closet.

  9. posted by Christine on

    This is nice!!! Too bad I rent!

  10. posted by Mary on

    I love the closet and the way it is organized! It’s very inspiring! I’d love to hear more details about how you actually built the closet itself and your experience of designing the Elfa configuration and its installation. We did a small Elfa install at our house and they are great products!

  11. posted by h... on

    i happen to have twin closets in my bedroom. I use one of them as a mini office that comes with a desk, a computer and some shelves. I am thinking about putting a flat tv set in there. I will need to get rid of or re-arrange the shelves. That will be my next project.

  12. posted by supersocco on

    “Pots and pans, board games, and sweaters, on the other hand, stop at three in a stack.”
    I see more than 3 in those stack of games! πŸ˜‰

  13. posted by Erin Doland on

    @supersocco — You rock! πŸ™‚

    Honestly, we used to only have three games stacked high, but then the holidays rolled around and we received a slew of games this year. I wish that all of the games were in “book boxes” like the German ones so that I could put them on their sides like books.

    Great catch, though!!

  14. posted by Jim on

    Great job…I have a closet about four feet wide, with a single shelf at waist level. The thing is, the closet goes back about four feet deep! No matter how I try to organize it, there are invariably things at the back I cannot see, and I make a huge mess looking for things.

    Any tips for me?

  15. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jim — I’d tear down the shelf and reconfigure the whole closet. Can you make it into a walk-in closet with shelves along the back wall (similar to mine) and then a row of shallow shelves along the sides? You’ll gain surface space by having more shelves and be able to see all of your stuff.

  16. posted by delphine on

    Oh my goodness, I’m totally lusting after your closet now. I’m in college so I alternate between my dorm room and my tiny room at home that has an equally tiny closet. I can’t wait until I have my own house and closets.

  17. posted by Phil M on

    @Drew Bell
    What are these Princeton Files you speak of? I just tried googling them but couldn’t find anything.

  18. posted by Gayle on

    I’ve been dreaming of doing something like this with the closet in our office. But I haven’t been able to convince my sweetie to empty out all the STUFF he haphazardly put in there when we bought the place 5 years ago. I can almost guarantee we haven’t touched or missed 75% of what’s in there, but I just can’t seem to get him to purge.

    I’m certainly going to show him your closet as inspiration of what could be–but do you have any tips for getting a low-level pack rat/hoarder on the purge and organize bandwagon?

    Great post!

  19. posted by Libby on

    I live in the attic of a house, so my closet space is halved by the slope of the roof, and I have yet to find a closet system that will work for me without cutting off a lot more space than necessary.

    I love having a huge open floor plan, but the closet sacrifice is a pain in the neck.

  20. posted by Pat on

    Well I have a closet in my home office that’s about the same size, definitely the same format (wide and shallow) and similarly equipped with ELFA (all of our closets are). So I’m with you so far…

    But my organization pales in comparison to yours — i’ve got open plastic bins that don’t use enough of the vertical space, and which don’t let you “see” what’s inside unless you’re looking down into them. I’m actually in the process of transitioning to clear plastic buckets like you’ve got.. that makes a lot of sense.

    Anyway, one thing I thought I’d mention — I HATE bifold doors (I think a lot of people do).. so mine went in the dumpster. My wife is sewing some custom curtains that will cover the open space — but actually just having the open closet isn’t really all that ugly yet. Better than trying to deal with those bifolds !

  21. posted by Melissa A. on

    I love your closet. I live in a 1bdr, but I have a linen closet that is very deep and I would like to have it better organized. I will reference this post for ideas.

  22. posted by Jasi on

    It’s very neat and seems optimized for space. But wouldn’t it be better to get rid of half of that stuff?

  23. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jasi — I agree that it’s time for the photographs to be scanned and become digital images, but I don’t agree with you about the other items. Everything else in this closet is used/accessed on a regular basis. You can see the whole of our comic collection (only ones that we’re reading right now) and my yarn/fiber stash (the whole of it could be knit/spun up within a year) and we play all of the games you see. Getting rid of things just to get rid of things is asceticism, and Unclutterer is not about asceticism. These are things we use and value, so we store them with that respect in mind.

  24. posted by Marge on

    I get it. Organized. And man am I. But this is just not pleasing to my eyes. Obviously it is better if then if the stuff were just half hazardly put on the shelf in no order at all but all the bins are just plain and not very exciting. I know that pretty/fancy organizers are more expensive but I think we day do more with our storage to express ourselves and our home’s personality then just clear plastic. BRAVO on getting this far though, most people aren’t even close!

  25. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Marge — The boxes are clear so that we can see inside of them without having to pull every box out and see what’s inside of it. Much less mess this way, much quicker access time. In this situation, we’re all about utility since no one sees these except for us.

  26. posted by Dianna on

    Not enough room for yarn! jk

  27. posted by Ethel on

    This is why we are trying to buy a home regardless of whether prices are rising and falling.

    The only reason we currently have a garage is for storage – since we have no car. But we also have very little closet space inside our rental. The lack of organization is driving me crazy – I’m dying to put up shelves all over (we aren’t so hot with closets, so we would take the eyesore for the better functionality). I’d like to have shelves in every room holding the things we use in that room and then have our “used once a year or less” items in storage (probably in the attic).

  28. posted by kch on

    I remember you saying previously that you were a knitter…are you a spinner as well? Seems like you have an impressively organized – and reasonably sized – stash!

  29. posted by Erin Doland on

    @kch — Knit, crochet, tat, and spin … I’d have a loom if they didn’t cost as much as they do and take up such a large footprint …

  30. posted by kch on

    Wow! Multiple fiber interests! I knit, crochet and spin. Haven’t tried tatting or weaving yet, but I’d love to try both – I just need to carve out the time to do it.

  31. posted by MamaBird on

    Oh my! It really IS Mary Poppins’ closet! Totally inspiring. I need to get to work on mine…

  32. posted by Dan Ridley on

    You might want to consider outsourcing the digitization of photos. I’ve been slowly whittling away at my collection of family photos for years, and I finally packaged everything up and sent it to ScanCafe. $400 later, my “stuff” is many pounds lighter and my entire extended family can look at 50 years of our history on Flickr. (I sent them a fairly small set of photos first, which was both cheap and let me test the results.)

    This was one of those cases where I found it to be *really* worth it to outsource the job.

  33. posted by Christine on

    I have had putting shelves up in my closet (I rent, but I don’t care) for awhile now. I’m debating on Elfa v. the superstore brand standards. I have 4 closets in my tiny 1 br…but they’re all laid out weirdly, in a way that makes you wonder about how they’re supposed to function! So I’m taking the one that is 3+ ft deep in my living room (w/a rod–coat closet? 3 ft deep?) and putting shelves at the back. I envision something like this, but on a smaller scale.

  34. posted by Megan @ Disorder2Order on

    Fantastic! Simply Beautiful! If only all closets came with shelving we all wouldn’t have to think too hard! Thanks for sharing!

  35. posted by Elena on

    @Dan Ridley – I’ve been looking into getting my photos scanned, but I’m scared that this will inevitably be the package that gets lost in the mail. Any advice on how to find someone local?

  36. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Elena — Just a few days ago I e-mailed Dan and asked him if he would be interested in writing a guest post for us on that very subject! He has accepted, so stay tuned for a full-blown post on the site.

  37. posted by jon on

    Sorry for the off-topic and plug but…

    Hey Erin! You’re a German Gamer! Excellent, they’re so hard to find in the wild. Have you tried ? You play Settlers and PoF, but you’re not a user on BGG?


  38. posted by Rue on

    @PhilM: Try this:

    It’s the first thing that popped up in the Google results for “princeton file” (no quotes).

  39. posted by -= Linkage 2007.02.06 =- on

    […] Storage<br/> […]

  40. posted by knitwych on

    Thank you for including this in “A Year Ago on Unclutterer.”

    This is precisely what my office closet needs, and I’ve got most of the supplies on hand to do it!

  41. posted by Shelly on

    i could use some advice…my husband and i just bought a new home and the only storage closet is very narrow and long when you walk into it (30″x50″) the ceiling is very high though so we don’t want to waste that space. we love to be organized and to declutter but we are stumped on how to make this space as functional as possible. most shelves are too wide and make it hard to walk in and see what is on the shelves. any help would be greatly appreciated! thanks!!

  42. posted by Shelly on

    ALSO…we don’t want to put an arm and leg into it either πŸ™‚

  43. posted by Jen on

    My comic book collecting husband was amazed your collection was so small πŸ™‚

    Here’s what we’ve found on Princeton Files:

    Of course, he just keeps his in cardboard magazine files from Staples.

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