Closet

How to Design A Custom Closet in 5 Easy Steps

If you own your home, or can get permission from your landlord, one of the best ways to organize your wardrobe is to install a closet system. A coherent system will optimize your space, create a clean look, and help you keep everything organized for the long term. 

But how, you ask, do I pick from the myriad closet system options available? How do I know what elements to include?

The process can seem overwhelming, but you can break down the creation of your dream closet into 5 concrete steps.

Photo by  Kelly Vorves

Photo by Kelly Vorves

Step 1: Declutter and measure.

You KNOW I was going to start here! The closet of your dreams will contain only clothes and accessories that make you feel great when you put them on. That, and you need to know how much of each category of clothing, shoes, and accessories you’ll be storing in that closet. Don’t forget to account for the fact that you will shop again in the future - give yourself some breathing room!

Step 2: Choose your product.

There are A LOT of options out there, from big box stores on up to solid wood custom. First, weigh your budget, your aesthetic, and the flexibility you need from your storage to narrow down what type of system you’re shopping for. Then you can look at a couple of manufacturers in that space and select the one that’s right for you.

Whatever you choose, know that a closet will seem way more expensive than it should be - frustratingly so - but once it’s installed, you’ll be so glad you made the investment!

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Step 3: Consider your personal wardrobe.

Closet companies all have a recommended basic layout for both men’s and women’s closets that they start with, but to truly get the best solution for your wardrobe you’ll need to have a really good handle on what you own and how you like to store it.

Do you wear more separates or dresses? Do you like to fold your knits on shelves, or in drawers? Is a varied collection of shoes and bags important to you, or do you only own tried and true essentials? What about belts, ties, and hats - are they key parts of your wardrobe or just sometimes pieces? The answers to all these questions will determine which closet elements you need and the appropriate proportion within the space.

Step 4: Save space and flexibility.

Closet companies have developed modular options that are specifically designed for particular items. But sometimes, those mods actually aren’t the most space efficient way to store things! For example, regular old flat shelves fit more shoes than angled shoe shelves.

Also, don’t be afraid to move things around or ask for more pieces! In most systems, the shelves and hanging bars are all adjustable, so you can custom fit each shelf height to the items it stores and add more to maximize the space.

Photo by  Kelly Vorves

Photo by Kelly Vorves

Step 5: Add finishing touches.

It’s the little things that truly make a closet feel perfectly organized. I generally don’t believe in cluttering a closet with lots of labeled containers, especially when you’ve been able to design the space to your specifications. But one thing I do highly recommend is starting with a complete set of matching hangers. This allows the hangers to recede into the background of your visual field and puts your focus where it should be: on the clothes!

I absolutely love the process of designing a beautiful closet for a client - it’s such a gift to the client every time they get dressed! If you want to create your own dream closet but feel stuck or overwhelmed, I can help. Click here to contact me or schedule a complimentary in-home consultation.

LMW

Reveal: My Husband’s (More or Less) Organized Closet

If you’re just joining us, you can also see a reveal of my own organized closet here.

When we moved into the upstairs bedroom that is now our guest room, my husband got the smaller but more traditionally laid out of the two closets. It looked like the space would be a pretty good fit for him, but he quickly learned that there were some key elements that were off for his lifestyle. He had more shoes than shelves to store them, and the entire concept of neatly folded stacks of, well, anything on a shelf is pretty much beyond him.

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The old closet system may have worked for the previous owner, but for my husband it just' wasn’t the right fit!

The old closet system may have worked for the previous owner, but for my husband it just' wasn’t the right fit!

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You see, my husband is a relatively late but extremely enthusiastic convert to the concept of organized living (and also very supportive - he’ll tell anyone who asks that he was my first client!). So, he has the desire for and appreciation of an organized space, but he also has less bandwidth than someone with more experience might have for maintaining an organizational scheme on a day to day basis.

In addition to having a lower tolerance for ongoing tidying, my husband is also an out of sight, out of mind kinda guy. When I say that, I mean that for him, things that he can’t see basically don’t exist. Everything has to be visible and accessible, otherwise he forgets about it.

Both of these things are just the way he is, and it’s far beyond my ability to change them! So, when we went to design his closet in our new master suite, we laid out the space to work with the way he thinks. Our closets are exactly the same size and dimension, but there are a couple of key differences in them that actually result more from the different ways we operate than the different types of items we own.

Image by  Kelly Vorves

Image by Kelly Vorves

The most obvious difference is that instead of opaque drawers, my husband’s closet has wire basket drawers. This means that he can see all of his t-shirts, workout clothes, and underwear at a glance. It also means that he doesn’t have to maintain any sort of folding scheme (as you can kind of see here, he does more of a roll method).

Another key difference is that he doesn’t have any glass doors built into his closet. It may seem like a small thing, but for some people the few extra seconds it takes to open a door to put something away may prevent them from putting that thing away altogether. For my husband, less friction is best!

If I were designing an idealized man’s closet, it might not look exactly like this. But you know what? That’s totally irrelevant. A closet should be designed for the belongings, preferences, and patterns of the person who uses it. The space should enable that person to fully use and appreciate their wardrobe, and maintain the organizing system indefinitely. 

So no, my husband’s closet is not the most aesthetically pleasing solution that could be created. But that’s not the point! The point is that it works for him, and because it works for him, it works for me.

LMW

Reveal: My Organized Closet

I have been remiss for the last few years: I haven’t actually shared the inside of my own closet with you! What an oversight for a professional organizer!

The main reason is that when we moved into our home in October 2015, we planned to start a major renovation that included an entirely new master suite with a walk in closet for each of us. If you’ve ever done a significant remodel, you know what happens next: the process takes a lot longer than you think it will! The new master suite was finally finished in May 2018.

Yes, there’s a weird short doorway in there. No, I have no idea why!

Yes, there’s a weird short doorway in there. No, I have no idea why!

It’s only fair that I show you what I was starting with. Our house is over 100 years old and has been remodeled countless times over those years, so there are weird nooks and crannies and surprises everywhere. One of those was the larger of the two closets in the original master bedroom, which I took over when we moved in. The previous owners had some custom closet pieces installed to try to make it useful, but it is a truly weird space! And because I knew I wouldn’t be working with it for the long term, I didn’t want to do any modifications.

Shelving and long hang - you can also see bins I put on the floor as a stopgap measure.

Shelving and long hang - you can also see bins I put on the floor as a stopgap measure.

This cheap  shoe rack  got me through many years and apartments, and it works really well!

This cheap shoe rack got me through many years and apartments, and it works really well!

The nice thing about my weirdo closet was that it gave me a really good idea of the kind of closet I did actually want. The hanging space was actually pretty much the right amount, so I made sure to have that copied in the new closet. The shelves, on the other hand, drove me nuts - I like drawers for my knits and lingerie! And I really wanted a nice, pretty, protected place to store my shoes and bags where they wouldn’t get dusty and bumped around, but would still be visible so I could enjoy my collection.

We chose to do semi-custom closets with Bay Home and Window. We selected this product because it was higher quality than big box options but not as expensive as solid wood. And we chose the company because they are local, so we got better service than from the unnamed national company we had worked with in our old condo. I highly recommend them - if you get in touch, please let them know I sent you!

Voila!

Voila!

After having lived in my new closet for nearly a year, I can say that I’m absolutely in love with it. The construction has proved to be durable, the layout is perfect, and the experience of waking up to my dream closet every morning is honestly unbeatable.

My favorite little detail: built in velvet lined trays in the very narrow top drawer for silk scarves and sunglasses (and the sentimental touch of just a couple of my grandma’s old hankies).

My favorite little detail: built in velvet lined trays in the very narrow top drawer for silk scarves and sunglasses (and the sentimental touch of just a couple of my grandma’s old hankies).

Yes, I do the KonMari fold - it really does work well!

Yes, I do the KonMari fold - it really does work well!

 
Pro tip: arranging pairs of shoes toe-to-heel is the best way to get more shoes on one shelf.

Pro tip: arranging pairs of shoes toe-to-heel is the best way to get more shoes on one shelf.

I also want you to note a couple things that might surprise you about a professional organizer’s closet.

  1. There are no labeled containers of any kind. I’ve just never been a label or container kinda girl. I like everything to look unobstructed, and I personally am willing to put in the extra time required to fold clothing, place shoes, and generally keep everything looking neat. Plus, this way I can see my entire wardrobe at a glance, and not forget about anything!

  2. I had a lot of drawers put in. This is less common in closets these days, likely because drawers are not adjustable after the fact. However, I really prefer keeping knits in drawers - it’s easier to keep everything neat and tidy, instead of sloppy stacks on shelves! And for slipperier things like socks and lingerie, I use these fabric covered bins to corral everything.

  3. Other than a coat closet where I keep coats and rain boots, this is everything. The sum total of my wardrobe. And I cannot tell you how freeing this has been for me! Everything is right in front of me, all in one place, and I know that something has to be truly worthy for me to want to devote the small amount of space I have left to storing it.

A big thank you to Kelly Vorves, who helped me create the images in my new closet and gamely put up with my insistence that we keep everything looking real instead of further perfecting or styling the space!

LMW

Organize a Closet for the Present: How To Handle Changing Sizes

Like many women, I hate clothing sizes. I hate how inconsistent they are from brand to brand, I hate how they tell you absolutely nothing about fit or proportion, I hate that only a certain range is considered normal for an adult woman, and more than anything I hate the power they have to affect my confidence and self worth.

I know I’m not alone, because in my years of organizing, the subject of clothing sizes continues to be one of the most delicate, emotional things I handle with my clients. An awful lot of women (and many men!) have a visceral hate-hate relationship with the size tags on the clothes in their closet. 

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Body dysmorphia can come at you from every angle. I’ve worked with thin, fit women who see a much larger person in the mirror and can’t really believe that their old clothes are falling off them. I’ve worked with women who have gained weight suddenly and still try their old clothes every morning hoping against hope that they’ll fit again. And pretty much every woman whose closet I’ve worked in has recited a laundry list of things she hates about her body and how it looks in clothes.

How do I help? I encourage my clients to love themselves now, just as they are, and curate a wardrobe that makes them feel their best today. After all, the entire purpose of organizing a closet is to make sure that getting dressed is an easy and pleasant experience! 

And clothing that doesn’t fit doesn’t exactly arouse pleasant feelings. Clients who have made a weight change that’s positive for them dread a return to their old size, while clients who have made a weight change they perceive as negative feel guilt and shame that that they can’t wear their old clothes.

So, I recommend that if a weight change has been recent and/or sudden, that clients do store a wardrobe of things they love at a size they are likely to return to within the near future. I suggest that they give themselves a reasonable time limit, and if the clothing still doesn’t fit at that time, to donate it.

 However, if the weight change has been maintained for a longer period of time, I do encourage my clients to donate all clothes that no longer fit, even if they were once loved. This process is usually difficult, but it allows the client to focus on the present, and living with and loving the person they are here, today.

After all, that’s what I’m trying to help my clients do: be present!

LMW

Reconnecting With A Beloved Home Organizing Client

Over two years ago, I worked with a wonderful woman to organize the closets in her home. We bonded over our mutual love of dogs (although her pup remained confused about whether I was as asset or a threat!) and travel, and it was an absolute pleasure to work with her.

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I give every client the same level of respect, service, and expertise, but I’m only human and there are some I connect with more deeply than others. And because I spend a significant number of hours working with people and their stuff in their private spaces, I often get to know them more than either of us might realize. So, sometimes it feels a bit jarring to finish an organizing job and walk away from what seems in many ways like a friendship!

So, I was thrilled when this very same client contacted me again just a few weeks ago. She told me she had continued to be very happy with the organizing work I did, which of course was extremely gratifying! But she also told me that, due to various events in her life, her needs had changed. She wanted to rethink the organization of her closets and align them with her new priorities.

This presented me with a dream job: working with someone I already know and like, who respects and trusts my work, to refine a space even more specifically for her needs. As I always tell my clients, the better I know them and their space, the better my work. I come to understand their patterns and preferences, and come up with creative and attractive solutions that will function well for them.

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I was also able to offer my repeat client this stellar experience quickly! In general, organizing cannot and should not be rushed. In order to properly unravel a disorganized space, decode how it got that way, and construct new systems that will work for the people who live there, it just takes time. However, if I’ve already worked with someone, I have pretty encyclopedic knowledge of their space and belongings. So, I’m able to do a job in half the time it might take me to do the same work with a new client!

This job also inspired me to start thinking about how I might continue to provide my clients with support in their organized spaces over time. After all, I might not be the only one who feels a bit bereft when a job is done! And even more importantly, other clients might not be as pro-active to reach out to me when their needs and priorities change. 

So, watch this space for updates on that front over the coming weeks!

LMW

My Most Difficult Organizing Job

Last week, I was explaining my work to someone, and they asked me a question I actually had never been asked before. They wanted to know what had been my most difficult job, and why.

I have been so fortunate to have absolutely wonderful clients over the past few years. There really have not been any horror stories - my clients have listened to me, trusted me, and been honest with me. I value the relationship I have with each client, and remain incredibly grateful they have allowed me into their lives to help them.

That said, one job does come to mind. The client wanted me to help unpack following a move - which is a great time to get organized! However, this person was also absolutely unwilling to consider changing any habits or getting rid of any items at all whatsoever. This person believed that I could wield some sort of organizer magic to make the stuff they owned take up less space and look prettier, without requiring them to put in any effort to change.

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If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that’s not what it’s about. I do not wave a magic wand, and I do not do cosmetic fixes. I create an organizing system that works for each of my individual clients, and then I make it look beautiful. People come to me because they realize that their space is not working for them, and I do my very best work when they are willing to undertake change.

Plus, when you come right down to it, organizing and storage are limited by the rules of physics. There is nothing I can do to make a certain number of shirts suddenly take up less physical space. I cannot bend the space-time continuum! This is why I always tell people that organizing is not about the storage, it is first and foremost about the stuff.

So there you have it: my most difficult organizing job. And if that’s all I’ve had to deal with, then I count myself very lucky indeed!

LMW

The Joy of Empty Closets

I have empty closet space in my house. 

Does that statement seem strange to you?

If so, let me explain.

For many people, and pretty much all of my clients, there is a direct relationship between the amount of storage in their home and the amount of stuff they have. Specifically, the amount of storage dictates the amount of stuff, and when space runs out, they seek to obtain more storage.

In my personal life, and when working with clients, I flip this around. Forget the storage space you have - whether it’s closets, shelves, a basement, an attic, whatever. Instead, focus first on the stuff. What do you actually need and use? What do you love that brings you real joy? And why would you have anything at all that doesn’t fall into either of those two categories?

Then, only then, do we talk about how and where to store the stuff.

This is our laundry cabinet - everything we need, nothing we don't, and space if needs change. The cabinets above are empty, too!

This is our laundry cabinet - everything we need, nothing we don't, and space if needs change. The cabinets above are empty, too!

Leaving empty storage space is also about acknowledging that time is an important dimension of organizing. The process of living an organized life is ongoing. You need to maintain your home organization systems every day (it takes just a few minutes if your systems work well) , and adapt them as your needs change.

If there's one thing I know, change is a constant in this life, no matter how much we may fear or resist it. So, given that, why not leave yourself both the physical and mental space to accommodate that change? Future You might take up a new hobby and need a place to stash the equipment. Future You might throw a party and want a coat closet to accommodate guests. Future You may work from home and need a place to set up a work station, and Future You may bring home a baby with all of the gadgets, gizmos, outfits, and diapers parenthood brings.

This is our entryway coat closet. We love to entertain, so there needs to be space for coats and bags so people can settle in and feel at home!

This is our entryway coat closet. We love to entertain, so there needs to be space for coats and bags so people can settle in and feel at home!

By completely stuffing all of your storage space full, you are creating serious problems for Future You! Under likely time crunch and performance pressure, Future You will have to cobble together a solution for their new venture, rather than having the space and energy to comfortably and easily fit it into their life.

In so many ways, living an organized life is about investing time in the present to free up more time in the future to spend on the activities and relationships that really matter to you. What kinds of amazing future projects could you make room for if you left yourself some empty storage space?

LMW

My Instagram Captions, Decoded

Some of my followers have picked up on a small detail: in each caption of an outfit I post on Instagram, I mention how long I’ve owned each piece. In fact, If you go back to the very bottom of my feed, you’ll see that I’ve been doing this since I first started posting my terrible outfit selfies on my old iPhone 5. It was an intentional decision, for several reasons.

First, I believe that in order to use core values to influence others, we must not only talk the talk but walk the walk, and show others that we’re doing so. I write all the time about carefully curating a wardrobe, choosing quality over quantity, being mindful of consumption and waste, and prioritizing relationships and experiences over stuff. That wouldn’t ring true if I were constantly posting pictures of myself in brand new clothes!

Second, let’s get real: I’m not going to build an audience by being just like everybody else. Instagram and blogs are full of fashion influencers who are given or paid to promote brand new stuff. I don’t disapprove of them, conceptually speaking - we all need sources of fashion inspiration and I definitely keep track of what’s new and trending, especially from my favorite brands. That said, there are SO many of them. That niche is full. Instead, I’m trying to create my own!

This decision also serves as a gut check for me. If I’m buying too much stuff, I find myself having to reveal that in my outfit posts, which feels quite frankly icky. That in turn reminds me that I’m styling myself not only as an expression of my personal values but also an example to the outside world (just over 1,000 strong so far!) of how a focus on quality over quantity and style over newness can be 100% compatible with a stylish life.

Plus, as my readers know by now, constant consumption is just not the way I live or want to live my life. I personally feel better, more inspired, more focused, and more connected when I’m consuming less and experiencing more. Over the past few years I have largely freed myself from what I call the Want Monster - a silly name for that constant gnawing inside that feels like it can be filled with beautiful, expensive things. My hope is that my dorky, poorly lit photos of the things I actually wear every day can help a few other people slay the Want Monster and experience the same freedom!

By the way, let me be clear: I’m fully aware that I’m very lucky to have the relative wealth and privilege to be able to afford a select collection of beautiful things, and that most people are not as fortunate. I want you to know that this is something I think about often, and I welcome feedback on ways to make my readers and followers feel like my ideas are accessible rather than off-putting!

So yes, I do tell my Instagram followers how old my stuff is for a reason! By doing so, I hope to show how a real life of style is carefully curated and built over time, rather than bought brand new for each occasion. Sometimes I may miss the mark (whether it’s an outfit that doesn’t work or a regrettable purchase), but I’m still going to take you all along for the ride because it’s important to me that you see my reality.

LMW

Thoughts On Wearing Things Out

When was the last time you had to get rid of something because it was just too worn out to continue using?

I have an example from just last month. My sister gave me a pair of super cute booties from Kate Spade for Christmas a few years ago. In soft, tumbled black leather with a flat stacked heel and a bow on the back, they were cute, comfy, and went with everything. Like, if I had drawn the Platonic ideal of a bootie, these were it. I wore them CONSTANTLY.

Sporting The Booties at Catherine's Palace outside St. Petersburg...

Sporting The Booties at Catherine's Palace outside St. Petersburg...

...and again on a normal work day at home in San Francisco.

...and again on a normal work day at home in San Francisco.

And then… I picked them up one day to put back on my shoe rack and realized that the sides of the stacked heel were starting to peel off the plastic foundation of the heel. I am all about maintaining and repairing the things I love to get maximum use out of them, and if it had been possible I would have taken them to my favorite shoe guy in Cow Hollow stat. However, this was just not fixable. It was time for them to go. 

There’s something a little sad about wearing out something you love, because that means it no longer gets to be part of your life. I have a lot of good memories in those booties: they came with on me on trips to Europe, wine tasting weekends, errand days running around SF, and even client consultations. And they worked so well for me - if they had continued to hold up, I would have kept on wearing them!

However, you can also view wearing things out with a sense of accomplishment and pride. You know on a very deep level that the thing was extremely useful to you, an excellent purchase, and a good value, because you literally used it so often that you used it right up. There was no purchase regret or gift receivers’ guilt with these booties! They were just right and I got every last cent of value (that my sister paid…) out of them.

And here’s the thing about using something up: it provides you pretty much the only guilt-free opportunity there is in this life to go shopping. If you used something so often and so happily that you wore it out, that means that you do in fact need a replacement.

My weakness for bows is legendary.

My weakness for bows is legendary.

In my case, I mentioned the sad passing of the booties to my parents, since my birthday is coming up. Last week, a box arrived in the mail from Bally with, well… basically the grown up version of the pair I had loved so well!  In smooth, gorgeous black leather with a flat heel and laces up the front to tie in a bow, AND in wide width for my virtually square fee to boot, they are cute, comfy, and go with everything. I’m going to wear them CONSTANTLY.

This process of selecting something that perfectly fits your needs, loving and using it frequently, and then carefully choosing its replacement, is so much more fulfilling than buying a lot of things that only get used a few times. When I look at my closet, the things that bring me joy are those that I feel great in and wear all the time. The things I don’t really wear much only bring me guilt: guilt that I made a frivolous purchase, am not getting the value out of the money I paid, and took up space that could be better filled by something else.

This is the reason I continually edit my closet: because a wardrobe entirely composed of things that bring me joy is simple and satisfying on a very deep level. If this idea is resonating with you, give me a call and I'll help you edit your closet so that everything in it brings you joy!

LMW

How French Girl Style Works

Simple, minimal style can be as visually compelling and fashion-forward as it is timeless.  Think of classic “French girl” style, which gets fawned over every few months by fashion blogs (for the ultimate primer on the current state of French girl obsession in our culture, see Eliza Brook’s piece at Racked: How To Sell A Billion-Dollar Myth Like A French Girl).  You can instantly conjure an image of what this looks like in your head and it’s an image you likely want to see yourself in… imagine, if you will, a pair of straight leg jeans, smart little booties, and a slouchy sweater topped with a classic leather cross body bag.

I have a theory about how “French girl” style evolved... and you’re not going to be shocked that it all comes back to organizing.  I suspect that the ability to create a simple, timeless style à la Parisienne stems, at least in part, from a basic fact: French girls have small closets!

When I say that European apartments have small closets, I mean they are SMALL.  In the very lovely one bedroom apartment my husband and I inhabited for a few months in London, the entire closet space for the two of us consisted of a wardrobe from Ikea that was less than four feet wide.  No one I mentioned this to found it in any way out of the ordinary. 

When your storage space is smaller, you’re forced to make more careful decisions about what you buy.  You’re prevented from purchasing in great quantity or frequency because there just isn’t room for haphazard shopping! And if you have to buy fewer things less often, you necessarily find yourself getting pickier about the things you do buy and how they fit into your personal style.  This situation also means that you can probably afford to spend a bit more on each piece, rather than dividing your budget among a plethora of cheap stuff.

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Above and below: the same cream cashmere Theory sweater (not currently available), a bunch of different ways, from my Instagram!

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Imagine how a tiny closet might change your shopping habits, and in turn, your style.  French girls might have one Saint James striped shirt instead of a pile of them from Zara.  They might wear a single pair of the perfect worn in jeans on repeat instead of rotating through twenty different washes and cuts.  They may have chosen the perfect slouchy cashmere sweater instead of stocking up on trendy acrylic copies.  In a way, French girls are living with enforced capsule collections. 

A cruel irony of fashion is that it’s often easier to refine your style and express it when you have fewer options to choose from.  So, if you want to cultivate your own particular flavor of “French girl” style, consider downsizing your wardrobe to its true essence.  And if you’re considering a wardrobe overhaul, I’m here to help!  Schedule a call with me today and get started on your own dream closet.

LMW