Home

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!

Web_Closet Shoes.jpg

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

4 Powerful Strategies for Getting Organized As A Couple: Couple Struggles Part 5

You may see yourself in one or more of my previous articles on struggles that couples face when trying to get organized:

  • Part 1: Every Couple Struggles

  • Part 2: Who’s Really “The Organized One”?

  • Part 3: Whose Responsibility Is It, Anyway?

  • Part 4: Just Get Rid of It!

If so, know that you are very much not alone! You’re also probably wondering how to tackle your organizing struggle with your loved one. Here are some strategies that I both use and recommend to keep the organizing process smooth and as low on conflict as possible.

Photo by  Kelly Vorves

Photo by Kelly Vorves

1) Acknowledge that it takes two to tango.

Both of you got your home the way it is today, and both of you are going to have to work together if you want it to change. This doesn’t necessarily mean that each of you contributed 50% of the mess or have to do exactly 50% of the work during the organizing project! It does mean that it isn’t productive to spend time and energy blaming one half the couple (whether it’s yourself or your partner!). Instead, team up as co-conspirators in the organizing process.

2) Avoid placing a value judgement on organizing skills.

Some people are good at organizing. And some people aren’t. That’s ok! Organizing is not an inherent trait, it's a skill that can be learned. So, if you’re already good at organizing, that doesn’t mean that you’re better or smarter than someone who isn’t - and the reverse is of course also true. If you can separate your feelings about your partner’s organizing skills from your feelings about them as your love and partner in life, it will be at lot easier to work together!

3) Give each person their own space.

I find that a lot of organizing struggles stem from objects being commingled at random. Of course, many items in a home are shared among everyone that lives there - kitchen tools being one of the most obvious examples! But by mixing up things that clearly belong to individual people, you muddy the waters about who is responsible for organizing those items and the spaces they live in. And in a vacuum of responsibility, nothing gets done. The more you can separate belongings and give them dedicated, designated locations, the easier it is to assign responsibility and the more control each person will feel over their own belongings.

Photo by  Kelly Vorves

Photo by Kelly Vorves

4) Think about how tradition has affected your approach.

In pretty much all the heterosexual couples I work with, the female partner is in charge of the home - whether or not she works and/or earns more than the male partner. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s of course up to each couple to divide responsibilities in the way that works for them. However, this traditional division of labor can become a problem when it happens by default and/or puts a greater total burden on the female partner.

(Note: this dynamic can also exist in homosexual couples where the partners have defined their identities based on traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity.)

So, I really encourage you to talk to your partner about the goals you share for keeping your home organized and how each person can contribute to reaching them. This keeps the focus off divvying up major, well known tasks like laundry and dishes, since this traditional approach can obscure the many smaller tasks that contribute to a home but are often automatically picked up by women and unnoticed by men.

In conclusion…

All of the above are strategies, but none of them can be implemented without a shared vision. So Step 1 should always be to get on the same page about what you want your home to look and feel like, and how you want to use your space. After all, it’s impossible to properly share the load when you haven’t defined it in the first place!

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.

IMG_0279.jpg
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!

IMG_0278.jpg

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

Just Get Rid Of It! - Couple Struggles Part 4

For more on organizing for couples and the issues that come up, check out the earlier posts in this series!

  • Part 1: Every Couple Struggles

  • Part 2: Who’s Really “The Organized One”?

  • Part 3: Whose Responsibility Is It, Anyway?

Today, we’re diving into what happens when partners have very different levels of tolerance for the sheer amount of stuff in their space. Some people prefer a really minimal environment, containing only a few objects that have been carefully chosen. Others like to be surrounded by a bounty of things, all of which have personal meaning and aesthetic appeal.

Just like we talked about in Part 2, neither one of these approaches is necessarily the correct one! A minimalist may be missing out on memories, connections with loved ones, or even experiences that they aren’t prepared for. A maximalist may lose time and energy trying to find and use things that they may actually prefer to spend somewhere else.

The commonality is that these types frustrate each other! In particular, I often find that the maximalist partner wants to work meticulously through a space in order to organize it, while the minimalist partner believes that if they just throw everything away and start from scratch, all their problems will disappear.

Now, if you’ve read anything on this blog, you know that I do believe very strongly in the concept of less is more! It’s so important that I start each and every organizing project with the decluttering process. This is a critical step, because it opens up storage space and ensures that the client is surrounded by only the things they love and use.

However, this process is also crucial for a reason many of my clients don’t expect. By going through all of your things and making decisions, you can piece together the story of how you got to this place where the level of disorganization really frustrates you. You can see patterns: what you hold on to that you don’t actually use, the types of things that cause you guilt, the patterns in consumption that have led you to waste things. Decluttering can be incredibly eye opening.

On the other hand, if you were to just throw everything away, you’d avoid that entire critical learning process that informs and motivates behavior change going forward. Also, in the case of a couple, the person whose stuff got tossed might feel betrayal and distrust towards the person who talked them into it!

I worked with a wonderful couple living in a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco. He definitely leans minimalist, while she forms a stronger attachment to things and has trouble decluttering. When we first started to work together, he expressed that he just wanted to see her “get rid of” a large percentage of her stuff.

This client’s beautifully organized “command center” - everything neatly organized, with just the most meaningful inspirational touches she needed.

This client’s beautifully organized “command center” - everything neatly organized, with just the most meaningful inspirational touches she needed.

So, I carefully guided them through a middle ground. By respecting the wife’s attachment to things and being willing to take the time to talk through each and every object, I was able to get her comfortable with reducing the amount of stuff in the space in order to accommodate their larger goals for their home. And by discovering the true meaning and intention behind the things she decided to keep, I was able to help the husband understand how to incorporate those things into their life in specific ways so that it didn’t just feel like “more stuff.”

So if one of you just wants to toss everything and the other can’t bear the idea, know that there is room to meet in the middle if you’re both willing to commit to the process. After all, there’s more to each of you than just being a minimalist or maximalist!

Stay tuned for the final post in this series: strategies you can start using immediately to find common ground on the often-fraught topic of organizing your home with your partner.

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

Who's Really "The Organized One"? Couple Struggles Part 2

If you’re just joining us, take a peek at my introduction to this series on how differences in how people approach organizing their homes can cause relationship strife!

Today, I’m tackling the most common flavor of imbalance between partners when it comes to organization: the partners have accepted their roles as The Organized One and The Disorganized One, and The Organized One is in total control.

But, you might say, doesn’t this make sense? The person who’s better at something should be in charge of it! Well… not necessarily.

In many cases, the more organized person blames the less organized person for 100% of the clutter. Guys, if there’s one thing my mom taught me, it’s that it takes two to tango. Sure, it’s possible - even likely - that one person contributed more to the clutter than the other, but I have never worked with a couple in which one person was in fact perfectly organized.

This is a pile from a day of organizing in my own home - I never show my clients’ dirty laundry without permission!

This is a pile from a day of organizing in my own home - I never show my clients’ dirty laundry without permission!

One couple I worked with was dealing with what they affectionately referred to as “The Pile.” This was an ever growing and changing heap of things they didn’t know what to do with and didn’t have time to think about. The wife was suffering quite a bit of guilt about it and using humor to deflect… and the husband wasn’t exactly absolving her of that guilt! They both were totally devoted to the story that The Pile was her fault and hers alone to deal with.

Well, imagine both of their surprise when we found quite a few items belonging to the husband in “The Pile” - and not only that, but things that mattered to him that he had been looking for.

No one’s perfect, especially when it comes to organizing. And this is a key component of my work: showing my clients what’s really going on in their homes, and how everyone who lives there can contribute to creating a more organized environment no matter their natural organizing aptitude.

In the case of the couple above, the root of the problem was that they didn’t have designated homes for all of their stuff in places that made sense to both of them. During our time together, we edited their collection of belongings and created systems that both partners committed to using together. Was the process tension-free? Certainly not! But when I arrived at their home a year later to reorganize their spare bedroom for their new baby, most of the systems were still working.

So if you’re The Organized One and frustrated with The Disorganized One, it might be time for a little self-self-examination about how you might be contributing to organizing problems. And hey, Disorganized One - you might have more desire and talent for organizing your space than you thought!

Next up: what happens when one partner just doesn’t see what all the fuss is about?

LMW

Couple Struggles Part 1: Everyone Has Them

IMG_7809.jpg

There is a fundamental truth I have learned: if there is a couple that exists, one person will be more organized than the other, and this discrepancy will cause strife.

I’ve lived this conflict in my own relationship! I’m sure you can guess who the more organized person in our household might be… and it used to drive me crazy that it seemed like my husband was either blind to clutter or just didn’t care that he was living in the middle of a disorganized whirlwind. 

Notice that I said “seemed.” Because how we perceive things in our own heads is very rarely the same as the way other people see them! What to me looked like disorganized chaos looked extremely unremarkable to my husband, and he was completely confused as to why I was so upset by something as simple as stuff.

If you’re curious about our personal story, I talked about it here, way back in 2016!

So, given the fact that I am, well, me, you might assume that I always side with the more organized partner when I’m working on organizing a space with a couple. You would be wrong! I treat each client with same respect and trust and take that responsibility very seriously. This is just as relevant across projects as it is across household members within the same project.

So, for the next couple weeks, we’re going to take a deep dive into the various delightful flavors and variations of organizing imbalance in couples, the kind of trouble it can cause, and some strategies to help you rebalance the concept of home organizing in your own relationship.

Everything in this series is based on my professional expertise and my experience of organizing homes for couples over the past nearly five years. I’m not a counselor or therapist, I’m just sharing what I’ve seen in my work in hopes that it might help you!

First up: the classic story of the couple consisting of The Organized One and The Disorganized One. Surely it’s all The Disorganized One’s fault… right??

LMW

Thankful For So Much... Including An Organized Home

In 2017, the Thomas fire came within inches of my parents’ home. 

My grandparents built the house in 1972, and my parents bought it from them in 2000 and remodeled it as their forever home. So, I didn’t grow up there, but for my entire life it has =been a beloved place to be with family and celebrate holidays.

Charred brush on the left, house on the right.

Charred brush on the left, house on the right.

That whole fall was a wild ride. In an unrelated but unfortunately timed water based incident, the bottom floor of the house flooded and my parents had to move everything upstairs so that reconstruction could begin. Then, the fire came, and they packed up what they could fit in their cars and evacuated. Then came the mudslides, and there was no access to the house for weeks. When the roads were cleared, the house stood in a sea of burned landscaping and melted pool equipment, full of sooty walls and smoke-damaged furniture and clothing.

There are so many ways in which I’m thankful, beyond words and with some significant amount of survivors’ guilt. Of course, that my parents were safe the entire time. That our home was still intact, while so many people we know and love lost everything. That our family has the resources to rebuild. That amazing firefighters came from so far away to work so hard to defend our neighborhood (shout out and huge thanks to the Moraga Fire Department http://www.mofd.org/!). That the Montecito community came together to take care of its own.

This is how warm it gets inside a house surrounded by fire.

This is how warm it gets inside a house surrounded by fire.

And I’m thankful that my dad is the most organized person I know. Because I am here to tell you, when then entire contents of a home have been relocated within it AND packed up for evacuation AND packed up again for post-disaster cleaning, you are really and truly glad from the bottom of your soul that every object has a designated location.

When I went to Santa Barbara to help my parents move back into the house, the three of us unpacked for three straight days. I did not take a picture of the pile of boxes that was delivered to the driveway, which was a big miss, but suffice it to say it was truly heroic. And yet, by the time I came back to San Francisco you would never have known anything had ever happened.

If my parents hadn’t had such an organized home in the first place, it would have taken us three times as long with three times as much frustration… maybe more!

I fervently wish that none of you reading this ever have to evacuate due to natural disaster, let alone lose your home. But based on my experience, I would heartily recommend getting your home organized and inventoried (might I suggest pictures of the insides of cabinets? Those would have helped even more!) as part of your personal emergency plan.

So, in this week of Thanksgiving, when so many people have just lost their homes and loved ones, and even the air around me is choking thick, all I can do is be thankful for everything that I have and try to give back to the people who need it. To help the victims of the Camp Fire, please consider donating here:

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I’m thankful for you!

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.

IMG_5426.jpg

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