Organization Inspiration

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

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

How To Create More Space In Your Garage

Readers of this blog know I take a very conservative approach to organizing products. I only tell you about something when I have used it with clients and know it works. Here is one of those things: Monkey Bars Garage Storage. If your garage is driving you crazy, please read on... today's post was written by Meghan Harris over at Monkey Bars. And, if you're in San Francisco or Marin, please contact my friend Joe O'Neal of Golden Gate Garage Storage, our local Monkey Bars dealer, and tell him I sent you!

It is a natural human tendency to fill the space you have so that your house looks and feels like a home. Should the same idea go for your garage? Usually you don’t try to fill your garage with a bunch of stuff you rarely use ... it just happens.  

Generally speaking, this happens because the more space we have, the more “junk” we hold on to, and the more often we shop for more stuff because we can’t find the “junk” we could actually use. It is hard to get rid of our “stuff” because who knows, we might need it someday! So, if you don’t want to throw it away, what happens to it?  It gets stored in the garage.

The first step to having an organized garage is: Getting rid of all the clutter and unnecessary items.

After doing this, your garage most likely will still feel unorganized and small. So, let’s talk about how to make your garage feel bigger.

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A major factor that contributes to the available room in your garage is the walking space. If you are parking your car in the garage, you need to have enough room on either side to open the door and get in. If you have an extra fridge/freezer, you need to have enough room to walk around it and grab something out. It would even be ideal if you could walk your bike out to ride without carrying it over the multitude of boxes that permanently live on the floor.

The best way to create more walking space in the garage (and make it feel bigger and more organized) is by implementing a vertical storage system.

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Vertical storage means that you are optimizing your wall and ceiling space through garage shelves, cabinets, or racks. This triples the size of your available space and, as long as items are contained within these systems, frees up your walking space and makes your garage feel bigger. When things are up and off of the floor, you make a huge step towards garage efficiency and creating more space.

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The most critical part of an organized garage, though, is the upkeep. Take 15 minutes once a week to tidy up the garage to make sure you are putting things back where they should be. It’s easy to overlook this with your busy life but will make everything work more effectively if you do so. It will also prevent the junk from piling up again.

Thank you, Meghan!  -LMW

Purse Storage for the Real World

You guys, the unthinkable has happened: there is a list of organizing tips on the internet that I can wholeheartedly endorse!  Thank you, Nancy Mitchell and Apartment Therapy, for publishing The Ultimate Guide to Organizing Bags and Purses!

Photo courtesy of apartmenttherapy.com (I Heart Organizing)

Photo courtesy of apartmenttherapy.com (I Heart Organizing)

For those readers who might be newer to my personal style of organizing, I am a skeptic of hacks that don’t address the root needs of each person’s wardrobe and life.  So many organizing recommendations just don’t function well, hiding things you need to be able to see or grouping them artificially in the name of a Pinterest-ready row of pretty straw boxes with chalk labels.  Hm, was that too on the nose?  Moving on…

That said, just like any professional organizer I have a few tried and true organizing techniques that check all my boxes: they’re quick and easy to install, aesthetically neutral, and work best when you’ve already done the hard work of organizing (that would be editing your collection, which should always be Step #1!).  And this list includes at least three of them!

I regret to inform you that I am not showing you how I organize my bags today. The closet in the room we are currently using as a master bedroom is very strangely shaped and came with pre-existing shelves and hanging space wedged into nooks and crannies.  I moved my things in as best as I could, and I’m living with it until I can move into the closet in our new master suite, but the entire internet does not need access to this situation!

I will tell you, though, that I will be using shelf dividers for my clutches and bags, and there will be hooks for my totes.  Hooks are such under-appreciated organizing tools.  The one benefit of my current weird closet is that there are hooks everywhere and they are so useful – I put belts on a couple of them, keep spare hangers on one and lay out my next outfit on another, stash the week’s pair of PJ’s here and that sweatshirt that doesn’t need to be laundered yet but isn’t quite clean over there.

I will also say that there’s bag storage strategy that works for me but that I do not often recommend to clients: I keep my purses in their dust bags.  It’s easy to see why I do that: the dust bags protect the purses!  But why wouldn’t I recommend this to a client?  It’s because many people who struggle with organizing have a hard time remembering where they put things and difficulty maintaining the habit of putting each item back in its place when they’re finished with it.  In order to help them stay organized, they need everything to be relatively visible.  With a lifetime habit of use-it-then-put-it-away firmly in place, I don’t need to see my shelf of purses to know that the one second from the left is the gray Fendi 2jours medium sized tote!

I look forward to being able to share my own closet with you, but in the meantime, these tips can get you started on your purse organization!

LMW

Stopping Clutter Before It Starts

Clutter doesn’t just magically appear.  Each object that combined with others to create a feeling of clutter came from somewhere, sometime, for some purpose.  This is why decluttering is only half the battle.  In order to maintain an organized environment, you have to be able to control the inflow of stuff as well as get rid of it when the time comes.

Image courtesy of nytimes.com (Carl Richards)

Image courtesy of nytimes.com (Carl Richards)

But we live in a culture that reveres consumption (although the tides may be gradually, slowly, infinitesimally shifting on that point) and shopping habits are hard to change.  This is why I loved Carl Richards’ opinion piece for the New York Times last summer: New Rule: All Purchases Subject to a 7-Day Mental Quarantine. He has come up with a creative intermediate step between his family’s current shopping habits and the eventual goal of acquiring less.

It seems like such a simple idea, but there’s a lot going on here.  First, he recognizes that his shopping decisions aren’t always well thought out.  Admitting you have a behavior you want to change is always the first step, and it’s a hard thing to do!  I have clients who I’ve worked with for months before they can start to see that their consumption habits are directly tied to their continued disorganization.

Second, he’s putting his household on the same team.  His wife, instead of being the policeman who tells him what not to do, is his “fellow customs officer.” I would say a majority of my clients are women who long for an organized home and have a spouse who either doesn’t see a problem or likes the idea of an organized home but doesn’t want to participate in the process.  I can do good work for these clients, but I can tell you definitively that I do my best work when both halves of a couple (and ideally their kids, if they have them) are involved every step of the way.

Third, he’s not giving himself harsh rules he can’t live by.  There’s nothing about the mental quarantine that says he can’t buy things – it just sets up a framework that buys him more time to think about it and encourages him to consume less.  When people feel deprived, they want to act out, whether it’s from a diet or from strict rules.

In a sense, the lighthearted metaphor of mental quarantine is standing in for the overall concept of mindfulness in consumption.  By slowing down and extending the process, Richards is allowing himself to be mindful about each and every purchase decision without getting caught up in the quick dopamine rush of acquiring something new.

Imagine a world in which you give yourself the time and space to carefully consider purchases.  They might be fewer and farther between, but they’ll likely be more useful and meaningful to you!

LMW

Goop Knows Best

You guys, I have to admit it: I have a total love/hate relationship with goop.  If you haven’t already been introduced, goop is Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand/newsletter/shop/advice column. 

Why do I love goop?  Well, for starters, the taste level is impeccable.  The goop aesthetic is simple, clean, and imbued with a mature yet cool style.  In addition, the editors really do their research.  When it comes to fashion and product recommendations, goop takes a less-is-more approach, and everything is clearly fully vetted and tested.

Why do I hate it?  Goop promotes a modern version of keeping up with the Joneses to a staggering degree.  Each newsletter leaves me feel like I can never possibly keep up with all the things I should be doing and buying to become a healthier, fitter, more self-actualized version of me – or at least, the version of a modern woman that goop is marketing.  Goop also does a serious amount of fear mongering, particularly when it comes to beauty products, which drives me batty.  Just because something is natural doesn’t make it nontoxic, and just because a chemical is lab-created doesn’t make it harmful!  And of course, many writers more eloquent than I have waxed poetic about how out of touch goop is with real women’s lives. 

In order to appropriately consume goop, I feel like the proverbial grain of salt is essential.  If you make it your bible, you’re just going to start feeling inadequate, but if you can filter for the information you need, you’ll find a lot that is helpful.

And go figure, goop’s closet organizing advice is absolutely on point.  In her Organization Tips from the Goop Fashion Closet, fashion director Laurie Trott shares some common organizing tips (seriously, huggable hangers are essential), but also brings up some strategies I and other professional organizers use that haven’t made it to the mainstream (organizing by accessibility and frequency of use, rather than just what fits where).  Of course, the unreachable standard still applies here: I am not a mood board person and I’m totally fine with that, so I’m a bit exasperated with the suggestion that a hard copy mood board in one’s closet is an essential organizing tool.

Do you read goop?  Love it, hate it, or both?

LMW

My Organizing Hero

I had been hearing rumblings about a mysterious professional organizer from Japan making serious waves here in the US for some time when my college roommate’s fiancé sent me the link to her book.  I was skeptical (books on organizing, while helpful, tend to be very dry and blend together), but I knew he’d ask me my opinion so I went ahead and ordered it.

You may have gathered that I’m talking about the famous Marie Kondo and her book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

As soon as I started reading, I felt incredibly validated and energized.  Without knowing it, and using slightly different terminology, I have based my organizing methods and philosophy around the same concept Kondo uses.  That is: to only have items in your home that you use and love.

And tidying is exactly the right word for it. Kondo reminds us again and again throughout the book that organizing isn’t about implementing systems and buying solutions, it’s about the actual stuff that you have and keeping it tidy in ways that work for you.

Kondo does get a little more earthy-crunchy than I do – you won’t see me genuflecting on your living room floor to thank your console table for all that it does for you, for example!  But there is an important kernel to be found in even the most wacky-sounding of her recommendations.

I strongly encourage anyone interested in getting organized to read her book.  And if you just don’t have the time, stay tuned – lots of people are talking about Marie Kondo, and I’ll be sharing some of their thoughts and experiences here!

LMW

Quick and Dirty Organizing Tips

So you've decided to get organized, and you want some practical, hands-on advice.  This article from Reader's Digest, sourced from professional organizers, offers the best assortment I've seen of tips that actually work: 13+ Secrets Personal Organizers Would Never Tell You For Free.

The amazing part is that, as you'll see, most of these specific tips boil down to one concept, which is the hallmark and starting point of each project I embark on with a client: to get organized, you have to get rid of stuff you don't use or need, rather than add stuff to contain it.

The other key takeaway, which I see time and time again with my clients, is that so much of organizing is about visual presentation.  If you can't see something, it doesn't exist!  And from the opposite perspective, I find many people automatically fill visually clear spaces, particularly flat surfaces such as desks and dining room tables.  A good organizational system will work for you visually, not just practically!

The only point on this list I think you can discard are that tired old chestnut about turning closet hangers backward.  There are many things you wear on a regular basis you probably don't love, and things you rarely wear that are worth keeping in your collection.

And of course, these tips are great, but every person is different, and the best organizational system for you will be custom tailored to your personality and needs.  Need help?  Contact me!  I'm accepting new clients now.

LMW