Twelve Steps to a Linen Closet You'll Love
Whenever I give talks or interviews about organizing and downsizing, someone always asks: “Where do I start?”
My answer: The linen closet.
Why? It’s not too personal, so you won’t get bogged down. It’s finite, unlike the black hole of your file cabinet. And a small amount of effort here yields big results, which could motivate you to tackle other spaces.
Also, from what I have seen — not that I snoop, well, maybe a little — they need it. Most linen closets are waystations of disarray that smell like damp dogs.
So I tapped an expert from The Spruce, a digital lifestyle publication that offers practical tips to help consumers make their best homes, for suggestions on how to make the most of this neglected space. Spruce spokeswoman Emma Glubiak used to work for Apartment Therapy, so knows how to make the most out of tight spaces.
“The biggest problem I see is that folks go in without a plan. They just stick everything in, shut the door, and wind up with chaos,” she said.
“Which is why when you go in to straighten it out, you find your old bowling shoes, a strand of dead Christmas tree lights, and three jugs of antifreeze,” I said.
We put our heads together and came up with these12 steps to make your linen closet one you’re proud to open:
1. Start with the end in mind. Picture a beautiful, well-organized, pristine, fresh-smelling, attractive linen closet. Then let that image spur you on.
2. Take everything out. I know, this mean the pile outside your closet will look like the back alley of the Salvation Army, but do it.
3. Edit and purge. Retire those zebra-print sheets that keep you up at night, along with the ones you can’t stand because they don’t fit and don’t breathe. Demote stained towels to the rag bin and ditch those so thin you can see through them. Only keep what you need, use and love.
4. Keep it clean. From your keep pile, decide which items belong in the linen closet, and which don’t. Ideally, your linen closet should store bedding, towels, and, occasionally, backup toiletries. (But don’t store in your linen closet what belongs under your sink.) Store your mop, broom, dustpan, toilet brush and cat litter box somewhere else.
5. Look for alternative storage. An overstuffed linen closet backfires. If your linen closet is small, consider storing clean sheets for a particular bed under that bed. “We are big fans of underbed storage, and especially baskets on wheels,” Glubiak said. Handsome chests are perfect for storing bulky blankets, pillows and comforters, while doubling as a side or coffee table.
6. Detail it. Here’s where the soap meets the washcloth. Treat your closet the way you would a bookcase in your living room. Start by folding like items uniformly and well. (See last week’s column.) Face thick folded edges out, and free edges toward the back. Eliminate visual noise by sticking to one or two linen colors. “A unified color scheme will give the closet a more cohesive, less cluttered look,” Glubiak said. If shelves are worn or tired, paint them with a semigloss paint that is easy to clean or add a fun shelf liner.
7. Pop the back wall. Painting the back wall a vibrant color can bring a drab closet to life. Because Glubiak is renting her place, she covered the back wall of her linen closet with removable wallpaper. Either way, an accent color or fun pattern behind the linens adds unexpected pizzazz to a typically dull space.
8. Break up towel sets, bundle sheets. Storing sets of towels together looks nice but wastes space. Instead batch bath towels together, face towels together, and all washcloths together. Do, however, store sheets as sets. Some home organizers like to store sheet sets inside one of the set’s pillowcases. I like to stack all the pieces of a set and tie a ribbon around it. You can also label sets with index cards that read, “Queen,” “Full,” or “Twin,” or by family member, “Sally’s Bed.” Put linens you use most often front and center, and lesser used ones, including seasonal items, up high.
9. Get support. If shelves are far apart, consider getting plastic or metal shelf inserts to add stacking surface and structure. These inserts also keep stacked items from toppling over.
10. Use the door. Glubiak encourages using every part of the linen closet, from floor to door. “The door is an incredibly underrated storage space,” she said. Get over-the-door hanging pockets, or hooks for canvas bags.
11. Baskets and bins. If you do store back-up toiletries in this closet, corral them into labeled baskets. “You have to be intentional with basket sizes because even an inch or two can mess up spacing,” Glubiak said. Measure and find ones that fit perfectly. Also choose baskets all of one type and color, to add unity. Label those you can’t see into.
12. Run smell check. Putting away linens that are not completely clean or dry can cause closets to smell funky. To revive linens that smell less than fresh, Glubiak suggests adding one cup of baking soda along with detergent to the load and washing in warm or hot water. Tucking in a box of scented soap, sachets of dried lavender, cedar blocks, or a couple dryer sheets can also keep musty smells at bay.
Photo caption: Unexpected pop — Adding a strong accent color to the back wall of a linen closet can add pizzazz to an otherwise neglected space. Photo courtesy of Marni Jameson.