How to organize (and live out of) a very small walk-in closet

neilwSeptember 28, 2005

We're now 9 months into house-shopping in NJ, and one issue that keeps coming up is otherwise nice houses that seem to be severely short on closet space, especially in the MB. Recently we looked at a beautiful house that had, for the master, a 54" reach-in closet and a 42" wide x 48" deep walk-in. Likely scenario would be that DW gets the reach-in and I'd get the walk-in (plus furniture, of course).

So I'm trying to figure out if it's possible to do something reasonable with a 42" wide walk-in closet. Present owners have double hanging against the back wall, shoe-shelves plastered against the left wall, and ties hanging on the right wall. With that arrangement, it's barely more than a 42" reach-in.

Does anyone have any clever ideas how to take advantage of the depth of the closet? It's a given that out-of-season and seldom-used clothes would have to live elsewhere, but even then I feel like that'd be a tough squeeze for me.

One idea I've had is to put double-hanging in the back (as it is now), and put a high hanging bar in front. From that, hang one of the hanging sweater shelves. That'd give me some shelving, and I could push it to either side to access the hanging behind. Unfortunately, DW has informed me that those hanging shelves don't slide so easily once they're loaded up. Putting fixed shelving in front of half the hanging is plausible, but it'd make getting to the stuff behind the shelves a real chore.

I admit I'm stumped. I hate having to shoot down a lovely house for this reason, but I don't want to spend every day swearing at my closet. BTW, DW and I currently share a pretty large extremely well-organized walk-in, so this would be a major shrinkage in closet space for us.

Thanks for any ideas!

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well, if the rooms are large enough, there's always the idea of putting wardrobes, etc., in the room itself.

And you might consider trying the Container Store's closet-design service--I think you can use their website to send them a closet dimension, and they can help you figure out Elfa storage systems to make it work.

Is it possible to move the door toward center of the walk-in closet? Double rows are a pain, but hanging on one side and shallow shelves/drawers on the other could work very nicely--sort of a "galley kitchen" effect.

Most design places will tell you to allow 24" for hangers w/ clothes on them, but you don't need *quite* that much if space is tight.

well, no, wait a minute, I was thinking 48" wide, not 42". 42" is probably just the teensiest bit too narrow for that.

My reach-in closet is a bit wider than the doorway on each side, so it's not much more than 42". That' enough for me, frankly--there are sections of it I don't touch. Give yourself a few minutes to really look at your huge walk-in closet now, and see how much of that stuff you really use, and how much is just there because you have the space.

You could perhaps hang the rod in the back, and then where the FRONT rod would be, use instead one of those clothes racks on wheels, bcs it will slide from side to side when full.

And you could perhaps make greater use of the side walls--one side could perhaps hold clothing rods (the Elfa system will let you put a rod in a place that doesn't have a side wall).

And the other side wall could have shelving or maybe even drawers, depending how shallow they are.

It means the stuff in the corners would be harder to get to--not impossible, but harder.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2005 at 10:41AM
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Talley said, "Give yourself a few minutes to really look at your huge walk-in closet now, and see how much of that stuff you really use, and how much is just there because you have the space."

Definately. If you like this house, other than the closet, then get very real about what you need to keep in the master closet. Stuff which is folded up like sweaters doesn't need to be in a closet.

We have a 3,000 square foot house with very little closet and storage space. Planned that way on purpose. I need a place to LIVE not store my life.

In our master, the closet is 3.5 x 6, but it is not a walk-in. I find those to be real space wasters. We have bi-fold doors and the DH has the top pole across the width (he's very tall). My pole extends half way across so there is room for his suit pants to hang. There is room on the side for his belts and ties. Shoes in the traditional pile on the floor for me and on a shoe rack for him.

We each have a dresser for folded stuff. We each have professional jobs, but realistically most people wear very few of their clothes over and over. Just a small portion.

I guess I don't know what you mean in regards to furniture. Are you expected to have a dresser in there too? I would just have the double poles at the back and pick one side to have some type of organizer.

There are also rotating racks which are electric and move the clothing around for you (like at a dry cleaners) but they are rather pricy.


    Bookmark   September 28, 2005 at 1:46PM
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I agree with DW, the hanging sweater shelves don't slide very easily. The one I had came from K-Mart (years and years ago) and was zippered vinyl on the outside and had cardboard shelves. The BIGGEST draw back was each shelf held one, MAYBE two sweaters. I just didn't find it very useful.

We live in a small house with smaller closets. If the house were bigger, I would consider ripping out drywall and making bigger, functional closets.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2005 at 5:55AM
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In my recent closet re-do, granted I had more space to work with than you do. But here are some tips I found helpful.
1) on sweaters. Yes I had a hanging thing before, that was totally not efficient storage. My first step was to realistically purge, as honestly I did not wear all those sweaters. Now that the number is reduced, I find Elfa shelf storage to work very well.
2) the Container store has done 3 designs for me, and it's very easy. You simply go to their web site and submit your closet's dimensions. And I did take a little liberty with the designs to make it work even better for me. Like in the toy closet, I used deeper shelves to take advantage of as much space as possible.

Homes are not always designed logically, that's for sure. In my house, they gave me a cavernous master closet, but the tiniest master bath. If I were designing the house, I certainly would have arranged the walls differently! LOL

    Bookmark   September 30, 2005 at 8:48AM
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Thanks for the replies.

I know that I could do some reduction (sweaters especially) and make do with less space than I have now, but there is a point below which I will simply be unhappy, and I'm trying to gauge exactly where that is. I have noticed that in many houses we've shopped that have small master closets, the owners' belongings are scattered among half the closets in the house. That doesn't seem like a very desirable situation to me, if it can be avoided. Oh, my reference to "furniture" simply means that we'll be buying new bedroom furniture, so we could shoot for as much drawer space outside the closet as we could manage, but the room is not that large so there's a limit.

The trick with a closet like this is to take advantage of the odd shape. My latest hare-brained idea (since the sliding sweater shelf idea appears to be iffy at best) is to put shelving on the back wall of the closet (using Elfa, or whatever other system), and double-hanging rods in front of that. To get to the shelves, I'd need to push aside the stuff in front. In tests in my current closet, I find that shirts are easy to push aside, while pants are not (due to thicker hangers). So I'd probably put infrequently used stuff behind the pants (or perhaps a hamper, but I'm not sure it that's much of an idea either.) This approach would pretty much fill the volume of the closet, leaving no spare space for anything. It's not a great solution, but it would squeeze a lot of storage into the closet. I'm not sure if it would be particularly pleasant to live out of like that....

    Bookmark   October 9, 2005 at 10:10AM
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Let's say you put sweaters on the shelves behind the clothes. How many months of the year do you wear the sweaters? How many days of the month? If, for example, you wear a sweater to work everyday, you'll become annoyed quickly and end up stacking a week's worth of sweaters on the dresser (don't ask me how I know this, LOL). If you wear sweaters only during the winter on weekends, the shelves will work fine because you won't have to access them every morning.

And where will you keep your shoes (assuming you take out the present shelving)? If you keep them in the bottom of the closet, you'll have to remember that the double hanging rack will be low to the ground unless you remove an upper shelf. If you keep them on a shelf above the closet rod, you'll have to make sure you have enough clearance so that your shirt tails or pants hems aren't dragging the closet floor on the double rack.

How are you set for linen closet space? You could always take over the linen closet shelves for sweaters, and keep spare linens for each bed in the house in under-bed storage boxes.

Julie (I feel your pain... I've been struggling with insufficient closet space for years)

    Bookmark   October 9, 2005 at 10:33AM
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I know this thread is out of date, but I thought I would chime in with an idea for others who may have this problem. When space is an issue, go vertical. Hang rods and shelves higher than the normal closet. Use a shephard's hook like clothing stores use to reach clothing that is hanging high up, to reach clothing on hangers. Use a small step ladder that folds away to reach high shelves.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 8:44AM
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My walk in is also narrow. I use both sides of my closet. I use wicker baskets on top of the shelf over the hanging space. I bought turned the baskets on thier sides and placed the folded sweaters in them. I use these baskets across the length of the shelf for sweaters, jeans, tshirts, and winter night gowns. I love this "system." It reminds me of a department store. I can see everything and it really encourages me to put everything away as it worn and cleaned to maintain the "look." Not brilliant but it looks good. Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2011 at 5:49PM
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