The Great Closet Clean-Out

I cannot believe I am about to show you what I am about to show you.  I feel an extraordinary sense of shame over what these photos reveal, but I also know that I don’t want to live a lie any longer, and the best way to rip off the band-aid is fast and firm.

So, with great humility/humiliation, I present to you the interior of my closets:


I suspect that each of us has a storage-and-organization personality.  And it turns out that I’m a shover.  As in, when I need to store something and I don’t want to spend the time to store it properly, I have a tendency to just SHOVE IT ON IN wherever it will fit.  Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not tidy or organized–I’ve got enough pride to swallow without over-doing it.  I am, actually, a little uptight about organizing things (all my CDs, back when anyone had such a thing, were in alphabetical and chronological order, in that order; I used to organize my books by height, tallest to shortest from the sides of the bookcase, so they made a V in the middle; my closets, before children, were all organized by length of garment and length of sleeve; and my fondest desire is to put in wall-to-wall bookshelves in our basement so I can have a little library–complete with Dewey decimal stickers).  I am also, though, pretty black-or-white in most areas of my life: if you’re not going to do a thing properly, I don’t see much point in doing it at all.  Come strong or don’t come at all is our family motto.

As I planned for Christmas, though, I had that sense that I think a lot of us have as we prepare to bring a whole bunch of new stuff into our homes: Where are we going to put it?  Do we even need all this stuff?  Am I just re-buying things we already have that I can’t find because I don’t know where I put them and all the storage areas are so cluttered and disastrous that I don’t even want to try looking in the first place?  My husband and I are both pretty ruthless about getting rid of things–and we’ve moved TWICE in the past 18 months, keep in mind.  It’s not that we’re hanging on to a bunch of things we don’t need, literal emotional baggage.  It’s that we don’t have HOMES for those places, despite the fact that we feel we’ve culled the collection pretty firmly.  Even so, we could stand to get rid of some stuff, and a lot of our things are disorganized and stacked up.

Let me give you some examples.

master closet smallThis is the smaller of the two closets in the master bedroom.  We’re pretty sure this was the original closet, and the mid-sized walk-in was added in the 80s when they did a Dynasty-style renovation on the bathroom.  We don’t need two closets, and neither of us wanted to NOT have the larger one, so we share the walk-in for most of our clothes.  Instead of taking up valuable floor and wall space with my dresser, we’ve put it inside the closet, with my husband’s military uniforms on one side and our formal wear on the other, tucked away since they don’t get used regularly.  But see that stack of clothes on top of the dresser?  Those are my clothes.  All (mostly) folded and out of the wash, and they SHOULD be in the drawers.  Know what’s in the drawers?  Almost NOTHING.  They’re practically empty–I just haven’t sorted all the clothing into the appropriate categories in order to put them away.

boy closetThis is the closet in our son’s room.  Mostly neat, right?  Except you don’t see how very many empty and unnecessary hangers are here in this closet, off to the right.  And that pile of things on the shelf?

boy closet shelfThose all got put there the day we moved in ONE YEAR AGO.  And haven’t been touched since.  I know–I can hear some of you saying, “Then get rid of them, you obviously don’t need them!”  Which would be true, except I know what those are: they’re the trays and pieces to our puzzles, which we have been wanting to play with for months, but didn’t have or want to take the time to rescue from this oblivion.

girls closetThis is the closet the two little girls share with one another.  Not too bad–except the row of cardboard boxes on the floor to the right that are FILLED with lonely socks, random books, orphan shoes, and summer clothes that didn’t make it into drawers.  The kids like to play in here, and often when they do, toys and things don’t exactly get back where they began.  And the giant pile of clothing on top of the shelf?  Those are all clothes that the six-year-old has outgrown that are waiting for the 2.5-year-old to grow into.  I don’t honestly think we’re hoarders, and I don’t think I misunderstand the principle of getting rid of things you don’t need to keep–I just haven’t invested the time in taking care of the task that needed to be done.

linen closetThe very worst offender is here: the linen closet.  It sits directly across a narrow hall leading to the bathroom from the coat closet, and they both tend to be scary.  The coat closet isn’t too bad, by comparison, but the linen closet looks as though it vomited most of the time.  We’ve got brackets at the very top that could support another shelf, but for some reason, there is no shelf to go up there, and we’re most assuredly one shelf short in this closet.  I’ve re-organized this thing TWICE in the last year, and still we can’t stay on top of it, and frequently stack clean sheets, towels and blankets on the floor in front of the doors rather than wrestle with the half-filled shelves and their pathetic misshapen stacks to try and shove another pile of clean laundry inside.

I have wanted to put this together as a series on organizing and unloading unnecessary things–particularly here at the end of year, when we can still get 2012 tax write-offs for donations to charity.  Perfect time to do it!  I thought I’d get it all done before Christmas, but it’s that whole Ado-Annie-all-or-nothing thing again: I couldn’t give it my whole attention while also preparing for the holidays, so it just didn’t get done.

I have a week between now and New Year’s Eve, and I am determined to make NO MORE excuses.  I’m doing this thing in REAL TIME, baby: I’ll start with the master closet today, and blog my results tomorrow. I’m not a fan of accountability in general–who wants to have their friends watching all the time to make sure they do something they don’t really want to do?–but in this case, I suspect I’ll start strong out of the gate and then poop out fairly quickly, so if I don’t commit to a course of action, I’m worried I’ll procrastinate this one right into December 2013.

To make the whole thing more logical and organized (hey!), I’ve broken down the process into five stages:

  1. evaluate and assess
  2. purge and empty
  3. re-design
  4. organize and store
  5. maintain

Along the way, I’m hoping to take absolute piles of things off to the Goodwill to donate–and get a receipt, of course, to capitalize on those 2012 tax opportunities.  Wanna ride along with me?  Maybe it’ll inspire you to get your own organization task taken care of–whether it’s the closet or the tupperware cabinet–or maybe it’ll just give me that awful accountability.  If nothing else, it’s a lovely train wreck for you to watch this week while we wait for the year to turn!

I’m off RIGHT THIS SECOND to work on the larger of the two master closets.  Tell me, what’s the worst storage area in your house, and what have you been thinking ought to be done about it that you just haven’t gotten around to?  I’d love to hear some ideas as I toil away!

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  • Karen Chatters
    December 26, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Sister, it’s like you’re in my head. I’m DYING to do some purging and organizing. I desperately want to tackle the toy room but don’t have a clue what to do with the toys that are in there already. We have to front closets and I want to put in shelves in one of them and use it for toy storage/organization.

    And then there is all the wall art that I don’t have wall space for. Do I keep it? Donate it? Attempt to hang it? I have 2 closets that have pictures in them with no where to put them.

    I did take a few boxes of stuff to Goodwill this morning. I attempted to put 2 of my husbands coats in there, coats I’ve never seen him wear in 7 years. He caught me and took them out and put them back.

    So see, no help here.

    • Deborah
      December 27, 2012 at 11:55 am

      I’m so glad it’s not just me!!! I think it’s closet-purging season, which is good, because we can all share our war stories. I didn’t think I’d have anything to purge from the master, since we dumped things BOTH times we moved, but between the two of us we got rid of FOUR garbage bags full. That’s insane!

      If it makes you feel better re: hubs, I won’t be doing the kids’ things while they’re here–I’ll wait until they’re out of the house or back at school. Except for those puzzles, they haven’t even noticed half the toys on the shelves, so why bring ’em back out? Just have to keep it in Stealth Mode.

  • Katie
    December 26, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    We are moving from not having a closet at all (aka four hanging bars in the bedroom + random shelves to hold clothes) to a finished walk-in closet, and the hardest part is definitely the moving + organizing of said new closet. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Deborah
      December 27, 2012 at 11:59 am

      You know, my husband and I struggled a bit last night, because I wanted everything to be both functional AND attractive, and he was content to have old boxes sitting on shelves on top of shoes. Not. Gonna. Cut it. We’re having to really re-evaluate what’s important to each of us and find ways where we BOTH get what we want–which is really exciting and healthy, and I’m hoping will be a lovely start to the new year. Congrats on your move, hope your closets are everything you dreamed they would be!

  • Charlotte
    December 26, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Have you seen this blog?
    she does a regular bit called “the William Morris Project” you might find interesting. It’s inspired me to get off my ass and clean out some drawers!

    • Deborah
      December 27, 2012 at 11:57 am

      I haven’t!! What a great find–am going to read through her archives and see if I can learn from her experience. It already feels SO GOOD to make the closets look pretty and know that I’ve only kept the things that I really love and use and want to have around me. Much freer! Thanks for the link!

  • Diane
    December 28, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Not content with a closet, I’ve taken on rearranging TWO ROOMS. I need to have my head examined. I’m actually moving furniture around from room to room and trying not to spend money. The sunroom has added a desk from your sister’s room so I have a quasi-office. And her room will become the Moebes babies room, with space to sleep all three smaller ones. Cross your fingers I have it completed before you come to visit!

    Good on you for tackling this project. I compare any project which looks worse at the middle than at either end to closet-cleaning. There’s a point where you become discouraged and just have to push through.