How to create order in the coat closet

Take a reality check about kitchen storage. It's usually not about too little space: It's about too much stuff. Plastic bags, says District of Columbia professional organizer Scott Roewer. And food storage containers. And food -- a particular pro...

Take a reality check about kitchen storage. It's usually not about too little space: It's about too much stuff.

Plastic bags, says District of Columbia professional organizer Scott Roewer. And food storage containers. And food -- a particular problem among warehouse club shoppers. "A typical household cannot use 5,000 individual packages of sweetener or the 24-can case of chicken broth," Roewer says.

Then there are spices: Way too many spices that are way too old, says Fernando Alban, manager at Chesapeake Kitchen Design in Washington. And appliances: "People buy a new coffeepot and keep the old one, buy a new food processor and keep the old one."

Plus old utensils and gadgets, "like cheese graters pushed way back in the drawer," says Dana Souksavanh, a design specialist in the newly opened kitchen showroom at Bradco Supply in Hyattsville, Md. And don't get her started on place mats and napkins. "People keep buying new ones and stuffing them in till the drawer won't close and the fabric is wrinkled. Do you really need more than a couple of nice sets for eight or 10?"

So here's the word from the experts: Admit what you have too much of, and reclaim the space it's taking up.


* Plastic containers: Sort by size and shape (each one must have a lid), then send the overflow to recycling heaven, says Roewer. Zipper bags work for almost everything and take a whole lot less space to store.

* Food: Set aside a cabinet as a dry pantry for pasta, cereal, jars and cans, suggests Souksavanh. Using one cabinet is more efficient than scattering food storage around the room.

* Knives: Knives you don't use are a waste of drawer space, says Souksavanh. Get rid of the ones you never reach for, and store the rest in a wooden block on the counter; it looks good and protects the blades.

* Don't overstock cleaning products, says Alban. And if you remodel, look for newer sink designs that position the drain and disposal unit toward the back wall, freeing up under-sink storage.

Bottom line: Get realistic. "If you have a little apartment, maybe you shouldn't try to make room for that turkey fryer," Alban says.

What lies behind most coat closet doors goes way beyond parkas and rain slickers. Fire extinguishers, camera bags and golf clubs are just the beginning. Those with really limited storage may need to squish jackets and coats between mops and vacuums.

Step one in a rehab program: Resolve to keep only outerwear, umbrellas, hats, gloves, scarves and boots in this space. Begin by removing everything and sorting ruthlessly. That 20-year-old down coat belongs in the giveaway bag; the ripped, pilled polar fleece in the trash. Consider rotating coats with the seasons to free up space. Then wipe down the closet walls and vacuum the space. Repaint if you have the time.

"Most coat closets are an absolute mess," says Lisa Lennard, director of organizational learning and development at California Closets, a national home storage company. "Most consumers have only been given a pole and a shelf in their closet, and they don't know how to organize everything."


Lennard says it's well worth the effort to create two hanging areas, one higher than the other, for long and short coats. Scarves and gloves can be organized in bins, ideally one for each person. (Good luck if you have a family of 12.) A waterproof boot tray inside the closet will catch drips from galoshes or umbrellas. A hook on the back of the closet door can hold dog leashes and backpacks.

People with very limited space should seek out every inch of hidden storage for stashing coat-closet invaders: under the bed, in storage ottomans, on hooks along a staircase. When gear has nowhere else to go, Lennard says, hall closets can be customized with shelves and dividers designed for vacuum or CD storage.

Cathy McManus, marketing director for online organizing source Stacks and Stacks, at stacks, says a coat tree near the front door can take on the overflow, especially damp raincoats and guests' coats.

If you have a linen closet, however small, count yourself lucky. It's a luxury many would envy. But this prized space has a way of becoming stuffed and jumbled: Lumpy piles of sheets and towels are squished in among first-aid supplies, hair dryers, outdated medications, half-empty shampoo bottles and extra toilet paper. It becomes yet another disordered daily annoyance rather than the bonus it should be.

Reclaim the space by remembering what linen closets are intended to hold: linens. Fresh sheets and spare blankets for nearby bedrooms, an extra pillow or two, clean towels and other essentials for the bath. And accept that linen closets have also become medicine chest annexes.

Start the overhaul by removing everything and winnowing the pile to include only what makes sense to store there. If you'd like a really clean slate, take a few hours to paint or even wallpaper the interior. (Consider a color or pattern, whether vivid or serene, that will make you smile each time you open the door.) Not up for that much work? At least put down fresh shelf liners. Lots of stores sell scented versions (meadow grass? cucumber mint?).

Then, prioritize. Put things you use all the time at front and center. Seasonal items -- beach towels in winter, heavy blankets in summer -- go higher up and farther back, says Deborah Broockerd, senior designer at the Closet Factory in Waldorf, Md.


Group lotions, potions, pills and implements together; manicure gear in one see-through container, hair stuff in another, medicines in a third. Professional organizer Kim Oser of Put It Away! in Gaithersburg, Md., recommends plastic boxes to contain leaks from sticky liquids, such as cough syrup.

Deborah Wiener, owner of Designing Solutions in Silver Spring, Md., says narrow spice shelves work great on a linen closet door to hold bandages, bars of soap or cotton balls.

As for those linens: "You only need three sets of sheets and pillowcases" per bed, says Oser. "One that's on it, one in the laundry and a spare in case of emergency." Store in sets by size, then label the shelf. Allow three sets of bath and hand towels and washcloths per person, and store according to color or bathroom. Overflow linens can go to animal shelters, the rag pile or the trash. Better there than crowding your linen closet.

If you don't want to face a dreary, badly lighted bathroom first thing in the morning and last thing at night for the next year, resolve to spruce things up. Even if your budget or landlord rules out a major remodel, don't despair: Inexpensive cosmetic changes can dramatically improve the room.

"People think, 'I can only go from A to Z''' in remodeling a bathroom, says Ellen Witts, a designer at Gilday Renovations in Silver Spring, Md. "But there's so much that can be done in between."

First, experts agree, clear the clutter of old makeup and expired medication. Then, consider a fresh coat of paint. Witts recommends painting the walls a neutral color and adding contrast with towels and rugs.

Even if you've inherited a pink-tile bathroom, using a soft, complementary paint color (such as a warm white) can tone down the tile and make it more tolerable, says Barbara Sallick, co-founder of Waterworks, a chain of high-end bath and kitchen stores.

Other quick changes include hanging a new shower curtain on a shiny chrome rod; painting the vanity and installing new knobs; replacing a rusted medicine cabinet with a mirror and shelf over the sink; and adding hanging art and other decorative objects (a small clock can be particularly helpful).


In powder rooms, Sallick likes using vintage towels found at flea markets to dress up the small space. Witts suggests hiding drab or dated flooring under sisal or other natural fiber cut to the shape of room. Many carpet stores sell bargain-price carpet remnants big enough to do the job.

Finally, any bathroom will benefit from proper lighting. Sconces on either side of the mirror are much more flattering than overhead light. At least try to replace any old fluorescent lights. "Make them go away," Sallick says. "And all of a sudden you won't look yellow anymore."

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