Tip #137: Organize Your Linen Closet/Bag/Box
A few weeks ago I took a photo of my mostly empty closet shelves and posted it to Instagram with the caption that empty shelves and baskets look prettier than full ones. Because, well, it’s true. But I’m somewhat concerned that readers think that my closet shelves actually are empty; that I’d finally lost it and decided to carelessly throw my last set of sheets out of the top-floor window with a cackle and a cry, “Sweet Freedom!”
No, I haven’t opted instead to sleep on a bare pallet on the floor for sake of Mother Minimalism. Sorry to disappoint. And I don’t live in a house where keeping a spacious, Spartan linen closet is entirely possible, even if the collection itself is modest. You might not either.
But we do live in a world where images of styled spaces show us light and bright and just one white towel hanging daintily on the hook. So, while I’m the first to advocate an approach that means you aren’t cramming your closets full of stuff you don’t use, and while I’d never disparage the god or goddess who manages to keep an utterly pristine closet, I also want to paint a realistic portrait.
Sheets and napkins and toilet paper gotta go somewhere and the spaces we have for them is often small (in any size home). To note: When I took these shots, we were out of toilet paper, slobs that we are. The rolls usually go up there next to the towels. And, of course, I straightened the shelves before I took the pictures. And fine, maybe I moved a brightly colored dish towel that was throwing off the look. And yes, we’ve recently divested ourselves of a gigantic pile of cloth diapers thanks to the magic of potty training. And yes, that’s freed up a whole lot of space. And yes, some of our linens are in use: in the bathroom, in the hamper, …on the floor. You get it.
But even if the reality is that things are a little cramped and pillowcases get a little topsy-turvy in the space of a week, it’s nice to feel inspired by a fresh space and it is possible to stay organized even without the spacious closet shelves of dreams. Here are a few tips for keeping linens manageable in whatever kind of space you have:
+ Be particular about your folds.
I grew up in a house where my parents had specific instructions on how we were supposed to fold laundry, and with the linens, the guidelines were especially clear. Growing up in an old, old house, closet space was limited and our linen closet looked like a tightly packed (very neat) can of sardines. My mom was a big fan of the tri-fold, wherein towels and pillowcases were folded into neat rectangles after being folding into thirds. Whatever kind of fold you choose, keep it consistent. This is the first place I’ve lived in with a more-or-less dedicated linen closet. But neatly folded linens have helped me stay sane in every apartment I’ve lived in. Most linens are made in relatively uniform sizes, so use the uniformity to your advantage and fold everything the same way. It’ll make for neater piles, or stacks, or rolls, or whatever you decide fits best in your space.
+ Keep like with like.
Sometimes there’s simply no closet to speak of. Before we moved into our current apartment, James and I shared one tiny closet under our stairs and there wasn’t room for linens in it. We had to divide things up: sheets lived in a bag under our bed; towels lived in a basket, hand towels lived permanently on hooks in the bathroom. The only spot for the huge stack of cloth diapers we had would have been strung from the ceiling like prayer flags. Even if space dictates that not all of your linens can live side-by-side, try to keep like things with like things and work with what you have. Your sheets might be able to all hang out together even if they can’t also co-habitate with your towels. I recently started tucking sheet sets into their matching pillowcases, envelope-style, to keep things organized. GAME CHANGER. I was forever searching for matching sets in a closet of white sheets, and the sheets themselves would get messy in the process. No longer.
+ Create enclosures.
Some people are really good at keeping extremely neat piles. (My mom.) Other people are a little less good at this. (Me.) Other people are downright terrible at it (Naming no names, but you know who you are.) If it would help you to keep things organized, separate your space a bit. I use a basket to keep napkins in one neat spot. I tuck little-used but still-loved tablecloths into a small linen bag for safe-keeping. I dump all of my rags, unfolded, into a bag made from an old pillowcase (above). I tuck the bag of rags into another basket, and call that neat-enough.
+ Play around with it.
I’m not really in the camp of organize once and live happily ever after. Maybe it’s that I only get my sparks of genius in fits and starts, but I think that finding the best way to organize a closet, or cabinet, or drawer happens overtime. It requires some amount of regular maintenance and patience and yes, even, getting so flustered that you take everything out of the closet, admire the bare shelves, and start over again. Plus: time changes things. One week you have a gigantic pile of diapers, the next week you don’t. Roll with it and develop a new system when you need it.
What about you guys? Genius tricks for keeping control of your linen cabinet?
For the curious:
+ My various metal baskets have been gathered over the years. What you see here have been available at various times from Kaufmann Mercantile, West Elm, and Brook Farm General Store. Similar baskets can be found in home stores all over tarnation.
+ Bottles and pitchers and other miscellany are all vintage.
+ We’ve recently achieved small apartment Nirvana and currently have nothing stored under our bed. We use our fabric under-the-bed-storage bag from Muji in our closet for stowing maternity and baby clothes, swaddles and wraps and other things for someday.
+ James and I just upgraded our bed situation. After ten years of sleeping on a double mattress, we’ve made the leap to a Queen, which prompted a fall down the rabbit hole of bed and bedding options. More on all of that to come soon.