Your Home’s Unsung Hero — The Closet

Shoes organized in a home closet
Image: Merrick White of Merricks Art

Closets get a bad rap: too small, too cluttered, never as perfect as we want them to be. It’s time to recognize the value they add (and get some savvy organizing tips).

More vital than a bathroom, more useful than a kitchen, your closets make every other room look terrific and function well. They’re the ultimate storage and organization partner -- and the key to any sane household.

Related: The Link Between Clutter and Depression

That’s why we believe that closets are the most important room in your house, hands down.

If you’ve ever tried to negotiate a room cluttered with out-of-season clothing, random sports equipment, and a basket of to-be-folded laundry, you know that a well-organized home is much easier to clean and maintain. 

Closets are your key ally, providing a place for everything and clearing out your housescape, making home maintenance an easier chore.

We especially like using a closet to organize home maintenance tools and equipment, like this home improvement blogger did.

What else makes closets so vital? Let’s count the ways:

1. Closets Save Time

No need for an archeological dig through the back corners of your closets. If everything is stored correctly and in its proper closet, you’ll know right where to go when you need something.

Put your foot down and assign specific uses for each closet in your house -- then stick to your guns. You’ll get the best use of your closets when each has a special duty. No “temporarily” stashing the wallpaper steamer in the linen closet!

Instead, make the effort to return items to the correct storage area. When you need them again -- voila! You’ll have them right at your fingertips, saving time and frustration.

2. Closets Save Money

By optimizing each closet with shelves and other storage systems, you’ll have exactly the space you need for your stuff.

Leftovers? Out they go. In fact, storage experts say that the average household has 20-40% more stuff than they actually need.

With your existing closet space as a guide to organized bliss, get rid of everything that doesn’t fit. Take it to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or your local thrift store.

Related: How to Get Rid of Stuff

End result: You’ll put a leash on your buying instincts, get more use out of the things you have, and say goodbye to that $50-$150 per month storage locker.

Don’t cheat by stuffing your garage with leftovers! Instead, organize your garage with the same principles – if it doesn’t fit in the space you have, toss it.

3. Closets Keep Kids (and You) Happy

In bedrooms with two or more kids, closets help reduce sibling rivalry (and disputes) by establishing boundaries. Shared closets should be organized with bins, shelves, and hanging spaces. Color-coordinate bins and label them so ownership is clear -- and it’s obvious whose stuff needs to be put back in its proper place.

Shared kids room with separate bins for toys

Tip: Don’t use sliding doors! They are a recipe for disaster with a shared kids’ closet. Use a bi-fold door or (even better) a curtain so one sibling can’t slide a door in front of the other’s stuff.

4. Closets Are Life-Savers for Open Floor Plans

A closet is a confidant. Put your things in your closet and close the door -- your closet won’t reveal what’s inside.

That’s more important than ever. Open floor plans, with tall ceilings and few partitions, continue to be the most-popular house design, which puts extra emphasis on having clean, clutter-free spaces. Easy to do if you have closets to neatly store the clothes, toys, and other everyday items that tend to wander around your house.

5. Closets Can Be Whatever You Want Them to Be

Closet converted to a laundry room

Want to express your inner Picasso or Hemingway but don’t have a place to do it? Closets are one of the most easy-to-convert spaces you’ve got. Convert a closet to:

A new mother even turned her closet into a nursery.

6. Closets Will Take One for the Team

You’ve got a new carpet or hardwood floor cleaner that warns you to first “test in an inconspicuous area.” Where do you turn?  Exactly.

Why Does It Seem We Never Have Enough Closet Space?

Everyone wants more storage space. But most standard houses aren’t built with generous storage in mind.

“Really smart closet storage and configuration is an afterthought for most builders,” says Michael Mahoney, a design consultant with remodeling specialists Neil Kelly, and a self-described closet guru. “I have many clients who need their closets remodeled for more space and better efficiency.”

Tips For Maximizing and Adding Closet Space

Look up. Most closets don’t take advantage of that last foot or so of space, where an extra shelf can handle little-used and seasonal items. That’s especially true in homes with 9-foot ceilings and vaulted ceilings. Tuck a collapsible stool in a corner so you can reach when you need to.

High ceilings in a closet being put to use

Paint your closet a really bright white. It reflects light, making it easier to find items stashed in the back.

Install dividers on shelves. That will make it easier to stack items and keep like-items together.

If you’ve gone through our prescribed exercise of tossing little-used items and you’re still crying out for more places to stuff your stuff, try these ideas for adding closets:

  • That triangular space underneath stairways is often hollow. Take advantage by making an under-stairs storage closet.
  • Freestanding furniture is a godsend for the storage-challenged. Carefully measure the space you’d like to annex as closet space, and buy an armoire or wardrobe to fit. Or, buy inexpensive shelving units and add a curtain as a door. Bonus: If you move, your freestanding closet goes with you.


John Riha
John Riha

John Riha has written seven books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.