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Organizing Your Linen Closet

Space-saving strategies and inexpensive storage can help you "think outside the closet" when tackling linen closet organization.

Linen closets often attract much more than linens, turning into the catchall for anything bed and bath. If the mound of pillows, blankets, towels, sheets, table linens and toiletries makes you scared to even open the door, it may be time to conquer your fear and perform an organization overhaul.

"People hang on to their junk because [they think] 'I might need that someday,'" says health psychologist Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, author of The Well-Ordered Home: Organizing Techniques for Inviting Serenity Into Your Life. "Stuff accumulates because we don't have time to go through it." But spending a little bit of time creating an orderly linen closet can actually save you time and stress in the long run.

Because the primary function of linen closets is to be functional, Kendall-Tackett recommends asking yourself some questions about the stuff that's crammed inside. First, ask yourself, "Where do I use the items (towels, sheets, pillows, etc.)?" Second, "What do I need for each area of my house?" Your answers should govern what goes into your linen closet.

Purge and Prepare

"We actually use 20 percent of what we own 80 percent of the time," says Betsy Peterson, a professional organizer and owner of Space and Time, in Oak Ridge, Tenn. "That's not to say that you should get rid of everything, but that's how you can best approach how to organize a closet."

First, identify what you need to store in your linen closet. Peterson recommends categorizing items during your sort, and donating items you're not using. For larger items, she advises homeowners to "think outside the closet." Remember that "just because it's a pillow doesn't mean it has to go in the linen closet."

After you know what's going into the closet, wipe the shelves with a damp cloth or sponge and wait until dry before lining them. Unbuffered acid-free tissue paper is great for linen storage because it doesn't discolor fabrics over time. Lay some over shelves or wrap antique linens to prevent yellowing.

Opt for Adjustable Shelves

If you're gutting your closet and starting from scratch, ClosetMaid sells adjustable wire and laminate shelving. Joan Pace, a ClosetMaid designer with nine years of new construction experience, has seen her share of problematic linen closets: "Linen closets are tucked in [places], and not always for the convenience of what's going inside of them."

Ideally, a linen closet should be in a cool, dry place in the home. But if your linen closet is in a bathroom, Pace recommends ClosetMaid's ventilated wire shelving for increased airflow between linens.

Pace likes the adjustable shelves because they can change as the family does. "If you're going to live in a house for a long time, you need change," she says, and the shelving should fit the function of the people who are going to be accessing the closet. Pace gives one warning when placing your shelves: Make sure there's enough room between the door trim and the highest shelf for storing your items.

If you already have shelves, consider handy add-ons like under-mount wire baskets or shelf dividers from The Container Store. These dividers snap onto existing shelves to create partitions, forming units of items and keeping them from falling over. To further identify units of items, labeling is a good idea. "A lot of people have difficulty organizing because they have a problem maintaining," says Peterson, but with labels every member of your family — and even your guests — will know where the towels go.

Put Items in Their Proper Place

As the mainstays of the linen closet, it's important to keep towels and bedsheets front and center. Kendall-Tackett recommends active storage: keeping your frequently used items accessible. That means storing seasonal or occasional items in the back or top of the closet, or in another place entirely, like the front hall closet. Things like beach towels should be stacked behind regularly used towels, or higher up with other less-used items. And bulky items like comforters, quilts and pillows that are for guests or that are rotated seasonally can be stored in vacuum-sealed storage bags called Space Bags. "Space Bags work wonders," says Peterson, "They're good for sealing [linens away] from moisture and bugs."

Towels
To get the most storage space for bulky towels, it's best to fold them in thirds lengthwise, then into a rectangle. Place on shelves at your eye level or below, so the edges face toward the back for a neat appearance. If your closet is on the smaller side, consider rolling your towels for extra space.

Sheets
A clever way to corral multiple sets of sheets is by storing them neatly in a matching pillowcase. "It's always a good idea, especially if you're a busy family, to have two sets of sheets for each bed," says Peterson. If you have lots of beds in different sizes, try buying different-colored sheets for each one so you don't mix them up. Then, stack sheets in collapsible linen storage containers like the ones from KangaRooM Storage. Their three sizes of canvas containers come with preprinted labels and fold flat when not in use.

Dining and Antique Linens

Things like tablecloths and antique linens should be hung on a non-wire hanger. Otherwise, fold them flat and stack them on a shelf lined with acid-free tissue paper. If you prefer to store your linens in baskets, be sure to find ones with a lining to prevent snags. Dinner napkins and table runners are best grouped together. If you don't use them that often, be sure to keep them on the sides or at the top of the closet, or in a storage space in your dining room.

Toiletries
When it comes to toiletries, having a well-stocked linen closet can be a tremendous timesaver, says Kendall-Tackett.

Keeping Things Fresh

Linens, like clothing, can become stagnant when they aren't frequently used. To keep your linens smelling fresh, place a box of baking soda or a lavender sachet on the shelf. Sachets are easy to buy or make from a scrap of fabric and ribbon, but the scent does wear out over time. "It's a good idea to take out everything and launder it periodically — six months to a year just to freshen it," says Peterson.

Wool items should be stored in vacuum-sealed bags to prevent damage from critters. Moth larvae — not moths — are the culprits for fabric disasters, and cedar is known to keep them at bay. But Kendall-Tackett recalls a cedar closet she had once: "The problem with cedar is that it loses its scent. I remember losing a whole bunch of sweaters one time. The moths had actually chewed an arm off a sweater."

"Probably one of the best deterrents is to simply put things away clean," says Kendall-Tackett.

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