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Creating a Family Closet

Author's Notes: Of all the articles I have proposed the write for, when I suggested writing one on family closets, the response was most overwhelming. That is probably because laundry, and by extension, clothes storage, is one of the most ominous tasks large families are faced with.

When I was doing research for this article, I did a customary Google search on the phrase, "family closet." Aside from coming up with a movie from 1921 with the same name, I learn that for most people a family closet is that secret place where all of the skeletons are kept, until someone inevitably reveals a shameful secret and the proverbial closet is thrown open for the world to see. Thankfully, that's not the type of closet we'll be talking about in this article. Our family closet, also referred to as an everything closet, is a contained space where all of the clothing for the family is stored.

The concept of a "family closet" has been made newly popular by the Duggars, who have been featured in several specials on the Discovery Channel. Though the concept is not new. In years past, with space at a minimum, many families kept their clothing in a centralized place. Of course, it was a status symbol to have a home with sufficient closet space for each person, and as the years passed, the idea of storing your clothing in your own bedroom became the norm. However, there was something to be said about the simplicity of days past.

I think one of the big misconceptions to the idea of a family closet is the word "closet" itself. We are very tied into the thought that clothes must be stored in a small room/cubby with a rod extending across it. When you envision a family closet, you envision 4 walls and a door. What I learned is that while it is nice to have the luxury of an actual closet, or a whole room like the Duggars, neither are necessary to create a centralized area for clothes storage.

My first foray into a family closet was several children ago. I was tired of lugging baskets all over the house, and more importantly, running from room to room every morning to get clothes for my kids to wear to school. Since I usually folded clothes in my bedroom, I figured that would be the key place to centralize my clothes storage. Now, I don't have a showroom bedroom--a lot of the house's clutter gets dumped in there, so it wasn't a big deal to rework the room. I basically moved all of the dressers into the room, abandoning a few that wouldn't fit. I hung a shelf with a rod under it for hangables. I put rolling containers under my bed. Even with the additional stuff, in some ways my room was more organized. What I lost in space I made up 10-fold in time-saving and convenience!

Then along came baby #7. As much as I managed to pare down and utilize space-saving measures, my room was simply not big enough to accommodate the clothing for 9 people. So, I had to start getting real about the idea of finding an independent place for a family closet.

A popular location for a family closet is right next to or in the laundry room. Particularly if you do laundry in the basement, chances are you already have some long-term storage down there. Reorganizing and setting up shelving, rods, and containers for clothing is do-able. For me, our basement is cold and dreary, with a layout that would not work well. I actually started getting frustrated. We have no spare rooms. Then the idea of part of a room hit me. We had a bedroom that used to be my grandmother's before she was placed in a nursing home. We had decided to turn it into a sewing/craft room. After some thought, I realized we could reconfigure the craft area into a smaller space. So, I decided to split the room in half and create my family closet.

Since it was more of an experiment at the beginning, and actually evolved over a series of months (and storage purchases), it didn't occur to me to take "before" pictures. So, instead I'll post a diagram of the room layout.

BEFORE: The room was a standard sized bedroom, with the typical furnishings: bed, chair, dressers, t.v. On the far end of the room was a wide closet with sliding doors. Behind the closet was a utility closet that was already storing much-need items, and therefore was off-limits for our family closet.AFTER: The furniture was removed. A sewing table and shelving was put up on one-side of the room. Utilizing the existing closet, shelving and other storage solutions were put up in a "U" configuration, to create two distinct areas--particularly a semi-contained area for clothes storage.

When creating the closet, we tried to utilize as much as we had on-hand in the way of storage. Initially, that meant using some of our dressers and some shelving we had around the house. But, dressers proved cumbersome in the small area, and was a waste of "air" space--meaning we wanted to utilize shelving that could be stacked high. Piece by piece, we swapped out the dresser and small storage units, replacing them with large wire shelving units. Wire shelves have been a staple in restaurants for years, and have recently become popular storage in homes. You can find them at Walmart or your home improvement store.

Though it did take some tweaking, and reconfiguring, our closet is now finally done, and perfect for our family. I will admit, we did not put all of the family's clothing in one place. Our bedroom has a very large closet, so we were able to store the adult clothing there. But, having all of the kids' stuff in one area is just amazing. It helps on so many levels, the most important being that it makes the major task of laundry a bit easier.

Below I will be posting pictures and descriptions of the setup. Since graphic-intense pages load slower, all pictures are thumbnails--you can click on them to see a bigger pictures.

Here is a full view of the "closet" area. There are two 5-shelf units. On the right, the room's existing closet is utilized for hanging items and small items stored in bins. Each child has a shelf labelled with their name and graphical pictures above each stack. Smaller bins are utilized to store other items in the area. A small wooden stepstool is kept in the area so that the older children can get access to the higher shelves. Shelf configuration is determined by child's size, meaning younger children have lower shelves, older/taller children have higher shelves. Baby clothing is on the highest shelves, since parents dress those kids. Since it is a semi-contained area, it is also used as a changing room.

Most shelves and drawers are labelled. Labels were created with a strong emphasis on pictures. This is important not only for our younger children, but our autistic son who cannot read, but can identify pictures. Each shelf has 4-5 categories: Pants (and leggings for girls), school shirts, play shirts, shorts. Again, above each stack is a graphic. While some may feel this is redundant, it has been very helpful in our household. At a quick glance, it may not be obvious which stack is which, and the pictures saves excessive sifting through clothes only to find you're looking in the wrong pile. Also, other family members, such as Dad, may not be familiar with the kid's clothes. So, even though the items are separated in stacks, just looking at them folded won't do much for him. He can glance at the pictures and immediately know which pile to grab. Swim suits and other water gear is stored in bins on the top level. Note: labels are attached using clear contact paper.

Here is a picture of the left shelving unit. It is not positioned against a wall, so labels were created using cardboard piece, the printed pictures, wrapped in clear contact paper, and are using cable ties. The top shelf has additional storage. The green basket contains nightshirts, which we do not separate, since most are simply adult tees which have been handed down to the kids for that purpose. The drawers contain out of season items that we may want on occasion, and thus can't store in the basement. They are out of the way on a higher shelf.

As mentioned before, the existing closet in the room was utilized for the hangables. We classify an item as "hangable" as long-sleeved shirts, dresses, dress shirts, and/or formal wear. For simplicity, each child has their own colored hanger. Notice that like hangers are grouped on the rod. To the right there is a picture on the wall with colored smiley faces, indicating which child's clothes are on which colored hanger. Underneath the rod are several different small storage drawers. These hold undergarments and other small items.

Socks alone are almost as big a chore as the rest of the laundry. We try to purchase socks with the colored writing on the toe, so we know which socks are for which child. If not, we write a number on the sole indicating size (0 for baby, 1 for toddlers, 2 for preschoolers, etc). Since all socks are labelled, they are paired and placed in one hamper at the end of the shelving unit. Kids can easy sift through and find a pair.

On the opposite side of the room, facing away from the shelving/closet area, wire "laundry" shelves were utilized to provide space for additional hanging items, as well as a store extra hangers until they are needed. This particular shelf is used primarily for additional coats and sweatshirts. The shelves above hold material for the sewing area, as well as other items such as overflow hats and scarves.

The narrow walkway out of the room is utilized as a "mudroom" type area. On the right wall, low enough for the little ones to reach, hooks were mounted for coats and backpacks. Above, we purchased small canvas bins that attach to the wall for hats and gloves. Additional household storage was accomplished above using wall-mounted wire shelving. On the lower right, is a hamper for dirty clothes. On the far wall, the doorway has a child gate and a curtain, which keeps little ones out and therefore messing with the shelves, plus gives privacy when someone is changing.

On the left wall, we purchased 2 stacking shoe organizers. The shoe cubbies are labelled with names and pictures, so kids know where to put their shoes. Above, we have additional laundry shelves to hold more hangers and for general storage.

It has been about a year since we created our family closet, and about 3 months at it's current setup--which I believe will accommodate us for years to come. It has been one of the best things we have ever done. There is more room in the house, since there are no dressers. Bedroom closets can be used for other types of storage. Since the kids get their clothes from the family closet, dirties end up there, instead of all over the house. When I fold clothes in front of the t.v., I simply put them all in one basket, bring it into the closet area, and have it put up in a matter of minutes. I realize that not all families may benefit from a family closet, and some may simply have no space for one. But, remember that you don't need a big room or area. Part of a room, or even a smaller area, if utilized well, can give you a world of storage options, and help you create your own family closet.

Want to see more...?

  • For the sake of brevity and page loading, I limited the pictures posted of my family closet. If you would like to see more photos, as well as additional detailed descriptions, click here!

  • Another mom created a family closet using a full room in her home. She was gracious enough to let us feature it. Click here to view the pictorial article.

  • Earlier in the article, I discussed modified storage solutions to create a pseudo-family closet in my bedroom. That topic, including pictures, is discussed in this classic LOK this article.

  • More family closets! See some of the family closet pictures submitted by our visitors on this page.

  • Rosie from The Telling Mom shares her unique family closet solution, utilizing clothes baskets. Read the article here.

  • Do you have a family closet? Do you have a family closet-like storage solution? Visit our Submission page and send us your pictures! We are gathering pictures from other members and will be compiling a pictorial article for the near future.

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    Article and Pictures by: Michelle Lehmann
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  • Comments page 1 of 1
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    Posted 1103 days ago
    Thanks for the inspiration! We just started using a family closet in our basement laundry area for our family of 6, and we are saving so much time on laundry and the house is much tidier! family-closet/
    Posted 1170 days ago
    Looking at amandas post I was telling my husband the other day that other than pajamas and underwear after showers all the clothes changing happens in the bathroom. What I would like to do if we build a house is on the main floor the laundry would have on the sides closets that open on both sides. Then those closets would connect to a girl bathroom for one and a boy bathroom for the other.
    Posted 1238 days ago
    I love our family closet!

    http://whatmollythinks.blogspot.c om/2011/11/our-family-closet-reading-noo k.html
    Posted 1639 days ago
    Where did you find the small canvas totes that are hanging on the wall - would love these!
    Posted 1913 days ago
    I love Amanda's idea!!!
    Posted 2055 days ago
    So I got totally ahead of myself while reading.misreading this and came up with a fantastic idea. If you have the luxury of designing a house or even remodeling one, building a central laundry room surrounded by the bed rooms. The closets in each room would have closet doors on each side of closet allowing the laundry person to wash clothes and then slide the closet door open and hang the clothes directly into that childs closet!!
    ##article## familycloset Creating a Family Closet 48 Article In this popular LOK feature, author Michelle Lehmann shares her take on creating a family closet. Lots of pictures! 20 17 September 16, 2010 September 16, 2010 0