I spent my adolescence and teen years in a 1950’s ranch style home. My husband and I have owned a 1940’s bungalow, a 1960’s ranch and currently live in a 1970’s bi-level home.
All these homes had one thing in common.
The closets contained only a single shelf and rod that stretched along the back wall.
That was it. A shelf and a rod.
The shelves were about six feet from the floor. A few homes built in the 1960’s and 1970’s had small walk-in closets. These walk-ins usually had a shelf and a rod along two side walls.
A rod positioned sixty-eight to seventy-two inches from the floor was and still is the optimal height for dresses and overcoats. Today, our needs are a lot different. We have a more complicated array of garments to store. There are short tops, jackets, skirts and pants in every length.
Hanging these clothes on that single rod results in wasted space below the clothes.
What can you do?
You could remove the shelf and rod, repair the wall, and install a new closet system. I’ve helped clients do just that, but you may not be ready for a closet flip right now.
Instead, there are several low-cost and easy methods that you can employ to make your mid-century closet work for you. I’ll share those shortly.
But first …
Are you breaking the Capacity Rule?
A closet is a container; this fact you cannot ignore. Your closet has boundaries. Filling it from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling with clothing and other items will render it useless. It violates what I call the Capacity Rule.
Take a good look at your closet. Is it at or beyond capacity? Is the floor filled with boxes, bags, and bins? What about the shelf? Do you have containers and sweaters stacked to the ceiling?
I recommend that you reduce the contents of the closet before you maximize your space. Release the clothes and shoes that you no longer wear or like and relocate non-clothing items. Your clothes need room to breathe.
Let’s Stretch that Space
Now that you have decided what you are keeping in your closet, here are five easy and low-cost methods to maximize the space.
Do you need more hanging space?
Method 1: Hang another rod under your existing rod
If your closet is the simple rod and shelf that I described earlier, you can add a double-hang closet rod. It is a second rod that attaches to the existing rod. With this in place, you will be efficiently using all the space from the rod to the floor.
I love this Commercial Grade Double Hang Closet Rod from Bed, Bath and Beyond because it is completely adjustable.
My preference, because it aids in visibility, is to hang garments like short tops, short skirts, and bermuda shorts on the existing top rod. Pants folded over hangers are good candidates too. If you use trouser hangers, you will save more vertical space. I reviewed my favorite hangers in a previous post. You can position the lower rod so that it just clears these garments, leaving plenty of space underneath for longer shirts and tops.
Professional Organizer Tip: It does seem counter-intuitive to hang pants above shirts, but it makes a lot of sense. Not only are pants folded over hangers shorter than most tops they don’t need as much depth.
- 16 inches – the depth from the wall to the edge of pants folded over a hanger
- 21 inches – the depth from the wall to the edge of a hanging shirt.
A group of pants hung beneath shirts will be recessed by five inches and challenging to see without squatting. Make getting dressed easy, and hang the pants on the top rod.
Do you need more shelving space?
Method 2: Hang canvas organizers from the rod for shelving space
It’s easy to add hanging shelves to your closet rod. I recommend getting a reinforced premium product. You will pay a little more, but the reinforced product will hold more weight.
The canvas sweater shelves are made to hold a stack of t-shirts, sweaters, or jeans. You can store a pair of ankle boots in a cubby as well.
You will be giving up almost a foot of hanging space when you use hanging sweater shelves, so use this solution only if you have plenty of hanging space.
The product in the photo is more narrow than the hanging sweater shelves. It is designed for shoes. This product attaches to the rod and generally has ten cubby-like-shelves.
The shelves are about six inches wide, and each will hold a pair of dress shoes or flats. Athletic shoes will need one cubby per shoe. Use another method for storing bulky shoes.
Method 3: Place modular shelving units on the top shelf
Modular storage units are usually made from a wood composite and will add weight to your top shelf. Make sure the existing shelf will support the weight before applying this solution.
This 3-Cube Organizer Shelf from Target, placed horizontally, will add three feet of shelving to your existing top shelf. Stack folded sweaters, t-shirts or jeans in the open cubes. Purses would fit well in them too.
You can triple your shelf space with this rectangular Stackable Shelf from Target. It’s perfect for storing out-of-the-box shoes. Have you got some shoes in boxes? Store them on top.
Professional Organizer Tip: Some flat shoes can be stored upright in canvas containers. This upright storage is an excellent solution for the flip-flop lover. Place your flip-flop container on top of one of your top shelf storage cubes. Here is an image from my Pinterest Board
Do you want drawers in your closet?
Method 4: Add drawer units under your short hanging clothes
I love the Elfa drawer systems from The Container Store
The four-runner Elfa drawer unit is just eighteen inches tall. Place it on the floor and have enough space above to hang a man’s shirt.
The seven-runner Elfa drawer unit, pictured here, is twenty-nine inches high. Pants folded over a trouser hanger or short tops can hang above this unit.
The Elfa drawer system comes in several widths too. I have the medium width, which is eighteen inches wide, in two of my closets.
You may prefer a more traditional drawer solution.
This Nordli three-drawer chest from Ikea would work in most closets. It is just under sixteen inches wide and thirty inches tall. Like the seven-runner Elfa unit, pants folded over hangers and short tops can hang above this chest.
Professional Organizer Tip: I love teaching my clients to use the fold and file method. It is the method we use when storing socks, t-shirts and sweatshirts in drawers.
Do you have a traditional closet door?
Method 5: Make use of the door
- Use an over-the-door shoe rack to give you easy access to your shoes.
- Use over-the-door hanging pockets where you can store everything from shoes to jewelry.
- Use an Elfa door system like the one in the picture.
- Add a couple of rows of hooks to the closet door.
How will you stretch your closet space?
If these are new ideas for you, pick one or two and apply them to your closet.
Are you already using some of the methods that I have described? I’d love to hear about your results. Share them in the comments.