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how to organize a linen closet

When it comes to decluttering, most of us like to tackle our public spaces first. It’s easier to justify expending attention and energy on areas where we are likely to host guests, like kitchens and living rooms. But we ignore the power of our most functional and private spaces at our peril.

Disarray in our bathrooms, medicine cabinets, and linen closets, for example, can make daily rituals like bathing or brushing our teeth far more difficult than they should be. Even a little thoughtful organization can create the kind of ease that gets our days off to a peaceful start.

Here’s how I used some decluttering and feng shui techniques to tackle the space of former EL fitness editor Laine Bergeson.

Clear the Way

Before we tackled Bergeson’s linen closet and bathroom, I asked her how she felt about her spaces currently. She said she didn’t have any particular complaints. Her bathroom was clean and attractive, and it seemed to function pretty well for her. But she was open to making some refinements if they would make her life better.

bathroom before declutter

What we discovered was that while Bergeson was accustomed to her spatial setup, it did involve some obstacles to her daily routines. She takes a nightly bath with Epsom salts, for example, but the bag of salts was stuffed in the bottom of the linen closet beside a stack of board games. And there were teetering stacks of toilet paper on the back of the toilet that might otherwise live in the spot occupied by the games.

This issue seems trivial, but whenever we can’t go right to an object we need, there’s a little energetic cost to us — and these costs add up. It’s draining to dig for things we use every day. Who wants to arrive at work worn down from a search for a tube of toothpaste?

Our goal was to arrange Bergeson’s bathroom and linen closet so that she could reach all of the contents with ease and not have to search for things behind other things. When a space is arranged with this kind of thoughtful flow, it eliminates small “tolerations” and frees up your focus for more worthy pursuits.

We started with a process I use for all my declutterings — a four-step approach I call “search and rescue”:

1. Set up a space for sorting. I always use a waist-high surface like a table (or at lowest, a bed) because sorting on the floor takes twice the energy and is hard on your back.

2. Label bins for separate categories to streamline sorting. Our categories were “keep,” “donate,” “recycle,” and “trash.”

3. Empty the room, closet, or cabinet completely. This not only makes cleaning easier, it shows you the items out of context, which makes it easier to decide whether you really need that sixth bottle of hair gel.

4. Sort and repopulate. Examining every item to decide its fate sounds tedious, but the time spent making conscious decisions about whether to keep an object and where it should go becomes time saved down the line.

In Bergeson’s bathroom, we let form follow function. The items she uses every day earned prime real estate in the medicine cabinet and the shelf next to the tub.

For example, only her favorite moisturizbathroom after declutterer stayed in the medicine cabinet, and we emptied the bag of Epsom salts into an attractive ceramic container that now sits on the back of the toilet.

As for the rest of the contents of the bathroom and closet, we identified which items could be stored elsewhere (the games were moved to the basement), which could be tossed or recycled (nearly empty bottles of shampoo and old lip balm), and which to return to the shelves.

For the closet, we grouped bottles and objects into straight-sided containers that I’d asked Bergeson to purchase ahead of time. We labeled them (“suncreens” and “dog care”) so that anything on a shelf would be easy to spot — and never too far from reach.

A Fresh Start

Now Bergeson’s closet and bathroom are much easier to navigate, even in a morning, pre-coffee haze. Storage and cleaning items live on the top and bottom shelves of the closet, while the medicine cabinet and chest-high closet shelves store smaller bottles and tools, all within easy reach.

She likes her space better than ever, and she can reserve her creative energy for pursuits more interesting and rewarding than a daily hunt for dental floss.

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