The holidays have come and gone. The decorations have been put away. Overnight guests have headed home. Now it’s time to get organized.
First stop: the linen closet.
An odd place to start, you’re thinking. But organizing the linen closet is an attainable goal, even for the most disorganized among us. It’s a manageable, finite space. It’s a project that involves few, if any, new purchases. And it’s not something that will take all day. Mere hours into the project, you should find yourself standing in front of a more orderly, more appealing, well-stocked space.
What a nice sense of accomplishment and comfort. And what a great way to start the year.
“Organization means less stress,” says Chris Madden, a designer and author. “It allows you to be more free if you’ve got a well-run, well-organized, fully serviceable house.”
Clean it out
To begin, empty your linen closet. Then, weed out extraneous items that have found their way in there. “People have items that don’t belong in the linen closet, and that just adds to the confusion,” says Sally Reinholdt of Closets 911, a personal organizing service based in Alexandria, Va.
Sort everything you have into piles, either by size, item or room in which they belong. Keep a pile for items you don’t use very often. “Most people have a collection of stray towels and washcloths,” Reinholdt says. “Either donate them or keep a few for rags.” (Animal shelters and veterinary hospitals often have use for old linens and towels.)
To determine what stays and what goes in a linen closet, figure out how much storage you have in your home. While it would be nice to devote a single closet to linens, it’s not always possible. “If you don’t have a designated linen closet, think about an armoire,” Madden says. Using Lucite and wire shelf dividers can help keep stacks neat and prevent toppling. Another suggestion for those who lack closet space, Madden says, is to think about different ways to store things, “like rolling up towels and sticking them in a basket in the bathroom or under the sink.”
What goes where
Items that should be kept in a linen closet, Madden says, include anything to do with making up the bed and bathroom, from sheets, pillowcases and towels to sprays and potpourris. The linen closets in her own home are lined with scented shelf paper. “I happen to like the smell of lavender, and it induces sleep. What a nice scent to add to pillowcases and bed linens.”
Just as important as what you keep in the closet is what you should not.
“No shoes, no vacuums,” Madden says. “Keeping dust out of your closet is key. Not just because of allergies, but for the life of your linens. It’s important to care for your linens and have them last, especially in these economic times.”
When you’re finished, look up. “I often notice a lot of wasted space between the uppermost shelf and the top of the closet,” Reinholdt says. If you have the space, consider installing an additional shelf at the top to keep baskets of linen sprays or cleaners and seasonal items, such as beach towels, winter blankets, comforters and light summer coverlets. Storing less-frequently used items in zippered bags will help keep them fresh and free of dust. If there’s room at the bottom of your closet, store a step stool for easy access to the items up top.
“Some people keep luggage in the top and bottom of linen closets,” Madden says. “I’ve also seen a kick-shelf underneath the bottom shelf. It looks just like molding, but you push it with your foot and it rolls out on wheels. It’s a good place to keep things you want to keep hidden, like family treasures or documents and passports.”
Though it’s difficult to resist the calling of stores filled with orderly organizational items, avoid those places before you’ve assessed your needs. “Don’t buy organizing supplies before the clean-out has been done,” Reinholdt says, “because that will determine what you need.”
Forgotten real estate
And don’t forget about the back of the door. This is valuable closet real estate that’s often overlooked. It’s the perfect place to have hooks for robes, or towel bars to hang tablecloths. If the door is wide enough, a clear shoe holder can be used to store small items, including toiletries, a hair dryer or hand towels and washcloths. “You can also purchase a system of wire baskets from the Container Store,” suggests Reinholdt. “The baskets are wide enough to hold bottles.” (For those with wire shelf systems in their closets, Reinholdt also suggests plastic shelf liners so bottles and containers won’t be out of balance or fall.)
Tips make linens last
The advice comes from Aimee Wedlake, the owner of Valerianne, a specialty linen store in Northern Virginia that opened last spring. Her shelves are stocked with home accessories and luxury linens for the bed, bath and table.
Q. What are common mistakes people make when laundering linens?
A. One of the worst things you can do is use dryer sheets and fabric softeners. They coat fibers, build residue and are difficult to rinse clean. They also dull and gray colors and break down cotton, which can cause linens to lose their softness and make them less absorbent. To help brighten your linens and get rid of residue buildup, wash them with a quarter cup of white vinegar every six to eight weeks, no detergent necessary.
People also tend to use way too much soap and don’t rinse properly. You only need a small amount of soap. A good rule of thumb for detergent: Whatever it says on the bottle, use half. I also use an extra rinse cycle on sheets. I know it’s not really green, but it really gets rid of the residue.
Q. What are things to consider when buying sheets?
A. First, what appeals to your hand: Do you prefer a crisp, tight weave like cotton percale? Or do you prefer something with a little more luster, with a higher sheen, like sateen? Then, think about your mattress depth. Make note of it before you start shopping.
Q. Explain thread count, please.
A. Thread count means the number of threads per square inch of fabric. Typically, the higher the number, the better. But when you get above 600, you’re simply getting a heavier sheet, not necessarily a better one. Egyptian cotton for sheeting is the best. It’s the strongest and longest staple cotton on the market.
If your budget doesn’t allow for high-thread-count sheets, just make sure the packaged sheets you do buy are 100 percent cotton. And when you launder them for the first time, don’t use soap, use white vinegar.