Clothes Storage for the Closet-Impaired

Natural Cotton Storage BagsReader F writes in with a timely question about clothes storage:

I am moving to NYC next year and will be leaving my lovely apartment where I have three closets all to myself, including 1 walk-in closet, and moving in with my boyfriend where the combined closet space is not even a third of what I have to myself currently. Do you have suggestions for places to keep winter clothes during the summer and vice versa? I’ve heard there are services for this, but wondering if you or your readers might have some good suggestions for places where my clothes won’t get eaten by moths or fall victim to the next bedbug disaster.

I say “timely” if only because I finally put away all of my spring pastels, and swapped them out for darker emerald and earthy tones just a few days ago. My own custom is to:

a) use large storage bags (such as the Natural Cotton Storage Bags from Container Store, pictured above) for off season clothes that should not be hung (e.g., sweaters) or clothes that I otherwise keep folded (socks, hats, workout clothes)

b) push everything that *is* hung either to the back of my closet or relocate them to a second closet, and

c) evaluate my clothes as I move them around for questions such as: 1) do they need repair? 2) will I ever wear this again? c) should I sell, give away, or trash? d) Can I fit into this *rightthisinstant*?

Weirdly, this is one of my favorite traditions each season. I love the fresh colors of pastels, and the darker, more somber colors in the fall.  I also love the feeling of rediscovering old clothes that I haven’t seen for a few months.  (In fact, I love it so much I’ve started putting away things that aren’t even necessarily seasonal — running t-shirts, as well as at least half my collection of black tops and half my collection of white tops.  It may even help me shop less!)  I also love that it helps me prune my clothes, and keeps my wardrobe looking fresher.

Now, a few notes about doing it right…

a) Do not pack away anything that is dirty or has been worn. Even if it’s a suit that you’ve only worn once and don’t want to get dry cleaned, I would advise keeping it among your “current” clothes until you dry clean it.  Ditto for winter coats and the like — get them dry cleaned first.  (Remove the plastic bags and paper, and let them air out for a bit before you pack them away, also.)

b) Cedar it up — places like Bed Bath and Beyond and Amazon abound in cedar moth balls, as well as hanging cedar sticks — it never hurts to stick a few in drawers, in plastic storage bags or hard-cased under-bed bins, or to hang in your closet.  Be sure to change them once every year or so — they’re not expensive, and it pays to do so.  Occasionally I’ll stick a used dryer sheet in the plastic case, as well as the cedar,  to give things a “fresh” scent.

c) Label! It doesn’t have to be fancy — I tend to just scribble on a piece of paper, “Kat’s Fall Clothes,” and stick away.  But you’ll be amazed how much you’ll completely forget what’s in there, or even that you have the clothes in there — so do your best to label.  (See my own lump of clothes, at right.)

d) For folded clothes, prepare for wrinkles. I still haven’t found a great solution for this — I often just hang things up while I’m taking a shower so they get a bit steamed.  While putting away my spring/summer clothes this year, I tried rolling instead of folding — I’ll let you all know how that works out.

e) A thought on Space Saver bags: when we moved recently, I bought a pack of these and was absolutely amazed by how much everything shrunk down.  Blankets, sheets, workout clothes, etc — with the air sucked out they were amazingly flat and packable, and I’m glad I had them for the move.  However, I will say that almost all of these babies have since leaked air and puffed back up to their usual size — so I’m not sure I would counsel investing in these things if you intend to use them for condensed space for several months at a time.

Fortunately, I’ve never had to deal with a bedbug problem — readers, please write in if you have.  Ladies, what are your clothes storage solutions?  Any other fun seasonal closet traditions?

Comments

  1. On somewhat of a related topic, I just moved to a new city and so had the pleasure of packing as well as unpacking a gazillion boxes over the last month.. What I realized through this process is that I have a LOT of clothes, and really don’t need anymore right now. I’ve always been under the mistaken impression that I *really* didn’t have that many clothes, but my overflowing closet(s) say otherwise.

    So….all this goes to say that I am imposing a shopping ban until Black Friday (and even those purchases are going to be limited to tops to wear under suits because I only have two or three right now). I’m a law clerk for a judge and am making less than half of what I used to make, my chambers is super casual, and I have plenty of nice clothes. I’m all set.

    Any other ladies also on a shopping ban? It would be great to have some support!

    • I put myself on a shopping ban the first few months into my new job. I got laid off from High Tech at the start of this year. After a few months of contract work I landed a full-time position making less than I made 5 years ago.

      I bought a few basic summer clothes during my first week but the ban lasted 5 months. I also practice the ‘one in, one out’ rule for my closet. When I purchase something new I take one item out that I have not worn in some time (or that no longer fits) and I donate that item to a local charity/thrift store.

    • While I’m not disputing that a shopping-ban may be a good idea, have you gone through what you have to see if there’s anything you don’t wear/don’t want/can’t fit anymore? I moved recently as well and I took 3 large garbage bags of clothes, shoes, and accessories to the local Salvation Army.

    • govvie girl :

      I’m definitely on a shopping diet! Between just needing to shop my closet and investing elsewhere (some cosmetic dental work), my wardrobe updates will be fewer and farther between for a awhile.

    • Not on shopping ban, but have given up for awhile. I’ve had a very dramatic, slightly traumatic year with clothes. If you’d like to follow my clothing plan, it went something like this:

      Be a size 22W. Take a job that requires suits. Find suits that fit through Lands End and other places. Be happy with your work wardrobe. Injure your back and have to give up on wearing heels for awhile. Find flats that you like. Buy them. Lots of them.

      Have husband accidently take all your suits to Goodwill instead of the dry cleaners. Try not to cry. Find out Lands End doesn’t carry suits anymore. Cry now.

      Get pregnant. Find out that your feet get wider when you get pregnant. Go online, look for cute wide width flats. Find one pair. Get that pair, plus some moccasins to wear, and stick with those 2 pairs of shoes for work.

      When your bump starts showing, get online, buy a wardrobe in size 3X of black pants, cute tops, a few jackets and a cardigan for court, and wait to get fatter. Actually lose weight while pregnant. Everything the baby gains, you lose somewhere else. Get to 34 weeks pregnant and have no maternity clothes that fit because they are too big.

      Get online again, buying a wardrobe of 2X black pants and cute tops to replace the ones that keep falling down. Continue using the bigger jackets and sweaters. Wear and wash each new item at least once so it is not returnable assuming that you still have several weeks of work left.

      At 36 weeks of pregnancy, suddenly gain 7 pounds of water weight over 4 days. Be diagnosed with preeclampsia and put on bed rest until baby comes. Discover that water weight keeps coming on regardless of bedrest. Also find out that you have one nightgown and one pair of lounge pants that sort of fit, but that everything else is now too small.

      Get online again, order nightshirts, loungewear, and 2 bathrobes. Forget to order 3-day shipping. Sit at home in bed waiting 7-10 days for shipment, wearing one of the two outfits that still fit. Be happy you have nowhere to wear shoes to, as your two pairs no longer fit.

      The bright side is that I’ll be able to wear both the 3X and 2X pregnancy wardrobe for awhile after giving birth, and can slowly start to build up a normal wardrobe once I know what my body is going to do. And I was able to donate a lot of stuff when I took my regular clothes and put them into storage boxes.

      • wow, mille, your story is something else. hope you’re having an otherwise healthy pregnancy!

      • Anonymous :

        On the bright side, you’re going to be a mom! Congratulations. You’ll never regret any part of this story once you’ve held your little one.

      • Anonymous :

        On the bright side, you’re going to be a mom! Congratulations. You’ll never regret any part of this story once you’ve held your little one.

        (This didn’t post the first time so I’m trying again.)

      • That. Is. Too. Much. Wow, what a story! I could have cried with you with the husband/Goodwill/dry cleaner mishap. Oh my goodness!! And Congratulations on motherhood!

      • Oh, Mille, too funny (in an “I’m laughing with you, not at you” way). I remember when DH took all your suits to Goodwill (sob) and boy do I feel ya on the roller coaster with maternity garb, bed rest and vacillating shoe sizes – my second pregnancy was twins who I carried to 36 weeks (last 8 on bed rest), they weighed 6 and 7 lbs (I had water weight in my EARS), and by the time I delivered, I had just given up on clothes altogether and was basically wearing the same pair of enormous black maternity pants and too tight 3X shirts. Ugh. Oh, here’s the good news (aside from being blessed with your beautiful baby) – your feet tend to ‘go back’ – not all the way back, mind you, but if you were like a 9 regular before, then went to an 11 wide, there’s a pretty good chance you will end up at 9.5/10 regular. Good luck with the last few days/weeks and enjoy your baby!

      • Oh no! For plus size suits, I highly recommend Talbots. They have probably a dozen options now in all the colors and variations of their seasonless wool and other fabric choices. Also have some luck with Jones New York (usually go through Macy’s). I have a couple Anne Klein suits that fit me perfectly but they seem to have stopped carrying. Also, WAY out of my price range, Layfayette 148 has plus-size suits that look beautiful. Eileen Fisher also does some suiting, but it’s shapeless for my taste.

        When I had my twins, I retained crazy amounts of water and had literally one pair of brown velvet flats in an 11W that fit. I wore them with everything–black, brown, gray, etc. I also wore the same pair of black pants 3 days a week. Give your body some time to get normal and then have fun shopping!

        • Oh and I forgot to say, I think maybe one of the perks of being a plus-size woman who gets pregnant is that your feet have already “fallen” so to speak before pregnancy so you don’t see as much permanent foot change. I found that my 11W went right back to a normal old 10 after pregnancy.

        • Second! My baby turned 4 months last weekend, and I celebrated by buying my postpartum body some pretty new suits. It takes the sting out of the new sizes and helped me embrace my (now slightly different-shaped) body. Now to go through and ditch all the old shirts that taunt me and make me sad that I can’t wear them anymore…

    • Not a shopping ban, but I have a rule that for everything I buy, I have to add something to the goodwill bin. If I get home and don’t have anything I can part with, the item gets returned to the store. Also, I won’t buy anything that can’t be paired with something else I already own (i.e. I won’t buy a skirt unless I also buy a top to go with it, or I own a top at home that goes with it. If I buy the top too, two things go to goodwill).

      • Forgot to add to my rules – if it’s over $50, I have to think about it for at least 48 hours. I’ve lost out on some one-day sales that way, but in the long-run, I buy a lot less, so I’m still saving money.

        • That’s a very good idea. I also impose budgets for shopping trips. Because I don’t get a chance to go out often, I usually “pre-shop” online, and then go to the store with a maximum amount I am allowed to spend. I also am not allowed to buy anything that I do not absolutely LOVE. If it doesn’t make me feel like a million bucks, it’s not a good deal, no matter how cheap it is. I already have a bunch of “meh” outfits in my closet that are essentially free to me. Don’t need more.

    • divaliscious11 :

      I am sort of… (meaning the adorable Missoni scarf from Gilt today didn’t count). I am, as soon as I am finished packing and dedicating my closet spaces, having someone come in and do a wardrobe evaluation. I have some great pieces but am a bit board by how I am wearing them, need to let some things go, and need to add some others… So until that happens, and I drop at least the 10lbs I picked up this summer due to stress (already lost 2), no shopping for me!

    • I’m on a clothes shopping ban right now! I’ve been on it for two months and am planning to do it for six. I am allowed to accessories and undergarments, but I haven’t needed to buy either yet. I convinced my mom and co-worker to join me. As of right now I’m finding it liberating!

    • have you tried to sell the clothes you’re not wearing/ are tired of? there are several stores in my area that pay cash for gently worn items. maybe there are similar stores in your area. you can make some quick cash that way!

  2. I am one of the rare New Englanders that does not practice seasonal rotation of clothes. I have two large closets (my husband has 2 smaller ones). My primary closet is organized by color and clothing type. My 2nd closet contains suits, dresses, skirts and shoes. I love the closet organizational products from The Container Store (as mentioned in this post). My favorite are the products by Elfa–the wire bins in particular help keep gym wear and summer stuff separate at all times.

  3. Please check out the Dress For Success in your area to donate your work appropriate clothes (must be in good, clean condition though) — while you get the same tax write-off that you would w/ Salvation Army, etc., w/ DFS, the clothes are actually worn by women entering the workforce for the first time, whereas the majority of clothing contributed to other charities is sold to a company that turns them into, gulp, rags – which is fine, but which is a better use for that Theory jacket you no longer fit into?

    • thank you! :

      Thanks! I just cleaned out my closet and could not remember the name of that organization. They will be receiving some very nice too-large-for-me suits.

    • Excellent suggestion! My hometown area doesn’t have a DFS, but there is a local organization that does similar work. So if you don’t have a DFS near you, still check around. Domestic violence shelters may know of options too?

  4. First, moths. There are many types of insects that eggs (larvae), such as webbing cloths moths, casemaking cloths moths, carpet beetles, brown banded roaches, silverfish, etc. They feast on organic material, and are fond of salt and vitamin B found in dead skin cells, among other things. They will not hesitate to eat something clean, however. They like damp, dark, and undisturbed environments, and will nest in corrugated cardboard (so don’t store your clothes in them). If you wear your items regularly, you will not have a problem. The smell of cedar and lavender has been known to act as a deterrent, but only if the smell so intense in masks the smell of wood. And it’s not foolproof. Cedar oil has been known to kill very young clothes larvae, but it must be concentrated in a very small area. If you have a moth problem you should call a pest person to have the insects properly identified and, if necessary, taken care of. I store my off season (woolen) items in plastic sweater bags interspersed with the moth repellent things from the Container Store.

    I find that it is worthwhile to have as many 3-4 season clothes as possible. For example, I wear t-shirts year-round (by themselves in the summer, and under sweaters in the winter.) I also keep 1 or 2 cashmere cardigans out in the summer, because the air conditioning in stores can be mighty fierce.

  5. After four years in New York dealing with this issue, I found the perfect solution! Moved to Seattle. Have four closets now and appreciate it every single day. I realize that doesn’t help you.. I used to store stuff in our dingy condo basement storage unit in those big blue tubs or clear ones you can get at BBB or hardware stores. I could never easily find what I needed even when I tried to label stuff. Also the hangers that have multiple hangers on them cascading downward; under bed boxes for boots etc.; getting rid of stuff each season; keeping a bag of shoes under my desk at work. But this was annoying all the time, honestly there just wasn’t enough room for a normal person’s stuff. Good luck. The other solution is living in a more spacious outer borough situation (like outer Queens, not fun Brooklyn neighborhoods) where you’ll get space space. But that wasn’t my thing. Oh yeah and wall hooks for coats, belts, his ties, etc. purses- whatever you can hang in closet corners. We put an extra armoire in our room which helped though made the room more cramped.

  6. 1. I store seasonal clothes in plastic boxes, instead of bags, under the bed. It’s much easier to get in/out of for winter get aways requiring summer clothes.
    Rolling, instead of folding, def. helps with wrinkles (same for packing, btw)!!

    2. I try to store as much as I can vertically — so in my tall ceiling apt., I have shelves on the very top of my closets for putting away rarely used items like luggage.

    3. You can store rarely used items *in* luggage (as the luggage takes up space anyway). I have extra pillows/blankets/winter ski clothes in suitcases.

    4. If you have a deep closet, you can add hooks or shelves in the back to hang/store bags, belts, whatever. Be creative.

    5. Use other furniture for storing items. I have an ottoman with storage in my living room. Wooden chest in bedroom.

    6. Get the right hangers! I was shocked by what a difference getting the new thin, “velvet” hangers made. Bonus: nothing slips off, they don’t dent my clothes, and having all the hangers look the same makes the closet feel organized. They’re sold in most bed, bath & beyond type stores.

    7. To the OP, there’s a fantastic store called the Container Store. Go there. They have loads of small storage solutions. There’s one on 18th Street & one in midtown. I cannot say enough good things!

    8. Last but not least, be careful with moth sachets — I put some stuff away with some natural lavendar type packets & they stained my clothes. I would recommend using some thin cloth you don’t care about under whatever you end up using for insect repellent.

    • One good thing about the Container Store is that their moth repellent stuff comes in little paper packets. That is one reason I use them–I too am concerned about oil staining my clothes.

    • Definitely second the “huggable hangers” – they make such a difference. Your clothes stay on the hanger, which is helpful in a small closet so things don’t snag on other hangers and fall on the floor. Also, having hangers of uniform size and thickness makes everything hang more smoothly and allows you to pack more into the closet.

      You may not have room to do this, but I find it very helpful to have my “wear to work only” clothes separate from everything else. I am lucky enough to have 3 closets (because I don’t live in New York, yay!) so I have one for coats and offseason stuff, one for normal clothes, and one that is just for suits/dresses/some tops that I wear only to work. It makes it easier to only have to go through a very limited amount of clothing to figure out what to wear when I’m in a hurry in the mornings. If you only have one closet, you could try using one of those hanging shoe or sweater storage things in the middle to separate the “work” side of the closet from the other stuff.

      • I like the separation idea — organizing by item/purpose def. helps!
        I also find that the hangin shoe thing is fantastic for small items that you never know what to do with — like, scarves, gloves, etc.

      • Legally Brunette :

        I do this too and it really helps in the morning because all of my work clothes are together in one closet.

        • I also separate work clothes from non-work clothes (in one closet, I don’t own many clothes so my walk-in is less than half-full, don’t hate me!). Makes it much easier to pick something out in the morning because it is all in one place.

          • I do this too — in fact, my half of our walk-in closet is pretty much nothing but my work clothes, organized by blacks/whites/colors and by longsleeves/shortsleeves, and then my dresses/party tops are in the guest room closet. this is a whole other topic we should talk about sometime — perhaps next week. (i’m already thinking that for thursday i want to have a reader discussion re: that whole “$450k a year does not make me rich” thing that’s been going around.)

      • We got some of those huggable hangers for the wedding — and while I love them, it annoys me when I’m hanging stuff up to dry that I have to go find a different hanger. (I always worry that the velvet-covered hanger won’t dry properly and the shirt or dress will get moldy.)

        • Anonymous :

          I use them all the time, for everything, wet and dry, and have never had a problem. I do buy the name-brand, but I don’t think that should matter terribly.

    • Link for these hangers you speak of? I am intrigued. How are they on the “sweater poke” problem?

  7. The other thing you will want to do is rearrange the interior of your closet. For example, I moved the clothing rod to the very top of the closet, and use that rod for jackets and other M-F items. Then, I used a closet doubler that takes up half the rod, so I have essentially doubled my hanging space. Underneath my clothes I am able to store shoes and folded knitwear. I use a closet rod to reach the clothes on the top, and find it easier to use this than to use the top for storage that requires a step-stool.

  8. First let me say that I’m in love with the Container Store. I usually store off-season stuff in space saver bags, and/or plastic underbed boxes. I too LOVE the process of re-discovering old favorites when the season changes, such a great afternoon when all my clothes are strewn about!

    I’ll be moving in with the bf early next year, and I’m going to miss my two bedroom closets to myself! We’re each going to do a big clothing purge before, but I have my doubts about how much of his t-shirt collection ends up in the trash…

    Also, I echo the other commenter’s suggestions on getting double-use out of suitcases, ottomans, etc. I keep my ski pants/hats/socks/goggles in a big duffle bag that I’m going to take with me anyway, so not only is everything put away, but it’s all ready to go when it’s time to hit the slopes.

  9. My husband always says that I will find additional space in a closet, even when there is none to be found – I am not quite that good, but I do use every available nook and cranny – and because I have always lived in tall-ceilinged (though tiny to small) apartments, I have always made use of that extra upward space. I would say look at the closet situation critically and literally “build” upwards – and then look at every piece of furniture you own and see if it can be turend into storage of sorts (storage ottomans are particularly great for this) for the overflow.

  10. I have realized that I have a cedar allergy. While I can store clothes with cedar, I usually have to air them out for quite a while, preferably far away from me. I have asthma/allergies, so I’m having trouble finding an alternative that won’t make my allergies act up. Any suggestions?

    • I don’t use anything to store my clothes – I just make sure they’re clean and pack them away in plastic bins.

    • Lavender is also good for keeping moths away. I have used lavender sachets in the past with good results.
      You’ll still want to air stuff out before wearing & as the smell can get quite strong & a bit medicinal (sometimes downright old-manish) but at least it won’t give you actual allergies.

      • My mother always swore by putting bars of Dial soap in the bins. I’ve blindly used this technique for about 10 years and have never had a moth or other vermin problem – whether there’s a causation there, I don’t know. And I like the clean smell when it’s time to take the clothes out!

  11. I have a big house with an attic, so my out of season clothes go there, in big plastic bins with sealable lids (container store is great, but so is Walmart, Target and BBB – and often stuff is cheaper there!).

    My best suggestion for small spaces – in addition to underbed storage, use all of the TOP space in your closet. I would put in an extra shelf up there, so you can get up on a chair or ladder and put some boxes up at the top. Also, label, label, label! I have labels on the boxes such as “Summer sweaters, tops and capris” that make it easy to find things.

    I am in need of rotating my seasonal clothes – I haven’t done it yet – and in addition, I have to put them away in size order. Because of 2 pregnancies in the last 3 years, I have gone through about 50,000 different iterations of sizes and need to figure out what fits me and what doesn’t, and put away the stuff that doesn’t. I have also totally taken over one of the other closets in the house (in the baby’s room!) so I need to do the sorting in there at some point when the baby is awake but not under my care (hahahahaha!), and when I’m not at work. Sigh.

  12. Blonde Lawyer :

    Some dry cleaners offer free storage for out of season clothes. If you know you are not going to use it for quite some time, consider that option!

  13. I think space saver bags are great for guest blankets etc. I’d also vote for getting rid of A LOT of stuff. You can either get really stressed out trying to fit everything into a small space or your can have less stuff and better enjoy your space. Small apts look much better when they’re not over-crowded.

  14. Chicago K :

    Can anyone recommend a good way to light your closet? I have a small, tall closet as others have mentioned and it’s so dark inside. I bought some of those “touch lights” at Target, but they are pretty useless.

    Are there better alternatives?

  15. Anonymous :

    It may seem a bit pricey, but I store my off season clothes in these (I used to work at LL Bean so I got an amazing discount): http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/63917?page=rolling-adventure-duffle&parentCategory=4522&cat4=506804&shop_method=pp&feat=904-sub1&np=Y
    It is so much easier to lug this to the basement for storage then an overpacked tote.

  16. When I was in law school, I stored my out of season clothes in the trunk of my car. Shoes, pocket books, belts, etc that I wore, but not frequently, were stored in a flat topped wooden trunk that did double duty as a coffee table. And then, for stuff you’re not using but just cannot let go, there’s always the parental attic! A couple of years ago, I got back into some of those boxes and came up with late-1970’s spike-heeled Candies (remember them?) slides. Blue suede with wooden sole/heel. What a find! Got into some of my mother’s boxes of that sort and found an alligator bag (from before they were endangered!) in excellent shape that was part of her wedding trousseau. I am hesistant to carry it much, though, because of the alligator.

    • My parents are selling their spacious suburban house and buying a small townhouse closer to the city and I am SO bummed at losing the parental storage space. :)

  17. I love corporette!!!! I just made a big first-time order to thecontainerstore.com!!! You guys are the best. Last week I purchased jewelry from Coldwater Creek for the first time on someone’s recommendation. We should do a Friday open thread on our favorite shopping outcomes from this site. I love it.

  18. This is a random juvenile comment. When Kat mentioned labeling her bags of out of season clothes with “Kat’s Fall Clothes,” I totally thought about that scene from the Addams Family movie:
    “Uncle Knickknack’s winter wardrobe…
    Uncle Knickknack’s summer wardrobe…
    Uncle Knickknack…”
    Anyway.
    I currently have three of the four closets in the household, plus two portable closets in the garage I use for out-of-season storage. I am in no position to tell anyone how to maximize closet space as I maximize mine by buying another portable closet. I would imagine the best course of action is to clean things out and get rid of stuff you don’t need. But I certainly don’t follow that advice. :)

  19. Anonymous :

    I’ve had good luck with wonder hangers. Its definitely worth it to spring for the slightly more expensive metal kind, which don’t stretch out and things seem to hang off of better.

  20. About 8 months ago I “renovated” my closets with the Rubbermaid closet organizing system from Home Depot. Expensive for 2 closets, but about 1/3 the cost of the Elfa system from Container Store (definitely not as pretty though). I. Love. It. It’s changed my life. I actually look forward to using my 2 closets (one very big, one very small) now, whereas before they were actually a huge source of stress in my life because everything was always wrinkled and un-find-able.

    My brother helped me put it together because he lives close to me and likes that kind of stuff, but I like to think I could have done it on my own, just by using a stud-finder and a hammer.

    I also use the “velvet” hangers from BB&B and the space-saver bags, which I have not found to re-inflate.

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