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How to Organize Your Linens

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By Terri Sapienza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2009

The holidays have come and gone. The decorations have been put away. Overnight guests have headed home. Now it's time to get organized.

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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."

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.

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."

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."

Once you've determined what you're keeping, fold everything as neatly and as flat as you can, then restock the shelves.

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."

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.)

Madden likes the idea of hanging a nicely framed mirror on the back of the door. In her home, she created a display board out of plywood, cotton batting, a favorite fabric and crisscrossed ribbon, and hung it on the back of her linen closet door. "You can keep invitations or family pictures, anything that makes you feel good."

Finally, for those who want to go that extra decorating mile, painting or wallpapering the inside of the closet is always an attractive option. "And if you're going to wallpaper," Madden says, "look for something whimsical so you can have something really great to start and end your day with."

Thread Count Unraveled

When it comes to thread count, designer and author Chris Madden offers this advice: "If you can, get sheets that are 300 or above, because they will feel much better when you're sleeping on them." The higher thread count really makes a difference, says Madden, who has a line of bedding at JCPenney. The bottom line: Go for as high a thread count as you can afford.


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