See How I Overhauled My “Scary” Closet Under the Stairs in 3 Hours

published Feb 21, 2024
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Messy closet before organizing.
Credit: Shifrah Combiths

I finally tackled the scariest closet in our home and it went nothing like I thought. The closet in question is the generously sized one in my home office that runs beneath the stairs that go up to the attic. So although it’s larger than a typical closet, the shape of it is awkward and makes storage challenging. 

But the sloped ceiling isn’t the biggest part of what makes this closet intimidating. It’s this: I’ve been shoving stuff in it since my family and I moved almost two years ago, and it has all the hard stuff that’s difficult to make decisions about, like craft and hobby supplies; photos and partially finished photo projects; and the kids’ school keepsakes and art treasures.

After a recent refresh of my home office, tackling the closet has felt like the missing piece to finally getting this room in order. Just knowing about the chock-full closet drained my energy, pressing on me with the weight of an undone task. Plus, there were things in there that I couldn’t even hope to find when I needed them, and attempting to do anything with my hobby supplies was out of the question. 

A few days ago, I cleared my schedule and prepared myself to tackle this towering mess. My plan was simple: empty the entire closet out, categorize items, address things that didn’t belong — like what needs to be moved or tossed — and then put everything back in an orderly, functional, and sustainable way.

Here’s how I did it:

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

Steps 1 and 2: Empty and categorize items

I emptied out the closet and used my office floor space to categorize things as I went. Gift supplies went in a pile, electronics went in another, as did office supplies like hole punches and staplers. Craft and hobby supplies and photos and photo projects went in separate piles too. Along the way, I also created a pile of items that didn’t fit any of these categories, which consisted of things like a wooden alphabet puzzle and a nightgown that I plan to keep until my youngest daughter fits it. 

Step 3: Address things that didn’t belong

It wasn’t long before I discovered that the majority of what was taking up space in the closet was boxes of kids’ papers and artwork that I hadn’t yet fully gone through. Although I do have a system for kids’ papers, between the pandemic and our move, I got stuck in various stages of the sorting process. Many of the papers were sorted by child and year, but I hadn’t gotten to the final memory-preserving stage of the project yet. As I unearthed more boxes, I realized that if I began sorting through the actual papers, I’d get derailed by this other, much more detailed project, meaning that the closet wouldn’t actually get cleaned out and my office would be overtaken by papers. 

So I decided to postpone this particular part of dealing with the contents of the closet. I gathered all the boxes and bins filled with papers and continued to collect them in the hallway with the intent that I’d take them up to the attic for when I’m ready to focus on that project with my full attention. 

Step 4: Organize the rest

After clearing out the boxes, I was left with a relatively empty closet and some piles of categorized items that needed organizing. So I started putting the items away, which went pretty quickly since like was with like and I could grab a pile of stuff and put it where it belonged. My sketchbook went on the bookshelf, office supplies went into my desk drawers, and craft supplies went into the drawers that were already set up and organized in the closet but had just been buried. I set up the gift-wrapping organizer I’d bought well over a year ago and made sure that I could access the bins of hobby supplies that were neatly stacked in the closet. 

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

I did all of this in about three hours, including breaks. This shocked me. Once again, I put something off for so long, making it a bigger deal in my head than it actually was. I didn’t wait for motivation; I made a decision. I still didn’t feel like doing it when I stared down the mess, but I pulled out one item and then another and another and before I knew it, I’d created momentum. 

My office closet is cleaned out now, and without the weight of a big undone task, I feel like I can breathe in this room. Yes, I have a big project (the kids’ papers) waiting for me, but I know that time passing will give me a valuable perspective about what’s truly special and I’m happy to take advantage of that. In the meantime, I’m one step closer to being settled in our home, and I have the option of accessing what I need to engage in hobbies that make me happy. Cleaning out the closet was super worth it, in more ways than I expected.