Storage alternatives for those who need more space

The Associated Press
Friday November 24, 2000

The one thing you always seem to need more of is storage. 

If you have one or more closets each with only a single pole, you can hold off on adding space; you can, in fact, make the best of what you have by organizing your closet to maximize storage. Storage alternatives abound. 

We can’t believe how many different companies make shelving packages out of everything from wire to melamine-covered high-density particleboard planks. The folks that sell wire shelving boast “ease-of-installation” and lightweight construction that “breathes.” We tend to like solid shelving because it is sturdier. 

Our natural tendency as modern American home dwellers is to use that good old standby, “the single pole closet system,” to do the job of shelves, cabinets, drawers and hooks. We forget that wasted space usually results. The first and most important part of improving storage is to determine what needs storing. Ten dresses, two skirts and eight sweaters store differently than 12 pairs of shoes, six jackets and 11 pairs of pants. Make a list of what you need to store and estimate approximately how much space each item will require. Shirts take up less height than overcoats or dresses, and sweaters do better on shelves than hangers. 

Measure out how many linear feet of half-height hanging space you’ll need. Hang all of your half-height clothing and measure from one end to the other. Do the same with clothing that normally hangs full-height. Some prefer to hang trousers by the cuffs; others hang them folded in half. 

Consider clothing that is being dry cleaned or laundered. And, leave a little space for wardrobe growth. If you can organize shelving so that the shelves fit your laundering habits, you will be happier with the result. 

In areas where two poles are used, only one shelf will fit above. Thirty-four inches to 38 inches will be needed for half-height hangings. Tall folks will need a bit more space. Where single-poles exist, two shelves above will easily fit. 

Sweater shelves should be designed to a familiar width. However, the space between – which will range from 16 inches to 24 inches – should be fully adjustable. This way you can adjust as your wardrobe changes. 

Think carefully about the addition of drawers. For example: gloves, jewelry and scarves can be stored in very shallow drawers. Belts, socks, stockings and lingerie will need a slightly deeper drawer and men’s underwear, sleepwear, exercise clothing and the like will require an even deeper one. Gauge drawer height by what will be stored within. Optimizing space is achieved by minimizing wasted space. A pair of gloves in a 6-inch-deep drawer wastes 51/2 inches. 

Just about every closet system company offers a planning guide or technical assistance. Some provide computer drawings and a number-matched parts list.  

However, expect to pay more for this feature. Although the big box stores offer an endless selection of precut alternatives, we like the custom shops that will personally cut all parts to exactly match your design. Remember what we said about folding sweaters? Custom cutting is where the shelves are sized to your specifications. 

If you have a table saw you can have the best of both worlds. You can purchase a precut kit and then refabricate it to meet your specific needs.  

Wire shelves aren’t as strong as solid shelving, but are easy to install. Special hangers are used against the rear wall, with a different bracket used at end walls. With brackets in place all you have to do is snip the shelf to the desired length and lay it in place. Gravity does the rest. 


Wire shelving also allows clothes to be viewed from all six sides. Not a bad feature if your memory is as bad as ours. 

Whatever options you choose, carefully planning closet storage can double usable storage space.