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Divide and Conquer

Martha Stewart Living, September 2007

With cooler weather on the way, now is the perfect time to get your chest of drawers in order.

The first step with any bureau makeover is often the hardest -- editing out items you no longer use. If you haven't worn a cardigan or a pair of pumps in two seasons, add it to your giveaway pile. Next, sort what remains by category and assign everything to a drawer. Most bureaus have little in the way of built-in compartments, but you can create custom divisions using the strategies here.

Why not plan the project around the seasonal wardrobe swap? You'll save time, plus your favorite sweater will be at hand that first chilly fall morning.

Bureaus traditionally have shallow drawers on top and deeper drawers on bottom. Small items, naturally, belong in more compact drawers, although frequency of use is also a factor (our off-season apparel is stashed in the lowest, hardest-to-reach drawer). All drawers should be lined with acid-free paper or mat board to protect garments from snags.

Loose Accessories

How It Works

Cafe-curtain rods mounted inside this drawer provide a track for a tray to slide along, doubling the storage space.

Storage Tip

For jewelry and other delicate items, line boxes with soft felt.

Undergarments

How It Works

These fabric-covered boxes in assorted sizes fit into the drawer, creating six cubbies for socks and underwear.

Storage Tip

To help socks keep their elasticity, store them folded, not in balls.

Shirts and Tops

How It Works

A custom fold-up divider trisects the drawer; mat board lines the wooden bottom.

Storage Tip

Fold laundered clothes when they're still warm from the dryer to minimize wrinkles.

Seasonal Apparel

How It Works

Cedar-plank liners repel moths; shelf brackets create topple-free compartments in which to put off-season apparel.

Storage Tip

Always clean garments before storing for the season to prevent stains from setting.

Small Bureaus

Small, streamlined bureaus can be overwhelmed by full wardrobes, but they're suitable for shoes, handbags, and other accessories. If you don't have the luxury or a second bureau, you can adapt any of the strategies demonstrated here to a top drawer in the chest drawers you have.

Loose Articles

How It Works

Placing four rectangular boxes in the corners of the drawer results in seven cubbies.

Storage Tip

Empty coins into a small dish each night so they don't clutter the top of the bureau.

Handbags

How It Works

A handmade fold-up divider results in three separate compartments for purses.

Storage Tip

Stuff handbags with acid-free tissue to protect their leather and help retain their form.

Shoes

How It Works

The same fold-up divider used above is paired with fragrant cedar planks.

Storage Tip

Place shoes in cotton-flannel bags, toe to heel, to prevent crushing and scuff marks.

Sliding Tray

You'll need 2 utensil trays sized to fit your drawer, a flexible tape measure, felt, scissors, curtain-rod brackets, screws, a screwdriver, and 2 concealed-mount cafe-curtain rods. If you decide to refinish the utensil trays, you'll also need spray paint.

1. Measure each compartment in the utensil trays with the flexible tape measure, and cut pieces of felt with scissors to fit inside.

2. Place 1 of the utensil trays on the bottom of the drawer.

3. Install curtain-rod brackets on one side of the drawer, about 1 inch above the top of the utensil tray. Repeat with second set of brackets on opposite side. Insert rods into the brackets.

4. Place the second utensil tray on top of the curtain rods.

Shelf Separators

You'll need a flexible tape measure, a pencil, a pair of wooden shelf brackets sized to fit your drawer, screws, and a screwdriver.

1. Measure the width of your drawer and divide by 3. Mark the 2 points of the trisected drawer.

2. Place brackets in drawer, lining them up with the marks.

3. Fasten by screwing through the back of the drawer into each bracket.

Fold-Up Divider

You'll need a flexible tape measure, foam board, a self-healing mat, a ruler, a craft knife, book cloth, a pencil, a straightedge, acid-free glue, a putty knife, and a bone folder.

1. Measure width, depth, and height of the drawer. Cut 5 pieces of foam board: 2 that are the size of the depth by the height, and 3 that are one-third of the width by the height.

2. Trim 1/2 inch from a short side of each piece. Lay pieces end to end in alternating lengths on book cloth, with 1/4 inch between each piece; mark edges with pencil. Cut cloth so it's 1 inch larger than foam board on all sides. Trim corners at a 45-degree angle.

3. Apply adhesive to book cloth with putty knife. Place foam board back on book cloth, according to markings. Wrap cloth over foam board. Cut a piece of cloth to cover the bare sides of the foam board; glue down.

4. Fold divider into shape with bone folder.

Comments (36)

  • LolyDiez 18 Mar, 2011

    HedyO, on page 10 I found the instructions for the fold up dividers.
    Good Luck!!!

  • LizaRaiser 16 Mar, 2011

    This is another excellent tip! Thanks!

  • HedyO 16 Mar, 2011

    So how does one make the fold up divider for the handbags???

  • gej 22 Sep, 2010

    Susan, Please contribute only organizing tips/thoughts, not copy editing tips. That is my "tip" for you or better yet be gone and go organize your drawers!

  • tyeann 23 Mar, 2010

    Why are these people nitpicking someone's grammar and spelling. Very sad because they are taking away form the whole gist of this website ORGANIZING TIPS! Must be a bad case of PMS

  • RainingCatsandDogs 22 Mar, 2010

    Love the tips. We are doing spring cleaning and this sure helps a family with six children.

  • harvard44 22 Mar, 2010

    Strongly agree with poppybee. These little Good Things and tips would be greatly enhanced with 3-4 step by step pictures. Worth a 1000 words, dontcha know...

  • KristinePalm 21 Mar, 2010

    maybe Susan should stick to proof reading, while the rest of enjoy all the great organizing tips Martha has to offer.

  • Almeda 21 Mar, 2010

    Please read more thoroughly. My comment was a simple response to SusanHensley, who criticized this very useful organizing article as having been "spoiled" by sloppy spelling. My points: 1) it was not sloppy spelling, it was correct, and 2) her suggested spelling "bureaux" is slightly off-putting.

  • kapusta 21 Mar, 2010

    It is well worth your time to organize undergarments as shown in the photo. I would not have believed it, but I actually got back at least double the storage space in my drawer when I tried this. Do it. It's a great idea.

  • majeral78666 21 Mar, 2010

    Almeda, me thinks you think to much about minutia!! this is about or-gan-niz-ing..NOT an English class.

  • tyost12 21 Mar, 2010

    Really Almeda, do you have nothing better to do? It didn't disrupt my flow of reading.

  • tyost12 21 Mar, 2010

    Really Almeda, do you have nothing better to do? It didn't disrupt my flow of reading.

  • melinhart 20 Mar, 2010

    I'm with ditaytayan...unless you, Almeda, were hired by this site to edit its content, stick to the point of ORGANIZING. I happen to like this particular idea, and I will be doing this to the drawers in my bureau...thank you very much.

  • melinhart 20 Mar, 2010

    I'm with ditaytayan...unless you, Almeda, were hired by this site to edit its content, stick to the point of ORGANIZING. I happen to like this particular idea, and I will be doing this to the drawers in my bureau...thank you very much.

  • ditaytayan 20 Mar, 2010

    What's the fuss with BUREAU/S? We are talking about ORGANIZING here. Yeah, just saying/asking--- shoes and loose accessories together? Just wonderin'.

  • Almeda 20 Mar, 2010

    I'm an editor. The preferred plural of bureau in this county (USA) is bureaus. I'm sure the preferred plural in France is bureaux and, while that is fine in the US, too, it could cause the American reader to pause slightly, disrupting the flow of reading.

  • Almeda 20 Mar, 2010

    I'm an editor. The preferred plural of bureau in this county (USA) is bureaus. I'm sure the preferred plural in France is bureaux and, while that is fine in the US, too, it could cause the American reader to pause slightly, disrupting the flow of reading.

  • lorikas 20 Mar, 2010

    The Oxford English Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Encarta World English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, Cambridge International Dictionary of English, Webster's New World College Dictionary and the Webster's Revised Unabridged, 1913 Edition all list the plural as "bureaus," along with bureaux. Just sayin'.

  • seashellweddings 20 Mar, 2010

    ha....just wondering how pleasant it is to live with Susan?
    I'll take this site as is, with all that it is..simply love it and all the ideas.
    Thanks Martha!

  • SusanHensley 20 Mar, 2010

    The plural of 'bureau', a French word, is 'bureaux' and it sounds the same as the singular. It's a shame to spoil good articles with sloppy grammar/spelling.

  • poppybee 5 Jun, 2009

    Please can we have more step by step photos to make it easier to follow. Thank you for the many ideas you share with us.

  • MissRed 12 Mar, 2009

    you can use cutlery trays, I have found many wooden ones that I use as drawer organizers.

  • tamham 9 Mar, 2009

    I totally agree! So many ideas are great but there are not enough pictures to get me through many projects.

  • curiousoneofaud 9 Mar, 2009

    Please do more close ups of photos. The ideas are
    really helpful, but I need clearer explanation.

  • MargiL 8 Mar, 2009

    DIVIDED BOXES

  • MargiL 8 Mar, 2009

    divided boxes and strips can be fouind at Bed Bath

  • lmshank 8 Mar, 2009

    Great idea, but as I read the first line . . .with cooler weather on the way . . .
    mmm . . . perhaps this article would have been more appropriate for late fall/ early winter. With that in mind, organization is always a good thing!

  • MsKJdeKC 7 Mar, 2009

    Try Fancy Xmas Boxes(Tues AM sale now), cover w-scrapbook or wrapping paper-glue on w-spray adhesive to cover 'Santa' etc. Extra Drawers! Dividers- cover same way - use foam core notched to interlock or dividers from liquor boxes cut to fit your width

  • jowanb 7 Mar, 2009

    that is perfect martha

  • pinkteamer 10 Sep, 2008

    Try www.talasonline.com or www.colophonbookarts.com for purchasing bookcloth. The bookcloth itself is just a very thin cloth that has been reinforced with a backing. The backing also keeps glue from bleeding through. You've seen bookcloth at the library on all the repaired books, and on older hardcover books. Hope this helps.

  • djj2m3 5 Sep, 2008

    Please tell me what Book Cloth is????
    Wikipedia doesn't even know. Thanks

  • deerskin 5 Jul, 2008

    I love the directions for making the fold-up dividers...foam core and book cloth would make a very professional looking finished product. This idea can be easily expanded to make beautiful storage boxes. Buying such beautiful storage materials, ready made, is so expensive. This looks like fun!! I'm off to search out a site that sells book cloth!

  • welchalynn 13 May, 2008

    This is a great Idea on keeping your dresser originzed. Where can i get the little boxes??? I really like the sock drawer, I have tons of socks. Thanks Martha

  • Amylou212 30 Apr, 2008

    I agree, I don't really get it.

  • lovingly 12 Jan, 2008

    I can't visualize what the divider will look like once it's finished. Also, what it is useful for.