Organizing a Linen Closet

Martha Stewart Living Television

Linens can have a mind of their own, as anyone who has wrestled with a fitted sheet knows. Comforters slither off shelves, stacks of towels topple at the touch, favorite napkins hide in the back of the drawer. But there are ways to control them using some simple organizing techniques.

Divide the linens you do use regularly into categories: bedding for each bedroom; towels for each bathroom, including hand towels and washcloths; dinner and cocktail napkins; tablecloths and runners. Then divide further, separating the seasonal or special tablecloths from the everyday ones, the summer sheets from the flannels. Now that you can see everything, you can find a place for it all.

Wherever you choose to keep your linens, the organizing principles are the same. Shelves and drawers should be clean and freshly painted or lined. Unfinished wood can stain the fabric over time. If the shelves are movable, set them at various heights. If the setup in your closet or cupboard is inflexible, use baskets, plastic bins, dividers, and plastic-covered-wire shelving (available at discount stores and stores that specialize in organizing) to create customized surfaces and spaces.

Sheets and Towels
A shelf height of about 10 inches is good for sheets. With much more, you'll waste the space or end up with an unwieldy tower of linens. Sheets can be sorted in two different ways: Sheets of the same kind (queen fitted, for example) can be stacked together, or you can stack sheet sets (flat, fitted, and pillowcases) for each bed. Towels can also be organized by size, or by the bathroom they'll be used in; allow about 12 to 16 inches of shelf height for them. Everyday linens should be in frequent rotation, so make sure they're within arm's reach.

Comforters and Blankets
Bulky comforters, wool blankets, and extra pillows may need 18 inches of shelf space or more, especially if you stack them. Consider devoting the less-accessible area at the top of the closet to linens like these, the ones you reach for only one or two times a year. Because they spend so much time in the closet between uses, it's a good idea to keep blankets and comforters in zippered bedding bags, which help to keep them from getting dusty. A trunk, a chest, or a box that slides under the bed is also a good storage solution.

Table Linens
Sets of napkins should always be kept together; Martha has each set wrapped loosely in a sleeve of clear cellophane, which keeps them organized but also allows her to identify them easily. Tablecloths can certainly be folded flat, but they are also perfect candidates for hanging -- on sturdy good-quality hangers, not flimsy wire ones.

Antique Linens
Antique linens need some special treatment. Many of Martha's are sent out to Barbatelli's laundry in Milwaukee; they come back clean, finished, and packaged in acid-free tissue paper, which helps keep fabric from yellowing. Depending on their shape and size, they may be folded, hung, or rolled on cardboard tubes, ready to be stored until they're used again -- and Barbatelli's strongly encourages people to use their fine linens. If you don't send them out to be professionally laundered, you can package them in acid-free tissue paper at home and store them in a plastic garment bag for added protection. You can also layer acid-free tissue paper between linens, drape it over hanging tablecloths, or use it to line drawers.

Labels
Labels are important, because you should never have to unfold something to find out what it is (and when properly folded, it's actually impossible to tell fitted sheets from flat). Take a few minutes to tag shelf edges, using adhesive labels or card holders, and you'll save time whenever you put away or take out linens. The labels themselves depend on how you have arranged the linens: They may say "guest room," "master bathroom," "cocktail napkins," "crib," or "twin fitted." You can also label napkins with the number of pieces in the set: Wrap them loosely in cellophane or acid-free tissue, and then seal the package with a sticker stamped with the number. Loop a tag over a tablecloth's hanger.

Pest Prevention
If moths are a problem, tuck some cedar blocks into drawers and place them on shelves to deter the moths. The wood's scent will gradually weaken as the oils evaporate; when this happens, sand the surface to release the aroma. You may also want to use sachets to add a subtle fragrance to linens.

Resources
For more information on custom laundering, contact Linens Limited.

We used white cotton pillow protectors from Garnet Hill, canvas comforter bags from Hold Everything, and brass card holders from Simons Hardware and Bath.

Also seen in this segment was acid-free tissue paper from New York Central Art Supply and clear cellophane from New York Cake and Baking Distributor.

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