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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 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.

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.

Comments (9)

  • hemihus 18 Nov, 2010

    No need to be snarky, brutuses. Some of us don't have time to be unorganized. Once you have a system rolling, all you have to do is stick with it, so why not label those shelves (a one-time occurrence) and then put cleaned items back into where they belong? As pointed out below, labels help people who help you; a partner, child, parent or guest even. In such a situation, nobody wants to create a mess for you to sort out later, but maybe you don't mind that potential extra work?

  • Allindi 23 Feb, 2010

    One nice thing about having labels is that when someone else (maybe the older children or husband) is helping put away the laundry, they know exactly where things go.

  • Allindi 23 Feb, 2010

    One nice thing about having labels is that when someone else (maybe the older children or husband) is helping put away the laundry, they know exactly where things go.

  • brutuses 30 Jun, 2009

    I do the same as annerbabe.

    When I see this photo with the linens ironed and folded to perfection along with the labels, it cracks me up. No one in real life maintains a closet like this. My things are very neat, but not this neat and surely I don't need labels to tell me what is what.

  • annerbabe 16 Mar, 2009

    After washing my sheets I fold them and put the top and bottom sheet and one pillowcase inside the second pillowcase, fold over the top of the pillowcase and place in my linen closet. This keeps all the pieces together and they tend to stay neater in the closet. It is very easy to grab the set I want when it is time to change my bed.

  • HamNCheezNLuv 10 Dec, 2008

    Thank you! I'm currently surrounded by piles of towels and sheets, and we're not even married yet! :)

  • SusieGallo 3 Aug, 2008

    thru out our house, with closets smaller then the norm and also large, we used wire shelving....easy to do

  • actobin 12 Jan, 2008

    I woudl like to know if anyone has experience with organizing small linen closet spaces. What type of shelving did you use

  • mamina51 20 Nov, 2007

    very good helpfull