How to transform your exasperating closet into a customized closet for you

How to transform your exasperating closet into a customized closet for you

Nothing Is Permanent, Not Even Your Closet

Do you have built-in wooden shelves and cubbies in your clothes closet? Do you like them? Sometimes those built-ins don’t fit your specific clothes very well and waste a lot of valuable space. Right?!? You actually don’t have to put up with that daily annoyance. Your closet can be transformed like this one.


Read on to see how a little sledgehammer demolition and installation of adjustable Elfa shelving can fix a multitude of problems. You can change an exasperating closet into a customized one. (And by “You” I mean, “You, after hiring A Jones For Organizing to do the work for you.”)  Space design, and closet design, is my jam.


(Did She Mention A Sledgehammer?)

Yes I did! I love tools. Check out my  Real Women Use Tools! class! But before we start swinging a sledgehammer around, let’s look at WHY I wanted to demolish and improve this closet. There were several design and usability problems. The dastardly villains in this story are the poorly-planned wooden built-in shelves.



Built-In Shelves and Cubbies

See below, how this closet originally came with oversized built-in wood cubbies? See how ridiculously tall each cubby is? Builders make them huge because it supposedly gives you more flexibility in what you can store in them. But the real reason they do this, is that it’s inexpensive for the builder to make them this way.


Cowboy Closet?

Now, to be fair, this closet is in Austin, Texas. Maybe the builder intended these built-in cubbies to be used for storing cowboy boots? If so, the height would be just right.



They Call Me Too-Tall Cubby

Tall cubbies, while perfect for cowboy boots, aren’t useful for folded clothes. If you use them to store a few folded shirts or pants, there will be a lot of wasted space.



But if you try to fill up the cubby with a tall pile of folded clothes, as shown below, you will create an avalanche if you try to pull the bottom one out.




So that is one problem caused by the built-ins in this closet. But, wait, there’s more!


Hello, I’m Calling About A Rogue Clothing Rod In My Closet

See below, for another head-scratching decision that the builders made in this closet. How are you supposed to hang clothes on a clothing rod placed in front of cubbies? Answer: you cannot.



Closet Installation Art

Was this perhaps a hilarious piece of avant-garde closet installation art? Nope. Someone deliberately designed it this way, and got paid for this design. Then, other people approved the design, ordered the materials, and installed it. All of those people apparently gave no thought about how their own closets work.


For more amusing examples of how NOT to design a clothes closet, see my article Closet Design – Top 5 Tips For Space Planning.



There’s one more problem with this closet, that is very common. There’s too much wasted space under a single clothing rod, set up high.


Storage for a Gajillion Dresses, or Several Surfboards

On the other side of this long walk-in closet, there was only one clothing rod that ran across the entire wall. The rod was up high, which would work well for long-hanging clothes, like dresses.  Or, for storing a surfboard collection.


Builders like to put in these single clothing rods, because it’s cheaper construction for them. But hanging shirts and blouses on this high clothing rod will leave lots of wasted space below. In this case, we didn’t need long-hanging space for a lot of dresses, or surfboards.

 closet rod up high for long hanging clothes


 It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

I knew that this closet could be much less frustrating, and much more efficient.  It wasn’t the client’s fault that she couldn’t manage her clothes well in there. She had to struggle with the generic, unusable closet configuration that had been built into it.


Elfa Shelving And Drawers To The Rescue

For big closet configuration problems like this, I turn to Elfa shelving, which is the adjustable shelving and drawer system from The Container Store. Elfa is a component system, which is a fancy way of saying that it’s a bunch of separate pieces sold individually, that can fit together in endless variations. You choose which pieces you want, to customize them to your available space. (Does that sound overwhelming? Let me do it for you.)


Out of hundreds of different possible configurations of Elfa closets, you can see one example below.


photo courtesy of


Pre-Fab Closet Kits Only Work For Barbie’s Dream Closet

Elfa is not a pre-fabricated kit. Pre-fab closet kits can cause you some trouble if the kit doesn’t quite fit the measurements of your closet, or if you have more stuff than the kit gives you space for. What if you have more shoes than the pre-fab kit allows? What then? You will be frustrated with your closet kit, that’s what.


Your Real Dream Closet

Elfa lets you have your Dream Closet, where every detail is set up just the way you want it. For instance, you can:


  • set clothing rods as high or as low as you want, based on YOUR height
  • add extra shelving up high to use that valuable storage space up by the ceiling
  • have plenty of shoe storage for your shoes
  • get shelves cut to exactly fit your specific closet dimensions


Yes Please

Sounds good, right? As a space designer and professional organizer, I LOVE being able to solve storage challenges this way for my clients. Customizing your storage means that there will be no more wasted space. Every bit of that exasperating closet of yours, can be used more efficiently.


Here’s another example, below. (Why not paint your closet walls green? Or purple, if you want? Your closet should make you happy.)


photo courtesy of


It’s Sledgehammer Time

Now do I get to swing my sledgehammer? Yes! Let’s knock those silly too-tall cubbies out! There’s simply no reason to try to fit your clothes and your daily routine into someone else’s idea of built-in shelves.


Please Don’t Try This At Home

I am not suggesting that this is an easy DIY project. I have been demolishing my own built-in closet shelves for [checks her watch] over 30 years now. And, I have good insurance. So, please don’t try this yourself unless you have A LOT of experience. A good handyman or handywoman can do this type of work for you.



After I removed the built-ins, I installed Elfa shelving along both sides of the closet. See below for the result! Remember those too-tall cubbies on the back wall? After I took them out, I put a stacked combination of free-standing Elfa drawers there. Those drawers come in different heights. So you can use shallow drawers for small things like socks, or deeper drawers for storing larger things like bedding.


Details – Pull-out Pants Racks

For her slacks and pants, this client wanted pull-out pants racks.  Here, I installed two of them side by side. But you could install these racks one above the other (vertically), if that works better in your particular closet.


pants racks (2)

Details – Drawers

Remember the wasted space underneath the hanging clothes on the other wall? This was a perfect spot for Elfa free-standing drawer units. They come in different widths and heights. I like these smooth mesh drawers for storing delicate things like lingerie with no snagging.


elfa drawers in closet


Ahhhhhhhh Good Clothing Management

See below, how all of the space is used now, with Elfa mesh drawers on one side and gliding pant racks on the other?  That formerly wasted space is now well-managed clothing storage.


after - no wasted space below


Can I help make your exasperating problem closet become your Dream Closet? I love having an excuse to use my sledgehammer.  Contact me!

  • Wow, if you weren’t so far away, I’d be bringing you in for sure!

  • There’s nothing quite as exciting as transforming a so-so closet into a well-designed one. And there is an art to doing it. I love how you created more, useable and appropriate space in this closet. I’m a big fan of Elfa products and have used them in both my own home and for clients.

  • The closet looks great. You added a lot of usable space. The drawers are a game changer – no need for a dresser with all that space.

    • A Jones For Organizing says:

      Thanks Janet! I agree – it’s so much easier to have all of your clothes in one place instead of having some in the closet and some in a bedroom dresser.

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