My Utility Closet Was a Disaster—So I Got Professional Help

Turns out, it didn't take all that much to turn this storage nightmare around.

September 10, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

I do a lot of organizing, re-organizing, and re-organizing again. Each time a lunch container falls at my feet in the kitchen or a spare shampoo bottle comes hurtling down from my closet, I’m more than likely to drop everything and redo the whole organization system. Often, it just means carefully refolding and stacking things, but sometimes, a more aggressive overhaul is necessary.

Enter: my utility closet. It’s notorious (to me) for being a human-sized catchall for all the things myself and my roommates don’t know what to do with: lightbulbs, brooms, sidewalk salt, bike pumps, Christmas decor—you name it, it’s in there. And because it houses so many disparate things (that we all need at different times) it falls into disarray faster than any other storage space in the apartment.

I’ve spent a long time ignoring it (with a few failed attempts at reorganization peppered in), but finally decided it was time to tackle the beast. Lucky for me, I got a bit of professional advice on how to handle this nightmare from Eryn Donaldson, founder of organizing company The Model Home and also got some affirmations that I wasn’t doing it all wrong. Here’s what I learned from the process:

Take Everything Out

You know this one already: take everything out of the closet to see just how much stuff you have—and what you can give up. When I actually ripped everything out, I discovered some long-lost packing tape, some brown craft paper, and the cord to the handheld vacuum I thought was surely lost forever. I also discovered that we probably didn’t need two extra bottles of surface cleaner with two sprays left in them, but we did need to order more toilet paper, and STAT.

Keep Seasonal Stuff Out of Reach

Here’s one that I was pleased to find I was following: always keep seasonal stuff out of reach. This doesn’t just mean Christmas decorations, either. This means sidewalk salt, shovels, bike pumps (we’re not biking so much in the winter), and anything that isn’t reached for on a daily basis.

Eryn also suggested categorizing holiday decorations even further than just general bins. It’s easier to find what you’re looking for come holiday season if each bin or bag is labeled with what’s inside.

Clear Bins Aren’t Always the Answer

We’ve talked about this before: clear containers have been all the (organizing rage for years now, especially in pantries. But, Eryn says, “clear bins on Pinterest don’t always work because you’re a normal person and realistically, it’s not going to be kept up.” Especially when it comes to a utility closet (and the things inside it are frankly, pretty ugly), you don’t need to see everything at a glance. Often, there are things that can be squirreled away to pull out only when they need to be, like light bulbs or old-towels-turned-cleaning-rags.

So, with that said, I got some bins to use in the existing (and admittedly old and run down) storage unit that lives in the closet. It was haphazardly stuffed with bottles and extras, but now there are bins for Swiffer pads and Roomba bags, assorted vacuum accessories, lightbulbs, and the gratuitous bin of random things we don’t know where to put. The trick here is just to label what’s inside so you’re not sifting through every bin to find what you’re looking for.

The cluttered, confusing before. Photo by Caroline Mullen
The still full, but much better organized after. Photo by Caroline Mullen

Rolling Carts Aren’t Just for Bathrooms

Someone (and by someone, I mean Home52 Editorial Lead, Arati Menon) has been trying to convince me to get a rolling storage cart for cleaning supplies for, oh, I don’t know, forever? Well, the time is nigh! Eryn suggested that a rolling cart is a great option for things you want to keep within reach, especially with a deep closet that can have multiple rows of storage potential, and I was finally sold!

I’m so pleased with my little cart, which now holds extra paper towels, all things laundry, and spare cleaning supplies. And when I need to access the shelf behind it, I can just roll it on out, and then right back in.

Utilize Every Wall and Every Door

I was somewhat following this rule already, too. Eryn emphasized that all space and real estate should be used, so that means walls and doors aren’t off limits. In fact, they’re… on limits? Maybe not that, but still! I have a wall organizer that holds all things with handles (broom and dustpan, Swiffer, shovel) as out of the way as possible. This is truly worlds better than letting all those handled items sit on the floor and topple over every time you open the door, and Eryn says mounting the organizer even higher than usual gives you more storage space on the floor of the closet, too.

For tall items like wrapping paper, Eryn recommends a trash can or waste basket to hold them all together and out of the way, and for random items that don’t fit in bins or baskets, add an over-the-door storage system to make use of the back of the door.

How do you handle your utility closet? Is is just as overwhelming as mine? Tell us below!

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When I'm not writing & editing for Home52, I'm likely to be found DIY-ing a new piece of furniture (or restoring an old one), hanging things on the wall in my apartment, or watching hours of vintage RHONY.