I Got Rid of My Walk-in Closet for a Minimalist Wardrobe—And Got More Space!
As we head into the cooler months here in the Northern Hemisphere, the ritual of putting our summer clothes away in exchange for layers on layers is soon upon us. With less hype for this switchover (there's no cutesy moniker like "Spring Cleaning" that I'm aware of), this chapter in home organization is far less appealing. But there's good news—it doesn't have to be! In the very dead of winter, I completely overhauled my primary bedroom closet, "downgrading" from a spacious walk-in to a one-wall wardrobe unit, and this is a project that you can tackle just in time for sweater weather.
I always felt like my walk-in closet was too big. I spent the first part of my working-adult life living in NYC, where I grew very accustomed to little-to-no-closet space, yet by some stroke of luck, making it work.
That experience coupled with my extensive travels, I began to notice that most homes I spent time in around the world had far less closet space than we did in the Unites States (including in my bedroom in Kampala). In the U.S., ample closet space is some sort of badge of honor that we then are forced to fill with things (most of which we don't need). As anybody who has spent a fair amount of time in an NYC will tell you, that lifestyle simply isn't sustainable, for many reasons, but definitely not in that space. Some have carved out extra closet space from unused kitchen ovens (really) or extra bedrooms, and they pay a premium for it. The need never presented itself in my case, and I'd rather optimize the spaces I already had.
This entire project was prompted by my strong desire to improve my primary bathroom situation. I had a full bath en-suite, but it shared a door with a common hallway, and was wayyyy too tight. I got to the drawing board and quickly realized that if I could find someplace else to call a primary bedroom closet, I had more than enough space to create a primary bathroom sanctuary. As I began to draw up the plans for the bathroom and decide on the design, I also had to devise where everything inside the future-former-walk-in-closet would now live! Here's how I did it.
I first measured all of the surface areas in my closet to see how much I was working with to begin with. The total came to 126" of hanging space, and 420 square feet of shelving. Next, I needed to find a wall for a wardrobe system. There was only one wall where this would potentially work, and if I couldn't get at least the same amount of closet space out of whatever solution I chose, then that would have been a deal-breaker for me (more-so for eventual resale value than our own needs or preferences). So I also had to play around with the placement of relocated things. My bedroom was also too big for me, so there was more space to play around with there. Third, I needed to find a wardrobe system. IKEA was the obvious place to start looking, and it was just my luck that a custom combination of their beloved, if elusive—thanks, pandemic!), PAX system fit the selected wall almost to a tee. I was able to use their online planning tool to plan out exactly what I needed according to my specifications and preferences, down to the types of handles I wanted. If my calculations were correct, I would end up with 116" of hanging space, and 467 square feet of shelving. (Remember, the before had 126" of hanging space, and 420 square feet of shelving!) Fourth, and what turned out to be the most challenging part of this process for me, was actually buying the wardrobe! PAX was indefinitely sold out of my and all IKEAs within a 100-mile radius of my house. I literally needed someplace for my clothes to go before demo started, so I scoured Craigslist and found half of the system I needed for sale in Northern Virginia. I drove the hour there, spent another hour loading (there were so many pieces and it was a massive apartment building). Finally, once I got the first set home, it took me less than two hours to assemble and install. I eventually got the remaining half from IKEA's website about five weeks later just as the bathroom project was wrapping up.
Above: The closet wall before.
I'm truly surprised by how much more spacious my closet feels simply because it is more optimally laid out than my walk-in closet. My cathedral ceilings are an added bonus because they allow me to use the top of the wardrobe for additional storage as well. I am sure I could have gotten more space out of my primary closet, but the objective was to use that space for a bathroom retreat, and that objective was fulfilled! I also love how much light that the lacquer-like finish bounces around in the room. This is a naturally bright room, but I thought that the addition of the wardrobe system would make it feel much smaller (which I would have been okay with). In reality, the door finish and the height make the room feel that much more expansive.
To-date, I am still (kind of) waiting for two PAX doors to come back into stock. In the meantime, I rigged up a lace curtain panel that I had in my upstairs linen closet (also from IKEA) , and to be honest, I really like how it softens the wardrobe just enough. As of now, I've de-prioritized finding the remaining doors and will look into buying them when I change my mind, if I ever do.
The add-ons are endless with the PAX system, though I have only opted for the two most obvious at this stage, those being horizontal shelving and vertical hanging rods. This is all we need for now.
To further optimize the space, I also vacuum packed my out-of-season clothes and store them at the very top since it is the least accessible and least used shelf. Vacuum packing is something I always wanted to do, but never had the right motivating factor to get started. This project changed that. I also recently added motion-sensor lighting which is a lifesaver given the 26" depth of these closets. It makes finding what I'm looking for much easier without making a mess or turning on all the lights in the room.
Whether you have a walk-in closet that could work better for you, or simply want to find more space within the existing footprint of your home, revisiting and adjusting the functionality of your closet spaces is a fun pre-fall and can be fun an instant value add.