closet before

Photo: David Tsay

The Challenge
The Problem Area
An awkwardly shaped closet stuffed to the gills with everything from tennis rackets to batteries.

The closet wedged behind the piano and under the staircase in Jeet Sohal's townhouse is small—but that's not the real problem. Its sloping, vaguely trapezoidal shape has plenty of volume but few right angles. It's hard to know what "goes" in a space like this. So Sohal and her husband, Eric, have just stuffed it with whatever they wanted to disappear, from their kids' Play-Doh and construction paper to yoga mats, umbrellas, lightbulbs, clothes needing ironing, reusable shopping bags, instruction manuals, Elmer's glue, a picnic set, work gloves, lint rollers, spray enamel, bed risers, and a vintage varsity jacket Sohal used to wear while riding on the back of Eric's motorcycle. A few years ago, Sohal installed shelves to try to organize the mess, but they've long since been buried by clutter.

The Fix
An organized storage space for often-used household items.
organizing closet

Photo: David Tsay

The Possibilities
"This closet is not a magical bottomless pit," Walsh says wryly, daring to poke his head in. All evidence to the contrary, "it will hold only a finite number of things." The trick is to designate which things, and to assign a clear purpose for a space that does not announce one. Sohal—who, like Dawn Bridgewater, is organized in her work life (she's the owner and designer of Bare Collection, a jewelry and handbag line) and views this closet as something she's just been too busy to tackle—decides to designate the space for stuff she needs "quick and easy access to," such as home maintenance supplies (lightbulbs, tape); the shopping bags and wrapping paper that she "obsessively" reuses; and "rainy day" kids' toys, like games and art supplies. Everything else—baby gear the boys have outgrown, sporting equipment like tennis rackets—will move to the playroom or to deeper storage in the garage.

The Process

When Walsh and Sohal begin their purge, both seem dumbfounded by how much stuff she's managed to, well, stuff into this small lair. Sorting like items into large plastic bins, they create piles of kids' toys (Taboo, sidewalk chalk), home stuff (screwdrivers, batteries, the candles Sohal keeps on hand in case of an earthquake), sporting equipment (tennis balls, golf gloves), and baby gear (a car seat, a mosquito net covering for a bassinet). A bin labeled HUSBAND, meanwhile, fills with a running vest, a radar detector, and shoe polish. Next Walsh stacks several sizes of clear plastic bins on the newly excavated built-in shelves to gauge how much volume the closet can comfortably hold, since he is adamant that the floor remain clear. "Once you get floor creep, you've lost the battle," he says gravely.


Photo: David Tsay

The Result
When the volume of one category exceeds its allotted space, Sohal must make choices, trashing the excess art supplies or storing them elsewhere. Home maintenance items will live on a nifty rolling cart Walsh has brought along to make the space more versatile—but this cart, too, is finite, so Sohal chooses a few lightbulbs from her extensive stash and sends the rest to the garage. When all the items that serve the closet's designated purpose—kids' toys, home supplies, and reusable shopping bags—have been stocked in bins, Walsh gives Sohal the go-ahead to store her husband's small bin, her yoga mat, and a few bike helmets in the remaining space. But that's it. "If you don't maintain a clear idea of what lives here," he warns Sohal, "you'll be back where you started in two months."

Next: Peter Walsh makes over other weird spaces