Between parenting and homeschooling three kids, remodeling their Alabama house from top to bottom, and chronicling it all on their popular blog, The Handmade Home, Ashley and Jamin Mills felt the need to simplfiy their daily life. One non-traditional thing they tried? The "family closet," — one of the most intriguing projects in the Mills's transformation of their 2,300-square-foot home into a colorful and laid-back space.
"The master bedroom had a very spacious closet, but it just didn't fit our needs," Jamin says. "We said, 'Why are we living with something that some architect or builder designed for the random masses?'" So the Mills merged their belongings with those of their kids, ages six to 10, creating a "family closet."
The backward L-shaped space off the master bathroom now houses the entire family's clothing and shoes, as well as bed linens and even mom's wedding dress.
"We always tell people it might not work for your floor plan or for your lifestyle," Ashley says. "The point is to always do what really works for you and your family, and this works for us."
Wondering if a family closet could work for you? Here's how the Mills family made it happen:
The Millses actually merged all of the family's clothes into one closet before redesigning it. The one-space-for-all concept was working – but it needed a functional upgrade to really make sense.
The closet's large size had made it a dumping ground for just about everything — Ashely's maternity clothes, items that no longer fit the kids, birth certificates and passports shoved between broken hangers, even a freeze-dried bouquet from the couple's 2002 wedding. So, the first order of business was purging the closet of all unnecessary items before creating an organization system.
The closet's existing wire racks, made mostly for hanging clothes, didn't maximize the storage space, so the Mills ripped them out and replaced them with solid IKEA cubby-style bookshelves with a few modifications. Some clothes hang on rods, but Ashley prefers folding these days.
"I was amazed at how much space folding items can lend you," Ashley says. "The cubbies created this entirely different look where we could actually see things."
The cubbies make for a unique clothes storage system — there's not a dresser or box in sight. "Everything is in plain view for the kids — no rummaging through drawers and turning them into messy piles. And for the littlest, there is no struggling to get a drawer open — all of his clothes are at his eye level or below for an easy grab," says Jamin.
Though the kids have to walk through the master bedroom to get to their clothes, it doesn't bother anyone. Meanwhile, the closets in the kids' bedrooms are now filled with their toys and games, leaving plenty of open space in their rooms to play.
The key to keeping the closet tidy is having a specific space for absolutely everything. Upper shelves store lesser-used items (or never-used items, like Ashley's wedding dress). Accessories are organized on DIY pegboard racks (complete with faux taxidermy), and a bookshelf wedged between hanging clothes hold the kids' shoes. The parents' shoes are stored on upper shelves.
"Getting dressed is no longer a chore," Ashley says. "I don't fling clothes around helplessly searching for that one item after my fifth panic attack over being late. I can even see all of my jewelry, belts, and scarves — you name it, we have a place for it."
Baskets are placed inside some of the cubbies (and underneath hanging clothes) to corral socks, underwear, flip-flops and hats — and some serve as laundry baskets. "The family closet is a total game-changer for putting away laundry," says Ashley.
It's much easier to distribute clean clothes back to one place (instead of four separate rooms) and the family finds their morning routine is much less stressful. "Getting the kids dressed is not a multi-room Olympic event anymore," Jamin says.
It's an age-old rule of organizing: If you want a space to stay neat, make it pretty!
The family banished the closet's basic beige walls and bad fluorescent lighting, and brought in a fun rug, yellow garden stool, and a coat of Benjamin Moore's China Blue on the walls. A full-length mirror and a swanky vintage chandelier complete the boutique look. "It feels like I'm standing in the middle of a nice dressing room, instead of somewhere that a hurricane took out," Ashley says.
"Does every closet need a garden stool, moose head, and rug? Probably not," Ashley says. "Will it make it absolutely more fun and motivate you to keep it that way when you're dressing in style? Probably so. If it's pretty, you'll be inspired to keep it that way."
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