Decluttering your linen closet doesn't have to be so daunting—this step-by-step plan makes it easier. 

By Michele Meyer
Updated: December 03, 2018
Johnny Miller

Organizing your linen closet is a worthy task for more reasons than one. Not only will the tidy closet impress your guests, but it will make changing the bed sheets and grabbing a clean towel when you need one much simpler. If you're like most of us, you probably have accumulated such a large collection of worn-out and mismatched linens, that when you tug at one towel, everything comes tumbling down. The good news: Whipping a linen closet into shape is easier than you think—as long as you follow a step-by-step plan that helps break down this potentially daunting task.

The first step: decide to dive in. Like many organizing projects, the hardest part is often just deciding to do it. Set aside a few hours after work or on the weekend, then turn on the music or a mind-focusing podcast and get to work, following the steps below.

Step 1: Sort and Streamline

Sort all your towels and sheets to determine which are worth keeping and which should go to charity, your cleaning-supply closet (as rags), or your kid's toy chest (for making tents and Halloween costumes).

Try to limit yourself to three sets of sheets per bed and as few as three sets of bath sheets or towels, hand towels, and washcloths per person (more if you change towels daily). This gives you one set in use, one in the hamper, and one in the closet ready for action. You'll need only one or two sets for guests (one on the bed and one in the hamper or closet).

Resist the temptation to hoard extra sets for emergencies. "Anytime you get a new set, retire an old one," says Stephanie Winston, author of Getting Out From Under: Redefining Your Priorities in an Overwhelming World ($13, Perseus, amazon.com).

Step 2: Make a Plan

Now it's time to make sense of everything you've decided to keep. First, group the linen according to room: bedding for each bedroom; towels for each bathroom; tablecloths and runners, dinner and cocktail napkins. Then separate summer from winter items, and daily linens from those for special occasions. The everyday and the current season should be stored at eye level, and the special-occasion and out-of-season linens farther from reach, at the top or bottom of the closet.

"Sorting and searching will be even easier if you assign one color to each room," says Winston. "That way, when you look at a towel or sheet, you immediately know whose it is." Another good idea is to slip folded sheets into the matching pillowcases. And to make sure that sheet sets get equally worn, always put the newly laundered linens on top of a stack, and remove the set to be used next from the bottom.

Allocate bulkier, less used items, such as spare duvet inserts, to the top shelf. They can be stored in the zippered bags in which they were purchased to keep them free of dust. Before you store things away, label the cases with a marker so you'll know what's inside.

Step 3: Label It All

Once everything is in order, label the shelves or bins to help you keep it that way. Use adhesive labels or a piece of washi tape to indicate “Master Bath,” “King Fitted,” or “Summer Blankets.” It doesn't matter whether you organize by room, sheet size, or season, just make sure to choose a system that works for you and your family—and then use the labels to help you stick to it.

Step 4: Give Everything Some Air

Tidy piles aren't enough: You should enjoy the soft fragrance of fresh laundry when you open your linen closet. To accomplish this:

  • Give linens their space. "Air flow is important to the safe storage of most textiles," says Jonathan Scheer, president of J. Scheer & Co., a New York textile-preservation firm. "If they're stuffed into the back of a closet, the fibers retain more moisture, which attracts mold and mildew, which can be permanently damaging. You should take them out and air them every three months."
  • "You can chase away mustiness with an open container of baking soda, activated charcoal, or calcium carbonate," says Cheryl Mendelson, author of Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House ($20, Scribner, amazon.com).
  • To enhance the aroma of your linens, place sachet bags of pine, cedar, vanilla, or fresh lavender wrapped in cheesecloth in the back of your closet. You can also hang a fabric-softener strip on the door or use scented drawer liners, like these ones from the Container Store ($18 for six 18-by-24-inch sheets, containerstore.com).

All in all, that's not much effort, and it's worth it to know every towel and sheet will smell freshly washed.

Step 5: Customize Your Closet

To make the closet as functional as possible, you'll want to customize it to fit your linens. If you have adjustable shelves, adjust them to about 10 inches for sheets and table linens (room for short stacks, not teetering towers) and 12 to 16 inches for towels. Leave 18 inches or more from the top shelf to the ceiling for bulky items, such as blankets or duvet inserts. And if you want to be able to stash laundry in the closet, consider removing the bottom shelves to make room for rolling laundry baskets or bins.

Even if your shelves are immobile at the standard 12 to 15 inches apart, all is not lost. You can customize the space with shelf dividers, baskets, and plastic bins from IKEA, Bed Bath & Beyond, or the Container Store.

Ready to make a bigger investment? Start from scratch with a custom closet designed just for you. This way, you can add in special details like pull-out drawers for your placemat collection and nice linen napkins, or install a closet rod and skirt hangers for your stash of tablecloths and runners. No matter if you splurge on a custom closet or add just a few DIY elements, the closet will function more smoothly when it's tailored to your belongings.