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The custom closet system that keeps my family's chaos at bay

When you’re organized, everything seems more manageable

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The Container Store

I’ve always fantasized about having a giant walk-in closet. You’ve seen them in the movies: full of shoe shelves, scarf hooks, and gratuitous hanging space for a color-coded seasonal wardrobe.

But my lifestyle and budget have never allowed for this pipe dream, which means that I’m left with a bunch of tiny reach-in closets and irritating sliding doors.

My storage problem became acute after the arrival of my two children. Our 1890 Victorian house in Denver was giant compared to my friend’s apartments in New York City or San Francisco, but 19th-century architects didn’t plan for a 21st-century family. We needed storage help, ASAP.

After pricing similar modular systems from Home Depot, I splurged on a custom Elfa closet system from the Container Store. My husband gamely installed everything himself, and together we basked in our new collection of drawers, hanging rods, and shelves. It was simply glorious.

For the first time in my life, my closet wasn’t just a jumble of sagging shirts on leftover metal coat hangers. Everything had a place and we could easily adjust the shelves to accommodate different configurations. One Elfa closet became five, including designs for a toy closet under the stairs and a craft closet in our small office.

Earlier this summer, when we sold our first house after eight years of homeownership, the hardest part was leaving my custom closets. It wasn’t the money—none of our closet systems cost more than $800—or even that they were fancy (we always went with the cheaper mesh drawers instead of the wood fascia). It was that even though I didn’t have the big house with the over-the-top closet, I had something that functioned a bit like one.

Our motley crew of four is relocating to a new house in a new neighborhood in a matter of days. And while we’ve traded our historic Victorian for a bright blue midcentury modern, I still have the same problem: no closet space. This time, however, I’m not waiting a few years to maximize my storage.

My first item of business, even before buying a washer and dryer, was meeting with a new closet designer at the Container Store. Once again I gazed longingly at the mock walk-in closets, bright with track lighting, no-slam drawers, and jewelry pull-outs. One day, I think, before turning back to the computer to map out four new closets, none of them larger than six feet by two feet.

For now, I’m using every inch I have to make our new house feel just a little bit more complete.