Minimalist Makeover: Lea Ann’s Closet

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Beth’s closet and kitchen makeover. Shortly thereafter, I heard from Lea Ann, who had just finished a closet makeover of her own. I was amazed by the “before” and “after” photos:

Lea Ann's Closet

Lea Ann's Closet

What a difference! I asked her to share with us exactly *how* she accomplished this transformation. She wrote:

Background: I lived in San Francisco where space was tight. Moved to Wisconsin and am suddenly in a 770 s.f. apartment that has more space and closets than I was used to. To leave San Francisco, I’d given away all but a car load of items and road tripped to Wisconsin. Thus I didn’t have that much to move into an apartment and certainly didn’t devise a system for anything. My “system” was to toss things on shelves and in drawers and be done with it.
Real Life: I’ve lived in the apartment over three years and have accumulated “stuff” and stored the “stuff” by making a couple trips annually to IKEA to stock up on all kinds of containers to contain my “stuff”. I have this incredible walk in closet that I’d lined with shelving units and hanging organizers…so much so that I felt closed in when entering the closet. So I began tossing things INTO the closet and shutting the door. Was never happy with this, of course, but it kept the clutter out of my apartment and in that closet.
August, 2010: I’m informed by my coworker who is also a neighbor that there are water leaks and the owner and an HVAC guy will need access to every upper units attic access – which happens to be in the master bedroom closet. PANIC. I panicked. Then thought this is the time to conquer the closet once and for all. Sort of. Life is ongoing and so is the closet maintenance.
  • I began by taking everything out of the closet and placing it into my living room.
  • Each item was put in a category:  clothing/shoes, linens or “stuff”.
  • When the closet floor and back shelves  were empty (amazingly large and clean!), I vacuumed it out and stood back, proud of my progress.
  • I tackled each category from the living room, keeping only what I loved and needed, and gave away the rest. Linens were tucked into the bathroom closet. Current size/season clothes were hung up or put into a shelving unit while “out of season” and “out of size” clothing items were put in boxes labeled as such.
  • The “stuff” on the coffee table was sorted through, one container at a time, and homes were found for items.
  • When I needed a container to house an item from the living room, I pulled from my Outbox.* I’d pick a container that was the appropriate size and then contained the items and put them away in the closet.
*The Outbox is the area in my office nook off the living room that I designated for items that I’m not sure yet what to do with. Having the Outbox helps me have a place for those “I just don’t know” items and lets me decide when I have more time what to do with the items. I also used the Outbox to store all the pretty, empty containers and empty banker boxes that I have available in which to store items. When I’m done around the apartment, I will gather up the extra containers and give them away to my highly organized sister-in-law Maya or donate them to the thrift store.
What helped me during this makeover were these things:
  • I decided on some key words and kept those in mind the whole time. My words for the project were quick, organized and pretty.
  • I put like with like in my first quick sort with items from the closet to the living room, then when I sorted items to be put away in the closet, I kept like with like.
  • It wouldn’t have gone as smoothly if I hadn’t pulled everything out of the closet and started with a blank slate.
  • When looking at a category/pile of items, I pulled out only what I knew I wanted to keep, THEN for the remainder of the items, they were to be tossed or given away.
  • Honesty was key. I pulled out a dress I love but its wearable life is over. So I put it in the garbage.  I knew which items I loved and which items I’ve been hemming and hawing about for a long time. I let those items go to the thrift shop! Something I’ve been hesitating on may be a delight to someone else!
  • Ongoing Process: I don’t feel “done” and imagine I never will be. So it’ll be a challenge to maintain the closet and not let it get back to how it was. But I do know I don’t want it to get back to the mess it was when a friend saw the closet and went “oh.  my.”
  • Confidence Building. Completing this project has me smile each day. I smile when I see the closet AND am encouraged that I can do anything – it just takes babysteps.

I’m thrilled that Lea Ann was kind enough to share her makeover with us, and provide us with such wonderful inspiration. If you’d like to see more of her closet pics, please visit her blog, Just Daisy.

Note: I’d love to make “Minimalist Makeover” a regular feature! So if you’ve recently decluttered, please email me your “before” and “after” pics, and a few words about your inspiration, motivation, or techniques:

ct09 AT (remove the spaces and replace the AT with @, of course!)

{If you’d like to read more about minimalist living, please consider buying my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

24 comments to Minimalist Makeover: Lea Ann’s Closet

  • Red

    What a wonderful transformation! :-D And her tips are applicable to decluttering any space! Great job, Lea Ann!

  • Hi Lea Ann! I smiled when I read about the HVAC person needing access and how you felt. There is a box in my closet that control the fire alarm and if it goes off in error they have to get to it. I love your plan and the before and after photos! I’m off to see your blog. Thanks for sharing!

  • […] you to Francine at Miss Minimalist for posting about my closet makeover today.  How kind of her!  I adore her blog where I glean tips on living a more minimal life […]

  • Wow, good job! I just recently cleaned out a closet in my daughter’s room and it took me 3 days -and I had previously thought it was pretty organized! Just goes to show how much is really lurking in there. I also appreciate seeing the step by step process written out, very helpful.

  • Great job, Lea Ann! Very inspiring!

  • I love that ‘pretty’ was one of your key words!
    I just pulled out my wedding china that has been in storage for 14yrs. When my husband asked me why I wanted to take it out and start using it suddenly I told him, ‘It’s so pretty!’.
    I’m getting rid of other dishes that are not pretty to make room.

    • It’s wonderful to hear about people actually using their wedding china! So many people keep it tucked away for “special occasions,” but those are so rare that the china never gets used and loved.

      Come to think of it, I use that same philosophy with my good jewelry. I should make a point to wear my nicest things more often… Thanks for the inspiration! :)

      • Mayfair

        My mother used to save her best perfume for “special occasions” until I told her that I use my best stuff everyday because EVERY DAY is a special occasion:) She gave me her wedding china a few years ago because she only used it on Thanksgiving & Christmas (for 30+ years!) It was not her style because my grandmother chose the pattern, so my mom never really loved it. I never wanted any china, like “they” say you are supposed to register for, so I never did. Funny thing is that now I have my mom’s china, its totally my style, and I use it every day. Win-win:) And yes, it is very fancy, which makes it stand out even more in a becoming-more-minimalist home:)

  • I love the bags hanging on the wall; good job!

  • action speaks louder than words, well done Lea Ann

  • Jill Stigs

    Looks great! I live in WI too! I am now trying to turn the man and kidlet to the more minimalist way to live. WISH ME LUCK!!

    • hey Jill! where in Wisconsin are you? I’m in southeast Wisconsin. Good luck turning the man and kidlet toward a more minimalist way. Tell them I’m a packrat who simultaneously loves clear surfaces. If I can let go of things that don’t make me smile when I look at can they :)

  • Gil

    Spectacular transformation!

  • Cameron Malek

    I already started a makeover of my own, but I took a “before” picture of my room, even though I already got rid of some stuff, but it’ll still be quite the transformation. I’m getting rid of everything except for a 28 liter backpack’s worth of stuff so I can more easily travel (earning money as I go with a web design business).

  • What a wonderful makeover – congratulations! My closet looked a lot like the before picture a couple weeks back, but it still has a long way to go until it looks like the after photo.

    I especially love Lea Ann’s tips about choosing key words. I’ll have to choose a few of my own when I go back to cleaning out my closet, and especially when I tackle my bookcase in the coming weeks.

    Great work!

  • Jill Stigs

    Hey Sunny,

    I live in Muskego. Starting tomorrow, I am going to straighten up the garage and then “help” (which really means do most of the work) Dave pare down. He uses more of our closet than I do!! My daughter who will be 12 next month will take a bit more coaching/badgering/pleading.

    Wish me continued luck (I am going to need it!),

  • Great post! You can really see a difference.

    I think these real-life examples are what make this blog so great. It makes the idea of a lifestyle change more tangible.

    The best advice here, and also from Francine’s book, is to remove EVERYTHING from the closet first! It’s amazing how much stuff you don’t even realize was there, lurking in the corner. Great job, Lea Ann!

  • Thanks for the tip on using KEY WORDS. I think that might help me. Good job, Lee Ann, and thanks for sharing.

  • HK

    What a beautiful transformation, Lee Ann! I must admit, I’m incredibly jealous of your closet. Mine is the size of a bathroom stall, so you can imagine how crowded it looks with hardly any effort. Keep up the great work!

  • Tina

    Just went under one bathroom sink. Decided that was one area I hadn’t looked at in a while. Found a lot of plastic bags I use for garbage. I counted out enough for 6 weeks and put the rest in the recycle pile. We usually take cloth bags to the store so it’s been a long while since I’ve been under that sink. Thanks for all the good you do.

  • Tina

    I use plastic bags for cat litter. When I get to the bottom of the current pile, I will get more. I just gave away more china and more craft materials. I am trying to get rid of everything I don’t need or love.

  • My bedroom closet is half empty. My dresser is half empty. There is still stuff to give away. Dishes because I was just given some. Craft materials, because my interests change. I bought wrapping paper at a thrift store maybe 10 years ago and still have some.

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