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Simplify: That Pesky Closet

When we first bought the house almost a year ago, we weren’t sure whether to christen it Privet Drive or Narnia. It was a closet under the stairs that just screamed extra storage, and we knew right away that we wanted to turn it into a play space for the kids. Narnia ultimately won, simply because Narnia is mostly a happy place, and Privet Drive, well, isn’t.

Even though its shape resembles Harry’s first room, it’s like Narnia in that you have to push through coats to enter the world. The problem was that since we moved in last July, that world hasn’t been too magical. Crazytown mess, more like it.

So in this second week of Project Simplify 2013, I just knew I had to tackle our Narnia as this next hot spot: That Pesky Closet. We all have these places where things just seem to get thrown in—hey, if it doesn’t break or cause major damage to the other items within, why not just throw it in and close the door?

I’m not anti-junk drawer, believe me, but if we don’t eventually address these little areas in our home, the stress surmounts to panic. We’re scared to open the doors lest something unsavory jumps out. Or simply, we just can’t find the darned thing we’re looking for. A little attention, an afternoon devoted to the task, and you’ve got a cleaner, more organized storage space.

So here’s my before-and-after pics of my pesky closet, and at the end, you’ll have space to showcase yours.

Narnia, our play closet—before and after

On the left is the embarrassing result of kids’ toy pickups before bedtime. That’s not even that bad—I had cleaned it out only a month or so before. But the “after” is more than just cleaned—Kyle added new shelving, keeping puzzles and games with small pieces out of (immediate) reach of our two-year-old. He is our main mess culprit.

When we’re tired and justneedthekidsinbed, for goodness sake, this is how toy pick-up would more often that not result, since we moved in last July:


Now, it’s much saner, and things finally have a home:


We had the extra white shelves from our master closet, which were floor-to-ceiling when we moved in. We didn’t need that much storage, so they’ve just been waiting under our bed—waiting for their perfect use. Well, shelves, we found your purpose in life:


They’re nothing fancy, but you can’t beat free.

Turn the extra space of a closet under the stairs into toy storage.

I bought shoebox-sized containers (a dollar each), and cut these chalkboard labels in half to stretch them further (Martha Stewart strikes again).

Add chalkboard labels to plastic boxes for reusable toy containers.

I used baker’s twine and some leftover clips from extra kids’ clothes hangers to make a super simple art gallery. (That hole in the wall? Was there when we moved in. Priorities—we’re remodeling the whole house, a smidge at a time…)

Twine and clothespins make a simple art gallery.

I also added a strip of chalkboard contact paper (bought at Michael’s). Sure, the kids draw off the edge, but it’s the closet, so I don’t care.

Use a strip of chalkboard contact paper for a simple, removable chalkboard.

We added two simple LED push lights (bought at Home Depot) because the coats up front can muffle the already dim main light. It’s not much, but the kids think they’re cool.

LED lights that turn on and off with a little push. Kids think they're cool.

So now, the kids can either play in the closet (they were playing eye doctor in there just a few minutes ago, with the chalkboard strip as the eye test), or they can take out a container and play with whatever in the living room, right out the closet door.

Finn playing with sorting animals

Chances are slim to none he will pick these up as soon as he’s done without complaint or reminding.

Finn playing with sorting animals

And at the end of the day, we still have plenty of room to use this closet for our coats. We have a mudroom that houses our everyday outer gear, but this closet is nice for those coats we want tucked out of the way but still have accessible.

Turn an oversized closet under the stairs into a kids' play space.

That’s our Narnia.

Your turn

I hope you’re up for tackling your pesky closet! Like last week, all you have to do is take a “before” pic of your closet, then declutter, clean, and organize it—and then take an “after” pic. The photos don’t have to be super fancy—use your high-end DSLR, or your camera phone. Whatever you want.

Also? You can do as many or as few closets as you want—whatever helps your home the most. We don’t have a lot of closets, and this one was screaming for help, so I just did the one. Plus, I need to conserve my strength for next week’s hot spot, because heaven help me if we don’t have a lot of piles to tackle from our remodeling projects. Yeesh.


Tag your Instagrams with the hashtag #projectsimplify, and they’ll show up above.

I can’t wait to see your photos! You’ll be able to add them to this linky above, or via Instagram all week, so don’t panic—you’ve got plenty of time.

I’ll be back with more photos next Tuesday, of our (cue Darth Vader entrance music)… piles.

Where’s your pesky closet?

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Kate

    Wow! I need me some shelves like that. And a closet. Your kids will never forget that special place! My husband had an under the stairs closet playroom when he was a kid, his dada actually cut a pass through window in it (perfect to play “store”. He and his sister still have such fond memories of it!


    • Tsh

      Oh, that’s cool! And I’m glad my kids don’t read this blog, otherwise they’d ask for that, too. 😉

  2. Krista

    I’m just getting my shelves and drawers posted! I have a few closets on my list for this week, hopefully I get it all done!

  3. Sarah G

    I love the closet play space! Those spaces, indoor and outdoor were so special to me as a child and I’m always looking for nooks and crannies for my son to create a world of his own in. Our (beloved) 1970’s rancher doesn’t offer many, but the back yard has possibilities!

    I took a pass on doing closets to devote what spare time we have to Piles (capital P!) and to pack for an upcoming trip : ) Looking forward to linking up next week.

    • Tsh

      Sounds good! And a backyard is the perfect place for an imagination, I say.

  4. Claire @ Lemon Jelly Cake

    Love, love, love your Narnia! I had one too growing up . . . more than one, actually, since our 100+ year old house had all sorts of bizarre and tiny closets that were inconvenient for actual storage. 🙂 Those chalkboard labels are great!

    • Tsh

      Ooh, that sounds like an awesome place to grow up.

  5. Yvonne

    What a great spot for the kids! And I love that you were able to put it together with things you had already. It looks great!

    Thanks for the push I needed to tackle a problem closet!

  6. Little House

    I have a closet that houses my clothes and school stuff (I’m a teacher). A couple of years ago, my husband installed a dunage rack so that I could stack my bins and access them easily. It still gets a bit messy on the shelves during the school year as I go back and forth between what I need for my classroom, but it’s a huge improvement over what it was!

  7. Aimee @ Simple Bites

    Bravo!! That space looks downright cozy now. Way to go Tsh.

  8. Prerna@The Mom Writes

    Oh.. how I love your Narnia.. let me count the ways! LOL:-) Seriously you are SO lucky to have a “pesky closet” Manini’s {my daughter} toys currently reside in her room in plastic storage boxes stacked one on top of another.. Life in rental.. Any way, back to the point, I’m thinking will my clothes closet count for this project? I HAVE to sort it out this week so I can, I’ll blog and post about it as well.. If not, well I’ll still get it organized, so win!

    • Tsh

      Any closet will do, Prerna! Or even a closet-acting-like-a-closet (wardrobe, whatever). I know the rental thing oh so well, having done that most of my life, too… 🙂

  9. janet @ ordinary mom

    Love the use of plastic bins and the labels.

    One small tip (if you are kind of anal like me. LOL!) : I labelled BOTH sides of the bins in my kids’ art cabinet. Since they are the ones whose job it is to put stuff away AND they don’t ever look to see if the labels are facing out, I figured if I labelled both sides I wouldn’t be inclined to adjust the bins after they had done their clean up.

    It saves me time and my sanity! haha!

    Great job.

  10. Breanne

    Narnia or Privet Drive? I think that was almost my favorite part of the post since I am currently on a big HP kick (LOVED your podcast on it).
    I want to re-think the closets in our house to create a cozy corner for our girls. Love how functional this one is and yet cozy for the kids.
    We don’t have many games or puzzles yet (our girls are 3 and 1/2 ) but I love the idea of the clear storage containers and chalk labels. =)

  11. Tanya

    It looks so much better! Plastic bins are amazing, I just need to work on labeling things and I would be a lot more organized.

  12. Jessica

    Love the post! I so wish we had a large closet like that to utilize. As it is now, our formal sitting room serves as our play space. I love labels (especially the chalkboard ones). When my boys are pre-readers, I label bins with words & pictures. I take a quick pic of what goes in the bin, print it out, laminate it and tape it to the bin next to the word label. This way they can look at the pic and know what goes inside. Adding the written words helps introduce reading – I love that too!

    Jessica (I blog @

  13. Anitra

    Where did you get the shoebox-sized plastic bins for only $1?! The only ones I can find are much more expensive than that, and I really hesitate to spend $100+ on MORE toy organization… (We have IKEA shelves with the big bins, like your red blocks bin, but I need to have something more systematic and intentional for the smaller toys.)

    • Whitney

      I’ve seen them at Dollar Tree. They’re not great quality, but for kid’s stuff, they’ll work. I’ve used them for Operation Christmas Child with good results.

      For my son’s room, I bought some that were a bit more at Walmart. They came in a set of four. They’re sturdier, but (ahem), they’re not unbreakable, especially when said son uses them as a trampoline. :-p

  14. Jennifer

    Random question: what kind of chalk do you use on the labels? I use regular chalk and it doesn’t look nearly as neat and nice as yours. Did you buy Martha’s special stuff?

    • Abbie

      LOL, I just reread my comment and noticed all the mistakes – sorry!

  15. Emily @Random Recycling

    Love the little playspace for the kids. I may just have to recreate that in our closet under the basement stairs. It’s filled with “stuff”. Maybe that will be my pile to tackle next week.

  16. littlebird

    Super organized! Love it. One thing my kids love is a simple closet rod that can be hung high for curtains or low for a puppet play theater. Very simple and goes a long way for play. Somehow my kids always loved having curtains to make an entrance or hide behind.As they get older a carpet remnant and a cozy comforter may turn this into the best reading hideout possible! Even for you!
    Enjoy your accomplishment.

  17. Amy

    Wow that’s a really great space you have there, when you said closet under the stairs I didn’t realise it would be quite so spacious.
    It’s amazing how a few shelves and labels can really tansform it. I love how you have to go underneath the coats to get to it too!

  18. Mel

    Wow, I feel so guilty look at your “after” pics. :p We pretty much gave up the sunroom to the kids and it’s sometimes picked up, sometimes not.
    But where it *is* picked up, we have lots of tubs just like you do. I really do find this helps.

  19. Christina

    And AGAIN this becomes a huge, introspective project rather than some straightforward, physical praxis. Project Simplify is like a little therapy hidden in spring cleaning’s clothing. Hard work, but worth it.

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