When Sabine and Alston Lopez were building their new colonial-style house in Kennesaw, Georgia, a big laundry room was part of the dream. Unfortunately it wasn't the part that came true. During construction the Lopezes realized they had to reposition their three-car garage, which meant that half of their precious laundry room would be eaten up. And since last July, when the couple and their three children moved in, working in the tiny, six-by-seven-foot space to keep all five of them in clean clothing has been a daily frustration.
The room was so cramped, says Sabine, a 40-year-old project manager for a design firm, that "I dropped clothes on the floor every time I did the laundry." The jumbo containers of detergent and dryer sheets that she kept on top of the washing machine also often ended up tumbling to the floor.
Sabine did have a nice, long wire shelf for supplies―too bad she couldn't reach it. The only place to hang clean clothes was over the sink, into which they would sometimes fall and get wet. Worse, the doors on the front-loading appliances opened into each other. "It was awkward getting in there," says Sabine. "And I couldn't fold laundry as I took it out of the dryer because the door was in the way."
Aside from a little appliance-switching magic from a local handyman, making the small room feel bigger and work better was mostly a matter of seeing the space with a fresh eye and employing a few inexpensive organizing devices. Here's how the rest of the cleanup unfolded.
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What She Likes―and Dislikes―in the "Before" Laundry Room
What She Likes
The long wire storage shelf.
Hanging room for shirts and drip-dry items.
The good-looking, large-capacity appliances.
What She Dislikes
Her inability to reach what's on the shelf and in the cupboard.
Clothes that dangle into the sink when hanging.
The garbage bin that holds excess kitchen trash.
Appliance doors that open into each other.
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Declutter. It's the first rule of any organizing project: Start by eliminating anything that doesn't belong or can be thrown away. First to go was a messy trash can that held the overflow from the adjacent kitchen. "It wasn't very sanitary," says Sabine. Now the kitchen has a big, semicircular stainless-steel can that matches the appliances, while the laundry room got a new mini can for lint, dryer sheets, and the like. A cooler, a can of insect repellent, and other miscellany have been relocated.
Hang it up. Two gadgets were installed to keep clean clothes out of the sink. A new wall rack handles Alston's shirts and the twin daughters' dresses while they await transport to the proper closets. Damp sweaters and lingerie can be laid out on a wall-mounted drying rack that retracts when not in use.
Place essentials within reach. A step stool has made all the difference. Sabine can get what she needs from the cabinet above the appliances (so more can be tucked away in there instead of scattered about). She also has easy access to the long shelf that holds the big containers of detergent and bleach, which used to shimmy-shake their way off the top of the washer during the spin cycle.
Designate a spot for everything. Now that the space above the sink is no longer used for hanging clothing, there's room for two clip-on shelves suspended from the main wire shelf. This gives Sabine four additional feet of storage to keep small things, like sponges, dryer sheets, and cleaning brushes, in order. A lightweight, easy-to-grab striped crunch can on the long wire shelf holds stray socks until that glory day when all lost socks are reunited.
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Ideas for Improvement
1. Milk-Crate Cubbies The crates break the long shelf into zones.
2. Drying Rack A retractable rack on the wall opposite the appliances pops out for air-drying delicates.
3. Wall Rack When hung against a wall on hooks, clothing on hangers doesn't stick out and steal precious space.
4. Hanging Shelves No need to build shelves when hanging versions attach to the wire shelving that's already there, adding instant storage.
5. Canvas Bins Lightweight bins are easily lifted off the milk crates (with help from a tall husband, that is).
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"Now that everything has a place, the room feels calmer and seems bigger," says Sabine (seen here with her seven-year-old, Timothee). "I have room to fold clothing as it comes out of the dryer instead of dumping it in a basket and letting it sit for days or―I hate to admit it―weeks." A bonus: "The room is so inviting that my husband has actually taken the initiative to do laundry." For the items used in this project, see 6 Products for Organizing the Laundry Room.