Sustainable Closet, At Home, In Practice


This year we moved out of a bungalow built in 1920-ish and into a rambler built in 1960.  I'm not always excited about the change, although in some ways I have been pleasantly surprised.  I do not miss the extra height and stairs provided by the third floor, and I do find the rambler layout to be family-friendly.  I am, however, bedeviled by our closets.  Our 1920s house had added closets from a prior renovation, so we were not experiencing the full storage crisis that we should have been for a house of that vintage.  Our 1960 house needs more closets.  More, bigger, with lights in them, closets.

I have for the last several years been living with the illusion that I do not buy a lot of clothes; that I choose quality over quantity and have developed pretty sustainable habits as a result.  Whether or not that is true, my habits are no match for these closets; I definitely require two closets, a lingerie chest, and some under the bed space at the moment.  Three closets, if you count the front hall with my coats and shoes.  

If you know me well, you know that I am driven bonkers by this situation.  In my perfect universe, all of the clothes would live in one closet.  I would merely rotate things around seasonally to refresh them and to make seasonally-appropriate items more handy, as I have been able to do in closets past.  In that same shangri-la, hangers would not crush against each other, and stacked items would number only a few per pile, rather than leaning in a towering mess.  I have lived with all kinds of closets in the past two decades; I know a lot can be done even with a smaller closet.  But here are possible the worst closets I have experienced in my life.

So, in between bemoaning my fate every time I try to get dressed (and yes, I understand that this is very much a western problem, but also going to a second closet on another floor of the house in the process of getting dressed with a baby or toddler in tow is no joke), and plotting renovations every time I step foot in our bedroom, I have also been wondering how different life was in 1960.  It doesn't sound that long ago.  How did we go from these tiny little closets to the walk-in, well-lit, semi-rooms that "closets" have become now?

My first stop, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, revealed some of the following tidbits:

  • The population at that time had just jumped and the average age had dropped
  • The economy wasn't fabulous, but women were a growing force in the workplace and approximately a quarter of moms worked outside of the home
  • Average family annual income had increased over forty percent in just ten years
  • Housing absorbed almost fifty percent of a family's income, and approximately half of U.S. families owned their homes
  • Clothing expenditures counted for approximately ten percent of the spending in a household

However, just knowing the value of what was spent doesn't really address the closet phenomenon.  What I really want to know is how many pieces of clothing did the average person have in 1960, versus right now?  Did clothing suddenly get cheaper?  Was it because women started working outside the home more and required more clothing?  Why does my 2017 wardrobe require three 1960 closets? Am I normal?  Unusual?  

Also, it cannot be denied that my husband probably only requires half of the closet storage that I do, and does very little impulse clothing shopping, but I feel like he is an extreme example in the other direction of me, so I don't think he is fair control sample.  Additionally, in my defense, it is worth mentioning that I have now been through two pregnancies in two very different climates in the last four years, so my current wardrobe mushroom cloud owes some of its magnitude to the accompanying massive weight changes, pregnancy issues, and breastfeeding-friendly wardrobing.  But still.

Now I want to look inside everyone's closets.  What is normal?  What is sustainable?  I want to spend the day tallying shirts and socks and dresses and figuring out what to do about it.  Would I be happier with less stuff or more closets?  I know what the experts say about this last question, but I do not completely believe them.  I have had more closets in the past, and that made me pretty happy.  However, I remain open-minded in the name of research.

Stay tuned as I dig deeper into this issue.