19th Century Advice for Organizing Closet Space

by Sandra Merville Hart

Arranging closet space seems to have been as challenging in the post-Civil War as it is for many people today. This 19th century advisor didn’t feel that lack of time excused a cluttered closet. Instead, the author felt that organization was the answer. Putting a system in place and then maintaining it actually lessens the amount of time it takes to clean. Also, you won’t spend hours looking for items if everything is in its place.

It’s important to note that many homes in the 1800s didn’t have closets. Folks stored their clothing in armoires, chests, and hung them on hooks. I’ve visited many old houses where there were no closets in the bedrooms, even in wealthier homes. Having this storage space built into bedrooms is a definite convenience.

Our 19th century had plenty of advise about organizing a closet that also applies to armoires.

If shelves aren’t already installed in closets, install them. (This seems to be something that our homebuilders agree on because most modern closets already have them.)

Put in plenty of hooks to hang clothing. (This has largely been replaced by closet rods and hangers.) The author suggested arranging clothes by type to make them easier to find.

Hanging too many items close together makes them difficult to find. It can also wrinkle the clothing. Allow ample room for clothes so they don’t lose their shape in the closet.

Don’t toss clothing in the closet floor. Hang the items to keep them nice.

Don’t place boots and shoes on the closet floor. Make shoe pockets out of calico fabric to store shoes.

Never keep anything on the closet floor to prevent stepping on them.

Never toss items into the closet to keep them out of sight because “hiding dirtiness does not cure it.”

There is timely advice in these tips from the 1870s. Now, I have some closets that need my attention. 😊


Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 1877.