One major difference I am noticing between the vintage housekeeping manuals I'm consulting and the modern volumes it the stress put on organization of possessions in the later that is almost non-existent in the former. This makes logical sense--folks just had way less stuff in the 1940s, or even the 1970s, than we do now. In the older books, most of the advice is about how to keep things clean and serviceable--it's about making the most of your possessions. In the newer books, a lot of it is about how to keep things in order--making too many possessions not seem so overwhelming.
Given this distinction, I was slightly surprised to find a full page on linen storage in America's Housekeeping Book. Since it's a bit long, I won't quote it verbatim, but these are the basic suggestions:
- Provide linen storage in several locations (table linens in the dining room, towels, washcloths and bathmats in the bathroom, dish towels and dishcloths in the kitchen, bed linens in a hall adjacent to bedrooms)
- If you are designing a linen closet, do it with the average dimensions of folded linens in mind (a guide to these dimensions is provided)
- Drop-leaf or pull-out shelves are convenient for sorting
- Shallow tray drawers are good for table mats and doilies
- Deep top shelves are good for drop-front boxes in which to store blankets, quilts, and things that aren't often used
- Label the outer edge of each shelf to keep easy order
- Keep a record of linen purchases, including date, brand, and price, as well as date of discard, to keep track of "best buys"
The instructions provided by Martha are a bit more specific. She says:
Begin by getting rid of things you no longer use. Depending on their condition, donate them to charity or reserve old sheets for drop cloths, and old towels for cleaning or for drying off pets after a bath; keep these in the garage, basement, or utility closet. If you don't have a large hallway closet for linen storage, an armoire will substitute nicely.
Keep anything you won't be using for months at a time in protective zippered bedding bags. Often, your dry cleaner can provide mothproof bags for storage, in particular for wool. They are also available from online retailers; search for "mothproof bags,." Line shelves with acid-free paper. Over time, wood can stain fabrics. One shelves are positioned correctly and lined, you can begin organizing linens.
Sort linens into piles: sheets, towels, comforters, blankets, and table linens. Then divide again, as follows:
Place each set of sheets inside one of its pillowcases. Group by bedroom and stack on shelves. Always use the set on the top and put clean sets, fresh from the wash, on the bottom. This rotation will ensure sheets wear evenly over time.
Group by bathroom, then by size (all master bath towels together; all master bath washcloths together). Stack on shelves. Always use the towel on the top of any given pile and put clean towels on the bottom to ensure even wear.
Keep them fluffy and dust-free by storing on a roomy shelf in a loose bag that allows air to circulate. Do not compress them or store them under heavy items. Don't use cedar or camphor--the down absorbs the smell.
Group by bedroom, then by season, with the heaviest blankets on the bottom and the lightweight ones on top.
Group by size--all tablecloths together, all napkins together. You can further group them by season (all holiday items together) or formality (casual linens on top, formal linens underneath). For more on storing both, turn to page 158 in the dining room chapter.
Spending a few minutes putting identification labels on the edges of shelves will also save you a lot of time and refolding later, especially when white fitted queen-size sheet you wanted turns out to be a white flat sheet for a double bed. If you store extra toiletries in the linen closet, put them in bins or place them on a separate shelf to prevent stains in case of leakages.
Reading through this advice, I realized I was going to take some and leave some. We already store our linens in several different locations: kitchen towels in the kitchen, napkins and tablecloths in the dining room, towels and sheets and blankets upstairs. And I loved the idea of putting out-of-season stuff in plastic bags for dust-free storage. But shelf labeling just irritates me. I understand why it's a good idea, but I'm just not down. And why on Earth would I care if my sheets and towels wear evenly over time? Or make a log of my linen purchases? Really?
I decided to focus on just our dining room and upstairs linens. The kitchen towels are just in a drawer and I cleaned it out recently, so there's not much to see there. This is how things looked when I began:
The dining room linen storage. Someday I will have an awesome mid-century sideboard. I don't right now, though, so this bookshelf is standing in. The baskets are full of dinner napkins, cocktail napkins, and coasters. We use cloth napkins for all of our meals, to save paper, so we have a lot of them. They're actually one of my favorite things to thrift.
This process was pretty simple. I emptied out all of the baskets and sorted out all the cocktail napkins and coasters. Those I relocated to the bar in the living room. Then I sorted through all the napkins and made sets. Anything that was stained or I don't have a full set (4) headed to the rag bin. The rest of the sets I folded neatly together and stacked back in baskets. (I went upstairs to retrieve the mate to the largest basket that was already holding napkins from my office, where it was sitting empty). I put nicer napkins at the bottom, so I can dig for them when we have company but Mark and I can grab the less nice ones from the top on a day-top-day basis. Then I dusted the shelf, put the baskets on it, and was done. The two tablecloths on the bottom shelf I decided to put in the basement storage, since we rarely use them.
Afterward, it looked like this:
Not a huge change, maybe, but definitely nicer.
Upstairs, the situation was a bit more complicated. We store our sheets and towels in two locations--a hallway linen closet, and the closet in our guest bedroom. There's no particular reason for what goes wear, and they were both a disaster:
We have a lot of bedding. In part, this is due to my need to change the sheets at least once a week and often more often, to keep allergies at bay. In part, it's because I really love bedding, and buy it, pillow cases in particular, a bit more than I should. And we never throw it away.
The hall closet is absurdly narrow and unpleasant, which is why we started using the guest room closet as well. In theory, though, if we could keep our linen to just the actual linen closet, the guest room closet, with its wide shelves, could be used for something else. Like my out-of-season sweaters. It was with this in mind that I pulled everything out of both and began to sort.
The first thing I did was sort out all of the winter bedding--flannel sheets, extra down comforter, heavyweight duvet cover, extra quilts. I put all this stuff in big plastic zip up bags. I didn't buy these special--I saved them from buying a comforter and a couple of dog beds--but they are basically just like these. The winter stuff was then relegated to the basement.
Next, I took Martha's advice and grouped sheets, towels, and duvet covers. I also had a separate group for pillowcases, since (much as I'm sure it would horrify Martha) my pillowcases and sheets don't actually go together. Mark and I sleep with six pillows between us--sheet sets come with two. We also have regular sized pillows but a king sized bed, so the pillowcases that come with sheets are the wrong size. Plus I like funky pillowcases that don't necessarily match the sheets (travesty!). So yeah, a separate section for pillowcases.
The duvet covers we have are all in good condition, and we use up to three at a time and wash them at least once a week with the sheets, so I felt fine keeping all four of them. I folded them and put them on the top shelf of the linen closet.
Then I matched up sheets. I found four sets of king sheets and two sets of queen sheets (plus the one of each that are currently on our bed and the guest bed). I folded the king sheets and put them on the second shelf of the closet. In order to keep from getting anything mixed up, I put the queen sheets in another plastic storage bag and put them on the floor of the guest room closet.
Next, I tackled pillowcases. I weeded out everything that I know one of us doesn't like and all of the king sized cases we don't use and put them in my thrift pile. Everything else I folded and put on the shelf next to the sheets.
Finally, I sorted out towels. At least three-quarters of the towels in the closet were "dog towels," full of holes and stains. I put those in another plastic bag and punted them downstairs. The nice towels I folded and put on the next two shelves. Repeat with hand towels.
Finally, on the last shelf of the linen closet, I put dog bed covers (there are some in the wash right now, so there are only two in there, but we have six or so at any given time). Then I relocated a few extras (wash cloths and bath mats to the bathrooms).
Now the hallway linen closet looks like this:
No picture needed of the guest room closet, because, aside from the guest sheets in the plastic bag on the floor, it's empty!
This project took a total of about 40 minutes.