An Upcycled Closet Organizer

One day after driving home from work, I decided to stop by my apartment’s dumpster to salvage some cardboard for my closet update. I was able to find a few large and clean pieces of cardboard, but I also found one a 3×3 ClosetMaid storage cube!

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “I can’t believe you took that from a dumpster!” But do not fear, for there is a method to my madness. Before I adopt a gently used item, I always go through this mental checklist in my head:

  1. Is it in good condition? (Is it still usable and without smells or questionable stains?)
  2. Is it useful? (Does it have potential? Can I repurpose this somewhere in my living space without adding clutter?)
  3. Is it newly discarded? (The longer it has been left outside, the more I question its structural integrity. Plus, I don’t want any surprises from spiders, cockroaches, or any other legged creatures after I’ve brought the furniture into my home!)

This lovely organizer was a bit dusty and scratched up, but otherwise in good condition. In terms of use, I wanted to place it in my closet, since I had a large empty space that was being underutilized. If it did not fit in my closet, then I could also place this guy in my living room, where it would serve as a bookshelf or for shoe storage. Lastly, when I discovered the closet organizer, it was sitting just in front of the dumpster and therefore appeared to be newly discarded. With my three criteria satisfied, I then set out to adopt the organizer and bring him back to life.

With the help of my roommate, I lugged this guy up to my apartment, where I left it on my balcony for a day to allow for any odors (and potential bugs!) to dissipate. The following day, I gave the shelf a thorough wipe down, checked for little critters one last time, and brought it into my room. It turns out that the organizer fit perfectly in my closet.

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The first owner of the closet did not assemble it correctly, which explains why you can see particle board innards in this picture. While the closet functioned well, it did not look very nice. What better way to spruce it up than with paint and contact paper?

How I Did It

Step 1: Apply primer

I wanted to paint the organizer white because white can brighten up any space, especially in my confined closet. First, however, I needed to prime the laminate. If I used normal paint without primer, then the paint would not adhere well and would result in bubbles. After doing some research, I decided to use the Zinsser Cover Stain Primer & Sealer.

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I used a foam roller to paint the majority of the closet and filled in the holes with a foam craft brush. I didn’t use a bristle brush because it was easier to achieve a more uniform and smooth distribution of paint using the foam roller. (Some sources recommend sanding down the particle board laminate prior to priming to enhance adhesion, but I found that the primer I used stuck just fine without sanding.)

Here’s what the closet organizer looked like before coat #2:

It took a few hours between coats, and once I finished the second coat I left the organizer outside for a couple of days to cure and allow for the odors to dissipate. Normally, I would have painted over the primer, but decided against it because 1) the primer did a pretty good job at covering the dark laminate, 2) did not seem to come off too easily, and 3) I will be moving to a new place once I start dental school and am unsure whether I’d be able to take this closet with me.

Step 2: Cut and apply the contact paper

I had purchased this contact paper from the Macbeth Collection a couple of years ago. I love the happy turquiose color and the chevron pattern, and thought it would look great in my newly painted organizer.

After I measured and cut the paper in squares, I peeled off the adhesive backing and applied it to the closet. It is super easy to apply if you peel off the sheet and smooth down as you go.

I repeated this for the five cubbies that had a laminate backing. I love the way the paper pops out against the white!

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Doesn’t he look happy in his new home?

2015-03-15 14.25.55Step 4: Organize and decorate

Since this organizer will be living in my closet, I wanted it to store my clothing and accessories in a way that would maximize my morning routine. I placed my jeans and heavy sweaters at the bottom, while cardigans and cotton shirts lived in the top shelves. The blue cube in the top-right cubby contains my undergarments, while my travel toiletries live in the center cubby.

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I always like to fold my clothes in a consistent fashion. This not only minimizes the amount of space each article of clothing takes up, but it also allows for easy stacking. I also sort each clothing type according to color, usually from light to dark. This way, I know exactly where to look if I want to wear a green shirt. Arranging the items according to color also helps to keep things visually organized.

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On the top of my closet, I keep a small tray to corral my hair clips and watches, a scented candle, earrings, and my current handbag. (I store the rest of my purses in another closet.)

I also keep a framed Chinese papercutting that I purchased on a recent trip to China. I love the intricate and delicate details! This was one of the first purchases I made in Asia, and so it has some sentimental value.

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Cost-Benefit Analysis

Here is a breakdown of the costs (both time and money) I spent on this project:

Closet organizer = $0
Primer = $9
Foam roller = $5
Craft brush = $0
Contact paper = $0

Grand Total: $14 & 3 days

Why it Makes Me Happy

I’m thankful that I was able to adopt this closet organizer and give it a new life with just a few coats of primer and some contact paper. Every time I open my closet and see that bright organizer, I can feel a smile forming—and I know that my happy space has done its job!


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