9 Reasons You Shouldn’t DIY Your Own Closet (and 7 Reasons You Should)
There’s no reason to keep this a secret from you so I’ll ‘spill the beans’ right up front. I lead a business which designs and installs custom closets in Columbus Ohio. We don’t sell to DIY’ers. However, we know a lot of them come to our blog for closet design advice (which is cool).
And while it would be nice for my business if everyone who visited our blog for education was somebody who wanted to buy from us, this isn’t realistic. And as a matter of fact, a company (like mine) who designs and installs laminate closet systems isn’t the perfect choice for everybody anyway (hey- did I actually say that?).
The option to DIY a closet can be the smartest alternative, just as the option to have it professionally installed may be best (depending on your circumstances). The key is to know when to DIY and when to work with a professional closet designer and installer.
My goal with this article is simple. I want to help you figure out which option is best for you. Will you be happier buying through an online site like Easy Closets or Modular Closets or John Louis Homes (or the myriad of other choices)? When does it make more sense to stop into your local Home Depot, Lowes, Container Store or Ikea and grab something off the shelf, roll up your sleeves and get ‘er done (as Larry the Cable Guy would say)?
Or conversely, will you actually save money, time, hassle and get a cooler job (and experience more joy – as Marie Kondo might) after working with a local closet design and installation company and ‘leaving the driving to us’ as the Greyhound commercial used to say.
Let’s first look at 9 reasons you shouldn’t DIY your own closet and then follow up with 7 reasons you should DIY the job. Basically, we’ll look at the pros and cons of a DIY vs. professionally installed closet. At the end, I’d love to hear your POV on which is best for you and why.
9 Reasons You Shouldn’t DIY Your Own Closet (the ‘cons’ of a DIY closet installation)
Reason #1 you shouldn’t DIY your own closet– There’s nobody to tell you when you’re creating a bad design which won’t ‘live’ well for you
The guy at the counter of Home Depot IS NOT an expert closet designer, and neither is the online design program which allows you to ‘assume the position’ of being a ‘closet design expert’ (even though it’s just a program where you can make selections).
And if I’m a betting man, you aren’t a trained closet designer and you don’t play one on TV like Jay Pritchett. However, you’re likely dealing with closet design nightmares which were installed by past ‘non-closet designers’ before you. Do any of these closet nightmares look familiar to you?
- Nightmare #1 (dead corners)– You have ‘dead corners’ because there is hanging clothes bunched up against hanging clothes in a corner.
- Nightmare #2 (dead space at the top and bottom) – When the top shelf is set too low (like in most closets) you’ll have between 12” to 18” of ‘dead space’ at the top and bottom.
- Nightmare #3 (there’s no place for your precious shoe collection) – Sure – you LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your shoe collection, but finding them is another thing. Digging under your hanging clothes (in vain) to find the matching shoe is a pain. You know you want shoe shelves in your new closet, but where you should you put them?
The design of most existing closets is baaaaaad. Materials were ‘slapped in’ by people who didn’t know how to properly design the space. If you DIY your own closet, how sure are you you’re not screwing up with a bad design you’ll be forced to live with for years to come also (and your spouse will blame you – after-the-fact – for being too cheap to hire a professional?). How do you know one of the ‘modular’ closet sections you bought won’t end up needing to go smack dab in the middle of your only electrical outlet or over a register grate?
A wise man/woman knows what they don’t know.
Reason #2 you shouldn’t DIY your own closet– The ‘customer service’ reps at on-line sites don’t know a lot about closet installations (and the craziness which is YOUR closet)
Here’s a fact you need to know. When you call an on-line site, you’ll (hopefully) talk to a nice customer service rep. However, there’s a problem with this rep. Although (hopefully) they’ll be familiar with the products. And hopefully they don’t represent multiple products in a call center in God knows what country. But here’s the challenge. They likely work for a company who manufacturers closet system but doesn’t install the product. So, while they may be able to advice you on the basics, they may not know how to guide you with the following:
- How deep a closet should you buy to fit the clothes you want in the drawers and make sure there’s room to open drawers without the closet feeling too tight.
- How to work around soffits or sloped ceilings.
- How to design around electrical outlets and switches.
If your closet was only as simple as the basic online drawing they asked you to fill out. Your closet has weird angles, ‘obstructions’ (light switches, soffits, register grates or access doors) to mess up your best laid plans. Here’s an example below of a 3D closet design which works around an access panels, has multiple heights and a window – all in the same master closet!
Is your on-line customer service rep ready to consult you on the craziness which is your walk in or reach in closet? If not – a DIY closet can be a bad idea.
Reason #3 you shouldn’t DIY your own closet– Dead space
Think about this for a moment. What’s the #1 reason you’re looking to redo your closet? If you answered to get organized and gain space, you’d be in the same camp as (almost) EVERYONE (with the exception of celebs with gobs of money who simply want more glam).
You want (and desperately NEED) space-expanding ideas like double hanging sections, adjustable shelves, and drawers to get more stuff, stylishly organized in the same space. And while these strategies are all sound the last thing you want is unused space on the sides. And this is EXACTLY what you’ll get with DIY ‘modular closets’ bought online (or at a store) which only comes in standard sizes. Your existing walls weren’t built with these retailers standard sized selections in mind.
With ‘standard sized’ DIY system you’ll end up with wasted space…exactly the problem you were looking to cure. Professional closet systems can (and do) use custom made section sizes for a wall to wall solution (like you’ll see below).
Reason #4 you shouldn’t DIY your own closet– Restocking fees
You were in love with your on-line closet retailer until that fateful moment. That’s when you realized the drawer stack you were oh-so-excited about was designed to go over an access panel you didn’t know was there. Or when you found out the shelving section you bought won’t fit under your sloped ceiling.
At these moments you had an ‘aw shucks’ experience (OK – you didn’t say ‘aw shucks,’ but I can’t print what you DID say because this is a family-friendly blog).
You navigated back to your online retailers’ site. With sweaty palms you started reading the fine print only to discover exactly what you feared. Your retailer charges a 20%, 30% or even up to 50% restocking fee. In addition, you have to suck up the cost of shipping the product back.
It’s at this moment you say…. oh s***! Your ‘assumed’ DIY savings went ‘poof’ into thin air!
Reason #5 you shouldn’t DIY your own closet– You’ll get no installation guarantee (and – literally – pay for your mistakes)
I don’t care who you are, but we’ve all had a DIY installation gone bad (I’m thinking back to when I was a new homeowner in my mid 20’s and bought carpet 3 times to cover the same bathroom. OK, I’ll admit, “I ain’t the brightest tool in the shed!).
And with a laminate closet system if you mess up even one section you would have been economically better off having it professionally installed (note – the reason I say this is in my closet installation business labor is only 13% of the total price of the job). And if you install the system, don’t mount it properly AND it falls off the wall, the redo is TOTALLY on you. When you work with a custom closet designer and installer – there are many (including my company) who not only provide a lifetime guarantee on materials – but on labor as well.
Reason #6 you shouldn’t DIY your own closet– The environment (and your trash collector) will like you better
The good news is most online retailers put a lot of care into their packaging. It must survive the rigors of being ‘gently handled’ (sarcasm intended) through UPS or FedEx shipping systems. The bad news is, for the packages to be small (and light) enough to be sent via UPS you’ll receive box after box after box to do one closet. And what do you think happens if the 19th (and, of course, most important box) gets separated from the other 18 boxes? Well – you’ve got a problem and a delay on your hands.
When you buy a DIY closet system be prepared (at a minimum) for more time than you think unboxing everything. Be prepared for a few dirty looks from your friendly trash collector (or at least they’re friendly around the holidays when they’re looking for a tip) who has to dispose of your cardboard in your local landfill.
Reason #7 you shouldn’t DIY your own closet– You’ll be limiting your options
While product selections vary between online closet sites and retails stores (with Easy Closets and The Container Store having the best selections IMHO), they still offer no comparison to what custom closet companies can supply to you. Here’s just a few options you’ll find through custom closet installation companies you’re unlikely to find if you choose to DIY the job:
- Option 1 – Unique door and drawer fronts like ‘raised panel’ or beadboard.’
- Option 2 – A wider variety of depths for improved drawer and cabinet storage (note with custom closet companies you’ll find 12”, 14”, 16” 19” and 24” deep cabinets you can mix and match).
- Option 3 – Textured laminate surfaces which look (and feel) like real wood – If you want a closet which is a dead-ringer for wood (without the maintenance hassles or cost of solid hardwood or veneer), you’ll find textured laminates (which are not in big box or online retailers programs) a fun choice.
Reason #8 you shouldn’t DIY your own closet– Your closet isn’t as simple as the online form suggests it should be
Everything seems so EEEEEEEASY when there’s no angled walls, soffits, ceiling height variations, access panels or outlets to work around. However, you’d swear (and have) you’ve been ‘blessed’ (sarcasm intended) with the closet from H-E-double-hockey sticks (as you used to say to your kids).
When you’ve got funky walls this is where modular, off the shelf, standard-sized closet COMES TO DIE. This is also a place custom closet companies excel. They’ll use height, depth and width to work around the craziest obstructions. They’ll make a closet which actually works, despite your odd-shaped space.
Reason #9 you shouldn’t DIY your own closet– Installing your closet may be more work than you bargained for
What’s that saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Sometimes with a DIY closet you’ll find (often once it’s too late) you don’t ‘only need a screwdriver’ (like the site or installation instructions claim). You need to cut shelves, rods, and fight with cams. You also need tools you don’t have in your garage or basement which put a hole in your ‘estimated’ savings.
Now your spouse is hoppin’ mad. Your ‘so-called’ money-saving DIY closet is bleeding red ink after you tally up the additional tools you bought.
You start thinking (although you don’t admit it out loud) my spouse was right. This job is better left to the professionals.
Ok – so we’ve wrapped up the 9 reasons you shouldn’t DIY your closet, let’s now take a look at 7 reasons you should take on this job yourself.
7 Reasons You Should DIY Your Own Closet (the ‘pros’ of a DIY closet installation)
Reason #1 you should DIY your own closet– To save on labor
Custom closet companies don’t do your installation for free. Don’t believe those gimmick-oriented, closet franchise companies who ‘claim’ in their ad’s installation is free. Believe me the cost of labor is in your final price. The labor charges by DIYing are money (if you do the installation right) you can keep in your pocket.
Reason #2 you should DIY your own closet– With some DIY closet systems you can take your system with you when you leave
If you’re renting, but just can’t stand your inefficient closet anymore, then buy yourself a minor upgrade with a DIY closet system which isn’t anchored to the wall (unlike professionally installed systems which are all secured to studs).
Image Source: Seville Classics
Reason #3 you should DIY your own closet– You want a functional upgrade, but can’t afford to spend too much
It’s fun to drool on Pinterest over the glamour closets of your favorite fashion bloggers, interior designers and celebrities…but girlfriend, you know this ain’t the world you’re livin’ in! A ‘high-rent’ closet would be wonderful, but your purse says that ain’t happenin’.
However, you need a better way to find your clothes and shoes. You desperately need more hanging. You need a few baskets for sweaters and socks. You don’t want to pull your hair out anymore rummaging through the dark recesses under hanging clothes desperate to find the matching shoe.
Maybe an upgraded wire closet (like the one below) will be good enough to get you by. It won’t be as costly as a professionally installed laminate system, but it will kick your closet organization up a notch or two.
Image Source: Home Depot
Reason #4 you should DIY your own closet– you’ll enjoy a sense of accomplishment for a job well done
There’s nothing quite as good as showing off to family and friends a job you’re proud of (even if it did take you soooo much longer to finish, you can still brag it saved you money and looks cool). While your upgraded DIY closet may not win any awards, it’s not only made your spouse or partner like you better, but you can actually find your things for the first time also.
Reason #5 you should DIY your own closet– You can’t find any local contractors who know ‘diddly’ about closet design and installation
Designing and installing an efficient, effective and elegant custom closet is a niche business. You won’t find custom closet companies on every street corner like gas stations and Starbucks coffee shops. It’s a specialty service.
And here’s a fact. There are more closet companies in larger cities than in less populated rural towns. And to make getting a professionally installed custom closet even more difficult is not any old trim carpenter will do your closet justice. And if you don’t believe me read 9 Reasons You Shouldn’t Hire a Trim Carpenter to Install Your Custom Closet.
However, even if you live in crazy-named small towns like Ding Dong, Texas, Hot Coffee Mississippi or Peculiar Missouri (and yes – these are real towns) there’s no reason you can’t get a sharp and functional closet if you’re lucky enough to connect with a smart in-store designer (or customer service rep) who works for an online (or in store) retailer with a quality product line (like the Elfa system from The Container Store below).
Reason #6 you should DIY your own closet– you can get it installed quicker
With the challenge of finding good craftsman (or good craftswomen) installation lead times from professional contractors are getting longer and longer. If you NEED to get that reach in or walk in closet done ASAP before your Mom visits from out of town (or your picky, judgmental, and not the best house guest Aunt is coming to stay… ready or not!) some online retailers can have your closet shipped to you in a 1 to 2 weeks. Very few custom closet companies can be this responsive.
Reason #7 you should DIY your own closet– you won’t be pressured into buying anything
If we’re being honest, none of us like to be sold, but all of us like to buy. And we like to take charge of the buying process. We don’t like to be pressured. And this is where an online DIY buying process can be liberating.
You do the research.
You price the options you want.
You order when the time is right for you.
No pushy in-home sales reps telling you to sign tonight or this (purely made-up) ‘special closet offer’ will be gone forever.
And how can we help you next?
As you can see from this article there are valid reasons to DIY your own closet AND good reasons to hire a professional closet design and installation company as well. But at the end of the day (and at the beginning of the day) there’s only thing which truly matters and that is to …
Do what’s best for YOU!!!
No matter if you DIY or get your closet professionally installed, I’d LOVE to help you through your journey. And here’s 3 ways I can do this.
- #1) If you’re looking for a professional closet installation company in Columbus Ohio me and my team can help with a Free 3D closet design and consultation. Call 614-545-6888.
- #2) If you’re looking to DIY, yet want ‘in-the-trenches’ and FREE (yes, there’s that magic word) advice download our closet design guide and you’ll receive our bi-weekly tips to help you get it done right the first time (and no, we don’t share this list with ANYONE!)
- #3) If you want professional design and installation assistance, but you’re not located in my service area of Columbus Ohio, reach out to me for referrals and a connection to one of my buddies in the Association of Closet and Storage Professionals.
Thanks for reading,
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Shana G Rodriguez
Thank you for the great articles with the realistic side and the options for homeowners as well as contractors who need a little extra help with creative solutions. Great job!
Shana – I’m glad to hear the article was helpful for you – and realistic! Let me know if I can be of additional assistance to you – Mike
I so wish you were in Massachusetts!
Lorraine – thanks for your nice comment! Of course you could move to Ohio so I could do a closet for you – ha! ha! However, if you let me know where in Massachusetts you are I can try to connect with me closet association network to see if I can find you a referral – Mike
Really informative blog, Mike! There are certainly some risks involved with the DIY closet installation. I think it is easier to pick a good custom closet company and have an honest and open conversation about your requirements and budget. A clear mind delivers the best results in the end.
Thanks Karen. I’m a believer in letting the pros do it for you because in many cases the final cost is less because you don’t have to worry about making mistakes AND you get their warranty. Mike