Boomers and Closet Space: A Little Dab’ll Do Ya

As new houses were built in each decade since the 1900s, square footage increased … and with it, closet space. Mister Boomer has talked about the changes square footage made in housing in the fifties though the seventies (Boomers in the House: Square Footage Changes With the Generations). Now he’d like to focus on one element of the search for space: the closet.

In houses that were built in the 1940s and ’50s, the average closet was a three by three foot square, with a two foot door that closed. Prior to 1940, houses were often built without closets at all. Up until World War II, people had very little need for more closet space as the average person had two changes of clothing, plus one set of Sunday Best clothes for church visits, weddings and funerals. Mister Boomer recalls his grandmother saying that during the Depression, clothing was patched and sewn repeatedly because money for new clothing was not available. His great aunt was the seamstress in the family, and made most of his father’s clothing in that time.

By the 1940s, things began to change. Perhaps the self-expression by fashion of the upper class 1920s Flapper Era found its way down the economic chain by then, or maybe the choice of fashionable clothes began to be more readily available and affordable for blue collar workers. In any case, younger people started to accumulate more clothing than their parents, or what they had as children.

Some say that after the War new parents, swept up in the optimism of the era, were primed to spoil their Boomer Generation kids. Yet many boomers will say their wardrobes were kept to a minimum until they started working and earning their own money. Nonetheless, boomers grew up with a larger wardrobe than their parents, and new houses reflected that fact by providing the closet storage space.

Like many other boomers, Mister Boomer shared a bedroom, and therefore a closet, with his brother. A round wooden pole that stretched across the back of the closet was all the space the two boomer boys had for hanging parochial-school and Sunday Best shirts and pants, but it was sufficient. Each had a dresser that stored socks and underwear, sweaters and casual shirts that did not have collars or buttons.

Once Brother Boomer was in high school and started working, he expanded his wardrobe, taking most of the closet space. About a year or two after Mister B began working, his brother had moved out, so the whole closet was his. Over the course of his college years, little by little he filled it. However, in Mister B’s defense, it wasn’t that he kept buying more and more as much as it was that he refused to get rid of anything that he found still wearable.

Mister B recalls that in his college years of the 1970s, there were many people who wore the same clothes repeatedly, some day after day, like a uniform. Certainly that was the case for jeans, if not shirts. Mister Boomer had two pair of jeans that he could rotate as needed, but clearly remembers a young lady who wore a pair of jeans with a butterfly patch on her back right pocket. Mister Boomer noticed that butterfly every day for an entire semester.

Forty-plus years later, Mister Boomer finds he and his wife, living in a building built during the Boomer Era, are in desperate need of closet space, not only for clothing but for the vast accumulation of other things one acquires through the ages. Unfortunately, Mister B carries very few articles of clothing from his prime boomer days, having long physically outgrown them. A while back he instituted a policy of zero population growth — nothing goes into the closet unless something is removed — but lately he is thinking that perhaps it’s time to jettison the apparel from the 1980s and ’90s. These styles can’t possibly compare with those of the 1960s and ’70s in quality and appearance, but yet they are still serviceable and old habits die hard.

Should Mister B purge himself of these older garments, he thinks the closet he has — a trifle larger than the one he had as a child — should more than suffice. He is painfully aware, however, that younger people born a generation or two later than the boomers would not agree.

How about it, boomers? Should we lead the way, stating less is more and therefore more closet space is an unnecessary indulgence, or go with the flow and say, when it comes to closet space, the bigger the better?