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I am new to DIY/home improvement, and I want to update my closet. There is a 2x4 going across the width of the back wall. It doesn't seem essential. Do builders usually add support beams across the middle of a closet or is this likely the remnants of an old shelf? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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    "Cleat" is the word for that shelf component, btw. – isherwood Jun 5 '18 at 19:40
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Those 2x4's are almost certainly the remnants of a previous shelf support and are certainly not structural elements.
You can safely remove them.

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    Yep. I'd remove all wood from the walls, then repair the holes and paint the entire closet. Even if you paint the bedroom later, the closet may not be painted due to the shelving, so it's best to do it now. Consider a neutral color. – isherwood Jun 5 '18 at 15:08

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