How To Organize A Closet: The Ultimate Guide
Is your closet a disaster? Does it stress you out? Do you have a clothes mountain waiting to fall on top of you every time you open the closet door? Is your closet so overrun that your clothes are now taking over your bedroom?
If so you need some tips on how to organize a closet. Inside this guide you will find:
- In a rush? A quick overview
- Why bother organizing your closet?
- How to declutter your closet
- How to organize your closet – a step by step guide
- 10 minute makeovers
- Go beyond the rod with closet organizers
- Pimp your closet
- How to organize a small closet
- How to organize a closet on a budget
- How much do custom closets cost?
- How to design a closet system
- How to build a closet organizer
- How to build closet shelves
- Useful and interesting resources
You can save time, money and stress by having an organized closet and here’s how:
Start by decluttering. If you don’t love it, wear it or look good in it, then get rid of it. Be ruthless, be brutal and donate these items. Someone else will appreciate your efforts. Now you have less stuff to organize so giving everything a proper home will be easier.
Take everything out of your closet and group items in a way that works for you (eg, color, style, type, function). Replace things in a place appropriate to their style (eg, skirts on hangers, sweaters on shelves, camisoles in baskets). Keep items used most often at the front and middle with rarely used items at the back, sides and upper shelves.
Utilize every square inch of your closet from top to bottom, including every wall, the floor and the back of the door. Use closet organizers to maximize the space. Make your closet as attractive as possible to inspire you to keep it organized but schedule in a monthly review to keep on top of things.
By learning how to organize your closet you will:
- be able to find clothes, shoes and accessories quickly and easily (no more chaos at 6am when you’re rushing to get ready for work) and perhaps more importantly, put them back in the right place;
- know exactly what you have in your clothes inventory (meaning (a) that you don’t need to waste money buying another white long sleeved blouse or whatever else has just taken your fancy and (b) that you can look as good as new in that little black dress you had forgotten you bought);
- be able to reclaim and properly utilize that premium closet space that was previously being wasted.
Your closet is probably one of the first things you see every morning and an organized closet will give your start to the day the uplift it needs.
If you want to achieve all of these things, but just can’t get motivated, read all about overcoming your roadblocks here.
Any organizing task, starts with a good bout of decluttering.
In order to maintain an organized closet, every item of clothing, shoes and accessories needs their own home within the space. Without a place to call home, items will turn into clutter whether that is in the closet itself or in your bedroom.
But even with a home, your closet will still attract clutter in the form of items that shouldn’t really be in there. You might have a hanging rod for blouses, but there are a few on there that you just never wear and probably never will. These are cluttering up the rod, the closet and your life.
If your rods, shelves, drawers and floor space are crammed full of wrinkled items, start decluttering today. Remember if you can’t see it, you won’t wear it, so get rid of some stuff and make space for the items you don’t want to forget about.
Grab yourself a large, sturdy shopping bag and use it as a ‘Donation Station‘.
Start at the top of your closet and work down asking yourself the following questions about each item:
- do I love it?
- do I wear it?
- do I feel good in it?
If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to one of these questions, put it in your donate bag.
An alternate question to ask is: “Have I worn this item in the last year?“. If not, the chances are you never will, so be brutal and fill up that donate bag. Remember just because you’ve spent money on something, doesn’t mean it should take up valuable space in your closet, and if you’re thinking “I’ll wear it someday”, get real, someday never comes. So learn to let go.
If you find yourself stressing at the thought of donating all these items, take the less ruthless option. Hang all your items with the hangers facing the wrong way round. Every time you return the item to the closet after having worn it, put the hanger in the right way round. This way you will know for sure in 6 months to a year what you haven’t worn. Promise yourself now, that you will donate your surplus.
Remember, all the clothes you never wear could make a big difference to someone else’s life. Sometimes looking at the good you could do for someone else helps you move your clothing from the hanging rod to the Donation Station.
A key to the Donation Station idea is knowing where to donate your clothes. Unless your items are vintage or designer and in excellent condition, it is unlikely that you will get much money for them second hand, so find your local Goodwill, Salvation Army or Vietnam Veterans of America drop off point and stop by the next time you are in the area.
Tip: Don’t forget to get a receipt to claim back some tax on your donations.
Once emptied keep your Donation Station bag handy in your closet for a monthly sweep.
There seem to be two trains of thought when it comes to exactly how to start organizing your closet. I call these the OMG approach and the softly, softly approach. Personally I prefer the latter but both have times when they would be useful.
The OMG approach: Take everything out, pile it on the bed or floor, organize and replace.
The softly, softly approach: Clear one area at a time, organize and replace.
Basically you need to decide how much chaos you can stand at one time. Personally the OMG approach would make me feel overwhelmed and frustrated.
You will need to take the OMG approach though, if you are installing a closet organization system, such as wire rods and shelving from Rubbermaid or if you know that the only way to get your closet sorted once and for all is to empty it all out so you have to organize it to go to bed that night! For this approach I recommend you set aside at least a few hours.
The softly, softly approach is more suitable if you already have adequate shelving and rods but your clothes have run amock inside. It is also best if you only have 10 minutes here and there to regain control.
Luckily whichever route you choose, the principles are the same. Just apply them to your entire clothing inventory or to the subsection you have chosen to tackle:
Declutter (details above)
Group items in a way that makes the most sense to you. Ideas include:
- like items together (eg, jeans, sweaters, camisoles);
- by color;
- by season;
- by sleeve length;
- by hem length;
- by function (eg, work, gym, bedwear);
- a Go To section for your favorite items that you wear all the time;
- shoes by style (heels, flats, sandals, boots).
Think about the most appropriate place to store each item type:
- hang pants, skirts, blouses, dresses;
- stack sweaters on shelves;
- put folded items such as t-shirts and jeans on shelves or in drawers (although shelves allow for easier access);
- put underwear in a basket;
- put belts in a basket;
- use boxes for odds and ends.
Replace items into the closet. Ideally use a system that you can maintain daily without any extra effort. Remember to:
- place the items used most often in the front and middle sections (off season and rarely used items should be relegated to the sides, back and upper shelves)
- utilize all of the available space, every square inch of it: up high, down low, every wall and even the back of the door.
Consider making or investing in some closet organizers to help you with this as your old closet design didn’t work, so maybe it’s time for a new one. Reconfigure your current rods and shelves by moving them into new places and/or add new ones if possible.
Tip: keep all of your clothing receipts in an envelope pinned to your closet wall. This way you’ll know exactly where they are should you need to exchange or return anything.
Once a month, perform a quick scan around your closet. Is everything in the right place? Is there any available space not being used? Are there any items that should be donated? Also why not archive some of your favorites so you are forced to wear some other things for a change?
Twice a year, think about tackling a full reorganization to catch anything that is lurking at the back!
Here’s a great video about closet organization to help keep you in style.
If you are short on time or just prefer the softly, softly approach I talk about above, the following closet organization ideas can all be completed in 10 minutes or less and will help to makeover a section of your closet.
Sometimes, life happens, and your beautifully organized closet will get neglected for a week or so and the rot sets in. You put one pile of laundry in the wrong place and then you can’t sort the next pile until the previous one has been dealt with, so you leave it in your bedroom and soon, clothing chaos has returned and you’re feeling stressed.
I know, it has just happened to me. I’ve had a rubbish month – my house got burgled (wow what a mess) and my dog died – so keeping up with putting laundry away in the right place just didn’t happen.
I’m now working my way through the following ideas so I can regain control of the situation:
- Make or find a Donation Station (an old cardboard box or shopping bag will do).
- Declutter one drawer or shelf. Kids clothes especially can benefit from a regular sort through.
- Turn all your hangers the wrong way round to start off your ‘do I wear it in a year’ test.
- Sort your clothes by color and/or type.
- Refold and stack the clothes from one drawer or shelf.
- Make sure your most worn items are front and center of the closet. Move everything else to the back or side with the least used items the furthest away.
- Pull out all the empty hangers and place them together on the hanging rod or better yet next to the iron.
- Scavenge around your house for items that could be repurposed as closet organizers: think boxes, baskets, drawers. Plan to pretty them up with the kids at the weekend if need be.
- Move off season items into empty luggage to keep them out of the premium space within your closet.
- Sort your bedding into sets and store each one in the relevant pillow case.
- Collect up your shoes and put them back in the right place.
- Install some command hooks on the back of the door for belts, scarves, hats, jewelry etc.
- Fix up some battery power lights for any dark corners or shelves.
- Get your label maker out and mark up those boxes and baskets with exactly what’s inside.
Closet organizers have flooded the market lately – you can find whole systems made of wire or wood as well as individual organizers such as hanging organizers made from fabric, and you can also use regular storage favorites such as storage bins and baskets to help bring some order to your clothes, shoes and accessories.
Closet rods need company. Give them an organizing friend.
But which ones are a good buy?
The best closet organizers are easy to install, affordable and will maximize the available space in your closet. The following are the basic essentials:
==> Please click IMAGES for full range <==
Closet doublers or double hangs
Immediately double the hanging space available in your closet with these simple organizers. Just hang them on the top rod and voila you’ve got a bottom rod too. These are ideal for blouses, skirts and pants. Don’t forget to leave some long hanging space though for your dresses.
Hanging closet organizers
Shelf space is a necessity in any closet for things like sweaters that do not store well when hung. If your closet is the ‘rod only’ type, a hanging strip of fabric shelves is the perfect ‘quick fix’ answer. Just wrap the velcro around the rod and you’ll be maximizing the vertical space in your closet. Hanging closet organizers come in various configurations with some including cubbies for shoes and drawer inserts as well as sweaters.
Stop your piles of sweaters teetering and collapsing in on one another when you remove an item with shelf dividers. They’re like bookends and hold each pile in place independently of the surrounding clothes. They are perfect for giving easy access to each pile and an overall neater look.
Over the door organizers
There are various racks and fabric pocket organizers that can be hung on the back of your closet door, making the most of that otherwise dead space. There are those designed specifically to hold shoes, belts and jewelry as well as multi-purpose organizers to store anything you choose.
Storage containers and baskets
These generic storage options are as much at home in your closet as anywhere else. They corral items keeping them neat and protected and like items together. They come in various sizes so can store sweaters, off season clothing or belts and purses. They can be labelled if they are not clear and are ideal for storing things on hard to reach shelves. They can also help your closet look more attractive.
Creating smaller areas within your drawers is handy for separating out items such as underwear and belts. They come in a variety of designs including modular compartments that can be interlocked to your design, spring loaded wood or plastic inserts that expand to fit and section off your drawers as well as collapsible boxes for bras and socks.
Tip: whilst not strictly an organizer, why not consider lining some part of your closet wall with corkboard. You could then pin up necklaces and other jewelry, clothing receipts and magazine clippings with inspiring fashion ideas.
When to buy
Buying closet organizers is a bit of catch 22. You don’t really know what you need until you have emptied your closet and decluttered. But then, just as you’re ready to put everything back to clear the bed or the floor, you have to go shopping for organizers.
If you buy your organizers before emptying your closet and decluttering, you’ve little idea of whether you need more hanging space, shelves, baskets or specific organizers and how many of each.
One answer maybe to work your way through your closet decluttering but without emptying everything out. That way you can assess what is left and what organizers you need, without leaving your bedroom in chaos while you go out shopping.
In order to save money, you should have a plan before your credit card comes out. Remember the more time you spend planning, the less money and time you will spend later.
Once you have assessed what you have and what you need, take some measurements and then look around your home. You may find that you have things you can repurpose, such as dressers, plastic drawer sets, hooks, MDF for more shelving, curtain poles for more hanging rods, boxes, baskets etc. You can always paint things or cover them in craft paper to pretty them up.
The best way to save money on organizers is to have less to organize, so be ruthless in your decluttering.
An attractive closet is one that will inspire you to put things back where they belong.
Add some wallpaper to get a chic, boutique look. See before and after pictures via Tissuepapers.
Use pretty boxes for your odds and ends like these at AThoughtfulPlaceBlog.com.
Throw in a rug under your shoes like this one at ThriftCore.com.
Throw away all those horrid wire hangers that ruin your clothes and mismatched others that you’ve been collecting for years and opt for uniformity with matching huggable hangers. They are ultra thin so space saving, and velvet so they look after your clothes.
Invest in a closet deodorizer to absorb the musty odors caused by stagnant air.
Move stuff out
In addition to following the advice above, the key to organizing a small closet lies in getting most of your clothes and accessories out of it.
Here are some ideas so you can see what I mean:
- Be brutal with your decluttering. You don’t have the space to try the ‘backwards hanger’ trick so the ‘love it, wear it, feel good in it’ questions become even more important. Feel good about being generous with your donations. Remember your trash maybe someone else’s treasure.
- Practice the “one in, one out” regime for anything new that you buy and donate something old for every new item.
- Move out your off season clothing. Store it in your empty luggage. Use under the bed storage containers. Buy or make some attractive storage boxes and fix up some high shelves running around your bedroom.
- Shift your shoes into under the bed containers. Consider bed risers to give that extra bit of room under there.
- Transfer your bedding or towels into attractive storage ottomans. These could be used as décor in your bedroom, bathroom or even the living room.
- Clear out your fancy bags and purses. Use them to decorate your bedroom by displaying them on shelves.
- Find other attractive storage options and use them in unusual ways to store items of clothing. Who would have thought jeans would look good in a wine rack?
Photo credit: Chris Eckert/Studio D via Cosmopolitan.com
Organizers are your friend
After moving everything out of your closet that you possibly can, you will be left with everything else. To maximize the small amount of space you do have, you will need some closet organizers.
If you just have a closet rod, install a shelf above it with some dividers. If you have a spare wall, again install some shelving or just some command hooks for scarfs, hats and belts.
Sort your clothes into long hanging and short hanging. Below the short hanging use a closet doubler or move in a chest of drawers, a shoe rack or a laundry basket with handles that can be carried to the washing machine.
Fit more into your hanging space by using hanger cascaders.
If you have spare hanging space, buy a hanging closet organizer to add more shelves, drawers or shoe cubbies.
Use a shoe rack for closets or cheap plastic totes to store your shoes on the floor. If you have any spare floor space, use more boxes or baskets to store belts and other accessories.
Make use of the back of the closet door with an over the door organizer. These can hold anything from shoes, to belts, to jewelry and more.
With the huge range of cheap but quality closet organizers available these days, there is no need to spend thousands organizing your closet.
Just check out our $50 closet organizing project to see how to overcome the common closet problems of not enough shelves, not enough hanging space and messy shoe chaos, very easily.
Even the big closet system brands such as ClosetMaid have economy options leaving you with no excuse for a messy closet. This system gives you 10 feet of hanging space and 13 feet of shelf space all for less than $40.
But if you prefer or need to spend your time and creative skills on your closet organizing rather than any of your money, we’ve previously written about 11 ideas for how to organize a closet for free.
If you have some cash to splash and are considering investing in a custom closet (I say investing as closet organization systems can increase the value of your house), here is an idea of what one will set you back:
- $100 to $600 for a DIY organizer
- $2,500 to $5,000 for a custom installation.
If you have had enough of your current closet organization system and have the time and budget to start afresh with multiple hanging rods and shelves, here are some tips on what to do.
After decluttering, assess your clothing inventory.
Break your items into the following categories: long hanging (eg, dresses); short hanging (eg, blouses, skirts, pants); sweaters; linen; items that require drawers (eg, underwear); folded items (eg, t-shirts); shoes (make a separate note of flats, heels and boots); hats, purses, jewelry and other accessories.
Measure your closet wall(s) – both height and width and draw a rough sketch. This form might be useful.
Note: your closet will need to be at least 22″ deep to hang clothes.
Work out how much hanging space you need as well as how many shelves and drawers you need to be able to store everything that you have.
Note: apparently you need approx. 1.5″ of closet rod space for every item you want to hang, although this seems like a lot to me.
Play around with your sketch until you can fit in everything that you need in a sensible manner. Make sure to include high shelves for items that are not used very often and keep long hanging off to one side unless dresses are your everyday wear. Make the best use of space by placing hanging poles under high shelves.
Note: the height for a dress rod is usually around 65″. Double hanging rods work best at 42″ and 84″. Shelves usually start 16″ from the floor and are 12″ high for normal shelves, 7″ high for shoe shelves and 16″-18″ high for linen.
When you are happy with your design, you can take your measurements and plan to your local hardware store or online retailer and order away.
Here is how this sketch of the right hand wall looks in real life:
Photo credit: Rubbermaid Products.
Online design tools
If sketching is not your thing, then various closet manufacturers such as Rubbermaid and Easy Closets have online design software that guide you through how to design a closet organizer. Obviously they are aimed at people who want to buy their products but can still be very helpful planning tools if this is not your plan.
They guide you through the process of closet design. You can choose between walk in closets, reach in closets and open walls. You enter in your wall dimensions and select the various components of a closet organizing system and place them where you like. You can move them around and add and delete items as often as you like. Some of the standard configurations that they suggest you start with are also very helpful. (See image to the right.)
Typical components include wire shelves, hanging rods, wicker or canvas baskets, wooden shelf and drawer units as well as shoe shelves and cubbies.
You will probably get all caught up in the design of your actual organizing system, but there are other components to an efficient closet that should not be overlooked. So don’t forget:
- lighting – a dark, dingy closet is no use to anyone. Check out this FreshHome.com article for tips on lighting your closet.
- a mirror.
- a floor covering – wood, vinyl or carpeting might be best for bare feet first thing in the morning.
- air flow – mold and mildew breed in still air so be sure to plan for something like a small bathroom fan or a dehumidifier.
- keep bugs at bay with cedar freshners or socks filled with cedar shavings and fragrant herbs such as lavender and rosemary. Hang them on closet rods or tuck into drawers.
- optional extras – a seat, a place to iron.
If you learn how to make a closet organizer system on your own it will work out a lot cheaper than paying a custom closet manufacturer to come to your home, assess your needs, measure up, provide a design and install the units. But going the DIY route means you have to do all these activities yourself.
A closet organization system will typically comprise hanging rods, shelves and accessories such as drawers and baskets. There are two main ways to build such an organizer: from a prefabricated kit or by purchasing supplies from your local hardware store and building from scratch.
Kits are generally the quickest and simplest solution for many. They only require basic DIY skills and tools, are fairly customizable and very versatile.
Modular kits, such as those from Rubbermaid, are pre-cut and come in standard sizes with holes drilled where necessary. All the necessary mounting hardware is also included. You order the individual components to suit your design, mixing and matching to get the best fit, which are then delivered to your door. When the kit arrives, you follow the manufacturer’s step by step instructions for quick and easy assembly and installation. This is the most affordable method.
One step up from modular kits are custom DIY kits. A few internet based manufacturers, such as EasyClosets, allow you to design your custom closet using their online software. They then make up the components and ship them to you with instructions for installation. Taking accurate measurements is obviously paramount for success using this method.
Building from scratch
Smart planning and a simple design are key here. You will also need more advanced DIY skills and tools (such as a pretty good woodworking shop) than for installing prefabricated kits. The upside is though that your design can be very customized.
Here you would start by designing your closet system making sure to take account of where your studs are and what supports the shelves will need. After determining and purchasing the necessary supplies, you will install the vertical tracks and brackets for the shelves, the shelves themselves and the hanging rods.
Before you start buying any materials you need a good plan. Think about shelves for sweaters, shoes, baskets for accessories and everything else you hope to store away neatly. Then grab a pencil and paper and sketch out your design. Take measurements (3 times to be sure!), decide how many shelves you can fit in (making sure they will be tall enough for what you want to put on them) and write a list of all the supplies you will need.
Check out this article at DoItYourself.com for more specifics.
Vertical track and bracket shelving
If you are installing wire shelving, make sure you locate your vertical tracks over a stud to give them the greatest possible strength. If you can’t find the studs, use drywall anchors at the very least. Draw lines on the wall (using a level!) to mark where the shelves will go and then follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing the hardware. You shouldn’t need to go outside of their guidelines as the systems are often very versatile allowing you to customize as much as you like.
For custom wood closet shelving, you will first need to choose between BC graded plywood (one side smooth, one side rough), cabinet grade plywood (veneered top layer giving a more professional finish but more expensive) or laminated shelving (again veneered, often come in depths that match pre-made shelf supports, no need to seal, paint or stain).
After cutting your wooden boards to size, you then need to install the vertical tracks and shelf supports as for wire shelving. The track and shelf support system is very flexible as you can move the supports up and down as need be in the future without having to re-mount the track. Now paint or stain your shelving if need be before setting it into place.
Closet shelving units
If you want to build a closet shelving unit rather than use a track and bracket system, click here for a good resource that explains how to cut the plywood, build the shelves, fix the shelves and sand and install the finished unit.
Here’s another very quick video showing how to make closet shelves:
Click here for another resource for creating a fully shelved closet.
- A peek into celebrity closets
- Closet inspiration
- How to hang pants
- How to create the perfect fold – ignore the creepy bit at the end! For something more fun, check out this 10 second clip from The Big Bang Theory – Sheldon and his FlipFold! I love that show – roll on Season 5.
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