organize closet

Closets often need to store many different things, and it can be overwhelming to try to squeeze everything into a small closet, especially, in a remotely organized fashion. You may have seen photos of closet organization systems, which are visually appealing but can run upwards of thousands of dollars. Fortunately, there truly aren’t any special tools required to learn how to organize a small closet – you can get a neat closet on any budget.

When starting any organization task, the most important to remember is to organize for how you are, not how you want to be. For example, don’t try to convince yourself you’re going to hang your coats and scarves up on a clothes hanger every time you come home if you know they’re probably going to get slung across the nearest surface, instead. If you only wear two or three pairs of scuffed-up sneakers 95% of the time, don’t create a system where the remaining 27 pairs of shoes take up the “prime” real estate in your closet. Arrange your closet according to how “normal you” is going to use the space, not “ideal you”.

That said, here’s how to get an organized small closet

Make sure every item has a specific place

Make a mental inventory of every type of item you need to store in your closet. The most effective organization system will reflect not only your own personal habits, but what exactly will need to be organized into your closet, and the proper “home” for each item.

Items that are oddly shaped, like sports equipment or vacuum cleaners, will need to be considered first, so that you can make sure you have enough room for each item. After that, plan where to place the largest items, then worker your way to smaller and smaller pieces

Arrange your most used items in the most easily accessible locations

Think of how grocery stores place name-brand products near the average person’s eye level, and generic and lower profit margin items higher or lower. A similar technique should be used in your closet: clothes, shoes and accessories you need to access everyday or almost every day should be around eye level, and less frequently used items need to be stored high in the closet or near the floor. Below is an outline of how our own small closet is organized.

A rough diagram of our closet: seasonal clothes and infrequently-used shoes on the top shelves, sewing supplies accessed about once a month stored away on the floor, and everyday clothes and shoes easily visible and accessible.

Best closet organizing techniques

If you don’t have time for a total closet organization overhaul, here are a few organization tools that can have the biggest impact on a small closet.

Use wall hooks

Placing clothes and other items on wall hooks are pretty low effort, which means they decrease the chances that your items will end up on the floor instead of properly arranged in your small closet. Wall hooks are especially useful for items worn more than once, so you can take them off in your closet and immediately have an appropriate, almost effortless place to hang them up neatly.

Install extra shelves and shelf racks

One long shelf is easy to get messy, despite your best intentions, and you probably don’t need a huge amount of unbroken space for anything, anyway. Having some sort of dividers to separate different items can make it all less likely to converge into one messy pile. Our favorites are stackable shelves and under-shelf baskets, which can create so much more surface area if you have any shelves at all to start out with, or you can install your own shelving system.

Store seasonal or occasional items

Notice this organized closet has drawers, individual slots for shoes, shelves, shelf dividers, and clear storage boxes.

As a corollary to the idea that your most accessed items should be the easiest to reach, your least accessed items should be stored away, where they will take up less room in a box than they would sitting out in the open.

For storage items, always use clear boxes or labels. If you ever have to wonder what a mysterious box in your closet is storing, your organization system has failed you, requiring you to waste time opening the box and seeing what’s inside. All storage boxes should either have clear cutouts to see what’s inside, or should be clearly and descriptively labeled in a place that you will be able to see from a standing position in your closet.

Don’t use piles or stacks

Sure, that stack of neatly folded clothes looks perfectly organized…when it is first folded. But piles of anything have a tendency to fall over and get messy again when you invariably need to get to an item on the very bottom of the stack. If you must have piles, use drawers or other “separating” methods to at least contain the damage.

Use item-specific storage (within reason)

There is a fine line between “ridiculously specific storage containers” and “appropriately specific storage containers”. Stores like The Container Store have both, and what may be laughable for one person, like special containers for gift wrapping supplies or handbags, can be a legitimate need for someone else. Below are some common item-specific closet organization items that can make a big different in keeping your closet uncluttered, but appropriate methods will vary from person to person.

Shoe storage organizers

Organizers that keep each pair of shoes separated can keep multiple pairs from turning into a jumbled pile. Consider something with individual compartments instead of shelves, so that your shoes are prevented from ever turning into a messy pile.

Accessory organizers

If you regularly wear ties, scarves and/or belts, a special rack for holding these long, thin items, a special rack or hanger can not only help give you an organized small closet, it can also take up less room than finding a place for each item individually.

The perfect, organized small closet

The right organization tools will make it more likely that you stick with the organization methods you have chosen, but you are still human, and organization systems, especially when you are just getting started, are going to take some effort to maintain. Try to always put closet items in their proper “home”; don’t just say you’ll do it later. And when it’s hard to keep it organized, just remember how much more pleasant and efficient it is to access your small closet when it’s organized.