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Inexpensive Closet Organization

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Inexpensive Closet Organization

My walk-in closet is a mess! The clothes rod is so crammed that I can't find anything. Even my favorite outfits seem to disappear! And, since we have limited storage, some boxes of non-related stuff find their way in. Help! Is there any way to inexpensively organize my closet?

Give Favorites Room to Breathe

It sounds like your biggest problem is that you simply have too much stuff. There's no easy fix for this. You have to take the time to go through your whole closet, item by item, and decide which garments you truly love and which you can happily live without. It may seem to you like every piece you own is a "can't live without" item, but you already said that your "favorite outfits" are buried, so clearly what they're buried under is stuff that isn't your favorites.

Pull out each garment and ask yourself a few questions. Do I wear this often? Do I like the way I look in it? Keep the items you say "yes" to when going through this process. For everything else, ask yourself, "Have I worn this in the past year?" If not, chances are you won't wear it next year either. The exception might be a special-occasion garment, because you haven't been invited to a formal event. For them, try asking, "Can I remember the last time I wore it?" If you can't, the garment isn't that special to you, and it can go.

I'm willing to bet you will be surprised at how many of the garments cluttering your closet are ones you really don't need or love anymore. Once they are gone, your faithful old favorites will have room to breathe again.

Related: Decluttering Your Wardrobe

Keep Closet Seasonal

The first and cheapest thing to do is simply to filter out that which doesn't get worn any more. Maybe it has stains or rips, is boring, or just doesn't fit any more. Give to charity, send to a consignment shop, make into rags, or toss out as is appropriate. The next thing would be to get some plastic containers. These containers will help you keep your closet seasonal by packing away winter clothes in the warm months and vice versa. It'll free up quite a bit of rod space. The next thing to do would be to use the "filter out" stage again, but filter the boxes of non-related stuff this time. The less "stuff" you have, the less it gets underfoot and becomes a bother. I'm a packrat from a family of packrats, so this is a biggie. I set a personal goal to rid my household of an average of ten garbage bags annually. My place will never be ready for a photo shoot, but at least we can keep things under control.

Double the Space

One thing you can do to double the space for tops and bottoms (not good for dresses). You can get some chain, some hooks, and a dowel that will fit in your closet. I have it in half of my closet. You can hang the dowel from the closet rod and hang twice the number of shirts and other short items. This cost me about $10 and really freed up space in my closet.

Don't Be Buried Alive

When I lived in a studio apartment, it seemed like I never had enough storage. The first thing I had to do was make myself do a regular clean-out. A few times a year, I went through my drawers and closet and put aside worn out or out-of-fashion items for donation or recycling as cleaning rags. I scheduled these clean-outs with seasonal wardrobe shifts. Because my parents and sister lived in different states, I usually flew out to see them for holidays, so I had a couple of suitcases I kept on the top shelf of my walk-in closet. I used these suitcases to store out-of-season clothes and inserted cedar blocks to keep the moths away. Because I had extremely limited space, I kept things like winter coats and bulky sweaters at an absolute minimum. I had one tailored wool coat for the office and one jacket for casual wear. My budget was even more limited than my space, and I purchased basic pieces (from outlets, thrift shops, and consignment stores) in black and other neutral colors. This cut down on the amount of clothing I needed.

Holiday decorations and "collectibles" are space hogs in a small living space, so my Christmas "tree" was an artificial one in miniature, about 12-inches high, that I scrunched into a big shoe box. I rolled up a single strand of lights for it in the corner of the same box. I used a pillow case as a tree skirt around the base.

I had one roll of wrapping paper. It was always red and white stripes. I could use this for Christmas, Valentine's Day, birthdays, etc. So, whenever I saw candy-striped paper on sale at after-Christmas sales, I grabbed my annual jumbo roll, which fit nicely behind my dresser.

I tried to find furniture that served two purposes. My "coffee table" was an old trunk, which also held out-of-season clothes. I lived in studio apartments for about a decade and managed to keep from being buried alive under all of my stuff.

Related: 10 Things You Don't Want to Get Caught Doing In Your Closet

Shift the Stock Twice a Year

Every spring, I take all my fall/winter clothes and move them to the back of the closet. All my spring/summer clothes are hung front and center, using this one trick. Every clothes hanger is turned around backward on the rod. By the end of the summer, any hangers that are still backward on the rod mean I never wore the item the entire season, so it's then consigned or donated to Goodwill. I do the same routine every fall/winter. I have removed so many perfectly good items, but since I never chose to wear them during an entire season, why are they still in my closet? Consigning or donating clothing I chose not to wear is a great alternative to taking up precious space in my closet.

Cascade Your Clothing

To organize your hanging clothes, you can use aluminum can tabs to cascade your clothes from each other. Just put a pop tab around the top of your hanger and hang the next hanger from it. You will save a lot of space, and you can even organize your clothes by type or color.

Try This Three-Step Process

First, it seems to me that you have way too many clothes in there! You don't need more than 15-25 articles of clothing for a season, underwear to last you a week or so, and two to three pairs of footwear. Aim for that. Take the time to weed out everything that is ill-fitting, uncomfortable, totally out of style, wrong color for you, or just plain worn out. Donate, sell on eBay, or throw away the rejects. Don't hang on to stuff you never wear. (If you share a closet with your partner, they should do the same.)

After your first weeding, you may still have too much. If so, you could use the trick of tying a red ribbon or something on your rack and hanging up every item after use/laundry beyond the ribbon. After two to four weeks, you will see which items you actually use. Box up the rest and donate/sell. (Or hang on to the box for a couple of months just in case and donate/sell after that time is up.) Do likewise with folded items. Put in a separate pile after use and get rid of the rest after two to four weeks. There's an article for further reading about culling closets at

Second, take the remaining clothes and other stuff out of your closet and wash the closet down. Maybe put on a new coat of paint in there. Put up some shelves near the ceiling. You can find shelving on Craigslist or Ikea or maybe you have something in your garage that you can use. Ask around among friends and coworkers if they want to get rid of any shelving. Store the boxes of seldom used non-clothing items up there along with any out-of-season clothes that you decide to keep. You may need a dresser in there as well for folded items. Blouses and jackets can be hung on the rack above. Hit the usual places and remember that looks are not important. Just clean it if you find something pre-owned. You can fashion drawer dividers out of old cardboard boxes if you like. You may also need some hanging shoe storage to keep the dust off your shoes and make cleaning the closet floor easier.

Third, if you end up with too little to wear, you should try to build a wardrobe of mix-and-match basic separates for maximum usability. This blogger has a very helpful series called "Starting from Scratch" on building a versatile wardrobe of 24-25 garments. You may like to check your clothing items off her list and make a note of any "missing" garment types that might be useful to you, but take your time and be very careful to not acquire anything that you won't get maximum usage out of! It's better to do without and wait for something more useful than to fill up your closet space with undesirables. Here's the link to the first installment of her series. The other installments are all on the blog.

Get More Hanging Space

The first thing I do to any closet is add additional hanging shelves (the wire kind, but bars will do) under most regular height shelves if they aren't already there. Also, making sure there is a shelf above each hanging area adds space to stack shoes, purses, etc. Sometimes the upper shelf needs to be raised higher, but I measure to make the space between shelves the height of the longest of my tops. I set aside a smaller width of shelving for a single high shelf to hold dresses/longer items. A man's closet area would be divided for the length of a suit jacket, pants on a hangar, dress shirt, etc. This practice virtually doubles exiting hanging space.

As for drawers, a second-hand chest of drawers can fit large walk-in closets with hanging above. Or inexpensive plastic storage drawers can fit in on the floor or on a shelf.

Make Your Closet Work for You

If you can afford it, the wire closet systems do a great job of allowing you to raise the clothes bar and add another one underneath. Otherwise, buy some 4" x 1" wood, painting it to match the walls, and install a new closet bar. The lumberyard or home improvement store will cut the wood to length for you. You will need to also cut out an opening for the bar to rest on.

Another approach is to buy brackets that have a curved end for the bars to rest on. Install one at each end of the closet (or as far back as you wish to go, leaving room above for long items) and one or more in between, depending on the length of the wall.

Either way, you then can hang an inexpensive wooden dowel below the existing bar. You may want to raise the existing bar first. If you add a single wire shelf at the top of the new bar, you have doubled your storage.

If your closet is wide enough, you can also install bars and shelves at the back. Or you can add a shoe storage rack or brass hooks for hats, belts, and scarves on the back wall.

Store little used items on the top shelf and frequently used items on the lower shelf. You can also store those extra items in a converted coat closet to make a storage closet, or add an extra shelf above the standard shelf in existing closets for storing boxes.
Barbara in CT

Reviewed August 2017

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