Before researching this article, my husband was the nearest thing in my life to a closet organizer. I used a pile system: a pile for work, a pile for clean clothes, a pile for sorting later. When my "sorting later" pile got too large, parts would migrate into the closet, usually nudged in there by my better half. Now that we live in a smaller space, the pile system doesn't work and I've been forced to be more organized.
The only thing that's helped is installing a closet organizer—like the Rubbermaid HomeFree Series Closet Organizer(available at Lowe's for $96.98), which is our best-tested closet organizer. It offers the most bang for the buck with the least amount of installation aggravation.
To help you stay better organized, we tested eight of the best-selling do-it-yourself all-in-one closet kits, evaluating them for easy installation and whether they're strong enough to hold all your belongings.
The first thing I noticed about this organizer is that even though the box was mangled during shipping, all the components inside arrived undamaged. If the organizer can handle whatever full-contact games the courier company played with it, it should do just fine installed in a closet. The HomeFree’s fixtures came sporting a shiny chrome finish that looked durable and, more importantly, its installation directions were clear and easy to follow.
The length of the HomeFree’s shelves can be adjusted by overlapping the extra length, negating the need to cut any of it off for a custom fit. This allows the shelves to be fit into different closets or be laid out in different configurations, should your organizational needs change. The shelves are secured in place using a patented bracket system, which is excellent. There's a clip piece that helps lock the bracket into the wall rather than simply having the shelf resting on top of the organizer itself. Without the locking clip, the bracket could be bumped out, knocking the shelf over. These sturdy clips on the brackets will also last for multiple reinstallations or if you decide to change the shelving positions.
As for this closet organizer’s aesthetics, that’s a personal choice. I don’t find white wire shelving to be particularly attractive. However, If you’re looking for the ideal organizer to store your clothing, and plan on shutting the door once you’ve retrieved what you’re after, this type of organizer is perfect for you.
My name’s Rebecca Boniface. My curiosity and frugality fuel my enthusiasm for DIY projects. My experience ranges from wrenching on cars to RV repairs, furniture hacks, and small engine maintenance. Since I live full-time in an RV and travel frequently, I find that clever use of my small living space keeps my belongings organized and safe. Being mindful of my stuff allows me more time to do things I love and less time sifting through piles, my previous organizational system. I want to help you find the products that will enhance your space, as well as save yourself time and money.
To find the top closet organizers, my testing focused on assessing the quality of each organizer for how customizable each system was, and whether the experience of assembling one might drive someone to the brink of madness. However, before I could begin to answer these questions, I had to figure out which closet organizers I should call in for testing.
Closet organizers can be roughly divided into two categories: freestanding or attached units. Since models that are attached to the wall of a closet are more common and I focused on those for this guide. Next, I looked at which brands and models were the most popular, based on online product ratings. I tested each by:
Assembling and installing the organizer on a latticework of exposed wall studs.
Arranging/hanging a primary set of items (clothing, shoes, folded sweaters) into the organizer, followed by a secondary set of items (books, hairbrush, hats, makeup items) on each organizer’s shelves/clothing rods.
Placing a 35-pound kettlebell its bottom shelf to test each organizer’s load-bearing capacity.
After these tests were completed, I assessed the organizers on the overall installation experience and evaluated how easy each was to clean, its aesthetics, and if there were any special features worth noting.
What You Should Know About Closet Organizers
If you own your home (or are a long-term renter with no plans to move), installing a closet organizer that is attached to your wall makes sense. However, if you might be moving shortly or are averse to putting holes in your drywall, a freestanding closet system might better suit your needs. Unlike the closet organizers tested here, a freestanding storage unit does not need to be attached to the wall. For example, I used the Elvari set from Ikea for years as I moved from apartment to apartment, adding pieces as I needed them. Instead of using screws to attach to drywall and wall studs, this closet organizer used poles that created tension between the ceiling and the floor to support its shelves. In my final apartment, I didn’t have a closet at all and used my organizer as a room divider to create a kitchen and living room space. While often a bit more expensive and a little finicky to set up, organizers that don’t put holes in your wall are ideal for renters.
A couple of the closet organizers I tested labeled their shelving as customizable, indicating in the instructions that hacksawing off a section of that shelving results in the desired shelf size. Cutting clothing rods, as long as the end-caps are removable, feels reasonable to me; the end product still looks finished. However, hacking away at plastic coating wire shelving or veneered particle board will not result in an attractive finish. If having an attractive closet organizer is important for you—for example, your closet space is open and visible—having a clean finish on your shelves will make it more attractive.
If you take a quick look at the weight of the organizers, you’ll notice most are hefty, weighing in between 40 to 70 pounds. For me, sweating as I shove 70 pounds of closet organizer into the back of my Jeep isn’t appealing. With heavy products like this, having it shipped to your front door is the way to go. Shipping is free or included for several online retailers, making it a no-brainer.
Tools For Easier Assembly
There are a couple of tools that will make assembling your organizer easier. First, having some type of electric screwdriver or a cordless drill will make assembling and mounting your organizer quicker. If the organizer is one of the heavier laminate or wooden units, an electronic stud sensor will help you find the studs under your drywall to make mounting your organizer easier. Finally, a level will help you mount your organizer in a way that will help keep your items where you put them. If you’d like a quick overview of how to mount shelving, This Old House has a good guide to help with the instructions that came with your organizer.
Other Closet Organizers We Tested
Rubbermaid 4–8 Ft. Configurations Deluxe Custom Closet Kit
If the Rubbermaid HomeFree is not available for you, the Configurations Deluxe is a good second choice. The organizer comes with the same Rubbermaid brackets, which I liked for the locking clip that secures the bracket to the wall rail. The shelves are also customizable, as well as the clothes rails. The rails for hanging your clothes are a teardrop shape, instead of circular. But I didn’t notice anything particularly unique about the shape choice. My hangers hung on it just like the circular rods. If you were hoping to combine sets, please keep in mind there are some small differences, like the rods. Also, the Configurations Deluxe was about 30 percent more expensive than the HomeFree for no noticeable improvement.
The biggest difference between wire kit closet organizers boils down to the customization: either the pieces make it easy by telescoping together or you need to bring out the hacksaw. The ClosetMaid White Wire Kit doesn’t telescope together. On the plus side, the shelving pieces are short, about 4 feet for each section. Generally, the ClosetMaid and Rubbermaid are priced pretty close to each other so when the price is similar, being able to change the size of components is a big plus. If you find a great deal on the ClosetMaid and the length of your closet is divisible by 4 feet, this wire organizer will be ok.
Knape and Vogt Closet Culture 4-ft Wire Closet Kit
Out of the box, the finish on the Knape and Vogt system really stood out. Even though the design is very similar to the other wire closet organizers, the color and the matte finishes looked more industrial, hinting at a fashionable aesthetic rather than simply utilitarian. My experience assembling the organizer was very similar to both the Closetmaid and Rubbermaid systems until I tried to take it apart: I couldn’t get the hooks that hold the clothing rod out of the shelving bracket. The plastic in the bracket is a bit soft, with another soft plastic piece fitting over the top of the bracket that locks the piece to the wall. While the shelf seemed sturdy enough—it held the 35-pound weight fine—I’m concerned about the longevity of the bracket pieces themselves. While I liked the look as being a step up from other wire closet organizers, the quality felt less than the others.
This kit was almost double the price of the other organizers, had the worst instructions for assembling and the lowest weight tolerance on the shelves. But it’s pretty, really pretty. The pictures online were accurate regarding the color (a lovely gray-green) and the drawer handle was a hefty silver, giving this closet a sleek contemporary look, while still holding on to some traditional touches. The instructions, however, were terrible: They showed two screws going into spots that clearly had three connectors, didn’t explain an entire section that I had to rebuild by figuring it out on my own, and included a drawer that was a nightmare to sort out. But if you can assemble it, once it's installed, it's very pretty.
The quality of the laminate wood was poor, and the instructions were confusing on the ClosetMaid SuiteSymphony. The tower is more customizable than I expected as it is two pieces separately assembled, then stacked on top of each other. The clothing rails are drilled into the side, reducing the appearance if you try to install it in another closet later on. I was missing some shelving hardware but a quick call to their helpline resulted in an entire new bag of hardware being sent with minimal trouble. If you’re looking at the wood organizers for a more attractive closet kit, this one is more functional than pretty.
Using a similar hanging system to the Martha Stewart kit, the Easy Track Basic Starter kit had a complex installation to allow for a heavier organizer. This kit was almost twice the weight of the wire closet organizers we tested. The laminate looked like it had been cut roughly, with chips out of the veneer, right out of the box. Like the other laminate closet kits I evaluated, it’s easier to customize this kit, by adding on pieces, than trying to cut pieces shorter, so be careful with your measurements. Additionally, this kit’s clothing rods felt like they were of a lower quality than the others I had tested, with a ribbed coating that made sliding hangers across the rod difficult.
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