Expert tips for organizing a closet and maximizing storage space
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Every abode has its unique crannies and catch-all spaces. But, if there’s one most likely to cause professional organizers agita, it’s closets.
Katrina Teeple, founder of Operation Organization, says, “Most of the time these become ‘shoving areas,’ especially if they’re by the front door or under the stairs. They become a place where things go to die—or a place full of mini to-do’s on your list.”
The good news? Teeple and other decluttering experts say that organizational tools can easily and cost-effectively maximize coat closet storage space and accessibility.
Tip: Hang stuff up and leave some space
Teeple and lifestyle marketing strategist/author Tori Toth agree that matching hangers are among the top recommendations for any closet spruce-up.
They both prefer wooden hangers for their sustainability, durability, and aesthetic. Since such hangers are designed so that garments are more spaced out, “wooden hangers are a great reminder not to overstuff your closet,” says Teeple.
Teeple’s other pro tips include double-hanging closet rods, which are especially handy for families with children since their shorter jackets and outerwear don’t need a lot of vertical hang space.
Collapsible valet hangers maximize small spaces so items are visible and don’t get wrinkled, she said.
- Get the Simply Essential Double Hang Adjustable Closet Rod at Bed Bath & Beyond for $18
- Get the Squared Away Wood Hangers in Blonde, set of 5, at Bed Bath & Beyond for $8
- Get the Honey-Can-Do Space-saving Collapsible Hanger Holder at Amazon for $13.99
Tip: Shelving is a major win
Shelving is clutch for any closet, say the experts—and thankfully, there are options for almost every budget.
Teeple is a fan of the IKEA Kallax units arranged vertically, so that there can still be some room left on one side for long hanging garments, vacuums, or ironing boards, for instance. Plus, the cubing storage units that fit inside are an inexpensive way to keep track of odds and ends, she said.
Toth recommends Elfa shelving from The Container Store, which operates on a track system—plus, the drawers can be mesh or clear to view what’s in each. Rather than put items with like items (i.e., hats with hats), Toth suggests giving each person in the home their own bin.
Her other closet essential is a folding step stool, which takes up little space, but it also means nothing should get tossed on top of shelving willy-nilly by the shortest family members.
- Get the Elfa Closet Solutions at The Container Store
- Get the Kallax Shelf Unit at IKEA for $74.99
- Get the 13-inch Threshold Fabric Cube Storage Bin at Target for $8
Tip: Add lighting so you can see
If you can’t see what you’ve got, you can’t organize it. The standard single bulb operated by a pull switch rarely illuminates enough in dark, deep spaces. Luckily, there are some inexpensive solutions.
For those on a budget, Toth likes to add battery-operated lighting. Teeple hits up Amazon for LED peel-and-stick strip lights.
Teeple says, “You can put them underneath shelves to highlight and illuminate clothing. They’re great for reach-in closets with just one light.”
Other trade tricks are updating lightbulbs so they are less geared toward ambient lighting and more toward illumination of objects. Teeple says a quick refresh can easily include a new fixture.
“I love a pretty one,” she says. “Even if you want to do it on a budget, IKEA has rattan and other natural fiber fixtures that are easy to switch out yourself.”
Tip: Create contrast inside with paint or wallpaper
In older homes especially, closets were more of an afterthought than a design focus. Making the space more approachable in terms of lighter paint colors can create contrast with a closet’s contents—and make it a space homeowners want to look at, instead of simply tossing something inside quickly.
Peel and stick removable wallpaper is another option besides paint that’s a fun and quick way to brighten up a space, says Teeple.
Tip: Organize odds and ends like a pro
Although most vacuums come with their own wall mounts these days, a vacuum stand or inexpensive wall mount bracket are good ways to fasten one of a closet’s most common and unwieldy items, says Teeple.
She also recommends over-the-door organizers as good multi-purpose tools. “These can often be overlooked,” says Teeple. “You can use these spaces for your flatter shoes and sandals, as well as scarves and other accessories.”
Families with lots of games and toys can also stash them away in reusable, sealable clear bags so long as instructions are saved in each. Cutting down the number of boxes in a closet opens up space and visibility, say the design gurus.
- Get the Haturi Vacuum Stand at Amazon for $58.99
- Get the Makita Vacuum Wall Mount at Amazon for $13.95
- Get the Mesh Zipper Pouch Document Bags, set of 36, at Amazon for $18.99
Tip: Kill off any musty smells
With little ventilation and filtration, closets rank among the top spaces in the home likely to take on a musty scent. Toth says you can kick olfactory offenders with a dehumidifier or by hanging Damp-Rid. An annual spring cleaning to rotate items in and out—or purge—will also prevent offending the olfactory senses.
Teeple says she invested in a HEPA portable air purifier during the pandemic, which can be set up next to a closet several times a year. She also recommends scented moisture beads, like lavender, which absorb moisture while leaving behind a pleasant scent.
Holly Blakey of Breathing Room Organization & Styling says she prefers “the natural route” and uses bamboo charcoal air purifying bags, along with herbal-scented hangers.
- Get the DampRid Hanging Moisture Absorber in Fresh Scent at Bed Bath & Beyond for $9.99
- Get the Gonzo Natural Magic Fragrance Beads at Amazon for $6.36
- Get the Enoch Bamboo Charcoal Air Purifying Bags, set of 8, at Amazon for $10.99
- Get the Organic Eucalyptus Lemon Sachets, pack of 3, at Yaya & Co
Tip: Rotate seasonal items in and out
For those who live in areas where the climate changes—and have storage space in the attic, basement, or garage that’s secure from the elements—removing bulky items that aren’t in season can not only enhance access but inspire an occasional purge.
Air-tight space saver bags protect against damage, says Teeple.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.