Your Home: How to organize your closet


About this series

Each month, Nicole Villalpando tackles a different home improvement subject in Your Home. You can find past stories at austin360.com/yourhome.

Watch a closet redo

On this month’s Your Home, Nicole Villalpando tackles her own closet. Her challenges: odd-shaped shelves, no drawers, a nostalgia collector husband, a dog that wants to sleep in the closet and too much stuff. Watch the video at austin360.com/yourhome.

Sometimes the closet takes on a life of its own. The clothes seem to dive-bomb off the hangers and onto the floor. The neat pile of T-shirts becomes a jumble of wrinkled cotton. The black skirt you wanted to wear with that certain red blouse is nowhere to be found.

Today in Your Home, we rethink the bedroom closet to help you create a functional, efficient space.

I need a new closet

Are you sure about that?

We all have dreams of an all-wood closet with glass-fronted doors, soft-close drawers, built-in shoe racks, a full-length mirror, an island with a nearby padded bench and a valet bar for hanging the dry cleaning.

Ripping out your old closet and getting a custom one might be what you want for Christmas, but it might not be necessary. Your current closet might actually have some good bones that you can work with by making a few simple adjustments.

“I’ve never hit upon a closet that we had to rip everything out to the wall,” says Leslie Byer Rosner, a professional organizer in Austin with Found Space Organizing. “There are so many products to make what you have work.”

The only situation that makes a closet really hard to work with is in some older homes that have really small closets and a single rod that is eyeball level.

If that’s the case, sometimes you can turn another bedroom into a closet or, if your bedroom is large enough, turn one end of the room into a closet by adding clothing rods and drapery to separate the rest of the room from this area.

New or just-improved, start here

First, what do you have and do you really need it? Answer those two questions by taking everything out of your closet and figuring out what you really need in there. Maybe some of it needs to find a new home elsewhere in the house. More than likely, some of it needs to leave your house.

“The first thing is to clean it out,” says Erin Hogue, the senior buyer for Elfa system and the new custom wood TCS Closets for the Container Store. “You have to assess what you’re working with. You don’t really know the full contents until you clean it out and take inventory of the space.”

Marie Kondo, who wrote the New York Times bestseller “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” tells you to look at each item and ask one question: Does it spark joy?

If yes, keep it. If no, don’t — give it to someone else for which it will spark joy.

Be very practical. If that blouse doesn’t fit now, don’t hang onto it thinking it will one day. If there’s a tear or a stain, the garbage bag is its new home.

Kondo suggests considering things not just room by room, but category by category and in this order:

  • Clothing.
  • Books.
  • Papers.
  • Miscellaneous.
  • Mementos.

Her thinking: If you start with mementos, it’s too emotional to make much progress. Finish with mementos when you can see and rejoice in the lack of excess you now have in other categories.

Still aren’t sure what to do with a suit you really love but don’t wear often? Put it in a carefully labeled box with the date on it. In six months, or a year if it’s a seasonal item, open that box back up. If you never went into the box, it’s time to donate those things.

I decluttered; now what?

Put items into four basic categories and then into subcategories. Austinite Lorie Marrero, who created Clutter Diet, a home organization online subscription service that provides one decluttering task to do each week, categorizes by things and places:

1. The A things are the most important things that you use. It’s the bathrobe you use every night, the favorite pair of shoes, the jeans you wear every weekend. Those go into the most accessible places that you can easily see.

2. The B things are things you use a little less often — shirts you wear often but not necessarily every week. The B things go into an accessible place, but are not necessarily visible. It could be a well-organized drawer.

3. The C things are things you rarely use, but you do use them. These are holiday decorations, formal wear and swimsuits — unless you’re a weekly swimmer. Those go in a back corner of the closet.

4. The D things are things you don’t use but are keeping anyway. Classic D things are tax records, mementos, the wedding dress. You want them, but they don’t have to go into the master bedroom closet. They could go in a guest room closet, the attic or a storage closet under the stairs.

Plan your closet

Consider all of your subcategories. Where are the frequently worn T-shirts going? The underwear? The more formal dresses? The everyday shoes versus the special occasion shoes? The key is to make as many A and B things easily accessible. The C things can be less accessible, but you know where they are.

What gets hung? What gets folded?

This is an essential question for every item. Kondo is a big fan of folding as much as possible, but not just folding clothes and laying them flat. She advocates for folding and lining up clothing vertically like spines on a book. She also likes to use a lot of drawers for this purpose.

Whether to fold or hang clothes is a personal preference, says Marrero. “It’s how you do your laundry.” She sees people folding kids’ clothing, but mostly hanging adults’ clothing.

If you are going to hang clothes, consider adding a rod above your washer and dryer or a clothing rack in the laundry room to hang clothes as you pull them out of the dryer. You’re avoiding folding them and putting them in a laundry basket just to move them to the closet to unfold them and put them on hangers.

It also depends on your space. If you have a lot of rod space, then go ahead and hang most of your clothes. If you have very little rod space but can add shelves or drawers, then fold more.

Change your rods

If you are one of those unfortunate souls with the one rod, you can add a second rod with a trip to the hardware store using a dowel and two brackets. For about $10, you’ve got a second rod. There are also rod extenders, which attach to the top rod, that do that as well. They are not as sturdy as the hardware method, but they require no skills and are easily removable. You also could raise or lower any rod that isn’t working for you.

The right hangers

Some people love the white tubular hangers. Some people swear by the felted skinny hangers. Some people love only wood hangers. It’s a personal preference — and they all have downfalls. Wood hangers take up more space. Felted hangers take up less space but are harder to hang clothes on. The tubular hangers can be slippery; make sure they have notches at the top for shirt collars. Wire hangers are never the right solution. Take your clothes out of the dry-cleaner bags — the plastic is not good for clothes — and off of the wire hangers.

Whatever hanger type you choose, embrace it and get rid of the rest of your hangers for a uniform look. Have an area of unused hangers rather than having unused hangers mixed in with hangers with clothes.

Organize the hanging section

Group clothing by type and by length. Use your long-hanging section for pants, suits and dresses; your shorter section for shirts and jackets. Kondo recommends arranging items so they rise to the right with the longest items on the left, the shortest on the right.

You can get garment organizers that slide onto the rod to label an area by category of clothing: dresses, casual shirts, jackets, etc. You and anyone else who touches your closet will remember where each type of item goes.

Add drawers

If your closet has room, either add a drawer system or add a dresser or bookshelf to the space. You don’t want drawers to be too deep, says Marrero. “The goal of any organizing project is visibility,” she says. “You can’t see anything on the bottom of a deep drawer. That promotes rooting behavior.” Before you know it, everything will be everywhere.

Often you can find drawers or shelves that will work below a rod. Don’t forget to measure the height of the rod to the floor and the width and depth of the space before you go shopping.

Add organization to shelves

Shelves are tricky because it’s easy for piles to tumble into one another. You can add clear boxes or bins for organization. You also can add drawer dividers to not just drawers but also to shelves to keep things contained into areas.

Add hooks

Hooks are great for multiple uses including necklaces, scarves, hats and ties. If you have the space, add a peg board with hooks to one wall. You also can add hooks that screw in or removable plastic hooks. Read the directions on the package carefully to make sure the hooks stay put.

Add hooks to the back of your door for items that you use frequently, such as a robe, pajamas or workout clothes.

Unmentionables

These are best in drawers or bins if you have them. Use shelf dividers to separate athletic socks versus dress socks or bras from underwear, pajama bottoms from pajama tops. Extend the use of these items by folding everything — including socks — instead of rolling or balling them up.

Shoes

Shoe storage is the biggest concern for women, Hogue says. “Are you a kicker or a placer? Do you kick your shoes off or do you place them?”

If you are a kicker, you could get clear shoe boxes, but you’ll never use them. Instead, you want shoe racks, shoe cubbies or even back-of-the-door shoe pockets — something with which you don’t have to open or remove a top. “We’re not here to change the kickers into placers.”

The kickers can use clear shoe boxes or regular shoe boxes with a picture of the shoe taped to the outside for those special shoes, but the rest of their shoes should be accessible and in a place that can they easily can put shoes without haven’t to think hard about where they go.

If you think you’re going to be one to line your shoes up on the floor, think again, says Rosner. “Those shoes will just wind up in a heap on the floor.”

You could line them up on a shelf, though. Use dividers to add structure.

Don’t forget to ask the essential question: Should your shoes even be in your closet? If you’re a family that takes off your shoes when you first walk in the door, perhaps a shoe rack by the door is a better solution.

The placers can use clear shoe boxes or even a whole revolving storage system of shoes.

Jewelry

You can use hooks on the wall or a hanger with shower rings for necklaces and bracelets and egg cartons or ice cube trays in drawers for earrings. You also can use behind-the-door shoe pockets or a hanging jewelry organizer. Or try a more fancy wooden jewelry armoire sitting on a shelf. Pick something that is easy to use consistently.

Handbags

There are hanging accessory organizers for handbags, scarves and ties. You can also use a hanger with shower rings, hooks or line up the handbags on a shelf with shelf dividers in between.

Maintenance

“Any system is going to break down if you don’t maintain it,” says Barry J. Izsak, owner of Arranging it All and a past president of the National Association of Professional Organizers.

This means hanging up or folding clothes and putting them away right from the dryer.

It also means not loading up the closet again. Have a plan to avoid that. Keep a bag inside the closet where donated clothes go; if you see something that isn’t working anymore, you can decide to donate it right away.

Some people use a “one new item in, one old item out” method. Another way to see what you are actually using is when you redo a closet, hang all the hangers backwards the first time. After it’s worn and cleaned, you’ll hang its hanger the right way. After a year, you can see what items were never worn because their hangers are still backwards. Then you know it’s time to donate them.



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