Step-by-Step Guide to Organizing Your Closet

By Kealia Reynolds
Photo by Kai Pilger

Attempting to organize closet space can be a daunting challenge. We’ve all been there—staring at mounds of clothes piled so high that one wrong move could send them toppling, trying to pair mismatched shoes strewn across the floor, and spending more than 30 minutes trying to untangle necklaces from bracelets from rings.

We interviewed Sarah Giller Nelson, owner of Less is More Organizing Services, and asked her advice on how to efficiently organize a messy closet and how to maintain upkeep once it’s organized. From creating a plan to decluttering, here’s our quick step-by-step guide to organizing your closet.

1. Devise a plan

Before approaching a messy closet, Sarah recommends coming up with a plan. “Ask yourself: What do you want the end result to look like? What has been working well? What is the problem?”

Perhaps you have too much stuff and need more room to add new clothes to your closet or maybe you have way too many shoes taking up space. “If there is too much stuff, the goal should be to downsize. If it is hard to find things, organize so that all of the same clothing type is together,” says Sarah.

After coming up with a goal, whether that be wanting more space for new clothes or desiring to see your closet floor, consider your lifestyle habits and fashion sense. According to Sarah, by considering your wardrobe and lifestyle, you’ll be able to envision how your closet should be organized. “If you go to the gym often, make sure to put all of your gym clothes and accessories where you can access them easily. If you only make it there occasionally, put the gym gear further away,” says Sarah.

2. Declutter

Once you have a plan in place, remove everything from your closet—hangers, clothes, boxes, etc.—and lay them out on a clean sheet to be organized into piles. Sarah recommends approaching the decluttering process by separating clothing into subcategories. For example, set aside shirts in one pile, pants in another.

Then, create a donation pile and include clothes that aren’t stained, haven’t been worn in over a year (formal clothes are an exception), are unflattering, or are uncomfortable. Sarah acknowledges that giving away clothes can be difficult, especially if you spent a lot on them. “It is okay to donate clothes you are only keeping because you spent a lot of money on them. The money has been spent—it’s not coming back, but you do need the space to store the clothes you love.”

Once you’re finished adding clothes to the donation pile, put the items in a trash bag and consider dropping them off at a Goodwill or local women’s shelter. Review the remaining clothes, taking stock of your favorites and addressing why you like them so much. “If your other shoes, jeans, dresses, etc. measure up to this standard, keep them. Otherwise, donate. It is so easy to get dressed each morning when you are surrounded only by what you love and need,” says Sarah.

Photo credit: Sarah Giller Nelson

3. Spend time actually cleaning the closet

Before putting clothes and shoes back into your closet, give the space a thorough cleaning. Though an empty closet can be considered “clean,” there’s still room to wipe down shelves and racks and vacuum or mop the closet floor. Get rid of any trash you find during this cleaning process, like clothing tags, store receipts, and empty shopping bags.

4. Organize by accessibility

After you finish cleaning, be intentional about putting the items you use most in easily accessible places. Store your most-used items at eye level, less-used items below, and least-used items on higher shelves. For example, if you have a 9–5 job that consumes most of your week, hang work clothes at eye level, casual clothes a level below, and special occasion clothing in the back of your closet.

“Use upper shelves and back corners for items that aren’t used frequently. To make your closet feel put together, invest in coordinating hangers, drawer dividers, and labeled bins,” Sarah recommends. You can also buy chic storage baskets to store clothes and make your closet look even more polished. For smaller accessories like jewelry, sunglasses, and scarves, invest in built-in drawers or labeled bins.

5. Manage closet upkeep

Just because you’ve successfully organized your closet doesn’t mean you should forget to assess your closet every now and then. Sarah acknowledges that good habits are the key to keeping any space in your home organized. “Keep a ‘Donate’ bag at the bottom of the closet. As you discover clothes that are stained, unflattering, or you no longer want, put [them] in the bag. Once the bag is full, take it to a shelter or thrift store.” You should also spend 15 minutes each month wiping down shelves, removing trash, and cleaning the closet floors for optimal cleanliness.

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