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How to organize a closet according to professional organizers

How to organize a closet according to professional organizers
Posted at 7:30 AM, Feb 14, 2024

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Does peering into your closet make you feel stressed? Have you lost a favorite sweater or pair of shoes in there? Is it taking longer and longer to figure out what to wear each day? These are all signs that it’s time to organize your closet. While it might seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be.

We spoke with professional organizers who offered step-by-step instructions for organizing your closet (and some extra tips). If you dread opening your closet door right now, here’s how to get started.

Clear out and wipe down

Woman selects clothes from her closet to box up

Start by emptying the closet. Everything out!

“It’s like hitting the reset button,” says Michigan-based organizing expert Carrie Ypma, the founder of Clutter Keeper. “You get to see everything you have, and it’s easier to decide what stays and what goes.”

Then use this rare moment — when the closet is completely empty — to clear out all the dust and grime that may have accumulated.

Mr. Siga Microfiber Cleansing Cloths.

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I wipe the shelves with a microfiber cloth and all-purpose cleaner,” says Roswell, Georgia-based professional home organizer Holly McKinley of Holly’s in the House

Sort everything into piles

IRIS USA 12 Quart Stackable Plastic Storage Bins

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Divide all of your clothing and accessories into piles and use what Ruth Guerrier, an Atlanta-based professional organizer and owner of Imagine Organizing, calls the S.O.R.T. method.

S.O.R.T. stands for:

  • Save items you want to keep
  • Offload items that can be sold or donated
  • Relocate items that need to be placed in a different room
  • Trash items that are too worn to donate.

If you’ve ever caught an episode of “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” you know that this can be an emotional process — one that tempts many people to give up and leave things as they are.

While some decisions are easy — like tossing out clothes with stains or that you haven’t worn in years — it can be agonizing to let go of certain items. This can happen “if the person regrets paying too much, it no longer fits, or they have an emotional attachment,” McKinley tells Simplemost.

When you’re starting to vacillate, consider the benefits of clearing out clutter. “Remember, organizing isn’t just about space; it’s about making your daily routine smoother,” says Ypma.

In situations where a client is on the fence about letting go of an item, McKinley says she avoids losing momentum by adding a fifth pile. She calls it the need more information pile.

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“After we’ve made progress on the rest of the wardrobe, we revisit that pile, but this time we have more information,” she adds. For example, a client might realize that she has enough favorite sweaters, so it’s easier to recognize mediocre sweaters and let them go.  

She also encourages people to consider how their clothes might benefit others.  “Is it better for a dress to hang in the back of a closet, or for it to go into a thrift store where someone who needs it will find it for a great deal and wear it every week?” she asks.

Another common issue is when a client wants to keep an item of clothing that they hope to fit into later. Most closets aren’t big enough to comfortably hold both the clothes you can wear and the clothes you aspire to wear. The goal-oriented clothes, McKinley says, should be stored elsewhere.   

Identify ways to maximize vertical space

StorageWorks 6-Shelf Hanging Closet Organizer

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Before you start putting everything back in the closet, stand back and consider if there’s some vertical space potential you’re not taking advantage of.

MORE: 15 surprising ways to organize with over-the-door shoe holders

“Installing a few extra shelves, or even a tall, narrow set of drawers, can dramatically increase your storage capacity,” says Ypma.

Is there an area of your closet that you’re not using? Adding an over-the-door shoe organizer might convert the back of the door into a spot for scarves, belts or jewelry. “Some shelving systems come with add-ons like [under-shelf] drawers or bins, making them even more functional,” Ypma says.

She recommends the Simple Houseware Crystal Clear Over The Door Hanging Shoe Organizer and the Simple Houseware Under Shelf Basket.

Replace your hangers

Zober Velvet Hangers 20 Pack

$17 at Amazon$20 at Walmart

Matching, uniformly-sized hangers can help you maintain a tidy closet. If you have a hodgepodge of wooden and plastic hangers in various styles and shapes, consider swapping them out for just one type.

McKinley and Guerrier both use velvet hangers, such as the Zober Velvet Ultra Slim Non Slip Shirt Hangers, to save space and to create a clean, streamlined look. For suits, McKinley prefers wooden hangers, such as the Superior Wooden Coat Hanger from the Container Store, for the way they maintain the shape of the shoulders.

As for finding the best hanger, C. Lee Crawley, Arlington, Virginia-based certified professional organizer, recommends those with a crossbar for versatility. She says the bar helps make the hanger more sturdy and makes it possible to hang items like pants, jeans, and scarves.

 Zober 4-Tier Skirt, Pants Hangers with Clips

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Crawley also recommends buying petite hangers (14.5” wide) if you have a smaller shoulder span. “I promise it’s worth investing in narrower hangers to prevent stretching out your clothing and leaving the dreaded shoulder ‘bump,'” she says.

Finally, Ypma suggests tiered hangers for pants and skirts since they can store multiple items, making the most of your hanging space.

Group like with like

The Home Edit by iDesign Shelf Divider
The Container Store

$18 at The Container Store

“This might sound simple, but grouping similar items together is a game-changer,” says Ypma. “This not only makes finding what you need easier but also helps you see what you have too much of or what’s missing.”

How you group them — and how specific you want to get — is entirely up to you, and it can be different for everyone. McKinley determines the groupings based on her client’s lifestyle.

MORE: 15 genius organizing hacks

“For someone who starts their day with a run, workout, or walking the dog, I want to create easy access to activewear,” she says. “In some closets, I organize by what is worn to the office, on date night, for running errands, and lounging.”

Ypma suggests grouping specific clothing items together. “Place all your shirts in one area, pants in another, dresses separately, and so on,” she says.

HEALIFTY Color Wheel

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And Guerrier says that some people might want to organize clothing based on color-matching options, which will make getting dressed go more quickly. She notes that the hosts of the TV show, “The Home Edit” use the ROYGBIV method, which means they place items in order of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

If you purchase a color wheel, it simplifies the process by just following the colors on the wheel as much as possible when arranging your clothes,” Guerrier says. “Otherwise, people get stuck on wondering what colors are in the rainbow.”

hanging dividers

$10 (was $13) at Amazon

In some cases, you may benefit from organizational items that help maintain the separate groupings. “I recommend keeping categories contained within the closet using shelf dividers and bins,” says McKinley.

You can separate different types of clothes with hanging dividers like these Closet Dividers for Hanging Clothes

Assign bins for out-of-season clothes and nonessentials

The Container Store Medium Montauk Rectangular Bin
The Container Store

$28 at The Container Store

In a perfect world, you’d have a separate space for out-of-season clothes, and your linen closet would be large enough to accommodate all your sheets and towels. But chances are, you’ve had to stow some of these items in your bedroom closet.

“I like these lined bins [The Container Store Medium Montauk Rectangular Bin] for hiding the contents of a category that I don’t need to see daily,” says McKinley. You can pop them up on a shelf and forget about them until needed. But if you do glance up, they’re not an eyesore.

Rehome or discard

A person adds folded clothes back into a closet.

Now that you’ve returned only your favorite clothing items and accessories to your closet, turn back to the piles that didn’t make the cut. You might consider donating to Goodwill (which uses profits to fund job training programs for people facing unemployment challenges) or selling items to an online thrift store.

If you have a spot for it, McKinley recommends keeping a bin in your closet for future donations. “When you’re getting dressed and realize that you no longer like the way you look in something, you can toss it right into the bin,” she says.

Hopefully, this will make your next closet organization a little easier!

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