The Ultimate Guide to Organizing Your Closet

Make your life easier with an orderly storage system for your clothing

organized closet

The Spruce / Candace Madonna

The plethora of home-organization shows all have one thing in common: Organizing your home, especially the closets, results in a euphoric feeling. We all want that, but a quick glance in our closets reminds us it's not so easy without a camera crew and organization expert to hold our hands through the project. Luckily, all you need is a plan to tackle organizing your closet. Before you know it, your closet will rival any seen on any of those streaming shows, and—more importantly—you will always know the location of your favorite sweater, prized pair of jeans, and go-to work button-down.

Steps to an Organized Closet

How you organize your closet will differ slightly based on the space you have, the size of your wardrobe, and the kind of life you lead. However, these seven universal steps can be applied to any closet and any wardrobe:

  1. Gather your closet organization supplies, including a “toss” basket and a tape measure.
  2. Empty the closet of all contents-clothing, shoes, closet organizers, etc.
  3. Clean your closet.
  4. Declutter your wardrobe and donate, recycle, or sell the clothing items, shoes, and accessories you no longer need.
  5. Assess your closet storage solutions to make sure they fit your closet space and work with your clothing, shoes, and accessories.
  6. Organize your clothing, shoes, and accessories back into your closet by grouping similar items together and moving your most worn items into your closets “prime real estate.”
  7. Come up with a plan to keep your closet organized so it never becomes a breeding ground for clutter again.

What You Need to Organize Your Closet

The first step to organizing your closet is to ensure you have the right tools and supplies on hand before you dive in. Resist the urge to start this project after a long day of work. To organize your closet for the long haul, you’ve got to do a little prep work and find time in your calendar when you have two to three hours to commit to this process.

Here’s your quick closet organization toolkit:

  • Shopping bags: Use sturdy bags to transport clothes to the donation center, tailor, and dry cleaner. If you don't have bags, boxes and bins will do in a pinch.
  • Tape measure: Measure shelving and hanging space. Don't forget a notebook to jot down your closet's measurements.
  • Full-length mirror: To decide between "toss" and "keep," make sure your mirror can accommodate your entire image.
  • Catch-all basket: This includes loose change, papers, rubber bands, hair clips, wads of cash (score!), and assorted receipts you'll find in pants pockets. You don't want to have to stop in the middle to file these small items so just put them aside for now into your catch-all basket.

Additionally, have an idea of what you’re going to do with clothes you decide to get rid of ahead of time. You have three options: donate, consign, or trash. Try to donate and consign as much as possible, while trash is only for the items that are beyond repair/use.

Empty and Clean Your Closet

If you’re used to shoving clothes into your closet, this is going to be weird, because you’re about to take everything out and probably find some stuff shoved in a back corner that you forgot about. Remove everything from the closet, including hangers, baskets, bins, and anything else that might be on the floor or shelves.

You need a clear, clean space to plan and visualize how you're going to re-organize your closet. First, dust the shelving and hanging rods. Next, run the vacuum or sweep and mop the floor. Finally, wipe the shelving, hanging rods, walls, and baseboards down with a good all-purpose cleaner. Don’t forget any baskets or bins that could be collecting dirt and dust.

Declutter Your Clothes, Shoes, and Accessories

Now comes the part you’ve either been looking forward to or dreading. Some people fear decluttering because they love to hold onto things they “may need one day” or “used to fit/be in style.” Focus on what to keep rather than what you’re getting rid of.

Closets are finite spaces, so choose wisely when giving up valuable real estate and be prepared to separate your clothes into distinct piles:

  • Keep: Hold onto anything you love and wear often.
  • Consign: To sell or consign items, your clothing, shoes, and accessories must be in good shape. Most consignment stores prefer them to be name brands.
  • Donate: These items should be in good shape. Think “gently used” when adding to this pile.
  • Trash: Clothing to trash would include anything stained beyond repair, ripped, hopelessly out of style, or anything that you would be embarrassed to donate.

When you're trying to decide whether or not to keep something, it's helpful to ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you love it?
  • Do you wear it?
  • Does it project the image you want to portray?

If the answer is "yes" to all three, then you can confidently place that item into the keeper pile.

If you’re having a hard time, then create a "maybe" pile. Put your maybe pile into a bin and revisit it one, three, or six months later. If you forgot about these items or never thought about wearing them, you can confidently donate or consign them.

Purchase Closet Organizers

Figuring out the right closet storage solutions for your particular space can be challenging. Luckily, there are tons of great options for closet storage solutions, including closet systems, but most people can get away with installing a few budget-friendly closet organizers. 

Closet Storage Tips

Closet storage solutions aren’t going to create more space in your closet; however, closet organizers, storage solutions, and closet systems can help to make more storage space accessible to you. For example:

  • A step stool will make it easier for you to reach the top shelves of your closet.
  • A double hang will make better use of horizontal storage space in the closet.
  • An over-the-door shoe rack can turn your door into the perfect place to store either shoes, accessories, or both.

You might be tempted to throw your hands up, pull out your credit card, and buy an expensive closet system. Resist this urge. Measure the space, assess what you already have, and then plan your closet accordingly. Buy only what you need to store your clothes, and re-purpose what you already own, if possible. Small bookcases, cubbies, and baskets are great for storing handbags, shoes, accessories, and gym clothes.

Finally, don't forget to measure a space three times before buying a new storage item. Nothing is worse than carting something home and finding it's just a smidge too wide.

Organize Your Clothes, Shoes, and Accessories

Now put everything back together in a way that makes sense to you, utilizes all of your available space, and is attractive enough to motivate closet maintenance. Think about where it makes sense to store each category of clothing and then think about the easiest spots to reach in your closet.

  • Group like with like: Gather belts, sweaters, long-sleeve shirts, work pants, dresses, button-down shirts, jeans, shorts, etc., and decide the best place to store each item as a group (e.g., hang pants in the closet, fold and stack sweaters in a bureau). Working in groups of items will help you figure out how much space you need and the best way to store each type of item.
  • Properly utilize prime real estate: Reserve the front and middle of your closet for clothes you wear most often. If you have to get dressed for work each morning at 6 a.m., make sure your work clothes are at the front of your closet. Lesser-worn items like formal wear and out-of-season clothes should be stored toward the back and on the upper shelves.
  • Tuck away least-used items: Use the very top of your closet for out-of-season items and stuff you only wear a few times a year, such as Halloween costumes and super-fancy shoes.

Accessories and shoes should be stored separately from your clothing (eg, don't lump scarves in with sweaters), but keep the prime real estate rule in mind. If you wear a pair of shoes all the time, don't store them in the back of your closet.

Maintaining Your Newly Organized Closet

The more often you work on closet maintenance, the less time it will take. Go through your closet and complete a quick makeover (or make-under) once a month, and tackle the full re-organization process twice a year.

Make it easy on yourself by following a cleaning schedule, either by season, by date (such as your birthday or New Year's), or by an event. The next time you can't find an important piece of clothing, that's a good sign you need to re-organize your closet.