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Outfitting Your Closet

Martha Stewart Living, January 2005

Three smart strategies. (One's sure to suit you.)

In a way, closet space is like money: Everyone seems to feel like they need just a little more than they have. Though your impulse might be to tear down a wall and expand (or ask for that raise), sometimes the best answer is to better manage what you've got. To help with that, we've tackled three familiar closet conundrums, using three very different approaches. We reimagined an awkward space using custom, built-in cabinetry; addressed the issue of overflowing accessories with an armoire; and found inexpensive, do-it-yourself cures for a roomy closet that has become a jumbled mess.

Of course, no two closets -- or people -- are alike, so before rethinking yours, identify your needs. The steps below will guide you; our solutions follow. You'll find a well-organized closet is a pleasure to use, no matter its size.

1. Start with a clean-out.

Pick a day to sort through everything in your closet. Put clothes, shoes, and accessories that are no longer in style or no longer fit in a giveaway box (discard items damaged beyond repair). What remains should be the wardrobe you actually use.

2. Keep only what belongs.

What's in your bedroom closet besides clothes? If possible, find homes for suitcases, vacuum cleaners, sports equipment, and so on in an attic, basement, utility room, or other spot. Store coats in a hall closet or on hooks in the mudroom or entryway.

3. Count your clothes.

Make a list of what you have, and estimate how much space each piece occupies so you'll know how to configure your closet -- how much space you'll need for long hanging (single-rod) items, short hanging (double-rod) items, and shelf items, such as shoes, accessories, and folded clothing. Slim, good-quality hangers also make a closet neat and take up less space.

To estimate how much closet space your family's clothes occupy, use these guidelines, provided by the National Closet Group.

4. Be flexible.

Keep in mind that your wardrobe will change with the seasons and over time. Don't plan for a closet that only fits the things you own now -- you'll want to have some wiggle room.

5. Make a wish list.

What features would your dream closet have? Pull-out shelves? Hidden storage? Mirrored doors? Great light? These things aren't unattainable luxuries; they are practical additions, and will go a long way toward making your daily routine easier and more pleasant. You can add some of these details yourself using store-bought components; for larger projects and built-in features, you'll need to hire a professional.


Built a step up from the room, this closet has extra storage beneath two trapdoors at floor level for items used infrequently.

Vertical Space

The backs of doors are handy spots often overlooked. Two of the solid-core doors support valet hooks. We hung a mirror on the third. The mirror and artwork, in matching frames, have Velcro dots on the backs to secure them as doors are opened and closed.

How Illuminating

Recessed ceiling lights go on when the doors open, activated by a switch on the doorjamb. (Have an electrician install lights, as states have specific safety regulations.)

Shelving It

Labels on the shelves ensure that purses, sweaters, and so on go in their proper spots. On a lower shelf, a basket organizes evening bags. A pull-out accessories tray is located near the mirror -- convenient for putting on jewelry. Drawers can hold lingerie, or keep seldom-used bags dust-free.

The Shoe Fits

This 32-inch-deep closet is great for shoes; roomy shelves on one side hold them two pairs deep, with space in front for boots and the highest heels.

Boxed In

Bright canvas storage boxes, on shelves and beneath hanging clothes, offer a neat way to hide out-of-season shoes and clothing.

It's a common problem: Hanging space is sufficient, but there's no room for shoes, belts, handbags, and folded clothes. We solved it by using an inexpensive armoire -- painted and fit with contemporary hardware -- instead of a dresser to complement the closet. We added closet-system shelves and a drawer unit, which vary widely in price, depending on the components.

Adjustable Fit

We purchased closet-system shelving with walnut trim from an organizing store. The shelves, custom cut to the width of the armoire, are attached to hanging tracks, and can be moved up or down as needed. The top shelf houses handbags; shelf dividers attached to the second level keep stacks of tops and sweaters from tumbling down (they're arranged by color so you can quickly find what you want).

Top Drawer

A 15-by-15-inch, three-drawer cube matches the shelving and is ideal for stashing scarves, jewelry, and other small items.

Hanging Together

Add a row of hooks along the top of each door so belts remain within view. Hooks are also great for holding accessories as you put your outfit together.

See Through

Two rows of stackable, open-ended plastic shoe boxes keep footwear organized but visible; out-of-season or infrequently worn pairs go in clear, lidded plastic boxes below -- also easy to identify but away from the everyday pairs.

Out of Sight

Tuck undergarments and socks in the deep bottom drawer, and you're all set.

Even a generously sized closet can get cluttered if equipped with only a single rod and shelf. We maximized the space in this 8-foot-wide reach-in (and gave it a custom look) using readily available supplies: a bookcase, fitted with extra-deep shelves, hooks, and hanging rods. A do-it-yourself project like this one won't cost you much.

Deeper Shelves

We had plywood shelves cut to order for a bookcase from an unfinished-furniture store, extending them from the front -- 3 inches for sweaters; 6 inches for shoes. The white-painted unit anchors hanging rods.

Fold it Right

A pull-out plywood shelf for folding clothes was attached beneath another shelf with under-mount glides (from a hardware store). A folding board is a great tool for achieving even stacks of clothes. An 8 1/2-inch-by-11-inch cutting board makes it easy work.

Found Space

To ensure that no space was wasted, we installed a shelf just above the lower hanging rod to hold trays for scarves and gloves.

Inside Story

One door was fitted with a bulletin board of fabric-covered Homasote fiberboard; the other door has a mirror. Both are suspended by industrial Velcro fasteners, which are strong enough to support 100 pounds on their own. A lint remover hangs from the doorknob.

Dividing Line

Wooden shelf brackets, painted white and turned upside down, serve as sweater dividers.

High and Low

The floor-level space and top shelf hold canvas boxes and bins for out-of-season clothing; labeled, painted video boxes, contain out-of-season shoes. Totes and handbags are in sight but out of the way on the high shelf.

Comments (22)

  • paulabosarge 27 Dec, 2009

    how do you keep your linens in your linen closet from smelling?

  • dbandkitty 21 Mar, 2009

    Imagine the board that they use at the Gap to fold sweaters.

  • mom-2-4 4 Feb, 2009

    A small plastic cutting board works well, too!

  • jgrynberg 15 Jan, 2009

    It's a storage accessory that helps fold items in a uniform manner.

  • PatKauf 15 Jan, 2009

    What's a "Flipfold"?

  • IrisM 18 Oct, 2008

    I love the picture, it made me reorginise my own closet. I prepared a big box to give away and I bought myself some fresh, new clothes. Now I feel like new born! ...............and am enjoying to keep my order........... and to chose the clothes of the day. Before I just didn't know what could be fitting.
    Thank you!!!

  • AndreaV 13 Oct, 2008

    I have a few teeny tiny closets and I use the Flipfold to make the most of the space. It is wonderful!

  • lovestennis 13 Oct, 2008

    Great tips for closets organization! I would love to see my closets organized and uncluttered. The same tips should help with the kitchen cupboards and shelves. It's tough to find a day/time to devote for these projects. I shall give it a try...start small with one closet at a time spreading into several days. Thanks for your help!

  • f8th637 12 Oct, 2008

    Cut me off:

  • f8th637 12 Oct, 2008 for a bit of a bigger pic,

  • grannyj3 12 Oct, 2008

    Still didn't work. I'm trying to use the plus sign. Weird!!

  • grannyj3 12 Oct, 2008

    My " " got cut off the end of my comment. Sorry.

  • grannyj3 12 Oct, 2008

    An easier way to enlarge the pictures is to click on the VIEW option in your tool bar. It gives zoom options. It doesn't help the graininess of the pic, but it helps to see details. Then you have to back out with the - instead of the .

  • SeptemberPat 12 Oct, 2008

    Yes, I totally agree! it waould be nice to enlarge the pictures to see what its all about and further get an idea of what is there. HELP!

  • Alysyn 12 Oct, 2008

    You can enlarge the picture yourself to a degree. Just right click it, copy and paste it into a Word document. Click the picture again and drag to enlarge it. The quality is a bit grainy, but it will still make things larger.

  • Sissy 12 Oct, 2008

    I've been ragging about this problem on all M.S. sites for some time, but no one seems to pay any attention. Wonder if anyone would pay attention if we clicked on that "Report as Inappropriate" spot?!!!!
    This reminds me of our complaints about the closed captioning at the bottom of the screen on her tv show---if you need cc, it covers up everything they're doing!! Nothing has changed in that respect, either!

  • laboerschig 12 Oct, 2008

    I also agree that the pictures are too small.
    You can't see what they put where.

    There are some cute craft ideas that you can't see the final product up close.
    If Martha Steward reads these, maybe she can make a change...doubtful she or any one other than us read them though.

  • diannam 12 Oct, 2008

    I agree with chevychick.....the pix are too small!!

  • chevychick 12 Oct, 2008

    I wish that there was a way to enlarge the pictures on this web site!!!!!!!
    the pictures are to small to see or is it just me with this problems?
    How can someone get help with this problem?

  • betheliza 12 Oct, 2008

    unfortunately, i need the money i dont have quite enough of to maximize the storage space i dont have quite enough of.

  • nana2oneboy 12 Oct, 2008

    I like these ideas. I labeled the shelf above my trousers "Blue" and "Black". Then I hang my Kahki, gray, etc. trousers in between the blue and black pants. Before I labeled them, I was always trying to figure out if I had the right color I wanted. Also I have used shelf dividers, but they sometimes slip off the shelf. I'm going to try using industrial velcro to hold them on the shelf as mentioned in this article. Thanks again for some easy solutions.

  • Dloi 13 Aug, 2008

    Why doesn't the picture enlarge when I click onit? t is just too small to be useful!!