4 Tips for Organizing a Small Closet

Make the most of limited storage space—even a small closet with lots of clothes—with smart, space-saving tips from the experts.

Photo: James Ransom

Keeping a small closet neat poses plenty of organizational challenges, and that's true whether you use it to stash clothing, linens, or miscellaneous housewares. A custom closet system, like the Martha Stewart Everyday Organizing System by California Closets, is the most effective solution if you want to make the most of a small storage area, says Lauren Hill, divisional merchandise director at The Container Store. "For a small closet, you really have to maximize every inch of space and do so efficiently," she explains. "Most standard built-in closets do not utilize space efficiently, so a custom closet really is the best way to get the most out of your small space." But if that's not in your budget, know that you can rely on smart space-saving options instead.

Think About What You Need to Store

If you want to learn how to organize a small closet with lots of clothes, first it's critical to decide what you plan to keep in the closet. Do you need space for out-of-season clothes, sheets and comforters, or shoes and accessories? "Knowing how you want to use a space is key when trying to determine how to organize the space," says Neitra Rose of Organizing Lifestyles.

Once you know what's going inside the closet, be sure to separate your items by category; this will help you keep like items together. "To get really organized, you need to group your belongings, so everything has a designated space," says Hill. "Jeans in one place, jackets in another. Everything should have a home based off which items you use the most in your day-to-day life."

Stock Your Shelves

Many closets are built with just one or two upper shelves, which can be a prime spot for storing shoeboxes, sweaters, folded jeans, or bags—if you can make the most of the space, that is. Rose recommends adding stackable risers and shelf dividers to separate your categories and create more vertical storage. Thoughtfully-sized bins can also help you access every last inch. "Narrow shelves seem frustrating, but we design our bins and boxes specifically for those shelves," says Jimmy Seifert, closet buyer at The Container Store. "I would avoid round bins and go with something more square, so you utilize more of your space, creating modularity."

Make the Most of Floors and Doors

Your closet floor may currently be a dumping ground for everything from duffel bags to old sneakers, but it offers essential space that you can use for installing custom drawers, shoe racks, or other much-needed storage. "Clear up floor space by installing elevated drawers, wall hooks, and floating shelves," says Hill. Then look for hanging organizers for scarves, belts, or jewelry that optimize the back of your closet door. "Add over the door storage—it's underutilized in every home!" says Hill. "It's the free space of the closet!"

Store Small Items in Bins and Baskets

Everything from baseball hats and lightweight scarves to bathing suits and evening bags can find a home in a bin or basket. The material, lid options, and style you select ultimately comes down to personal preference. "When deciding bins or baskets you could have a mixture," says Rose. "There may be things you need access to easily"—so you'd want a basket with an open-top—"or something that can be stored away for occasional use"—better suited to a lidded bin.

"When determining clear or solid, is it something you want to be able to see and identify quickly, or is it a keepsake and you don't want to?" Solid fabric or woven bins in a neutral color scheme create a minimalist aesthetic that hides the visual chaos of your items. "Matching bins or hangers always transforms a space," says Seifert. "Try to avoid trendy, busy patterns so you don't feel like you have to replace your storage solutions often."

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