crowded closet filled with tons of clothes

Here are 11 simple and practical tips, tools, and guidelines for organizing your clothes and closets.

1) Edit your wardrobe.

Really. As in other areas of life, more isn’t better if the volume of things makes using those things difficult and challenging. It’s common knowledge among professional organizers that we typically wear 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time. Are you the exception? If not, take a long, good look at your clothes and decide what you wear most, least, and not at all. Remember to focus NOT on letting things go and feeling the loss—focus instead on finally having enough room in your closet to see your clothes and easily get to the things you like to wear every day. It’s much easier to sustain a positive feeling than to work through a negative one. Bonus points for the sympathetic joy you’ll experience knowing that everything you donate will bring happiness to someone else. Garments that are damaged, stained, stretched out, or shrunk get recycled.

2) If you can see it, you can find it.

The whole point of a closet is to gather your clothing into one room—so you can easily find and access things. After you’ve edited your clothes, now you need to arrange them.

Instead of relying on lots of gimmicky tools to cram more into the closet than you need—see #1 above—let’s be smart about how you store things so you can easily see them and retrieve them … and even more importantly, put them away.

Every step you have to take to put something away becomes a potential obstacle to using something. This applies outside of the closet as well, so keep that in mind when cooking up clever ways to store things that involve multiple moving parts. If it’s too cumbersome, you’ll stop using your clever solution faster than you can say, “This sucks. Who thought this up anyway?!”

That said, there are plenty of specialty organizing devices on the market—try them out in the store before you bring them home. Sure they seem like great ideas in The Container Store. How likely are you to actually use those tiered hangers to stack your skirts or pants? Or will you just wear the top one over and over again because it’s easy to get to?

3) Pick a system for storing shoes.

Choose one and stop fussing and confusing yourself. The best choice is the one that maximizes your storage space and is easy to use. Remember, cumbersome will be a burden when you’re in a rush regardless of how pretty it looks in a magazine. Really consider how you live then choose between a shoe rack on the floor, hanging shoe organizers, see-through plastic boxes, or even the original shoe boxes (with photos attached to the ends or sides of them so you can easily see what’s inside the opaque box).

4) Rotate clothes seasonally, either inside the closet or between closets.

For those of us in urban areas without attics, basements, or other auxiliary storage spaces, it can be helpful to swap out clothes you won’t be wearing for a few seasons. No need to keep the shorts front and center during a New England winter. Likewise your bulky sweaters don’t need to be taking up prime real estate in your Los Angeles closet in July.

5) Organize hanging garments by type and color.

Slacks, trousers, jeans, shirts, jackets, and blouses should all be sorted first by sleeve length and then by shade. The second leg of The Organizational Triangle® is Like With Like—using it to arrange your clothing means that you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for as soon as you open the closet door.

If you’re a bit fussier, you may want something like dividers to clearly mark where one section ends and another begins.

6) Choose the right hanger.

Your closet will look neater and function easier if you use just one type of hanger—wood, wire, or plastic. The one exception is for jackets and coats—they need sculpted jacket hangers to keep the shape of the shoulders from sagging and puckering.

7) Set up zones.

Just like in the kitchen, keep zones of kinds of clothes in mind when deciding where to store what. No point in wasting tall storage with short skirts and blouses—use it for longer dresses and slacks. Find a low rod for those shorter garments. Don’t be afraid of getting a step stool out to help you reach high shelves—they are great places to stash out-of-season sweaters, shoes, and other accessories.

8) Arrange folded items.

Don’t shove them on a shelf in a random stack. You don’t want to fight your way through a bunch of sweatshirts to get to your cashmere knit set. Any clothing that will stretch out of shape should never be hung on a hanger—you could drape it over the rod but it’ll take up more space that way and be harder to spot when searching for it.

When organizing folded clothing on shelves, place heavier, bulkier items at the bottom of each stack, and lighter ones at the top. After folding them in a uniform way, arrange the garments by function (workout clothes, casual tops, business or dressier tops, etc.) and then by color (white to nude to bright colors to black).

9) Use garment bags.

The preferred material is canvas for garment bags—not vinyl or any other kind of plastic or synthetic material. You want something that breathes while also protecting your fine suits, dresses, and jackets.

10) Deal with dry cleaning when you get it home.

Don’t wait until you’re racing around to try to rip something out of those plastic bags and then leave the crumpled bag on your closet floor. When you bring things home from the dry cleaners, take a few minutes to remove everything from the dry-cleaning bags and transfer them onto your own hangers. Be a sport and then return the wire hangers to your dry cleaner for reuse or recycling.

11) Contain what doesn’t hang.

Corral any odd shaped, fine, or otherwise hard to stack or hang items into containers. Custom drawers are a great choice if you have them and avoid lids if you will struggle with them and end up leaving them on the closet floor to save time. Better to consider this when shopping for baskets or bins. Remember Like With Like when storing socks, undergarments, and single types of accessory, like scarves, hats, gloves, and small bags or clutches.

Today’s challenge: Set a timer for 60 seconds and settle into your breath, then set the timer for 10 minutes. Review your closet for 8 minutes. Take notes about what you need to do and then use the remaining 2 minutes to schedule a 2-3 hour appointment with yourself on your next day off to get your closet into shape.

BONUS: Bring a bag or box with you to the closet and gather everything you’re already sure you’re finished with to take to a thrift store or consignment shop when you leave the house next.

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About The Author

Andrew Mellen's picture

Andrew Mellen is an organizational expert, public speaker, and the #1 best-selling author of Unstuff Your Life!

Andrew has helped tens of thousands of people worldwide to declutter and simplify their lives while regaining time for the things that matter.

A sought-after authority on organizing and productivity, Andrew's addressed audiences from The Great British Business Show to TEDx. 

Corporate clients include American Express, Genentech, NetApp, Time, Inc., and the US Depts. of Education and Homeland Security.

The media has dubbed Andrew “The Most Organized Man in America.” He writes a featured column called “Ask The Organizer” in Real Simple. In addition, he has written for and/or appeared in: The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, America Now, The Lisa Oz Show, The Nate Berkus Show, Oprah & Friends, Martha Stewart Living Today, ABC, NBC, CBS, CW11, HGTV, DIY Network, LiveWell Network, KnowMoreTV, Better Homes & Gardens, Ladies' Home Journal, Woman's Day, Family Circle, USA Today, GQ, InStyle, All You, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Healthy UK, American Way, numerous trade and travel publications, and NPR.

He leads workshops and speaks internationally while maintaining a private practice working with clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies, trade associations, and non-profits to CEOs, award-winning filmmakers, and authors, as well as overwhelmed parents everywhere. 

In 2013, Andrew founded Unstuff U®, the world's first completely virtual personal organization training center, offering classes, workshops, and other online resources for businesses and individuals. 

Andrew is a member of the Experts Collective and serves on the faculty of the New York Open Center in New York City. He speaks frequently on the intersection of spirituality and organization at places including Omega Institute, San Francisco Zen Center, Tassajara, All Saints Church, JCC Manhattan, and the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, among others.

Previously, Andrew was an award-winning playwright, actor, producer, and director and the former Artistic Director of Alice B. Theater (Seattle), DC Arts Center (Washington, DC), and Shuttle Theater Company (New York). He is a contributing author to Yes Is the Answer: (And Other Prog-Rock Tales).

Andrew lives by his motto: More Love, Less Stuff!® 

Find him on the web at andrewmellen.com.

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