If a peek into any of your closets—in the kitchen, in the hallway, in the bedrooms—reveals a situation that can kindly be called chaotic, it may be time for an intervention. What’s called for: problem-solving products (like wire shelf dividers that keep unstable things upright and tidy, and hanging canvas shelves to keep foldables neat), space-saving ideas, and some tough-love editing. See how Real Simple cleaned up one family’s closets—and find inspiration for your home, too.
2 of 13Jeff McNamara
The Pantry: Before
Jostling up against the pancake mix, the peanut butter, and the plastic grocery bags filled with mysterious contents (which everyone has to dig into to figure out what’s there) are a silver coffeepot, the odd pan, and―wait: Is that a broom? The mission: Simplify, simplify. Restrict the pantry to (mostly) food and paper goods, and make it easier to see and grab the contents and feed hungry mouths ASAP.
Purge. Anything that doesn’t belong will get ruthlessly weeded out, consigned either to the trash bin or to an appropriate closet or cupboard.
Improve access. Given the pantry’s deep shelves, sliding shelf organizers will make life―and finding what you’re looking for―much easier. Just pull the drawer out on its rails and whatever is in back is right up front in a second.
Expand the space. Expanding wire racks will double the shelf area: Some things go under them, others on top (much safer than stacking cans). A shoe organizer on the closet door will provide storage for small packages easily lost on shelves and for things used on a daily basis.
Consolidate and clarify. Everything that comes in awkward or space-hogging boxes or bags―pasta, cereal, chips―will be poured into transparent bulk plastic containers that store foods compactly and let you see immediately what’s inside.
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The Pantry: After
The Solutions • An expanding shelf ($22, stacksandstacks.com) provides upper- and lower-deck storage for items like paper goods (stacked so they take up less space, and unwrapped so plates don’t have to be wrestled out of a plastic sheath every time the family dines alfresco).
• The top rows of an over-the-door shoe organizer ($15, containerstore.com) keep vitamins and medicines out of kids’ reach but handy for Mom and Dad.
• Clear bins ($10 to $20 each, containerstore.com) make inventories for food shopping a snap. A frosted plastic bin ($30, tupperware.com) holds several boxes of oatmeal packets; kids reach in for one, then snap the airtight lid shut.
• Roll-out drawers mean no more rummaging blindly for what’s been shoved to the back of the shelves (ClosetMaid 14-inch sliding one-tier organizer, $25, and 14-inch two-tier cabinet organizer, $51, closetmaid.com).
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The Hall Closet: Before
The family catchall holds coats, hats, and boots, of course, but also board games, kids’ artwork, the wedding china . And all that clutter makes it difficult (not to mention potentially embarrassing) to hang guests’ coats. The mission: Accommodate the many functions of the space—but manage the chaos.
Redistribute. With the kitchen table (a.k.a. Crafts Central) close by, the art makes sense here, but other things don’t. The games, for example, will go to the kids’ rooms, and the dishes will be banished to a basement shelf while the homeowners search for just the right china cabinet (and bookcases and ). Outgrown and outdated coats will be donated to charity.
Contain. The art will find a home in stacking boxes—no more loose piles cascading onto unsuspecting heads. A short open bin will keep snowy boots and muddy shoes off the floor, while a tall, cylindrical one will get baseball bats, tennis rackets, and the odd golf club out from underfoot.
Set up for quick exits. Hanging storage units will make it easy to snatch hats and gloves on the fly as the family heads out the door.
Create a kid zone. To help them access their things with fewer “Mom’s!” (and closet dismantlings), assign children the lower compartments of hanging shelves, and suspend an expander bar from the rod to keep their jackets within easy reach.
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The Hall Closet: After
The Solutions • Outdoor musts (sunscreen, scarves) are in hanging storage units (hanging sweater shelves, $20, containerstore.com; hanging hosiery organizer, $6, amazon.com).
• An expander bar ($29 for two, organize.com) hung from a section of the closet pole holds kids’ coats where they can reach them (and, just maybe, put them away?).
“Well, we call it the linen closet,” says the home owner of this space, where a tangle of sleeping bags, suitcases, and vacuum-cleaner attachments overwhelms the few sheets and pillowcases buried on built-in shelves tucked into a corner. “Half the time you can’t open the doors because the luggage straps are caught on them.” The mission: Put linens at center stage, and shift things used less often into the wings.
Shelve it. Linen closets need shelves, not a hanging rod, so the rod will be jettisoned to make way for two freestanding shelf units. Each cubby will hold one room’s worth of bed linens, while towels stack neatly on top.
Move it up. Suitcases will be consigned to the shelf above where the rod was and the top built-in shelves. A simple screw hook will get the vacuum attachments out of the way and up onto the wall.
Pack it away. Big, clear plastic bins will store winter comforters, sleeping bags, and extra blankets. Look for containers with airtight seals to keep things from getting musty; no need, then, for mothballs or cedar.
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The Linen Closet: After
• Plastic storage bins ($11, organize.com) easily slide on and off the deep built-in shelves.
• Labels affixed to shelves can designate cubbies for each bedroom or for different sizes of towels and sheets. (Brass label holders, $6.50 for five, etsy.com.)
• Steal extra space by storing garment bags and smaller suitcases inside larger ones.
8 of 13Jeff McNamara
The Master-Bedroom Closet: Before
Clothes and accessories clog rods, shelves, and the floor, with no separation between his and her things. Plus, the home owners are walking on piles of stuff, and there’s nowhere to put anything down. “A total mosh pit,” is how one of them described it. The mission: Designate a side of the closet for each partner, make assembling a day’s outfit fast and painless, and open up space in which the husband and wife can move about or even dress.
Chuck it. First, the closet’s contents will be rigorously culled. “We have a lot of unnecessary clothes—old stuff, ’70s stuff I’m not bringing back,” says the wife.
Hang it. Order will be imposed by organizing folded shirts, sweaters, and jeans by color and weight on hanging shelves and wire racks. Items on hangers will move from casual (front of closet) to dressy.
Tame the shoes. The husband’s and wife’s shoes will be separated: His will be lined up on the floor, within reach but out of the way, while her larger, more unruly collection will be contained in its own shoe cupboard with pull-down drawers.
Stow the accessories. The wife’s bags will be lined up on her top shelf, arranged by color and separated by dividers to keep them from falling over when she retrieves one. Hats will stay in sight and dust-free in stacked clear plastic hatboxes. And his ties will stay together, tidy, and accessible on an over-the-door rack.
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The Master-Bedroom Closet: After
• Wooden hangers ($3 to $4 each, containerstore.com) replace plastic and wire ones. The rod looks neater, and delicate fabrics run less risk of snagging and stretching.
• An over-the-door rack ($10, closetmaid.com) displays each of the husband’s ties in an individual loop. He can scan them with a glance, pick one, and be on his way.
• The existing wire-rack system holds some of the husband’s folded clothes, while the rest go on hanging shelves ($20, containerstore.com), as the wife’s do.
• An ottoman provides a seat when the husband’s shoes need a quick polish. Under the removable top: a perfect place to stash clothes bound for the dry cleaner. (See a similar style, $60, at target.com.)
10 of 13Jeff McNamara
The Boys’ Bedroom Closet: Before
In the boys’ shared closet, it’s overabundance times two, including Halloween costumes, baseball uniforms, and umpteen identical outfits courtesy of doting grandparents. Sleeping bags and backpacks upholster the floor. The mission: Divide (the space) and conquer (the clutter).
Clear out. Coats will go to the hall closet, comforters and sleeping bags to the linen closet, outgrown things to charity.
Divvy up. Each boy will get his own half of the closet below the bar. Red hangers will be used for one son’s clothes and blue ones for the other’s, to accentuate the distinction and make putting away laundry easier. Hanging shelves housing their hat collection will serve as a divider.
Fold. The Universal Law of Boys’ Closets dictates that folding trumps hanging, so cubbies and hanging shelves will come in handy. Clothes will be folded (or rolled) and grouped on shelves by style, weight, or color. A floor locker will give the boys one drawer each for their uniforms and sports gear, plus space for shoes above and below.
Stow. Since the boys are close in age and tend to dress alike, their off-season things—stored in see-through bins on the top shelf—will be sorted by size and type, rather than by what belongs to whom.
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The Boys’ Bedroom Closet: After
• A wooden step stool (see a similar style, $20, ikea.com) lets the boys reach the clothes on their color-coded hangers (plastic hangers, 30 cents each, containerstore.com).
• These mesh hanging shelves ($20, containerstore.com) will stand up to the wear and tear sports-mad boys dish out.
• Clear plastic bins ($12 each, organizeit.com) help Mom quickly locate stored clothes, which had been stuffed into two big opaque tubs.
• Folded clothes go into twin metal drawers; two shelves stash things for quick access; casters make it all mobile, allowing the unit to be rolled out for vacuuming (see a similar style, $345, amazon.com).
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The Girl’s Bedroom Closet: Before
From the midline up, relative calm; below, a no-man’s-land of princess costumes, toys, and shoes. “[My daughter] loves to play dress-up. She’s in here changing three or four times a day, and I’m in here rebuilding her closet every night,” says the mom. The mission: Make play clothes and toys easy to grab and put away, and get everything else out of reach. Result: more autonomy for the daughter, less time on cleanup duty for Mom.
Hang it. After things that have accidentally snuck in or no longer fit are purged, casual clothes will be folded and arranged on hanging shelves. Dresses will be hung on protective padded hangers.
Move it up. Messy art supplies and anything else the daughter needs permission to play with will be tucked into storage boxes stacked on the top shelf.
Toss it in. Things that see frequent use will go into a chest of floor-level drawers a child can get at easily.
Line them up. Shoes will be arranged on the floor. Straightening them should take “all of two minutes,” says the mom, “and it’s the only cleanup I’ll have to do here.”
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The Girl’s Bedroom Closet: After
• Padded children’s hangers ($10 for four, containerstore.com) keep fancy clothes from slipping off and help dresses hold their shape.
• Hanging shelves ($20, containerstore.com) to the rescue again. Everyday clothes are at the bottom, where the daughter can reach them.
• Canvas-covered storage boxes (see a similar style, $14 each, walmart.com) are labeled, so telling paintbrushes from pastels is a cinch.
• A versatile cart rolls in easily under hanging clothes (see a similar style, $105, target.com).