7 Commandments of an Organized Closet
We're all familiar with the cyclical process of closet cleaning: It fills up with piles of clothing and shoes and accessories we don’t wear and forget we even own, we let it grow out of control for a year (or two), then we spend an intense 48 hours trying to wrangle it back into order. And the process begins again. But what if there was a way to skip the exhausting marathon decluttering session and maintain a clutter-free closet? Some organizing experts think it’s possible—as long as you set a few ground rules. Once you’ve done the hard work of decluttering, following these seven guidelines every day will prevent your closet from descending into chaos. These mini moves, like keeping every item visible and leaving a giveaway bag right on the shelf, may be the secret to a perpetually-clean closet.
Prioritize Where You Position Things
“Be mindful of accessibility when placing items in the closet,” says Amelia Meena, a professional organizer and founder of Appleshine. “ Less frequently used items (bathing suits, snow gear, etc.) should go up high and out of reach. Items you use regularly (everyday wardrobe pieces, kids’ toys, or supplies) should be at eye-level and easy to access,” she explains. Don’t waste prime real estate by placing your favorite party dress that you only wear a couple times per year in the front of your closet, but save that spot for the go-to white shirt you wear to work every week.
On that same note, don’t overlook the hard-to-reach spots—they’re perfect for items you don’t need often. “Put out-of-season clothing in stackable bins on the shelf. Handbags can also be stored up high, as can extra bed linens,” recommends Nicole Anzia, the founder of the D.C.-based home organizing company Neatnik. As you return items to your closet each day, consider the next time you’ll likely use that piece. Will you reach for it within a couple days? It belongs in the front. Unlikely you’ll wear those stilettos anytime soon? They belong on the back row of your shoe rack.
Give Every Item a Home
It may be hard to resist the urge to throw all of your clothes or shoes into a big pile, but if you assign each item a specific spot, it gets easier. Sometimes, buying specific organizers for items you own a lot of can help, explains Anzia. “Don’t let your shoes pile up in a mess on the floor. Use a shoe rack to create more surfaces to store everyday shoes,” she says. Similarly, if you have a large collection of scarves, consider investing in a scarf hanger so you always know where they belong, rather than shoving them into a drawer. Anzia also recommends adding wall hooks for holding the handbags or pajamas you reach for every day. If you have a home for every item, but your closet is still crammed, take it as a sign. “If you can’t get things in and out easily, you need to purge something,” she says.
Keep Everything Visible
One of the most important rules of closet cleaning is that if you can’t see it, you’re probably not going to remember to wear it. To make sure you’re not accidentally limiting your wardrobe, Karin Socci, the professional organizer behind The Serene Home, says: “Everything should be visible. That means that nothing should be stuck in the back and nothing doubled up on hangers.” Anzia also thinks visibility is key. “Having everything hung at the same height and on the same hanger makes it easier to see your clothes,” she explains. To save space while keeping the type of hanger consistent, choose a thin, space-saving option. For accessories like jewelry and hats, this guideline means using a clear acrylic jewelry tray or installing wall hooks for your hat collection.
If you commit to following this simple rule every day, it also means one more thing: No more piles. When things are piled, whether clothes or shoes, it’s impossible to see the items at the bottom. Instead, take a moment to replace each item where you can see it. When you can see everything you own, it may also inspire you to get more creative with your wardrobe choices and wear those funky earrings you forgot all about.
Always Be Editing
While this may sound overwhelming, editing as you go is actually less taxing than a big purge. And all three professional organizers agree that editing is essential. “If you can get rid of anything that doesn’t belong/fit/work anymore, it will free up valuable (and much needed) space for the rest of your belongings,” Meena says.
To make it easy on yourself, Anzia suggests keeping a giveaway bag right in your closet. “Don’t wait to do the twice-a-year purge that will require a big chunk of time and emotional energy. Instead, put clothes that no longer fit or that you no longer wear in the bag on an ongoing basis,” she says. When the bag is full, drop it off for donation.
If you have a hard time deciding what to let go of, Socci suggests adopting a bit of the Marie Kondo method. Hold the item and ask yourself some tough questions: “Do you love this? Do you like the way it feels? Do you look forward to putting it on?” If the answer is “No,” into the giveaway bag it goes.
Divide and Conquer Clutter
Sometimes, the key to keeping a clean closet is remembering to utilize all of the storage spaces outside of it. If you have the option to split the contents of your wardrobe between both the closet and a dresser, Meena recommends separating items by use. “Items that make up your daily ‘uniform’ should be hung in the closet; other items, like loungewear, workout clothes, and undergarments can be contained in the chest of drawers,” she says. Then, follow your own rules every day and keep pieces where they belong. Don’t let loungewear work its way into your closet, or it will quickly exceed capacity.
Don’t Go Overboard With Containers
You may want to believe that bins and baskets are the cure-all for clutter, but according to Meena, they can also be blackholes for stuff. “Use them when it makes sense (one bin for all the dog’s stuff), but do without if they’re not required (items that stack neatly like board games or jeans),” she says. When possible, use shelf dividers rather than baskets to hold sweaters or jeans that you don’t want to hide, but still want to look neat. Remember Rule No. 3: You want to keep as much of the contents of the closet visible as possible, and too many containers will only hide your belongings from you.
Make It Easy on Yourself (Seriously)
“If something is not easy to return, clutter is sure to follow,” Socci says. It may sound obvious, but if you create a system that’s easy to maintain, it’s way more likely you’ll keep it up. Give yourself the best shot at maintaining a clutter-free closet by making it easy and practical to put things back where they belong. Don’t think about what the motivated, morning you is willing to do, but channel the tired, end-of-the-day you, because that’s how you’ll likely feel when you’re putting away clothes before bed. If you’re too tired to get out a step stool to place a sweater back on the top shelf, it will most likely end up thrown on the floor or flung on an armchair. If it’s too taxing for tired you, make it easier.