How to Organize a Small Closet, According to Netflix’s Hottest Declutterers
Why does it feel as though no closet, no matter the size, ever seems to fit all our things in a neat or practical way? There’s always some wonky corner we need to work around, or a rod that’s too short, or shelves that don’t quite work the way we’d like them to. That said, we can all use a few tips, tricks and storage solutions to make the most of even the smallest space.
Enter: Joanna Teplin and Clea Shearer, who definitely know a thing or two about organizing. They’re the duo behind The Home Edit, an organizing service-turned-empire that became famous for their Instagram photos of the spaces they’ve overhauled—often brightly lit, with items arranged by color in clear containers labeled in Shearer’s handwriting (which became so popular she started selling custom ones online for $10 apiece). So naturally, we turned to the New York Times best-selling authors and Netflix stars to learn their methods.
Here, how to organize a small closet—as told by the great minds of The Home Edit (and a few tips that we've learned along the way, too).
1. Start by Taking a Step Back
Before touching anything, look at your entire closet as a whole. Where do you see large swaths of blank space? “The negative space is where the opportunities are,” Shearer says. Often, the floor, door and top of the closet are under (or poorly) utilized.
If you have every square inch crammed full, you might want to start by paring down. Sort things into piles to donate, toss and keep before you begin organizing.
2. Send Out-of-Season Clothes Skyward
People often intend to store out-of-season clothes in the attic or under the bed, but who makes the time to actually schlep that stuff from your closet to their temporary home and back? The top shelf of your closet is perfect for this stuff. “I don’t label them ‘summer’ or ‘winter’—they’re just seasonal bins that are easy to trade out,” Teplin explains. “You don’t want anything to be too hard to put away.”
3. Take Advantage of Your Door
Add more room for clothes, shoes and accessories with a hook rack that slips over the top of the door. You can also add your own stick-on hooks at need for things like belts, scarves, hats or handbags.
Shearer and Teplin often hang Command hooks along the inside of the door to store lightweight items that are used daily, like scarves, hats and purses. “It frees up so much shelf space in the closet,” Shearer says. Plus, keeping those finishing touches within arm’s reach as you walk out the door helps remind you to actually wear them.
4. Double Your Hanging Potential
If you have only one clothing rod in your closet, you’re doing it wrong. By folding jeans and dresses, you can easily hold two tiers of clothing, effectively doubling your closet space. And, if your ceilings are high enough, you may even be able to squeeze in a third.
5. Give Yourself Some Breathing Room
At this point, your temptation may be to fill in every last nook and cranny with stuff, but all that visual clutter will only stress you out. Part of what makes The Home Edit’s look so alluring—beyond the strangely pleasing effect of seeing a rainbow of products—is how they space things out. Clothes and shoes can be close together, but they’re never jam-packed. That little “breathing room” goes a long way in helping you see what you actually have—and put it to use without fearing an avalanche of Zara dresses will rain upon you.
6. Skip the Wire Baskets
Containers can be great for corralling anything you can’t hang up, but there’s one style that Teplin tries to avoid: wire baskets. “Things fall through the slots, and because there’s no concealment—and there’s the grid [from the wire]—everything tends to look cluttered in them,” she says. They’re also bad news for your furniture. “We’re all about a damage-free lifestyle, and those can scrape up shelves.”
7. Keep Your Labels Vague
One of the biggest mistakes people make is getting too granular with the labels on their containers. “It pigeonholes you,” Teplin says. “Unless you have many hats or scarves, you probably don’t need a bin for each.” (To that end, it can also inadvertently breed clutter: Suddenly, you get really into headbands and buy three, but they’re not technically “hats” so you don’t want to put them in your hat bin, and they’re too big for the hair ties pouch, so you wind up tossing them, uh, wherever.)
Instead, focus more on categories: If your kid is into soccer and dance, maybe there’s one “soccer” bin in the closet and another “dance” bin for dance gear. If you can’t stop buying leggings because they’re so great for long sessions on your sofa bingeing Love Is Blind, maybe you need a “Netf-leisure” bin. Do you.
8. Stow Coats and Jackets Over Dresses
Not every item in your closet needs its own hanger. Have your hangers pull double duty and free up some much-needed space on your closet rod by slipping outerwear over dresses you wear less often (like wedding guests dresses, cocktail attire or other occasion wear).
9. Use Flat Velvet Hangers
It’s really remarkable how quickly using the wrong hangers can shrink your closet space. A matching line of slim-fit hangers helps everything to lay flat and orderly, while the velvet offers enough grip to prevent skinny straps or lightweight tops from slipping. (One thing to note: Heavy wool coats and malleable leather jackets should still be stored on sturdier hangers with a bit more shoulder support.)
And just because you should be using a row of velvet hangers doesn’t mean they need to all be black, or even one single color, for that matter. If you subscribe to the NYC uniform (aka all black everything), white or lightly colored hangers will prevent your closet from turning into a black hole from which nothing can ever be found. Or you can hang black, navy and other dark items on white hangers and use black hangers for your bright summer pieces.
10. Tuck Belts Into an Open Handbag
Make the most of all the available space in your closet, even the spaces within your clothing and accessories themselves. Instead of hanging your belts on a hook, roll them up and tuck them into an empty bag. Pro tip: If you’re the type of person who tends to forget what she owns if she can’t actually see it (just like yours truly), leave one end of the belt draped over the top of the bag as a visual reminder of what’s in there.
11. Try Shelf Dividers for Stacking
Easily maintain your stacks of sweaters, T-shirts and tops with the help of minimalist dividers or drop-front sweater boxes. Now you can feel free to grab that bottom cardigan without fear of the entire pile coming tumbling down and adding an annoying extra ten minutes of folding to your morning.
12. Remove Your Shoes
As much as you’d like to stuff everything into your closet, shut the door and call it a day, sometimes you have to admit that you just don’t have the space to fit everything. Shoes tend to take up a lot of room, so it might be the case that they’re better off in their own little storage space. Vertical shoe cubbies are easily stacked in a corner out of the way without taking up too much of your floor.
13. Create a Specific Home for Everything
Our girl Marie Kondo is a particular fan of this method, and after testing it for ourselves, we’re definitely on board, too. Rather than hanging your clothes randomly, come up with an ordered system that assigns a home to every piece you own (and easily dictates where new items will go). For example, you can order tops by sleeve length or color (or both!). Hang dresses by season or occasion, i.e., all your work dresses go first, followed by weekend wear and finishing up with fancy cocktail and wedding guest options.
15. Commit to Staying Organized
You can buy all the cool gadgets, gizmos and storage fixers you want, but if you’re not willing to put in a little effort on your end, things are likely to turn messy again soon. Make a conscious effort to put clothes away after trying them on or at the end of the day. Fold your sweaters before you stack them. Put things back in their original place, rather than tossing them wherever.