Monday, June 29, 2009

How to clean and organize a closet

My friend recently sent me a few pictures of a problem area in her home. Beth has a messy closet. Now trust me, there's nothing I love more than tearing into a messy closet and completely re-organizing it (what a freaky weirdo I am), so I couldn't resist posting my response to Beth's dilemma.

This is a topic I'm passionate about (I already mentioned I'm weird), so warning: this is the longest post ever!

First, let's see what we're dealing with here.

This actually isn't all that bad. In fact, there's a lot we can do here. Some options are easier, and others are harder. But rest assured, I have thought hard to come up with the most frugal solutions. Here we go.

Step 1: De-clutter
This is really the first step in any re-organization project. Now I won't tell Beth to get rid of some of her clothes... because she would probably punch me in the face. But for the rest of you, if you are de-cluttering a space, think long and hard about whether or not you really need all the things you have. Some questions to ask:

  • Do you use it?
  • When's the last time you used it?
  • Do you really, really like it?
  • Are you holding onto it for sentimental reasons?
Depending on how you answered these questions, you may want to consider donating some items to a local thrift store, having a garage sale to make some cash, giving unwanted things to a friend who might appreciate them more, or even just tossing them into the trash.

I'm not saying you have to ditch all your stuff, but my philosophy is to only make space in your home for the things you really love and actually use. Sure, I have a few items I've kept for nostalgia or sentimentality. But keeping a small squirrel knick-knack (which I can display and enjoy looking at) from my late great- grandmother makes a lot more sense than holding onto a wolf sweatshirt she bought me 10 years ago (that I have never worn).

Also if you are holding onto something because you feel guilty getting rid of it, let this be your excuse to donate or toss it. The "Kristi told me it's ok" reasoning has always been one of my favorite logics.

Step 2: Assessment/inventory
Before you run out and spend a million dollars on closet organizers and fancy storage containers, you need to really truly see what you have. It's true you may have a good *idea* of what you have, but even super organized people sometimes discover a long forgotten item in the back of a closet or drawer.

I like to face this step head on. Pull everything out. I mean everything. You can even just toss it into a huge pile on the floor. I like to make a few piles on my bed. I divide things into piles as follows:
  • Stuff I wear or use frequently (my favorite casual and work clothes)
  • Stuff that isn't used as much, but I do want to keep (special occasion dresses, extra bed linens)
  • Stuff that is in good condition that can be donated or sold
  • Stuff that can be tossed completely/trashed
Now that you know what you have to organize, you can buy the appropriate tools/organizers, come up with a plan, and get started.

Step 3: Plan where everything will go (and buy any needed materials)
I know it probably seems like I'm making the closet-cleaning process really complicated. But trust me, this will be the most effective way to maintain your tidiness after cleaning. If you come up with a plan for how you will organize your things, the rest is easy. When everything has a place, cleaning is truly a breeze. No worrying about where stuff goes or throwing it on the floor or in a corner until you can organize it later. Instead you can pick up your space within a few minutes by simply putting things back where they belong. (Here's another great post by one of my favorite bloggers about this.)

For Beth, I came up with a couple options. One is easier and probably cheaper, and the other is a little harder but will have a bigger payoff. Looking at the photo above, it looks like she has lots of clothes, some quilts and blankets, a few bags, and some shoes in this closet, so we will consider those items in our planning.

Option 1: Keep current closet structure, but introduce some new organizational tools.
Do not underestimate the power of some plastic bins and shelving units. Before Rob and I bought a house, we shared a crowded one bedroom apartment with limited closet space. Our single bedroom closet had to store both of our wardrobes, our extra blankets and pillows, our bath towels (no closet in the bathroom), and a few other random things. So here's what I did:

I put extra blankets in the plastic tote boxes/bins on each side. Since I don't need those things often, they didn't need to be as easily accessible. I bought the plastic shelving units (cheap at around $8-10 each, and you can always splurge for nicer wooden versions if you'd like) in for things like socks, underwear, belts, and some smaller things like tank tops and thin t-shirts, which can be folded and put in the drawers. Since we didn't have a linen closet in our bathroom, we needed easy access to our bathroom towels (which were very mis-matched since we couldn't afford a nice set at the time), so I put them on the lower of the two shelves. The shallow black box next to the towels contained my camera accessories (there's a lot of small ones, and I wanted a place to keep them all together).

I purchased a couple inexpensive canvas cloth boxes to put on the top shelf and hold things like winter hats, gloves, baseball caps, and so on. I've also got a plastic storage box with extra candles and home decor on the top shelf, simply because I had no other place to put it. I like clear plastic storage containers since it's easy to quickly find what you need, even if you have many boxes.

Looking back at my old apartment closet photo, if I had the funds back then, I would have had matching wooden hangers (they really make a closet look classy) and nicer storage containers (probably not cheap plastic ones). But it still looks like a pretty nice and organized closet, and that's why I'm suggesting that Beth buy a few inexpensive shelving units and some plastic bins to go under the hanging bar. I think there's a lot of unused space in that area

Here's another example of using clear plastic boxes for storage. This is the book shelf in the office/exercise room.

I have a lot of messy-looking art and craft supplies, yet they manage to look neat and tidy when organized like this. Plus it's super easy to find exactly what I'm looking for.

Continuing with my option #1, I think Beth should basically do wall to wall storage underneath her hanging clothes bar. She can leave her hanging clothes as is, and here's a couple of nice tools for organizing bags, purses, and belts:

Multiple-belt hanger from Target:

Multiple-belt hanger from the Container Store which also works well for hats and bags:

Or check out this awesome hanger from Target that allows you to hang four pairs of pants on one hanger:

Cascade hangers like this will also save you space and allow you to hang more things:

For shoes, I like a few different techniques. Beth can either purchase one of these, a hanging organizer ($6.99 each at Ikea):

(I'm betting she'll have some open room after she de-clutters and moves some of the smaller clothing items to the storage bins below), or she can create a special section of storage drawers in the floor area for shoes. Example:

These clear boxes (pictured above) are only $1.49 each (or 20 for $25 at the Container Store) and look very nice when stacked neatly in a closet.

Again, it's handy to use clear plastic containers so you can quickly find what you are looking for, but I also understand that many want a more classic furniture choice, like these:

Another nice option is this shoe organizer from Ikea. It could be mounted on the shorter back wall of the closet since it's very shallow and that space might not otherwise be utilized as effectively. Any of these options work; the point is that shoes must be contained rather than thrown in a pile on the floor.

Finally we have the top shelf, which is so far totally open with our new plan. This would be a great place to hold up any extra quilts or blankets. Sometimes they look pretty and colorful on their own (as long as they're neatly folded), or you can get some storage containers for them as well.

General closet cleaning tip: Everything looks nicer when it's in a box or basket.

So if you've got a pile of stuff, consider purchasing something for it to live in. There are cheap options at Ikea, Home Goods, and Target. Here's a few examples:

And of course, if the boxes and matches match or coordinate, things look even more put-together and tidy (even if the contents of the boxes are a mess).

Option 2: Tear it all out and start from scratch
This is the tougher option, but I promise it pays off in the end. When I read design magazines, the pros are always saying you need to maximize your storage space by going all the way to the ceiling. Therefore my second idea includes ripping out the closet's current shelf and adding a bar at the top of the ceiling. This will provide stacked hanging areas, which instantly doubles the amount of storage for clothes. Some examples:

It's actually not hard to add a second clothes hanger, and you will be amazed at the extra space you gain. Here's a little cheat way to make a 2nd clothing bar after you raise the top one:

The 2nd bar is only $9.99 at the Container Store.

If you aren't very tall, like me, the top hanger can sometimes be harder to reach. That's why you put your less frequently used items up there.

Since two clothes hangers provides so much more storage instantly, I would recommend only doing a full bar across on one side. I'd do a half bar on the other side, and complete that side with floor to ceiling shelves and bins. You have the option of buying the materials and building the shelves yourself (cheaper or option) or buying pre-made closet organizational units to install (more expensive but easier option). Your particular possessions will determine the size of these shelves and bins, but it's generally nice to have a good variety. This will take care of any items that Beth chooses not to hang, like extra blankets and shoes.

Here's an example of the other closet from our old apartment. It's sort of raw looking (we couldn't do much since it was a rental), but one half had a hanging bar and the other half is floor to ceiling shelves (hanging side not shown). TONS of handy, functional storage.

The second option really will add a lot more usable space to the closet. Here's a few photos demonstrating the style of closet I'm talking about (double hanging clothes combined with custom shelving:

So there you have it. How to clean and organize a closet, plus some advice for my friend Beth on how to tackle her organizational problem. Hope you enjoyed this information (and total rambling by Kristi). If you are inspired to clean your closet now (or invite me over to do it for you), please be sure to take a before and after pic and send them our way.


shannon lee July 1, 2009 at 4:55 PM  

i LOVE organizing! and i loved your post! from someone who totally color coordinates her day planner and life, sometimes hour-by-hour, this is fantastic, kristi! :)

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