Hints for Closet Organizing

In far too many homes, organizing stops at the closet door. The rest of the home is immaculate and neat, but open the closet and you see why: Everything's been thrown haphazardly in there. Finding what you need becomes a chore of wading through boxes and bins.

Having an organized home isn't about hiding your clutter, it's about having places where things live and are easy to find. It may take some up-front effort to make closet organization a reality in your home, but your reward will be a neater, more efficient place to live. Here's some tips to get started.

Start with a Clean Slate
That means emptying your closet as a first step. Give it a good cleaning, top to bottom, dusting off shelves, polishing hanging racks, sweeping and washing walls and floors. Is it a dark closet? Install a light fixture or a battery-operated light. One main reason things disappear in the closet is because it's too dark to see what's in there.

With the closet empty, you're ready to start organizing. Think about how you want to use this closet, keeping in mind that it's new use doesn't have to be the same as its old use. Start with location; if the closet is in the bedroom, it's likely to be a clothes closet. If it's near the bathroom, it could be an ideal linen closet.

Creating Organized Space
Here's the simplest way to keep that closet from getting cluttered again: subdivide the space in a functional way. Hanging a second clothes rod in a clothing closet will give you more storage space and make it impossible for you to stuff large boxes or your mountain bike in there. Spacing shelves in your linen closet 14" apart will send everyone in the home looking for another place to hide old photo albums or table tamps. As an added bonus, subdividing keeps everything in easy reach and lends itself well to sorting.

There's no shortage of closet organizing products on the market. You can spend thousands on a custom-designed storage solution or a few dollars on shelving and brackets. As long as the space is divided, preferably into spaces that will only accommodate certain types of things, the plan will work.

Start with a list of items that belong in the closet, then figure out how much you have and how much you need at any given time. Seasonal clothing doesn't need a permanent home in the clothes closet. Those Christmas decorations hiding in the linen closet probably need a permanent home elsewhere.

Armed with your inventory and needs, start looking for ways to subdivide the space. While you will want to have a little extra room for things, such as space for seven pairs of shoes instead of five, don't give yourself so much extra room that you're tempted to start throwing unrelated items into a space.

Do try to combine like uses as much as possible to impose a logic on your closets. Bowling balls and tennis rackets could occupy the same location, unless you're in a weekly league and need to keep the ball handy. Beach towels and winter afghans could live on the bottom shelf of the linen closet, as long as there's room for the linens you currently need.

Recycle wherever you can. Shirt boxes are perfect for storing photos, cards and letters. Shoe boxes will hold bulkier items, such as small toys or craft materials. Save jelly and baby food jars to hold those loose screws, thumb tacks and hooks that every home seems to accumulate.

Sorting Through the Stuff
Once you've subdivided, you're ready to start reloading that closet. Start by sorting the contents you removed. As you sort, set aside anything you haven't used in more than a year and label that for storage in a garage or basement. If it's clothing that's unused, or something you know you won't use again, why not give it away to a charity that will find a very good use for it? Replace the items that you set aside with things you use frequently. 

Use sticky notes to identify and label anything that really needs to move to another location. Use this approach carefully, or you'll simply end up moving one closet mess to another closet. It's helpful to keep separate boxes or bins with you when you clean out a closet, one for every other room in the house. That way, you can fill them as you go along, and make just one trip when returning the misplaced items to their rightful locations.

Keep a couple of rags and some polish in your apron pockets, and clean up and wipe down items before you return them to the closet. Set aside coats and gowns for dry-cleaning if necessary. Scrub the mud off of boots and empty all pockets.

It's sometimes helpful to keep a small hamper or clothes basket in each clothes closet. That way, you can be reasonably sure that children won't re-hang dirty clothes or just drop them on the floor instead of making a special trip to the laundry hamper.

When you're done organizing your closet, post a list of its contents on the inside of the door. No more guessing, no more rummaging.

Sticking to Your Organization Plan
While the hard work of organizing is behind you, the toughest part is still to come: keeping things where they belong. This takes a little discipline and some flexibility. If something keeps finding its way to the wrong closet over and over again, it probably belongs there after all. If you think that putting things back in place is a waste of time, think about the time you've spent tearing your home apart to find something.

Don't be afraid to adapt your organization once it's in place. Our schedules and needs change throughout the year, so what works in spring may be inconvenient come fall. Here, it can help to take a whole-home view of closet organization.

For example, assume that a home has a front closet, a linen closet, a clothes closet and a storage closet in a seldom-used room. The front closet should be where the things you need every day (or almost every day) are kept, such as coats, umbrellas, shoes, backpacks and sports equipment. Anything that you don't need for a few months goes into the storage closet in that seldom-used room, so there'll be a seasonal exchange between that closet and the front closet.

As for the linen and clothing closets, use them for weekly items. Whenever something slips out of the weekly rotation, such as wool sweaters or winter blankets, send it off to the storage closet. If the storage closet starts getting full, it's time to box things up for the attic or the garage.

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