Tuesday Tips: Organizing Your Closets

How many times have you stuffed an unwanted item in the back of a closet? Eventually those little rooms in our houses start busting at the seams and next thing you know, a simple outdoor excursion that requires a coat turns into a heap of stuff on the floor. So here are a few tips for updating closets without spending a ton of money:

Tip #1: Tackle one closet at a time and take everything out. Sort through things and throw out or give away what you haven't used or will never use in the future. A great exercise I read about in Real Simple magazine involved taking out all the clothes in your closet that you haven't worn in awhile and trying them all on. The stuff that doesn't fit anymore gets donated and the rest stays.

Tip #2: Figure out how you're going to use the closet space. Is it going to be just for coats and umbrellas or does the vacuum cleaner need to go in there too? This will help you determine which accessories you'll need to make everything fit properly.

Tip #3: Once you've figured out what needs to go in the closet, add accessories and shelves to make the space more efficient. A closet can always use a second shelf above the standard shelf that sits right above the hanging bar. "It gives you a whole other surface and more places to put stuff," says Sally Reinholdt, a professional organizer with Closets 911 in Alexandria. A shoe pocket hung on the inside of any door is also a huge help, whether it be for shoes in a bedroom closet or mittens and scarves in a coat closet.

Tip #4: Get wire shelf dividers for your linen closet and group together sheet sets and towel sets rather than having a pile of pillow cases all mixed together or a pile of wash cloths.

Tip #5: Accessories make a big difference in the closet. For one thing, get rid of wire hangers and buy a set of uniform hangers, be they plastic or wood. Reinholdt also recommends hangers that have an extra hook for hanging belts or scarves. Use padded hangers for more delicate pieces of clothing. "It makes me crazy when I go into somebody's house and they have their nice clothes on wire hangers," she says. "It stretches everything out of shape."

Tip #6: A collection of purses always seems to make a bedroom or coat closet an utter mess. I love every single one of mine yet they're piled on top of each other on a few hooks in my closet. A large basket is one way to keep them all together and out of the way. Or Reinholdt recommends the Container Store's 8-pocket clear vinyl handbag file for $9.99. It hangs from a closet rod and allows you to see each of your gems.

Tip #7: If a trip to the Container Store or Target isn't going to solve your closet problem, consider a shelving system that can easily be changed. You'll want to be able to reconfigure shelving and storage spaces as the family grows. Some of these systems are easy enough to install yourself.

Tip #8: For a kid's closet, consider using baskets or hanging shelves rather than having kids try to hang up clothing themselves, Reinholdt says. "You want to give them a one-step process so they can put stuff away easily," she added. "Simple is best when it comes to kids."

Tip #9: As much as I love the Container Store, only go there for the unique items. Plastic bins and hangers are much cheaper at places like Target and Wal-Mart.

So have you re-done your closets lately? What are your tips for these small spaces? Have you used shelving systems like Elfa or have you had a custom closet designed by companies like California Closets? Post a comment below.

The first day of school is close if it hasn't started already for your kids. Seems like retailers have put a stop to this summer's 1-cent deals, but Staples and Office Depot are still offering some free items. Here are this week's deals:

Staples: Free eight-pack of No. 2 pencils or 12-inch plastic ruler, plastic report cover for 20 cents, plastic binder for 25 cents and pencil box for 50 cents.

Office Depot: Free five-pack of permanent markers after mail-in rebate, acrylic ruler for 10 cents, 4-ounce glue for 20 cents, 5-inch scissors for 25 cents, 12-pack of pencils and 10-pack of ballpoint stick pens for 50 cents each, and six-pack of notebooks for 99 cents.

InkStop: Two-pocket portfolio and 12-pack of No. 2 pencils for 10 cents each, one-subject notebook for 19 cents, 24-pack of crayons for 27 cents, three-pack of glue sticks for 69 cents, pencil pouch and stretchable book cover for 79 cents each.

By Tania Anderson |  August 19, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Home Improvement , Tuesday Tips
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I thought it to be a great piece, very helpful. I know how to clean/organize my closets, well, I thought I did, but these tips are great. Time and mind saving.

Thank you,

Posted by: C Hill | August 19, 2008 6:34 AM

When we downsized into our house a few years ago, I spent every weekend for a month purging closets, and installing closet organizers in every closet. Much as I love the look of the high-end Elfa system, I bought in-the-box ClosetMaid systems from Lowes, and installed them myself. The hardest part, honestly, was taking down the old rod/shelf and patching the walls--very easy. The biggest change was in my young daughter's room--with the multiple levels of shelving and rods, she has been able to put away her own stuff. Along with the new closets, we implemented a rule that if a new something comes in the house, something old must go. We have mostly stuck to that. I had no choice because we had fewer closets, no garage or basement to keep all the old cr...uh, clutter, but I truly think once you see what the closet(s) can look like, you'll love them enough to try to keep them that way.

Posted by: FinallyOrganized | August 19, 2008 8:54 AM

Over the past two years I have been redoing all of our closets with Elfa which I feel is far superior to Closet Maid due to the ease of installation and overall flexibility. While it costs more than what can be purchased at Lowe's or Home Depot, it is still a lot cheaper than California Closets and is infinitely flexible with multiple options.

The difference for both of our teenage daughters is amazing, especially since we included a 7-drawer system which includes a basket for dirty laundry. This design saves floor space by essentially eliminating a dresser. They have plenty of room for all of their hanging clothes on two rods (one above the other) and 10 shelves. The closet in our spare bedroom has a hanging rod for long dresses and is used by my daughters and wife so that everything is consolidated. I lined this closet with cedar and it is used for swapping summer and winter clothes with storage for sweaters.

The only closet left to switch is the master BR and we are just waiting for the spare cash to make it happen. Other spaces we have done include the hall closet with two shelves above the hanging rod and a basket near the floor which makes thing look a lot neater; pantry; laundry room and garage. The difference in the garage was quite surprising and I add pieces every few months.

Elfa is not cheap, but if you watch for the annual sale it is a bit easier on the wallet. The Container Store also has an Elfa "club" which has given me additional discounts of 10-15%. No one can/will tell me why I received this, but I am pretty sure that it happened after my third purchase in 12 months of $500 or more.

Posted by: More Cowbell | August 19, 2008 9:53 AM

My first solution is to do a serious paring down this coming weekend of my clothing and shoes(if only I could get my husband to do the same). The closets were all fitted out with two level shelves, two levels of bars,shoe ramps and sweater boxes before we bought the house - but there is too much stuff. I had picked this coming weekend(family away) to clear out, list for donation and donate(or create new house rags). As fall/winter approaches, I can do a closet changeover much more easily. In future, I really plan to do the new item in- an old one has to go.

Posted by: Andrea | August 19, 2008 10:57 AM

I redid my bedroom closet a few months ago. I bought two large Rubbermaid tubs to store off-season clothes in. Two large baskets (actually from the kids' section at Target) hold current-season purses (front and center in the closet) and off-season purses (on an upper shelf), respectively. A full-size over-the-door shoe organizer holds up to 24 pairs of shoes. I also bought a laundry sorter so I can easily do a single load of laundry if I want, without having to sort through everything. I have all wooden hangers that I purchased a few years ago from IKEA. I love my well-organized closet and the whole thing cost me less than $75.

Posted by: tia | August 19, 2008 2:25 PM

Recently, I was forced to re-do my closet when the original (ie "cheap") hardware completely collapsed. Because we always seem to be lacking time and are not entirely blessed as do-it-yourselfers, my husband and I opted for Chesapeake Closets. They did a terrific job - very professional. We went with the lower cost items and kept the design pretty simple. It came to about $800, but worth it for the convenience - and now I have a beautiful closet which I am determined to keep neat!

Posted by: College Park | August 19, 2008 2:41 PM

I purged my closets and drawers of everything that I hadn't worn in over a year. That made it easier to use my existing closet (no system). I have a "one in-one out" rule. Whenever I buy something new, I donate something old. Shoes were pared down as well. I keep only what will fit on the shelf. When a new pair comes in, an old one goes.

Posted by: Madam | August 20, 2008 7:35 AM

"One in, one out"

We've followed that rule for years, it has really helped with the possessions creep that occurs in life. It works even with kids& teenagers. It amazing what you realize that you don't honestly need when you start applying that rule. YES, it includes furniture, clothing, knick knacks etc. IT has to be a major need (not want) to introduce a new type of item.

Posted by: Barbara | August 20, 2008 11:10 AM

My closets contain clothes in various sizes--small, medium, large, extra large. I am currently fitting into only the extra large. :-(. For the most part, they are all very good quality clothes that I am reluctant to part with, since I am always "planning" to lose weight. As a result, I am overrun with clothes! I would appreciate advice from any reader(s) who may have experienced this problem and have overcome it.

Posted by: Joan | August 20, 2008 11:42 AM

The Easy Track in-stock options at Expo Design Center are high quality at a fraction of the price of Elfa systems. We easily re-did all our closets for not much money and they look and function as though they were professionally done. It was definitely worth it, even though we still haven't done much weeding out. The Easy Track organizers are much better than anything at Home Depot or Lowes, but comparable in price.

Posted by: Petra | August 20, 2008 11:47 AM

Joan - I don't want you to stay extra-large forever either, which is why I assume you have a rack full of sizes, but have you considered that keeping all those sizes around sends you the subtle message that you'll never stay one size?

I think the presence of many sizes in your wardrobe makes it easy to forget about getting on the scale, putting the fork down and putting on your sneakers for a trip to the YMCA.

Go through your closet and rid yourself of what doesn't fit. You deserve to have a wardrobe of clothes that flatter you.

Should you change sizes you can get new clothes. There isn't any reason to be giving things that don't fit berth in your closet.

Accept that you need to be lovely just the way you are. Get rid of things that don't fit so you can really see your wardrobe and focus on outfits that make you feel good.

Clothes that don't fit taking up space clutter your eye and keep you from doing all you can with what does fit.

If the clothes are nice look into a consignment shop, or give them away knowing that someone who needs them will also enjoy them.

Posted by: RoseG | August 20, 2008 12:49 PM

Joan - I went from 1X to L and had pants from about 1991. I'd suggest looking at the smaller sizes you have. After I looked at my "thin" clothes, I decided I would feel more motivated to reach my goal if I didn't have to think about wearing my old pleated khaki pants! Nearly all of those clothes went to the Salvation Army or into the rag bag.

Posted by: KJ | August 20, 2008 1:19 PM

I redid our entrance hall closet with Elfa. In addition to the two shelves above the rod I put a shelf about 8 inches off the floor leaving just enough room for the very old but super good cannister vacuum cleaner to slide underneath. It is out of the way but easy to get to and there is the shelf to hold all the stuff that accumulates on the floor of the closet (yes, I know, we need to clean it out).

Posted by: charlie1 | August 20, 2008 1:40 PM

Joan-
I'm in the same position as you are and I just moved, which made me take inventory. I realized that most of the old smaller clothes I'm keeping just in case are too out-of-style to wear again. I'm donating most but I'm keeping a couple of classic things (black dress, for example) that I really will wear again when I can fit into it.

Posted by: L-XL | August 20, 2008 3:27 PM

We were looking for some closet storage solutions, and found that the Ikea option was significantly less expensive than Elfa. The sizes are limited, but what they had worked for us, and we saved a whole lot of money.

Posted by: non-elfa | August 20, 2008 10:09 PM

When you're done cleaning out those closets, consider send gently-worn shoes to "Soles for Souls" (google them - they're a great organization!)

Posted by: What to do with the leftovers | August 21, 2008 11:04 AM

I've gone up and down in weight the last ten years, and my experience has been when I lose weight I buy all new clothes anyway. So only keep the smaller clothes you love and that aren't trendy. Otherwise give away clothes that don't fit and deduct it from your taxes. You get to buy new clothes, and others get clothes they might really need. Everybody wins.

Posted by: Joe | August 21, 2008 5:37 PM

I absolutely love my elfa.

I originally purchased elfa for a large walk-in closet. When I moved, the people at the Container Store helped me reconfigure the pieces for my office and (sadly smaller) closet. I have before and after pictures that show the amazingly increased functionality of each space. I only have the cheapest white wire stuff - while it is functional and clean looking, I can't wait until I have more cash and can upgrade to one of the fancier sets.

One of the things I appreciated most was that when I was transitioning spaces they really and truly worked with what I already had and did not pressure me to buy more. I ended up re-cutting several shelves and hanging bars, and only buying the very necessary pieces.

Posted by: Elfa Fan | August 26, 2008 12:53 PM

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