Cheap solutions: Closet organization

An organized closet is a practical thing to have. It saves you time in the morning, since you don't have to dig through a sea of shoes for a sole mate. It can save you money, as well. I know I'm guilty of buying something without realizing I already owned something similar.

But a major closet overhaul can be pricey. Built-ins are expensive, and closet systems like those at The Container Store aren't cheap, either. The good news is that there are inexpensive solutions for closet organization problems.

Separating clothes is step one.

Step One: Sorting

The first step is to clean out your closet. You knew I was going to say that, right? But it's crucial to distinguish between the good, the bad, and the ugly before you spend any time organizing.

For the purpose of closet organization, divide your clothes into the following six piles:

  1. Throw away
  2. Give away
  3. Repair
  4. Out-of-season clothing to keep
  5. Special occasion keepers
  6. In-season clothing to keep

Get rid of clothes in the first two piles and take the clothing in the repair pile to a tailor.

Now you're ready to begin organizing.

Step Two: Organizing Out-of-Season Clothing

Next, address your out-of-season clothing. It's best to only keep the things you're actually wearing in your closet, especially if you're tight on space. There's no point in spending precious morning time digging through sandals and flip-flops when it's 20 degrees outside.

You don't need a new wardrobe closet to free up closet space, though. Inexpensive or free ways to store out-of-season clothes include plastic crates, a trunk, or suitcases you don't use often. My winter clothes get stored away in a trunk that doubles as our coffee table. (Granted, I live in Texas, so I don't have a need for a lot of bulky winter clothes!)

Old suitcases are great for storing out-of-season clothing.

Step Three: Special Occasion Clothing

Unless you're a socialite or have a busy schedule of cocktail parties and black tie events, you also can move special occasion clothing out of the way. Ideally, these items would be stored in another closet, but if that's not an option, hang the items together and put them in the back of the closet.

Step Four: Dealing With the In-Season Stuff

All that's left at this point should be the in-season clothing you love and wear often. You can easily spend thousands on built-ins, shelving, shoe racks, and the like, but it's not necessary for a streamlined closet. The following solutions to closet organization problems will help you organize on a budget:

Problem: Shoes piled up on the closet floor.
Solutions: Use the original shoe boxes to contain shoes, and add a label to the outside of each box for easy identification. Other options are to purchase clear, plastic boxes (about $1.50 each); stacking shoe drawers ($6-$8 each); or an over-the-door shoe organizer ($10). As for tall boots, instead of letting them flop over and lose their shape or spending $10 on plastic boot shapers, Kendi Lea of the blog Kendi Everyday had a great tip in her recent series on closet organization: “You want to know a hint? Put a few clean and empty wine bottles in your boots to help keep them upright. Want to know another hint? Don't drink wine while organizing your closet.
Old suitcases are great for storing out-of-season clothing.
Problem: Not enough shelf or drawer space.
Solution: Instead of custom shelves, hang canvas shelves (about $16 for six shelves) from the curtain rod to hold sweaters, t-shirts, and other items you want to fold. Other inexpensive options include large canvas boxes (about $15 each) or clear plastic drawers that stack on top of each other (about $8 per drawer). You can stack the bins low enough to hang shirts above it, saving space in cramped closets.
Problem: Accessories are a mess.
Solution: The pocket over-the-door organizer ($10) also is a great way to organize accessories, like ties, tights, dress socks, scarves, and other items you need in the morning, such as shoe polish and a lint brush. If your necklaces are often tangled, hang the ones you wear most on a wall-mounted coat rack or a pegboard mounted inside the closet door. A pricier option for bigger jewelry stashes is a canvas organizer with clear vinyl compartments that hangs on a closet rod or hook (about $25 at The Container Store).
Old suitcases are great for storing out-of-season clothing.

With your in-season clothes and accessories in their designated places, you should have a working closet. To keep your closet streamlined, constantly eliminate clutter: Every three to four months, sell or donate unused items.

An organized closet doesn't have to cost much. What are some of the creative ways you keep your closet organized on a budget?

More about...Clothing

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Derek
Derek
9 years ago

My wife actually has a shoe rack that has about 24 slots and doesn’t take up that much space! This way, she can see what’s in there, and it doesn’t use up our entire closet!

dotCOMreport
dotCOMreport
9 years ago

Thanks for these tips. I have friends that has serious closet organization issues and I will definitely refer them here.

sharon
sharon
9 years ago

I read GRS every single day but I’m only just deciding to comment because this is one area where I face a lot of challenges. Our income is…well, I won’t even go into that. My husband is in school and we have a little baby. I bought an plastic storage box (about US$3) in which I keep our baby’s ironed clothes. I have a lot of plastic jewellery and just yesterday I bought a clear Ms Diva plastic jewellery bag which hangs over the door for about US$7. Oh, and we got some hanging rails (US$1) which we nailed to… Read more »

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
9 years ago

The Mrs. needs help with the closet. I’ll forward this to her, but I already hear her snarky answer – “My problem is not enough closet space!”
I got an Ikea Expedit bookshelf and stuck it in my closet, instant shelf space.

plonkee
plonkee
9 years ago

I find that organising my clothes into smaller groups helps me see where I have too much or too little.

So, I have work summer tops, work winter tops, work spring/autumn tops as separate shelves. It’s much easier to see whether I’ve got enough to wear or not.

I also do a ‘from memory’ inventory from time to time. Anything I can’t recall goes in the potentially decluttering pile.

Everyday Tips
Everyday Tips
9 years ago

I think many people also have an issue with ‘out of size’ clothing. It is clothes from a distant weight that are begging to be worn again.

There are a lot of decisions that need to be made when going through a closet, some easier than others. (Do you throw out the too-small clothes or pull out a nice outfit and use it as motivation to lose weight?)

Crystal@BFS
9 years ago

My husband turned all of his hangers around the wrong way about two years ago and would put them back in the right way if he wore them. Then last year he took off almost every piece of clothing that was still hanging the wrong way and donated 5 bags of clothes (shirts, sweaters, slacks, and jeans) to Goodwill. 🙂

I don’t buy much but it’s hard for me to give anything up even if it doesn’t fit since I only bought it because I liked it so much, lol.

Mel
Mel
9 years ago

I have a very awkward narrow walk in closet. I am thankful I have 2 walk in closets in a 100 year old house so I can’t really complain. I bought 2 heavy duty rolling garment racks for about $50-60 a pop. When I’m switching seasons I roll them out of the closet and swap the clothes around. I keep accesories in transparent shoe boxes. The racks look very nice and will probably last me a lot longer than one of the cheaper closet system. I store my out of season shoes inside my suitcase. I might as well make… Read more »

Slackerjo
Slackerjo
9 years ago

Follow the 1 in, 1 out rule. New pair of jeans? It’s cause I am replacing a pair that just plain wore out.

Shane
Shane
9 years ago

I built shelves that run up along the inner sides of our closet to have a place for shoes. They work well, and fill in the space behind the doors perfectly. I also put two dowels in, one high and one low, to maximize hanging space. It really amped up our closet.

partgypsy
partgypsy
9 years ago

We live in an older home with very limited closet space. One thing is true, if 2 people share a closet, plan to have seperate areas for each persons’ stuff. Maybe on the expensive side, we found it worth it to spend around $300 to buy storage/organizers for the inside of the closet. So while we share a closet (I also have an armoire), we have seperate rods for our hanging clothes, and seperate areas for our shoes (a shoe rack is really worth it). He has his own rack for ties and belts, while I have some hooks for… Read more »

Emily
Emily
9 years ago

This may seem odd. I’m a new stay-at-home mom and I’ve been trying to break free of a “shopping to cure boredom” habit. I’ve found that organizing what I already have has been a great substitute for shopping. A new focus for my energies. I just need to not go out and buy tons of organizing supplies!

Lyn
Lyn
9 years ago

We just completed a ‘closet remodel’ ourselves. Our contractor-grade walk-in closet is only 5ft deep and had a single hanging rod installed on all four walls. When clothes awere hung all around you had about a foot of room to maneuver in. Plus you could never see what you were looking for! Out it went. We painted the walls a glossy white – that alone helped 100%. Then installed wire closet units from the local hardware store on 2 walls which more than doubled our storage space. Shoes went onto the built in floor-ceiling shelving unit in plastic boxes from… Read more »

indio
indio
9 years ago

We keep all of our shoes on covered shelves at the front door. We only wear slippers in the house and never wear street shoes inside. We also have a basket of slippers at the door for our guests to wear inside. Every time the season changes, I have a garbage bag with me and when I move the clothes to the storage closet, I pack up everything that wasn’t worn or doesn’t fit any more. I sort the clothes into piles that I can resell, donate or goes into a rag bag. This system works well when someone is… Read more »

Jackie
Jackie
9 years ago

I take a list describing the clothes I already have with me when I go shopping to avoid buying duplicates — and so that I actually get something that will coordinate with what I already have. I also get rid of things I haven’t worn for a whole season. No point in keeping clutter.

Wayne Mates
Wayne Mates
9 years ago

@#9 slackerjo – I wish I could convince my wife to follow that philosophy. I do and it has left me with 1 wall of our walkin closet while she has the other 3 and half the floorpace. The closets of the two guest bedroom hold her things as well as she has taken over the laundry room.

Just this last weekend, I asked her if she was going to get rid of anything. I just got a shrug and “I wear it all once in a while!” Oh well.. some battles are just not worth fighting!!

Kate
Kate
9 years ago

I leave my shoes and sneakers in shoeboxes to keep them clean and unchewed by senile old dogs (and young puppies). The shoeboxes are stacked on the shelf above the hanging clothes. To make identification of shoes easier, I took a picture of the shoes and glued it to the outside of the box…Linens and comforters are stored in a hope chest on the floor of my closet…where the shoe rack used to be.

Ellen K.
Ellen K.
9 years ago

Although we have an older house (85-year-old Craftsman), our closets are fairly large, but they are dormer style and there’s not much vertical room. My husband and I each have a separate closet, and there is one in our daughters’ room. We all have dressers or chests of drawers too. I have long shelves at the back of the closet, in the shallowest part of the dormer, for some shoes. I keep others in shoeboxes. I attach large white labels to each shoebox to indicate the color, brand, description, and year of purchase. I usually organize clothes by color and… Read more »

Janice
Janice
9 years ago

Another great way to keep tall boots standing up straight and keeping their shape is to use old magazines. Just roll up the magazine lengthwise (natch), put it in the boot and it will unfurl itself to fit the space inside.

Vanessa
Vanessa
9 years ago

I’m jealous of those who get to use their clothes closet just for clothes! I have one closet in my bedroom and it’s the only closet in my entire (tiny) apartment, plus it’s small. It has to hold everything: vacuum, broom, cleaning buckets and anything else that I don’t want out in the open. I’ve purged as much as I can, but I’m still having difficulty organizing my bulky household items along with my clothes.

CNM
CNM
9 years ago

Instead of empty wine bottles, I use rolled up magazines. Those work well for narrow boots.

My biggest closet solution was to buy an inexpensive cube style bookshelf at Home Depot. It comes with canvas boxes that fit in the shelf perfectly and it’s great for storing belts, scarves, and hats.

Also, I organize the clothes on hangers by their type and then color. That is, hanging pants are together and organized by color, from dark to light. It makes picking out clothes much easier in the morning.

Alyssa
Alyssa
9 years ago

Lots of great tips on here. I have a large closet but I share it with my boyfriend, so we both have to make it work. We have a spare closet in our office, but that’s where our coats, spare suitcases, and holiday stuff go. I employ hanging shelves for t-shirts and tanks. They’re great. I also use the clear necklace hanger from The Container Store for my necklaces (http://www.containerstore.com/shop?productId=10002333&N=&Ntt=necklace). It’s expensive, but it’s worth it because I can A)see my necklaces better, and B)I’ve had it for years. I love the wine bottle idea for boots! I’ll have to… Read more »

Carla
Carla
9 years ago

Like someone else mentioned, living in an older home (in my case an apartment building that’s 101 years old) closet space will be limited as beautiful as the space may be. Constantly cleaning out and organizing is the only way keep the closet spaces usable. Thank you for the tips!

Allyson
Allyson
9 years ago

I second the idea of grouping shirts/blouses by color. I got this idea from Clean House and it is a serious time-saver! No more going through every single hanger looking for one particular shirt.

Zygote
Zygote
9 years ago

As a student, I have moved 8 times in the past 7 years. I find that moving frequently means I keep my clothes pretty pared down – no sense packing something I haven’t worn since before the last move. The major challenge is that every space works differently. I lived in one space where I had no drawers or shelves whatsoever: it was the first time I’d ever hung my pants. My current place has a great closet with horrible doors on it. The sliding doors are too big and have roughly 1 1/2 ft. of overlap in the middle.… Read more »

Debbie M
Debbie M
9 years ago

Sorting — I also have clothes that either currently don’t fit or currently don’t match anything that I want to keep–I keep these in labeled boxes in the garage. Whenever I get new tops or bottoms, I check the garage to see if anything I have goes with my new thing. Whenever something wears out, I add things that went only with that to the box in the garage. Shoes — I like my every day shoes to be a lot more accessible than they are in boxes. The other shoes (special occasion shoes, special use shoes) do go in… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
9 years ago

Vanessa- You might consider hanging your broom, mop, and other household items on the inside of your closet door or on a hidden away wall area that could be curtained off. (Think of a small corner and a decorative folding screen.

Mom of five
Mom of five
9 years ago

This is excellent advice. Over the last 3 years, I have easily purged almost half of our possessions. I confess my husband and I have the slight tendency to be hoarders. It’s difficult for us to part with things that are still perfectly good, particularly since we’re in money saving frame of mind. What I have found though, is that it pays to purge. The more we throw or give away, the easier it is to make use of what we keep and so we ultimately buy much less. From my own experience, the first and most important step in… Read more »

Kristen
Kristen
9 years ago

Organization of jewelry was mentioned above, so I’m throwing this in there… I make costume jewelry, mostly for gifts but also for myself. Recently, I found a scrap piece of wood, probably 18 inches square, and screwed two small boxes worth of cup hooks into the face in rows. I then mounted the board to the wall and now have an organized way to hang my costume jewelry where I can see it easily.

chacha1
chacha1
9 years ago

My challenge is keeping control of a wardrobe divided between work, leisure/lounging, teaching/training, and competition/shows. I hew pretty strictly to the one in, one out rule. Our bed is a platform with four drawers. One drawer is devoted to sentimental paper clutter (letters mostly) and the other three hold stuff like leotards & tights & Spanx & yoga pants. I have one shallow closet but it stretches all the way across one wall of the bedroom. (DH has THREE closets in the other bedroom!) Clothes are partitioned according to their use. Foldables are in a 7-drawer chest shoved in under… Read more »

Sara
Sara
9 years ago

Just a reminder that donations to Goodwill, etc. are tax deductible. If you go to their website, they have a sheet you can use to itemize your donations and estimate each item’s value. When you drop off, the receiving employee will sign off on your form. Refer to the form when completing your taxes (or give a copy to your tax professional), and keep it in case of an audit.

partgypsy
partgypsy
9 years ago

Yes- getting the slimline hangers makes a big difference!
I don’t think I’m OCD but in my closet group by color and type (thick sweaters, thin sweaters, blouses) because again, easiest way to “see” everything.
The reason why I emphasized seperate areas, is previously our respective clothes, shoes would be lost in the other person’s piles, never to be seen again. Not conductive to marital harmony.

KC
KC
9 years ago

Shoe boxes are great to use. I’ll put off season shoes in the box and put on-season shoes on top. That way all my shoes can be on one shelf. I’m a runner and tennis player and have quite a few pairs of running and court shoes (different surfaces). I’ll keep the original box the athletic shoe came in and just keep those shoes in their box – that way I know what’s in there. I can keep other seasonal shoes on top. This way I know what I have and wear them. Another option is to take a polaroid… Read more »

babysteps
babysteps
9 years ago

easy and cheap way to expand storage: if there is only one rod, put in a second rod below it – you can buy ones with hooks that hang on the existing rod, or even cheaper you can measure at home and go to your favorite home center and cut a rod to fit (1″ or 1-1/4″ depending on your hangers and the length of your closet), use brackets or end fittings to mount.

For jewelry, you can buy stick-on ultrasuede type material at a craft store and convert any tray/box/plastic container into a jewelry holder.

Jenzer
Jenzer
9 years ago

For inexpensive jewelry storage, I use Plano ProLatch organizers that I picked up at our local hardware store (they’re often advertised as organizers for fishing tackle or tools). Amazon carries them as well: http://www.amazon.com/Plano-3700-Prolatch-Adjustable-Dividers/dp/B000E3C3OE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1295560498&sr=8-1 . I love these containers because I can see through them, adjust the compartment sizes, stack them on top of one another, and close them securely. Once upon a time I had an old-fashioned jewelry box with drawers — one that fell over and spilled out in the parking lot of my apartment complex when I was moving in. What a mess that was to clean… Read more »

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
9 years ago

Mending your own clothes is generally not difficult. Anyone can learn to sew on buttons! Why pay a tailor?

Budgie
Budgie
9 years ago

When I lived in an apartment and space was a precious commodity, I folded everything except coats and cocktail dresses. I used those wire cube organizers that you can assemble to attach as many up and down as you wish. Each cube was organized in certain categories like tank tops, skirts, pants, sweaters, ect. To keep the clothing from getting indentations from the wires, I lined each cube with pieces of cardboard that I cut from boxes to fit the bottom of the cube (Found free, of course!). The coats and dresses hung on the side of the closet where… Read more »

Loretta
Loretta
9 years ago

For jewelry storage, I have two things to add that I’ve done in the past. I securely tacked a shawl with a strong but open weaved texture to a wall. From that I hung earrings with hooks in the openings in the weave. For hoop earings and necklaces I fastened the clasps around an intersect in the weave. For stud earrings, I had a photo frame that had a sturdy base, and I replaced the glass and backing with the plastic mesh you would use for counted cross stitch. It’s not for everyone, but it suits my somewhat artsy style.

Nicky at Not My Mother
Nicky at Not My Mother
9 years ago

Heh, “sole mate”, cute pun (it’s actually soul mate, if you didn’t mean it 🙂

Rosa Rugosa
Rosa Rugosa
9 years ago

We only have one closet in our old house. It’s 13′ long and slants sharply into an eave of our 1.5 story cottage. We have double rods running the entire length of the closet. We keep out of season and less often worn items on the back pole.

Christina
Christina
9 years ago

I have those shallow, but wide sliding door-style closets. I made use of the space behind one of the doors by tapping nails in above the rod. I use the extra room to hang my hats. They are easy to grab, and it’s the best way I’ve come up with to store these oddly-shaped, not-often-used accessories.

Phyllis
Phyllis
9 years ago

I use egg cartons (cardboard kind, not styrofoam) inside of my boots to help them stand upright and keep their shape. I even store plastic easter eggs inside the egg cartons. You could also store costume jewelry or other small items in the cartons if you wanted. The wine bottle idea is good genius as it’s more fun to drink wine than to eat lots of eggs.

Lulu
Lulu
9 years ago

Hi all, I have had a second job (yay GRS recommendation) at The Container Store for a couple of years and definitely sympathize with hesitation around expense SO i just wanted to throw out there that right now is our annual Elfa sale which brings the closet cost and installation down 30%. There are so many cheap (or FREE!!) ways to organize, but if you are thinking about taking the plunge now (before February 15, 2011) is the time to do it. Also a bit of insider info – this sale happens every year at the same time. It starts… Read more »

fetu
fetu
9 years ago

We also live in an old house with a very small old fashioned closet with one rod and a shelf above it. I use light weight plastic baskets on the self to keep things up there and those stackable cubes along the bottom on the floor to use up the floor space as well as have the top of the cube for shoe boxes. A few hooks on the inside of the door hold caps. I love Sees chocolate boxes for my earings and my husband loves small individual plastic boxes to roll his ties up in. They keep his… Read more »

fetu
fetu
9 years ago

PS. I cannot belive that a person who is trying to save money would actually take their clothes to a tailor for repair. It is time to learn a few sewing skills.

Karen in MN
Karen in MN
9 years ago

Don’t forget under the bed in a plastic box—a great place to store bulky sweaters, a box of bed sheets, or off-season clothes. I also keep my tall boots under the bed in the box they came in. This frees up closet space for other clothing.

Ashley
Ashley
9 years ago

I am a pro at closet organisation. Because I don’t have a closet. Not one in my entire house. And my ex got the three dressers in the divorce. So, my sun room was converted… sort of. I keep undies and bras in a vintage suitcase as well as my accessories. I have three on a shelf side by side. I use those hanging drawer things for my tshirts and three for my shoes. There is a shelf along the top where I store my tights and winter scarves/hats/mitts in. It’s light and easy to grab, even though I’m much… Read more »

Cathy Moran
Cathy Moran
9 years ago

My closet is double hung, and I put my blue/red centered clothes on one level, and my brown/black clothes on the other, so the related pieces are easy to find. I put the clothes most recently worn on the right, so I can see what clothes really aren’t in circulation toward the left, and consider giving them away. The best way to store earrings, of which I have many, is a plastic box in which marvelous, round, foil wrapped chocolates came. 24 little depressions into which I can toss each pair when I take them off, and see what I… Read more »

Amy
Amy
9 years ago

The best tools for me with organizing, have been clip hangers that stagger (I have single rod closets) – perfect for skirts & pants; multi-tie hangers work well for scarves & belts; a few pieces of fabric on the inside closet door hold anything that can be pinned (jewelry); barrettes & tie clips are clipped to a wide ribbon.

honeybee
honeybee
9 years ago

We’re renters, and we have about 10 linear feet of closet space between two people, so we don’t organize much of anything!!

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