Organize Your Closet in 3 Easy Steps

There's no need to dread organizing your closet when you have a game plan. Blogger and expert organizer Teresa Sharp is here to help even the most organizationally challenged with her step-by-step guide to cleaning out and organizing your clothing storage space. Now take a deep breath — you can do this!

Step 1: Empty Hangers

  • Remove all empty hangers, putting all wire hangers and all broken/bent/weak hangers in a paper bag to be thrown away as you touch them. Keep bag nearby, and touch each hanger only once.
  • Place good empty hangers on your bed, dresser, or empty box. You should now have a tiny bit of room in your closet to maneuver a bit.

Note: If you only own wire hangers, go out and buy as many plastic hangers as you can afford. Not the flimsiest version, but they don't have to be very expensive. It's nice to have a variety of styles: the smooth ones with a large opening and some with notches to keep spaghetti straps from slipping off. I also like to use about 10 of the felt-covered nonslip type for things that tend to slip off (they used to sell them at Costco). I do not like to use them for everything, though; it's too hard to remove garments.

If you don't have any empty hangers, you can start with Step 2, but you will need a nearby bed to have space for sorting, so don't start close to bedtime or you will be moving a pile of clothes to get into bed.

Step 2: Collect Supplies

You will need:

  1. 3-6 medium-size cardboard or plastic boxes that will fit on a shelf in your closet, on the floor under shorter pieces of clothing, or under a bed for storing your out-of-season clothes (unless you have an empty closet in another room that you can move them to).
  2. Permanent marker for labeling boxes, stickers, or 3×5 cards if using plastic boxes.
  3. Large plastic trash bags (clean) for taking clothes to charity.
  4. Paper bags that stand on their own or a plastic-lined trash can for trashed items that cannot be passed on to someone else.
  5. Clean laundry basket(s) or box(es) for sorting or moving clothing and other items to other rooms.

Step 3: Sort Clothes Into Categories

If your clothes are packed in so tight that you cannot easily move things around, then take several pieces out and lay them on the bed (if you have large items like coats or jackets, that is an easy category to start placing on the bed, and it will quickly give you room to maneuver in the closet). Also remove any ties or belts you might have hanging in the closet.

Note: If you are easily distracted or overwhelmed, get a kitchen timer or use your smartphone to set the timer for 10- to 20-minute work periods.

  1. Start with the spot you see first when you open the closet on one end or the other. Move all pants into that first section, then all skirts, then all shirts/tops, then sweaters/jackets, then robes, then dresses (make sure to place dresses in the longest section of the closet). At this point, you have not made any decisions about what to keep, what to store, or what to give away — just arrange by type so you can see how many of each type you have. You can probably do this in 20-30 minutes; set a timer if that helps.
  2. Now go back through each section and arrange by color and type. In each section, I go light to dark in the Summer and dark to light in the Winter (but that's just me; you can keep it the same year-round if you prefer). I also go from less to more, like sleeveless to turtleneck. Since we are going into the Winter, my first section on the left of my square walk-in closet has solid black spaghetti strap and tank tops (for layering), then t-shirts, button-ups, long-sleeved shirts, and turtlenecks, followed by print tops that are predominately black. Next I placed all the brown shirts, then green, then blue, then violet, pink, red, orange, yellow, and white. In the back of the closet, I have coats and dresses. On the right side starting in the back, I have jackets, skirts, and pants. I have pants toward the front because I wear them most, and they are arranged by color/type (all light-colored pants, then jeans, then dark colors ending with black). This step might take a little longer, but the key is to move quickly, again not making any major decisions.
  3. Go back through one section at a time and remove "out of season" clothing first*. I only do this twice a year, mid-Autumn and early Spring. I know this is hard in places with milder climates, but there are usually some clear-cut Winter or Summer extremes. I never keep turtlenecks, corduroy pants, or thick flannel in my closet in the Summer, and I never miss thin skirts and shirts in light colors (white, linen, etc.) in the Winter. I fold the clothes up neatly and place in one or more of the cardboard or plastic boxes or move to the spare bedroom closet if there is room. Never put anything in storage if there is any doubt if it's clean (you might need to do a few loads of laundry or take items to the dry cleaner before completing this step). You don't want to find moth holes at the beginning of the next season or set-in stains. If you have a lot of wool garments, you will need to add moth repellent of some kind. I've used whole cloves, mothballs, and cedar blocks; there is more info online.

*As you remove last season's clothing, begin to ask yourself some questions:

  • Does it fit? Or has it recently fit? If it's been more than five years and you are not in the process of already losing or gaining weight so that it will likely fit by next year, then it's time to find a new home.
  • Does it flatter my figure?
  • Is it comfortable?
  • Do I love/hate it?
  • Did I put it on and take it off instead of wearing it out last season?
  • Is it severely outdated?
  • Is there someone who might be thrilled to wear this? If you have a friend or relative who might enjoy the clothes, tell her what you are doing, but ask her to come at the end of the day to go through the plastic bags for charity at HER HOUSE, not yours (or better yet, drop off the bags for her to go through) . . . she can drop off what she doesn't take at the charity drop-off spot. You want to get those bags out of your house before you have a chance to go pull something out to keep.

Once that's done, you can start dividing up your wardrobe as such:

  1. Anything that you can quickly decide to give to charity, put in the large plastic trash bag. Use a marker to label — Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc. or just Give Away. As each bag is filled, move it to the front door, and the first time you walk past the bags to the car, put them in the trunk with a sticky note on the dash to drop them at the charity drop-off place.
  2. If you are undecided about an item, you can put it in your "out of season" box and decide next season. Or label one box "undecided" and see if you can live without it next year. If you need to be strict with yourself (and you are ready for that), then give it away. You probably won't miss it if it is outdated, doesn't fit, isn't comfortable, or is no longer your style.
  3. If you find garments that you love but they need repairing, you can either put them in your "to be repaired by me" basket in your sewing room (does anyone do that anymore?!), place by your purse to be dropped off at the tailor or dry cleaner, or put in the charity bag and "Let it go!"
  4. Anything that is severely damaged (torn or stained), throw in the trash can.

What you should have left hanging in your closet are the current season's clothes arranged by type and color. Place the out-of-season boxes under the bed, at the top or bottom of the closet, or in the spare bedroom closet. Worst case, you can move them to the garage if there is no room in the house, but I don't recommend that.

You are over your first big hurdle; now take a break and celebrate!