How to Organize a Small Closet for Maximum Usage

A small closet might seem like a bummer, especially if you have an expansive wardrobe or are using it for multiple family members, but learning how to use that space wisely is easier than you think.

Sure, we all dream of that huge walk-in closet. You know, the one that's as big as a house. The one Celine Dion would be jealous of. The one we could fit our museum-worthy shoe collections inside (once we amass museum-worthy shoe collections, that is).

Unfortunately... well, most of us aren't there yet. Instead, we're stuck dealing with small, overstuffed closets. Whether your space is in the bedroom, off the hall, or in the nursery, it's important to organize these spaces for maximum usage and minimum clutter.

Close up of clothing on the rack

Ready to learn how to organize a small closet the right way? Here are nine of our favorite tips for how to organize these itty-bitty spaces.

First Prep Your Clothing and Closets

Start the big reorganization with some solid preparation and you'll find your closet cleaning results to be stronger and longer-lasting!

Girl in a striped shirt sorting her clothes on the floor

1. Declutter Your Possessions BEFORE Organizing Your Closet

Before you start thinking about how to organize a small closet - seriously, before you plan one single step - start by decluttering your possessions. It's silly to take the time to organize items you're not going to use or wear again. Instead, separate out:

  • Anything you haven't worn for a year or more
  • Any item you or another family member has outgrown - if you ever fit in that size again, you'll want new clothes anyway!
  • Little-used gadgets
  • Aspirational items, like hobby equipment, that haven't seen use for more than a year

It's hard to let such things go, but you'll be amazed by what a difference it makes to send them off to the Goodwill or a friend. Now, these items are benefiting someone else without burdening you!

A closet with a dresser and chair inside of it

2. Put Like with Like

When you're first figuring out how to organize a small closet, one way to start is to group like items together. After a transition such as moving or welcoming a new baby, there's a good chance your closets have become stuffed and overflowing, and similar items are now stashed throughout the house.

Once you've decluttered, and before you start putting objects back in, go through everything and separate it into piles of similar items. Think:

  • Adult clothes, separated by individual
  • Kid clothes
  • Coats and cold weather gear (make sure to have these on hand for Toronto winters!)
  • Shoes
  • Wrapping and gift supplies
  • Toys and games

Once you have your piles, you can then assign certain categories to certain closets. Put coats, shoes, and wrapping supplies in the hall, for instance, and keep clothing and toys for bedroom closets.

3. Put Furniture Inside Your Closet

Perhaps our favorite tip for how to organize a small closet? Using furniture. This step seems counterintuitive to many people, who assume that a closet is an as-is proposition. However, most closets aren't outfitted to provide as much space as they could, given their square footage.

A small dresser, or even a nightstand, can provide a ton of room for camisoles, underwear, socks, and accessories, all while removing unsightly disorganization. A chair makes a great staging area if you don't hang up worn clothes or clean laundry right away. Shoe racks always do nicely in both hall and bedroom closets.

4. Invest in Some Baskets

When making a plan for how to organize a small closet, you can take the benefits of furniture one step further with some baskets. This extends the storage space while keeping everything in your space looking neat and tidy. Insert the baskets onto shelf space, place them on top of furniture, line them up along a higher shelf, or place them right on the floor.

Women's blouses hanging on a metal rack

5. Go Outside the Closet

If you can't fit everything you want inside a closet, hang a bar up somewhere else in the house. This DIY clothing rack made from a branch is the perfect combination of form and function, for instance. You can also invest in sturdy metal or wooden clothing racks to stage outfits for the week or provide overflow for bulky winter gear.

Now Organize Your Closet Items the Smart Way

Now that you've prepped your storage spaces and the items that will go inside them, use the following tips to put your possessions away and maintain a great storage system!

6. Make a Smart Plan for Shoes

Shoes are a bit of a bugbear when it comes to how to organize a small closet. They always seem to be everywhere, no matter how many times you seem to put them away.

You can actually have a lot of control over your shoes, given the right system. If you have a shoe rack or over-the-door shoe holder, commit to putting your shoes away every time you come home. If you keep them on the floor, try this trick:

Instead of storing your shoes side by side, store them heel to toe, so that they make a neater shape. This closes off gaps in rows of shoes and minimizes the space they take up.

Inspirational posters taped to a white wall

7. Use Your Door as an Inspiration Space

As long as you're taking the time to organize a small closet, why not get some inspiration out of it as well? The inside of your closet door is unused real estate for beauty and charm.

Instead of leaving it blank, use sticky tack or washi tape to hang up:

  • Family photos
  • Artwork by kiddos, friends, artists you love, or even yourself
  • Mantras or intentions

You can also hang a corkboard and push pins into it to hold to-do lists, magazine clippings, cards, and more.

8. Fill Empty Wall Space with Bars and Hooks

Another tip for how to organize a small closet is to use every available inch of wall space by installing hooks and bars. You can use the easy stick-em kind from Command, for instance. They have a variety of hooks that won't damage paint, which you can use to hang coats and scarves, hats, and ties.

You can also install bars, similar to mini towel bars, then hang metal pot hooks on them. This is perfect for getting shoes off the ground, sorting gift bags by occasion (birthday, holiday, etc.), or organizing your jewelry and accessories.

Bars with hooks are an especially good way to organize shoes for kiddos since you can fit so many on the rack!

Glittery open-back womens heels

9. Use Overflow Storage When Necessary

Let's be honest: Sometimes, your small closet just doesn't do the trick. Maybe you live in a tiny apartment and can't accommodate your love of seasonal decorations or clothing. Or perhaps you're putting your closet to alternate uses right now, like business organizations, and want to move those uses out of your home.

In this case, the best strategy for how to organize a small closet is to move to a storage unit. There, you can keep seasonal items in off-season months, create an uncluttered business environment or simply keep little-used items without jamming up your home.

This is also helpful if you're making a temporary or long-term move, and want a transitional space to keep extra stuff that you don't need right now. Just make sure that you get a quality storage unit with good security and climate control so that you don't end up regretting that external closet idea!

Have other ideas for how to organize a small closet? We would love to hear them, so send us your thoughts today!

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