Closets, I’ve known them all: From a built-in armoire in a dilapidated West Philly mansion turned college student rental, to a long, narrow closet in Boston that nearly could have qualified as a walk-in if it was wide enough to walk into. But the ones that really left a mark were the super tiny closets. The ones that required true ingenuity to get all my clothes, shoes, and accessories organized.
The challenge of closet organization is compounded by the fact that, like snowflakes, no two tiny closets are the same. Some have high shelves for more vertical storage, some have no room for a shoe rack or over-door hooks. Some are big enough for a clothes rack for additional space, and some just aren’t. If you’ve ever felt like typical closet organization maxims don’t work for your confoundingly small space, here are some of my favorite ways to corral the clutter.
Even small closets will typically have a shelf on top. If the closet is big enough, you can get away with having a few out-of-season things stacked there, but smaller spaces often call for greater utilization. Using shelf dividers can help keep things stacked, separated, and easier to find. Plus, they can make it easier to store more types of stuff: Bulky sweaters can go in one section, and rarely-used purses can be lined up in another. Or, keep the dividers closer together to store more delicate things, like scarves or summer clothes.
Because the width and height are adjustable, this rod could potentially double your closet space. Dresses or other longer garments can go to one side, while the other half can store shirts, pants, and skirts. A warning: Some reviewers said that the rod broke when loaded with tons of clothes, so if you have the tendency to overstuff your closet, you may want to invest in a garment rack as an alternative. This adjustable rod from Whitmor is also highly rated and less expensive, but it gives you less ability to customize.
Speaking of garment racks, I love this one from IRIS that is minimalist yet still design-forward. It can be a good spot for your nicest-looking outfits or even a color-coordinated selection of items for a purposeful look. Consider using just half of the rack for clothes and saving the other half for a hanging planter with a low maintenance vine to make it feel even less utilitarian.
There are plenty of over-the-door shoe racks in the world, but I get constantly irritated with ones that are only able to hold flats and sandals. Heels? Clogs? Even gym shoes? For those guys, pocket-style holders often fail. But this Whitmor model is basically the equivalent of six shoe racks stacked on top of each other, and you can hang it from your closet—or even bedroom—door. (The only shoes I haven’t been able to store on this: L.L.Bean boots and my thrift store cowboy boots.)
I recently moved, and my shoe rack, which served me well for six years, no longer made sense in my new bedroom. My new tiny closet also had a new challenge: An air vent that cuts the floor storage in half. I looked high and low for under-bed storage that would be versatile enough to hold various shoe types. Typical rolling, under-bed drawers are lidded, long, and cumbersome for everyday use. This Whitmore cart was the one option I found that could easily be rolled in and out on a daily basis.
The one drawback is that the bottom pieces aren’t connected, so it doesn’t feel all that sturdy. However, at the suggestion of one reviewer, I simply tied them together. (The reviewer suggested cable ties, I just used twine.) I’ve been using it every day for over a month and have no complaints. One cart has held around 11 pairs of shoes for me, including sandals and a pair of heels. If I had gotten two, I could easily keep my entire not-so-small shoe collection under the bed.
The best way to make a small closet feel big is to keep it as clean as possible. Things I’d be tempted to toss on the floor or hang on the door—like purses, scarves, clothes I wore once and might wear again before washing them, or coats—all go on hooks. And here, the more the better. Rounded hooks that won’t poke into clothes are great, as are organizers that have multiple hooks. Umbra’s over-the-door organizer has both, and can also be screwed into the wall if you prefer. Coat racks, which often have double hooks, are also great. I put mine behind my bedroom door, so that when the door is open, the hooks are out of sight. That way, I can keep last weekend’s bathing suit, a dress I’m pretty sure I’ll wear again, and a gym bag all hanging without feeling too disorganized.
Finally, having the same hangers—and high-quality, slim ones—can do a lot to make a small closet feel less cramped. By reducing visual clutter, things feel more streamlined. Slim velvet hangers were first sold specifically for helping slinky fabrics, like silk, stay put. But I put everything on mine, from jeans to sundresses. You can also buy clips to hold pants and skirts without having to double them over—another major space saver.