Have you ever been hunting for something, like that hypoallergenic pillow you keep on hand for when your excessively fussy sister decides to surprise you with an unannounced visit, and you just can’t find it anywhere? You look in the hall closet and it’s not there. You check the bathroom linen closet—nada. You tear apart your bedroom closet and the damn thing ain’t in there, either. Finally, after a generous gin and tonic and an even more generous string of expletives aimed at your sibling, you find the pillow. In the hall closet behind the stack of old board games. This is no way to live. It’s time to clean out your closets.
Before you reach for another finger of gin, relax. If this task seems overwhelming, that’s only because it is. But with a few organizational tips, you can easily whittle this enormous project down into a few bite-sized pieces.
Step 1: Empty the Closet
This is the best part. Rather than trying to carefully organize the closet while it’s still full, just take everything out, skeletons and all. This includes all shoes, even the innocuous flip-flops in the back, extra rolls of toilet paper, the photo album of your not-so-sweet sixteenth birthday party, and even the heavy plastic box with a handle stashed in the corner (by the way, that’s called a tool box).
At this point, it’s okay to pile everything onto the floor. Note: choose a time when pets, kids and other rowdy dependents (like your sister) will not intervene. This is not a step you want to leave unfinished.
Step 2: Sort Everything
We’re not asking you to sort out your life, just all the crap you’ve accumulated over the years that’s now on your floor. You’ll need three containers for this step: one kitchen garbage bag, one large black trash bag, and a cardboard box or wide laundry basket. The small bag is for actual garbage, the large one is for the stuff you want to either donate or send to your storage unit, and the box is for the lucky items that get to stay. Thank God your sister doesn’t fit into it.
Now, go through the pile one item at a time and put it into the appropriate container. It may feel daunting at first, which is probably a sign it’s time to put down the martini (or maybe have another one?), but once you get started, you’ll be done before you can say “007.”
If you’re having a hard time deciding which items to keep and which ones to chuck, ask yourself these questions:
- When was the last time you used this item? If your hair was big enough to have its own area code, it’s time to get rid of it. The item, not the hair. Well, the hair, too.
- Does this item even fit you anymore? If your initial reaction was “Who put Barbie’s outfit in here?” then it has to go.
- If you saw this on a store shelf right now, would you buy it? Whether it’s clothes, shoes, linens, lamps, or electronics, if you wouldn’t buy it today, then your taste has clearly changed, and you need to ditch the rope lamp, sound machine, and M&M jacket (not Eminem the singer, M&M the candy).
Step 3: Categorize What’s Left
If you’ve done your job correctly, you should be left with only the things you actually use. Now make like a toddler and dump your box of stuff on the floor. (Isn’t cleaning out your closets fun?) Time to categorize. For example, if you are working on the bedroom closet, you will have a pile for shoes, another for belts, a third for purses, perhaps a fourth for evening wear. This will give you a clear picture of what needs to go back into the closet and what size storage containers to get.
Step 4: Wipe Down the Closet
A sharp-looking closet like the one you are about to have can be ruined by the appearance of dust bunnies and skid marks (from your bicycle, of course).This may be the least fun step, but just like taxes, it must be done. Take a minute or five to wipe down all surfaces in the closet, including shelves, drawers, walls, and even the floor.
Step 5: Get Creative with Storage
Now for the exciting part. This may be the Tanqueray and tonic speaking, but you should be having visions of neatly hung, stacked, and color-coordinated clothes, towels, or canned goods right about now. There are a hundreds of storage options out there, so pick one or two that are ideal for your situation, such as:
- Shelves to store less-used items, like sweaters, pillows, or blankets, up high and out of the way.
- Extender rods to multiply your hanging capabilities. You can add them on the wall below the built-in rod and even on the sides of the closet.
- Empty shoe boxes are excellent drawer organizers.
- Over-the-door shoe racks can be used for more than just shoes. Use them in the bedroom to store socks and underwear or in the linen closet to store cleaning supplies.
- And, of course, if you fancy yourself a real-life Carrie Bradshaw, you can use shoe racks for overabundance of shoes.
That wasn’t so bad, was it? Now when your high-maintenance sister shows up and drives you crazy, you’ll have plenty of extra room in your closets in which to lock her.