Shop Talk Tips: Making more room in your closet

I don’t know how many of you readers out there in Shop Talk land watch House Hunters on HGTV, but I am mildly obsessed with it. It’s formulaic dialogue is so comfortingly familiar! 

"Insert wife’s joke about finally learning to cook if she has a kitchen with stainless appliances here!"

"Insert awkward silence when wife brings up turning office into a baby nursery here."

"Insert cliche phrase like ‘That’s what I’m talkin’ about’ when husband spots either 3 car garage or big screen TV."

The show has the ability to annoy the escrow out of you, but only if you let it. This weekend, I let it.

Among the many things that could bother me about the show (for instance, the fact that the couple says they want a house with a yard, garage and 3rd bedroom, and their realtor shows them at least 2 out of 3 that are missing two or more of those criteria and they BUY ONE ANYWAY), the one that finally unleashed my ire wasn’t really house-hunting related at all. 

At the beginning of every episode, the couple demonstrates how inferior and uninhabitable their current domicile is. This usually involves them making an big show out of bumping into each other in the kitchen while trying to "cook dinner in their tiny kitchen", carrying a comical amount of laundry to the "inconvenient laundry room", and shoving clothes and shoes out of the way in their overstuffed closet. Now, okay. This is where I roll my eyes and sigh dramatically.  Of course, a walk in closet would be preferable. We all know this. But just because you have a tiny closet doesn’t mean you should just say "Screw it!" and become the most disorganized person alive. I don’t care if your closet is big enough to fit my whole kitchen or small and narrow – there are still ways to be smart with the way you hang and store your stuff, and I am going to share some of those with you right now.

1 – Ditch the plastic hangers!  Seriously, what is wrong with you people. Every "overstuffed, unorganized" closet I see inevitably has big, bulky plastic hangers (you know the kind). Has any consumer, ever, in the history of hangers, ever been satisfied with these terrible creations? They are slippery, they take up too much space on your closet bar, and, well, they make the closets of grown men and women look like little more than dorm rooms. Would you like some Easy Mac and Ramen to go with your ridiculous hangers? Just about any hanger is better than these bulky plastic ones. My two favorites for easy hanging and space saving are these elegant ones from Real Simple (they feel like they are covered in microsuede), and the wire ones the dry cleaner uses that have the stretchy piece of sticky foam over the top. Why? Because they’re free, thin, functional, and guilt free when I want to ditch a few or leave them in a hotel closet at the end of a trip.

2 – Follow Shoe Clues.  The funny thing about shoes is that they show you exactly how they are best stored and cared for the second you purchase them. See how those pumps are turned in the box so that their curving shape compliments one another? See how those tall boots lie flat and protected from flopping and creasing? All you have to do is recreate their original boxed orientation as best you can for the best results. Many of us have the shoe racks that sit on the floor and have elevated bars for balancing shoes on. For the maximum use of space, turn the left shoe so the heel is facing you, and the right one so that the toe is facing you and fit their "s" shape up next to each other. It might only save a half-inch of space, but those inches add up by the time you reach the end of the rack and you can fit another pair or two. flip flops should be stacked on top of each other, so that the heel of one goes through the strap of the other. I stack multiple "bound" pairs of flip flops on top of each other, as well as any flats that I bought in multiple colors from Target (a habit of mine), and I also stack stuff like my Chuck Taylors and running shoes. No other shoes should be stacked on top of each other if you want them to look good for more than a few wears.  Boots are best stored in the boxes you bought them in. Believe me. The lifespan of your boots will increase exponentially if you re-stuff them with paper and put them back in their boxes. I store mine under the bed with the little picture of the shoe they put on the end of the box facing out at me for easy selection.  If you must let them stand alone in the closet, purchase a basket or storage tote with tall sides and follow the same left/right shoe orientation to stack them in there side by side so their height is supported.

3 – Find Clever Hiding Places.  The key to my streamlined closet is that half of my clothes aren’t in there at all. At the end of every winter, I get my sweaters dry cleaned (at the cheapest place I can find), and store them still on the hangers and in the plastic in a storage bin that can go in the attic, an office or guestroom closet, or under a bed. (Throw a few dryer sheets in there for fresh smell). When the temperature drops again, I haul them out and they are clean, unwrinkled and ready to be hung or stacked.  I also learned not to fall victim to the lure of the decorative storage tote. Those little linen-sided boxes make it SEEM like you’ll be organizing your closet, but they take up considerable space. Instead, think about where else you could store the stuff you’re tempted to put in totes. I stuffed an old Vera Bradley bag full of all my winter tights, leggings and boot socks and freed up space in my dresser. I have to root around for 20 minutes anyway to find the right pair of black tights regardless of whether they’re in a drawer or a bag, so why not put them in the bag and put it under the bed next to the boots they’re gonna get worn with anyway? Hooded sweatshirts and scarves and other bulky items that used to hang on the back of my closet door are used to stuff purses that need to have their form preserved (and thus look much prettier sitting on that top shelf in the closet), flat or clutch purses are perfect for layering into one of those storage totes after all.

4 – Be a little OCD.   I know this is incredibly lame, but my closet is organized by clothing type, then by color, then by weight/season of item from heavy to light. For example, my shirts start with black on the left and work their way to white on the right. Within each color, I group light summery or short sleeve tops together and cardigans and long sleeve blouses together. It is time consuming and a bit fussy, but it makes getting dressed (no matter what size your closet) a cinch. "This outfit needs a grey cardigan. The temperature is 90 outside, but minus 30 in my office."  I go straight to the greys, then to a medium weight or 3/4 length sleeve that won’t smother me outside, but keep the chill off inside. No overly dramatic tugging or mugging for the camera necessary.   Also, organizing your clothes this way forces you to look at every single thing in your closet when you’re doing it for the first time. You might discover a hidden gem, or discover that you kept a ridiculous amount of "going out tops" from your college days that you wouldn’t be caught dead in now, and it’s time to purge.


These are my tips for finding a little extra space in your closet and making your life easier no matter what size closet you have. These tricks worked for me when I lived in a historic building in Chicago (ie tiniest closets of all time) and they continue to work now that I have the coveted walk-in.  What are your tips for saving space and streamlining your closet?  Let us hear it in the comments or on Twitter.

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