Wardrobe Organization Best Practices

How to organize your closet

A few requests have come in for folding, storage, and clothing care best practices. And honestly? I had to scrape the bottom of the brain-barrel for a few because – like most of you – I’ve got limited space and employ many makeshift solutions. In an ideal world, our sweaters wouldn’t get rumpled because we’d all have stadium-sized walk-in closets populated by sweater-fluffing robots who kept everything looking pristine and smelling of lavender. In the real world, we may fold them neatly but then cram them into overflowing dresser drawers, which undoes all the folding-related goodness almost instantly.

So here’s what I’m gonna do: I’ll give you the theory. I’ll lay out some wardrobe organization best practices and why they work. You can decide if they’re worthwhile, applicable, or possible given your budget, storage, wardrobe, and preferences. THEN! You can tell me and everyone else your own storage and organizational tips in the comments, and we’ll get some real-life solutions into the mix. Sound good? Fabulous. Here we go:

Don’t crowd

Why do clean, fresh clothes emerge from the closet looking wrinkled and rumpled? Nine times out of 10 it’s simply crowding: Overstuffed drawers, packed closet hang bars, overflowing armoires. Hung clothing should be able to move freely – at least a few centimeters between hangers. Folded clothing should have plenty of breathing room, too.

Use good hangers

Crappy, wire dry cleaner hangers do the job, but wider and/or softer hangers are less likely to cause shoulder nipples and distension. Many people swear by velvet-covered Huggable Hangers, others use padded lingerie hangers or wide plastic hangers.

Fold carefully

I prefer this method for folding sweaters and other drawer residents. Fold however you’d like, but be mindful of how folding patterns create creases: Any method that has you folding a garment in half vertically will place a crease right down the center of your torso. That said, any folding method is likely to leave a garment in better shape than throwing it into a pile on the floor.

Learn from your mistakes

Some garments appear relatively sturdy, then sag and unravel when hung. Some garments seem like ideal candidates for folded storage, but then wrinkle beyond all comprehension. If an item doesn’t do well in one storage method, try another. Simple, but important.

Be prepared to steam or iron

No matter how you store your clothes, they WILL get a little wrinkled and crimped. Don’t expect anything to look freshly pressed unless it’s been … well, freshly pressed. Or steamed, which can be a quicker way to spruce up a jersey or knit that’s got some storage creases.

Just so we’re clear, my hung and folded items are all crammed into their allotted spaces and I seldom iron. This is a list of best practices that assumes you’ve got loads of time, space, and energy. I’m short on all three, as I’m sure you are. For some other tips on storage, organization and maintenance that might seem a bit more do-able, see:

Image courtesy The Daily Green.

Originally posted 2012-04-27 06:26:37.

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30 Responses to “Wardrobe Organization Best Practices”

  1. Elaine Spitz (@laineyd7)

    Your article is super helpful, but I’m with you – not ideal space, time, inclination, to have clothes emerge perfectly wearable every time. When needed, I break out my steamer and steam a few items, which I then carefully hang in the closet with room to breathe. Perfect!

  2. Jackie

    I have a hanging organizer for sweaters, and I use it to hold lighter-weight sweaters, folded, my lighter cardigans and short-sleeved shell-type sweaters. I’ve been very happy with this system, which I started using last summer, as I’ve found my heavier sweaters are okay being folded on a shelf in my closet. I don’t keep any sweaters in drawers any more, as I found I definitely tended to stuff them overly full and end up with a lot of wrinkled/crumpled sweaters I never wanted to wear!

  3. Eleanorjane

    I’ve just moved into a furnished flat with very few clothes and not many places to store them (small free-standing wardrobe and some drawers) so I’m just working it out myself. It’s going be an issue ‘cos now that I’ve got a job, I am going to want to increase the amount of clothing I have by a fair bit. I will need to keep pruning and try to balance a good range of clothes with not having too many to store.

    The only tip I have is that IKEA have some great drawer organisers so you can put your sock and undies in different canvas boxes inside the same drawer (or whatever). They have a variety of sizes plus a range of other lovely storage solutions i.e. underbed, belt/tie hangers, shoe boxes etc.

  4. Amy K

    I’m lucky that I don’t have to share closet space…I have a lot of clothes. Some of the ways that I’ve worked with my large wardrobe:

    -I use a secondary closet for my out of season or rarely worn pieces. I also use this closet to store items that need attention: hems, buttons sewn on, etc.

    -I purchased a multi-use hanger from IKEA. Link:
    I hung this on the outside of my closet door using a 3M hook. During the day it looks decorative. At night, before I go to bed I pick out my outfit-all of it. I can hook hangers all over to try out looks, then I can slide scarves, undergarments, camis, belts, jewelry etc into the loops.

    Since I hang things up they get a night to hang loose with a spray of wrinkle relesae (I homemake my own by mixing fabric softener and water) and if any wrinkles still need to be removed in the morning it’s easy to just bring the whole thing into the bathroom to steam while I shower.

    -I use a large basket to store all of my scarves (I have over 35). I roll them up neatly and just toss in. Again, it looks decorative. The ones I wear most naturally stay at the top, but it’s easy enough to toss the whole basket out and rummage through.

    -This method also works for anything that doesn’t wrinkle easily that you’ve got in large numbers. My mom uses canvas cube totes for her tank tops. Sorted by color, length. pattern, whatever, you can just take the whole tote off the shelf, get what you need and then put the rest back instead of knocking over a whole stack or two.

    • linnet

      I am going to steal the idea of cubes for shelf storage. So clever! My tees/tanks are sorted by colour but I end up knocking them around if I want the red one at the bottom of the stack two shelves up!

  5. Abby

    Everyone knows you’re not supposed to wear the same bra two days in a row, but you can wear a bra three or four times between washings. I have super limited space in my closet, and all of my bras go in a tiny drawer in a small IKEA dresser. With all of this in mind, rather than laying all my bras out nicely, I stack them back to front so the cups of one fit over the cups of the one behind it. When I take one off at night, I put it on the front of the stack (the back makes more sense, but in practice, the front is easier when you’re tired and just tossing things on the floor or in your closet at night…unless that’s just me…), and in the morning, I pull the one from the back to put on. Sometimes this helps with the what-to-wear dilemma too, because if a black or patterned bra comes up, it limits my clothing options, which actually makes it easier to get dressed in the morning. The only bras not in this regular rotation are strapless and multi-way bras, which just hang out at the back of the stack until they’re needed. 🙂

  6. VAMarcy

    One of the things I use most often–especially when traveling–is a tiny spray bottle of water. It’s amazing what a few spritzes of warm water can do to wrinkled clothes…static-y skirts…bad hair days…cats getting into your jewelry…unlimited uses!

    • Lady Harriet

      Yes! Plain water works just as well as any expensive, overly-scented wrinkle releaser. I never really ironed my clothes to begin with, but now I don’t look all rumpled anymore. 🙂 I used a small spray bottle on my clothes in college, and all my roommates borrowed it because it was so useful. It came home with me after I graduated, and I still use it. I just hang my clothes on the closet door handle or over a chair the night before, spray any wrinkles, and kind of smack the garment around with my hands. It means I have to lay out my clothes before bed, but I’m so incoherent in the mornings that I was doing that anyway.

  7. Katharine

    I’ve found that the very thin, flat, flocked hangers are my ideal hanging solution (I have a tiny, tiny closet). They have a nice rounded profile that doesn’t cause bumps, and my things don’t slither off them in the night and recline on the closet floor, either. And I can pack at least four times as many clothes into my closet as I could when I had a matched set of fancy wooden hangers.

    I also have one of those “ladder” storage things that lean against the wall — four or five rungs, and a shelf at the bottom. I use this to drape my next-day’s outfit on, AND to drape my weekly rotation of bras (as per Abby), AND to hang the things I wore the day before, to allow them to air (since I also do not wash most things after only one wear).

    For limited space (which I have always, alas, had) one of my key things has always been — get the out of season stuff OUT of my regular storage, somehow. Rubbermaid in the basement/attic, rolling storage box under the bed, storage boxes on high normally inaccessible closet shelf, whatever. It makes so much difference both to available space and to seeing what I have to wear — if not at a glance, at least without pawing my way through heavy wool sweaters in July. And the seasonal rotation really helps with regular clothing evaluation, too.

    I’d like to get a steamer, one of these days. I’ve ended up hanging most of my “good” knit jersey items, since I haven’t found ANY way to fold them that doesn’t require a touch of the iron for decent wearing. (And I’m anti-ironing in general, let alone in the morning before I leave for work.) This seems to be even more the case with the various rayon/linen/silk/other jersey blends that are becoming super-popular even in the mid-range these days — they feel great, but they crease at a look.

  8. tiny junco

    Great topic! Messy storage is no good for your clothes, your head, or your style. “In an ideal world, our sweaters wouldn’t get rumpled because we’d all have stadium-sized walk-in closets populated by sweater-fluffing robots who kept everything looking pristine and smelling of lavender.” oh, it’s funny how different people are in how they relate to their clothes! This scenario makes me want to run away screaming – but i’ve known, loved, and admired people who could fill that stadium to the brim with drool worthy clothes. To each their own!

    My sggestions? First – get rid of as many clothes as you can. Seriously, how much do you need? If you have 100 pieces of clothing (slim, according to what i’ve seen of people posting about the size of their closets) – you’ll only have to repeat each individual item 3 or 4 times in a year. Less to store means more space to work with.

    Those little fuzzy hangers are great! Just be sure to use molded or padded ones when necessary, like for heavy coats or sweaters.

    Keep your ‘working closet’ free of intrusions. Intruders would include out of season clothes, items needing alteration or repair, waiting for donation, and so on. Store these items appropriately elsewhere.

    Whatever hanging or folding system you use, i find it will only work to it’s best advantage when kept up. For me this means taking 5-10 minutes a week going thru my closet and putting all my clothes in their proper order (i group by garment type) and also straightening my dresser drawers. As a plus, this helps me to remember what the heck i have (sparse as my wardrobe maybe, i still manage to forget pieces 😉

    Most important – find out what works FOR YOU. It doesn’t matter how well a certain method is regarded by others- if it’s not for you, try something else! Have fun! steph

    • Linda

      “Seriously, how much do you need? If you have 100 pieces of clothing (slim, according to what i’ve seen of people posting about the size of their closets) – you’ll only have to repeat each individual item 3 or 4 times in a year. Less to store means more space to work with.”

      Thank you for this wake up call! The awesome pieces deserve the closet space, and the wearing time – the meh pieces must go. Maybe they will be awesome in someone else’s closet.

    • ABCD for Michelle

      I just reorganized my closet and dressers, and I felt the same way as your first thought, Why do I need all of these clothes? I still kept too much, but I was still proud of the amount I cleaned out!

    • Halo

      I completely agree. I just took everything out of my standard-sized closet and got rid of everything I don’t wear, doesn’t fit, or I don’t like any longer. And I ended up filling SIX trash bags with things to donate and I still feel like my closet is too full. Part of this is that I wear almost nothing but dresses, so the vast majority of my wardrobe has to hang. It sure is nice to be able to see just about everything in the closet now.

  9. Erika A

    Great idea for a post, Sally! I’m loving everyone else’s tips. 🙂

    Personally, I would be lost without my cascading skirt hangars, like here: http://www.spacesavers.com/Storage/Closet-storage-closet-organizers/4-Tier-Folding-Skirt-Slacks-Hanger-by-Organize-It-All

    I have a small closet and a number of short to medium length skirts. The cascading hangars let me organize them in groups that approximate in what situations I will be wearing them (casual, work, dress-up). It keeps the skirts and dresses side of my closet organized and saves a lot of space.

    Also, anything that’s jersey or a fine synthetic knit gets folded and stored in a rubbermaid box on the bottom of the closet. Dresses last a lot longer that way and it keeps them from getting long and misshapen.

  10. Elizabeth

    Would people mind giving recs for good quality steamers? I’ve given up on ironing but am feeling a little lost about what kind of steamer might be the best for my lazy approach to clothing management.

  11. Molly

    I love this kind of post! I am a lifelong slob who is constantly working on changing those habits.

    My two tips are:
    1. When you take a garment off a hanger, put the empty hanger on one end of the bar. That way, whenever you need one, you don’t have to go digging around in the clothes to find one, and it looks a lot neater than having empty hangers sticking out here and there.
    2. Instead of folding, I roll my t-shirts and sweaters. I started doing this when packing a suitcase and it seemed to make sense for drawers as well. It’s easier to find things in a drawer than digging through piles.

    Wish I had more storage space for shoes!

    • ABCD for Michelle

      Oh, you said everything I was going to say! My closet looks so much better since I’ve committed to putting empty hangers just at one end of the bar.

      I still fold or hang my shirts, but I definitely fold my sweaters. I find it saves space and you don’t have to worry about creases.

  12. Carol N.

    My number one tip is to clean out that closet like tiny junco said. I not only opened up a world of space in my closet, but by taking things to a consignment store, I made some money! Also, we have been fortunate to be able to have custom closet solutions installed (one by a company and one we did ourself). I find that by having that organization plus having matching hangers I am more likely to keep my closet neat. But then again, I’m one of those OC folks who has to group by category (tops, skirts, etc.) and then by color within category. It just makes me happier, makes it easier to find something and keeps things looking neat so I’m not embarassed if someone comes in and see my closet. We recently did a remodel of the house and have two fairly large walk in closets. I made a committment at that time to keep all of my clothes in that one closet and managed to pare down so it is all in there. p.s. I do not fold sweaters…we have such mild weather here in Alabama that I do not need heavy sweaters so mine are all on the velvet hangers.

  13. sigourney

    I’m not much for ironing although it does make fabric smoother and less prone to getting dirty.

    What I do is avoid any unnecessary crumpling. When I get home I take off my day clothes and soak everything that has to go into the wash in a bucket of tepid water with a little washing powder. The rest I put on a drying stand on my loggia balcony to air. I often leave out clothes overnight if the weather permits it, shoes, too. If that is not possible I put them on hangers and hang them on my bathroom towel rack high on the wall where they can straighten out as one of us takes a shower. The next day I put them back into my wardrobe.

    I keep my bags individually in cloth shopping bags to avoid damage. And I only keep the seasonal clothes in my wardrobe. The rest goes to a storage rack in my basement.

    I always keep some scented sachet in my wardrobe so I enjoy opening it.

  14. Erika

    Getting rid of clothes I don’t wear or that don’t flatter me had to be the biggest space saver. After that, out-of-season clothes and shoes get packed away. Which leaves me with 3 doors of our wardrobe (beloved spouse has the other 2) and my dresser – 5 small drawers that hold (1) knickers (neatly folded and stacked by colour); (2)black singlets (3) white/nude singlets; (4) half slips. 5th drawer is empty because that’s hard up against the bed. Shirts are sorted by colour and are on wooden hangers. Dresses are sorted by length and are on cardboard hangers (www.greenhanger.com.au) – used to be on wooden hangers, but I needed more space…. Skirts are NOT sorted and on a mix of wooden skirt hangers and the 4 tier metal skirt hangers. Trousers are in the same partition, on a padded 4 tier trouser hanger. Jeans of various colours are rolled and stored in a wire basket shelf. Then there are 4 drawers – in descending order (1) bras and other undergarments; (2) stockings and pantihose (sorted by density and colour); (3) socks; (4) evening purses (beaded ones from my grandmother), out-of-season perfumes, stretching spray for shoes and other assorteds. Above the drawers and skirts are the open shelves. They’re adjustable, which means they get changed according to season. Everything is neatly and sorted by colour. It’s coming up to winter down here, so there are 2 shelves of cardigans, 2 of jumpers, one of vests, one of chunky boleros, one of long cardigans, one of “round the house” cardigans and jumpers, a shelf of tshirts and a shelf which has the deliberately crumpled silks (brilliant, no ironing ever!). Scarves are on 3 towel rails inside one door. There are stick on hooks everywhere around the mirror – earrings are hooked in pairs, necklaces are hooked separately. Belts are hooked in a row across the inside of another door. AND there are some shoe boxes on the very top shelf which have fans, fur collars and cuffs (vintage) and some scarves which are very delicate. Out of season hats are in a large metal hat-box (vintage), in season ones are on the hallstand. Gloves are currently in a large vintage salad bowl on the entry bookcase.

    Shoes – why is it there is never adequate shoe storage? Boots are under the dressing table. Heeled shoes are in a hanging shoe shelf (10 pairs), then boxes stacked under that. Flats are in one of the “hang over the back of the door” organizers.

    Every drawer/shelf/suitcase or cupboard section has a bag of lavender or cloves to deter moths. And every time I have to trim the wormwood, rosemary or lavender, some of it makes it’s way into the bottom of the wardrobe.

    Empty hangers get moved straight into the laundry, with 2 exceptions – one for spouse’s sweaty gym clothes and one for me to hang work clothes for the next day.

    Re-reading this, I sound far too organized. Ooops.

  15. Sophia

    My sneaky tip for lazy and cheap puffy hangers for sweaters is that I wrap a few layers of bubble wrap around the shoulder part of the hanger. Then I sellotape it around as smooth as it will go so it’s not bumpy. Sometimes you have to ‘accidently’ pop a few bubbles and squish it all about a bit. I hang my 3 thin jersey knit dresses from these and they do OK. If I get shoulder nipples from not hanging it straight etc, I do Sally’s trick of wetting my fingers and gently smoothing the shoulders.

  16. Kirsten

    Last year, my husband & I got rid of our dresser. We donated a bunch of clothing, then installed those wire sliding drawers down the middle of our closets, with a wire shelf on top.

    The wire shelf contains two baskets: undies & socks. The three drawers below these contain sweaters, outdoors clothes, purses, etc.

    What’s left of the hanging bar on either side of the drawers contains coats, dresses, shirts, pants, etc.

    Most people think we’re nuts to have emptied our dresser into our closets like this, but honestly, I’ve worn more fine clothing since doing this than before when I had stacks of clothes.

    Now, I buy something and have to donate something else to make room for the new. Love it!

  17. Ruth

    My storage is chaotic – so much so, that if a miracle ever happens and I iron everything on my ironing pile there will be nowhere to put it.
    But I must raise one topic on which you haven’t touched. Moths!!! Please, please dry clean everything that contains wool at the end of the winter. Yes, I know it is expensive, it is smelly, and it is not environmentally friendly. But if it harbours a tiny speck of food, a little sweat or anything else organic it will be a delightful repast for moths. Lacy knits are, I know, fashionable, but far better when designed by a fashion designer than courtesy of the moths.
    I do have one or two things with little holes that I wear. Clothing tip – if you have a black sweater with moth holes in it, you may get away with it if you wear a black teeshirt underneath.
    But many things are beyond saving. My partner once took out his rarely worn suit to put on for an occasion, shook the trousers and the entire crotch fell out!
    And yes, we have ‘natural moth repellent’ sachets, and have tried cedar balls as well.
    We have never done this, but apparently you should never bring bongo drums back from Africa. They are riddled with moth larvae and will infect all your clothes.

  18. Kathleen Lisson

    I organize tops by sleeve length and have my blazers on one side of the closet, so outfit making is kind of like assembly line sandwich making. I also make at least three complete work outfits every Sunday and hang them together in the middle of my closet so all I have to do on weekdays is decide on jewelry. Thanks for the ideas in your post!

  19. Patricia

    I know people love the Huggable hangers–I did too until I discovered that they shed, and can be pretty flimsy. One recommendation, take a look at Super Grippy hangers, from MAWA, made in Germany. They’re strong, really are super-grippy and they come in all shapes and sizes so you can get one for any purpose. You can find them online at Bed Bath and Beyond, or on the company’s website, http://www.mawahangers.com. I tried a few and ended up re-doing the whole closet with them.

  20. diane

    A really little thing – having all matching hangers made a big difference in my closet. I wish I could have pretty wood ones, but I’m settling for the black plastic ones from Walmart that come in a pack of 10 for a buck or two. For some reason it makes my clothes stand out and I don’t even see the hangers – makes it visually easier for me to select an outfit (when I’m half asleep).

    I also added some hooks on the wall outside of my closet so I can plan a few outfits for the week and hang them there. I’m not sharp enough to plan all 5 workdays yet, but a few things pre-planned helps me a lot.