Simple Closet Solutions for the Rest of Us

This isn’t a sexy post, but I thought I’d start off with some sexy photos to show you what I’m NOT writing about. I feel a little like the artist Rene Magritte, who painted that picture of a tobacco pipe with the caption, “This is not a pipe.” Well, of course, it was a PICTURE of a pipe, not an actual pipe, so…

I’ve now lived long enough to know for certain I’ll never have a closet like this one owned by designer Nanette Lepore

Or even this one owned by TV personality Guiliana Rancic

Or certainly not this one found in a Google search and owned by who-knows-whom…

But hey, I’m okay with that. Life is good. I’m married to my BFF. We work for ourselves. We don’t want for anything that we really need. We go out to dinner on a whim and mostly buy what we need when we need it. No sense in being greedy, right?

Besides, no one—let me repeat, NO ONE—really needs a closet so big it requires its own furniture, décor items, or STAIRS (God forbid). As much as I love home decor, I’ve yet to decorate my closet.

Still, when we downsized to this condo we lost more closet space than what remained, and we felt it most in the master bedroom. We didn’t live in a huge house before, but we built it with a lot of closet space. Our old master bedroom closet wasn’t fancy, but it was BIG—about 40-50 square feet—which had its pluses and its minuses:

+ Big enough we could both stand in it and dress.
+ Big enough it had its own heating vent.
+ Big enough to accommodate racks and/or shelves on 3.5 walls.
– Big enough to allow us to collect way too much stuff.
– Big enough to put off customizing with sturdy hardware until rods collapsed.
– Big enough to avoid organizing, period.

Not so in this home. Our current closet is big enough to walk into. Singly. But it’s NOT big enough for either of us to dress in without knocking stuff off shelves or hooks or getting tangled in low-hanging clothes. We knew going in that culling our belongings wouldn’t be enough. This closet would require a complete overhaul to function for us.

We did, basically, five things. The first one took the most planning, work and money, but was worth every penny. The other four were easy, cheap and things ANYONE can do anytime, but just as critical to our satisfaction in the end. Here’s our story.

Chapter 1: System overload

Our first plan of attack was to install a closet organization system of racks and shelves that maximized the space’s storage potential. We didn’t do it immediately. We lived here a year or more before we took the plunge because it took a while to get used to the new space, get rid of stuff, identify what needed to work better, research options, come up with a design, and decide on materials. We figured we’d live with our decision for a long time, so we wanted to get it right.

Although we would have preferred one of those richer-looking wood systems, we anticipated that light would be a problem. It was a long, narrow space that, because of its positioning, picked up no natural light from the room’s one window and no artificial light from lamps that might or might not be on within the room. In the end we went with a Rubbermaid white-coated mesh system not because it was cheaper, but because the light could penetrate through the shelving as well as reflect off the white surface. It was the right decision for us.


Most of the closet system manufacturers have interactive design tools on their websites to help you configure your space with their products. This is a screenshot from Rubbermaid’s. You’ll need to measure your closet and decide what special elements you want it to have before you sit down to work out potential designs. These websites generally include a lot of pointers, and the interactive tools ask you questions to help you cover your bases.

We wanted double hanging rods on both a long and a short wall. If you have many dresses—standard or full-length—you won’t be able to double-up all the rods like we did. On the long wall, we also wanted room for a stack of shelves that went to the ceiling. Some we wanted slanted for shoes and others flat for box or basket storage. The shelf stack would be right inside the door so shoes were easy to access.

Rubbermaid’s design tool allowed us to print out a complete materials list we could use to order from its website or take with us to the home store. We started with a Deluxe Configurations Closet Kit (shown below) and added another double hanging unit, as well as additional shelving, according to our printout.


In addition to the Rubbermaid products, we installed a small wood shelf with hooks high enough on the remaining long wall so we wouldn’t bump our heads. We also added a couple more bar racks with hooks. Robes go here, as well as any extra-long items. I also use these hooks when I put away laundry. I can’t reach my husband’s hanging racks, so I leave his clean shirts on the hooks, and he does the rest next time he’s in there.

Cost: $350

Chapter 2: Anybody got a light?

We had one recessed can light with a 100-watt bulb in it. It was NEVER enough light, but once two walls were covered in double racks and shelf stacks and a third wall had a system of hooks, the closet went from cave to dungeon. Even with the white grid shelves, a single recessed bulb couldn’t do the job. There were now more nooks, crannies and shadows.

But alas, the solution was simple. We converted the recessed fixture to support a non-recessed light ($25-$35 per fixture, depending on size). Then we found a directional fixture with multiple arms. Something like this one:

Wattage increased to 150 overall, but seemed like more since it was no longer recessed and allowed us to direct light to different areas. The bulbs were also LED, which generate more lumens and less heat (very important in a closet).

Cost: Less than $50 for conversion kit AND fixture, which came with bulbs

Chapter 3: No more hanger hang-ups

I positively despise wire hangers, and I’m not much for those cheapo plastic tube ones either. They solve the problem of hangers getting tangled up in each other, but they take up WAY too much room on the rod.

My husband likes wood hangers for his clothes—he’s taller, broad-shouldered and his clothes tend to weigh more, so that makes sense. Men also tend to have fewer clothes, so the space the hanger consumes is not as much of an issue. I know some couples don’t split their closet space evenly, but we always have. And with our new configuration, he uses all the top racks and I get all the bottom ones. I can’t even REACH the top racks, so I couldn’t begin to steal his space even if I wanted to!

This video can help you decide which type of hanger will work best for you:

I tried the flocked hangers and found them to be true to their claim. You CAN fit more clothes in the same space—about 30 percent more compared to plastic and 50 percent more compared to wood. They don’t bunch up on each other, the flocking helps prevent slide off, and their size/shape help prevent shoulder bumps.

Cost: About $50 for 100 hangers

Chapter 4: So you think you’re special, huh?

Women always have special storage problems, right girls? I’m not saying men NEVER do, but my guy’s pretty mainstream. And as women go, I’m low-maintenance. I own less than a dozen pairs of shoes and about the same number of purses. But I DO have waaaaaaayy too many scarves (after three neck surgeries you would, too!) and jewelry.

For purses I’ve tried a few things:

  • Basket and bins, which I hated.
  • A hanging organizer with plastic sleeves (below right), which I hated because it was hard to get the purses in and out. That’s probably why it fell apart.
  • A hanging organizer with Velcro loops I simply slip through the purse handles (below left). It’s made well, holds a lot and is easy to use.

My purses hang in that dead corner in the closet where the rods on the two adjoining walls cross. It’s a great use of that space because clothes get schmussed back there, and I don’t change purses all that often, so I don’t often need to access it. The Velcro loops are easy to use. As long as I can see the purse I want, I can manipulate the loops by feel.

Jewelry I won’t even go into detail on, except to say I found a great organizer for my necklaces and bracelets that works on the same principal as the purse organizer—Velcro loops (above, middle) of varying lengths on BOTH sides. It hangs on a hook in the closet or on the back of a door.

For scarves, well, I’m ashamed to say I struggle with that one. I will tell you my collection outgrew the closet more than a year ago, which makes it irrelevant for the purposes of this post.

Cost: About $15 for each organizer, so $30 total

Chapter 5: Divide and conquer (my personal favorite!!)

I decided to hang all my slacks on the short-wall rack and my tops, which I have more of, on the long-wall rack. I tried to keep seasonal items together, but it was tougher than it sounds, particularly since at least half my tops are cardigans and jackets I wear year-round. (Yes, I’m chronically cold indoors, winter or summer.)

I can’t remember how I happened onto the idea of dividers, but clothing stores use them all the time to separate sizes. Why not at home? I spent a bit of time thinking about ways to make my own, as well as the best way to divide up my clothes, but when I discovered I could buy dividers cheaply on-line, I went that route.

There are several divider styles available, but these are the ones I settled on. They came with stickers for labeling, but I used my labeling machine to make more legible ones. I labeled both sides and categorized my tops by sleeve length:

  • LS = long sleeves
  • ¾ = ¾ sleeves
  • SS = short sleeves
  • SL = sleeveless
  • JAX = Jackets and cardis

The short-sleeved and sleeveless tops are at one end of the rack and the ¾- and long-sleeved tops are at the other. In between are the jackets and cardigans I draw from year-round.

Now it’s easy for even my husband to put away my freshly laundered clothes (not saying he DOES), and it’s even easier for me to find what I want to wear. I don’t even really have to read the labels anymore because I kept the arrangement simple and know what each divider represents at a glance.

Cost: less than $10

Survival of the fittest

EVERY closet revamping MUST begin with paring down possessions. That’s the tough part, and you have to wade through it at your own pace. But maybe tackling some of the easy-peasy ideas I shared will give you the jumpstart you need.

In case you wondered, the Magritte painting referenced earlier appears below. This was, indeed, NOT a sexy post. But it is the end.

Good luck!

Rene Magritte

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