“I need to declutter all the time,” says Ryan, 28. “But it feels so much better to get things out; you end up with so much more space.”
Tiny closets can be particularly problematic for renters, who often don’t have the ability or budget to install uber-efficient closet systems or make other large-scale changes. So it comes down to increasing the functionality of what you have and getting creative when needed.
Start by going through your wardrobe and purging things that are well-loved or never-worn. “Really think about what your lifestyle looks like,” says Ashley Hatcher, owner of the D.C.-area location of professional organizing firm Neat Method. “A lot of times you find that you’re holding onto clothing that no longer reflects what you do.”
Once you have a sense of everything that truly needs to go in the closet, figure out an organization plan and budget. “A lot of people think you have to spend a lot of money on products, but you really don’t,” says professional organizer Rachel Rosenthal of Rachel and Company.
Affordable, temporary solutions include hook-on double hanging rods and sweater bags that Velcro onto closet rods and increase vertical folding space. Rosenthal also likes to use bulletin boards for hanging jewelry. “I think you use it more when you can see it,” she says.
Ryan, who does PR and marketing for Rachel and Company, has adopted another of his boss’s tricks — using luggage to store out-of-season items. “If it’s in the closet and empty, you might as well put something in it,” he says.
If you have a shoe collection that would make a Vogue editor jealous, containing it in a small closet might be as tricky as walking in 5-inch heels. Carrie Bradshaw famously stashed shoes and sweaters in her never-used oven. But forgoing cooking isn’t your only option.
“When I lived in a small space, I got a bookcase from Ikea and converted it into a shoe closet,” Hatcher says. “I added glass doors to it and kept it in a corner of my bedroom. Every time people came over they were like, ‘Oh my gosh, look at your shoes.’ ”
For clients, Hatcher has stashed flip-flops, sandals and other casual shoes in baskets. “A basket could take up 14 inches of a closet versus a shoe rack that might take up way more space,” she says.
Attractive accessories can also morph into display pieces that inject personality into your apartment. “Pumps are usually really pretty, so I’ve recommended having crown molding added to the wall so the heels can hang off of that,” says Andrea Hancock, owner of Alexandria-based Dexterous Organizing. “For men, bow ties that are colorful can be put in big glass bowls. Hats, jewelry — all of those can be displayed in different ways that create decor and at the same time functionality.”
If you’re not as successful as Ryan at getting everything into your closet, look for other places in your apartment to conceal and contain your wardrobe. Hide swimsuits in a stylish box on a bookcase or sweaters in a storage ottoman. Make use of space above cabinets or behind doors.
Blessed with a big pantry? “Maybe the bottom shelves could serve as scarf or shoe storage and the top shelves could be for more pantry-type items,” Hancock says.
And while Ryan likes to have his duds behind closed doors, he also sees the appeal of fun and funky garment racks from places like West Elm, which offer storage with a dose of style that works with a variety of furnishings and design schemes. Consider one in an entryway for coats or in the bedroom for your work wardrobe.
“You have to curate it, but they can look nice,” he says. “And being able to see what you have forces you to keep it tidy.”
Control your closet
Here are four more ways to turn your small closet into an ultra-useful storage zone.
Color-code your clothing: “It allows you to see everything you have,” Hatcher says. “A lot of times people end up with so much stuff because they don’t realize what they have.”
Unify your hangers: “We often use black velvet slim-line hangers,” Hatcher says. “You’d be surprised how much your closet is instantly upgraded by just switching out your hangers and color-coding.”
Keep it simple: Supplement your wardrobe by using rental services like Gwynnie Bee (closet.gwynniebee.com) and Rent the Runway (renttherunway.com). “You won’t feel like you’re wearing the same things over and over again, but you don’t take up the space in the closet you would if you’re continually purchasing clothes,” Hancock says.
Find more folding space: If you have more T-shirts and sweaters than hanging items, squeeze an inexpensive dresser into your closet. “You can still hang things on either side,” Rosenthal says.
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