How to Make the Most of a Small Closet — 6 Tricks That Will Help You Store More, Better

Reorganizing a small closet to maximize space is no longer a daunting task to undertake. Follow these professional pointers for the best outcome

a small closet leading into an ensuite
(Image credit: Pulkit Sehgal. Design: Norein Kapoor)

If you have a small closet that’s filled to the brim with allsorts, it may be an intimidating process to begin with, but we have a few techniques from the professionals in order to keep you on track and see it through.

‘To do this properly you have to schedule an uninterrupted time slot into your calendar when you are well-rested, fed and watered and have plenty of light to work,’ notes Kimberly Corey, Founder of Finely Sorted Organizing. But after that, what steps can you take in your closet organization to make a small space work harder.

Here are 6 ideas to try.

1. Think vertical

a closet with a library ladder

(Image credit: Agnieszka Jakubowicz. Design: Bynn Esmond Designs)

Utilize the potential of your small closet's height — it can be a total game changer. ‘Consider bringing cabinets up to the full ceiling height and adding a library ladder for a small closet space idea,' Bynn Esmond, Founder of Bynn Esmond Designs says. 'We used a combination of open shelves for easy access to everyday items, and drawers and tall cabinets for extra storage. The library ladder slides across the track to allow access to items stored way up high.’

This feature not only adds a whole load of character to an otherwise purely functional space but also allows you to really increase the amount of items that are stored inside. Another thought on vertical space is to install two rows of closet rods for short-hanging items, doubling your hanging space.

2. Choose the right hangers

A kids closet with open doors revealing clothes, and a small whole for a laundry chute on the surface

(Image credit: Tiffany Tcheng (@tiffanytcheng))

All the professionals we spoke to about organizing closets had the same advice: ‘do not use plastic hangers!’. They are bulky, and do not keep the shape of clothing, and they also often lose their shape over time.

Huggable hangers, like these from Walmart, are everyone's go-to instead. ‘They are space saving, clothing friendly and a must have for every clothing closet. The only exception is for coats which should be hung on wood hangers,’ says professional organizer Amy Bloom. Huggable hangers are better for your clothes, too, helping them keep their shape.

If you've only got a narrow space, you might be asking how deep should a closet be? You might think you don't have room for a rail, however these foldable coat hangers, also from Walmart, are a genius way to make it work where there's not room for a traditional clothes hanger.

3. Take off the door

Image of closet with white curtain covering it

(Image credit: Avenue Design Studio)

It’s not all about function. Removing the door to your closet and decorating the space just like it was another room in your home can be a fresh way of allowing it to feature as an extension of your bedroom. Not only will it get rid of the turning circle of the door, but will allow light to flood into the space, making it much easier to find your way around.

You could go for a bold pop to add a view through to vibrancy, for example, it could be the place to introduce that wallpaper you had your eye on, on a small scale. If you’d like the option of closing it off, Bynn has the solution, ‘Another way to gain space inside the closet is by adding pocket doors. This allows for extra wall space to add cabinets as well as having the choice to leave open or shut.’ If you prefer a softer, more neutral look then floor length curtains may be your solution, this can give the impression of a large window instead of a closet.

4. Purge, edit, categorize

A slim cabinet with no clutter

(Image credit: James Merrell)

What’s the very first step to take in this process of maximizing the closet space? ‘My recommended first step is to completely remove everything. It's best if you can lay everything out in a more open area so you can get a better idea of everything that's been living there,' suggests Amy Bloom, Founder of Let Your Space Bloom. 'Often, small closets will seem larger once you have some organization in place, so removing everything first can help you sort through and declutter, along with understanding what all will actually need to be stored back in the closet.’

As you lay out, categorize your items, once this is done, Dan Dillon, Founder of Clean It Supply suggests going on to categorize again but into three groups, ‘1.Essential, 2. Non-essential with sentimental value, and 3. Items without sentimental value.’ The categorization makes the decluttering process more streamlined. ‘Then, follow a step-by-step process by removing the items without sentimental value. This warm-up declutter can help build the momentum you need when facing more emotionally charged items. Ask yourself key questions like, when last did I use this? Does this item enrich my life? Could someone else benefit more from this?’

Dans says answering these truthfully can make decluttering sentimental items easier. ‘Letting go is less about the physical act of removing items, and more about accepting that the sentimentality often lies within our memories, not the items themselves. Consider photographing items before parting with them, ensuring you preserve the memory without the clutter.’

5. Learn to fold properly

A walk-in closet with a window and open shelves

(Image credit: Studio Peake)

Folding your clothes properly is something that will make a real difference in how you use your space.

Amy lets us in on how important it is to store clothes in the right way ‘Sweatshirts and fleece tops should be folded neatly on a shelf, not hung. Hanging these garments takes up too much horizontal hanging space and are a chore to get on/off a hanger. For smaller items such as socks, hosiery, etc, invest in drawer organizers, like these from Amazon.

Fold items made with sturdier fabrics such as fleece, wool, and down. When it comes to denim, it’s really a personal choice as to whether hang or fold because it’s a hardy fabric that is suitable for either method. ‘With small closets, it may be a case of using a combination of slim storage bins and hangers. This allows you to compactly store things like seasonal items and bedding alongside clothes, in a way that allows you easy access to everything.’

We also love Nate Berkus' trick for folding pants for really organized closets.

6. Contain to maintain

Small walk in closet with gold wallpaper

(Image credit: Paul Raeside)

Before buying random storage bins, baskets and closet organizers, be sure to do a little research on what’s available. Consider the sizes and measure up to avoid disappointment, and think decor as well as function.

‘Baskets are pretty but see-through material such as clear plastic and wire baskets are easier to identify contents at a glance so if your label falls off you can still see what's in it. Note that it will look neater if you can't see through the container.’ says Kimberly Corey. ‘Also, consider if different containers will match enough not to drive you crazy after doing all that work. Closets being square/rectangle in shape work best/most efficient use of space with square containers, rather than round.’ Once you’ve organized your possessions, it’s time to teach everyone who uses the system how it works. ‘Be sure the system is easy and accessible (or not) enough for all ages involved.’

If you have done the job of maximizing your storage space well, it will look fantastically organized at a glance and you are certain you can put things back in their homes after each use so it stays looking great, but be sure to put things back after use to keep the system functioning and perhaps even put on your calendar to repeat this process every 6 months to maintain. Good luck, and try to enjoy the process!

Portia Carroll

Portia Carroll is an interior stylist, writer, and design consultant. With a background in interior architecture and design, she has a plethora of creative experience in the industry working with high end interior brands to capture beautiful spaces and products and enhance their qualities.