11 Must-Know Closet Organization Tricks the Pros Use

Updated 10/11/19
professional closet organization tricks
Alyssa Rosenheck for Taylor Anne Interiors

When was the last time you cleaned, edited, and organized your closet? What’s that you say? You can’t remember? Well, it’s high time you gave your wardrobe a makeover. Spring is an excellent time to clean out your closet. With the warm weather in the air, we're all in the mood for detoxing and clearing out the winter debris. It may seem intimidating at first, but trust us, a tidy closet can do wonders for your well-being.

Not only will you get dressed faster, but you'll feel more in control of your busy life seeing an organized and accessible collection of clothing each day. To inspire you to tackle that crowded mess once and for all, we tracked down the tricks that the pros—stylists who organize and edit clients’ closets for a living—use. Here are 11 must-know tips for the most pristine and inspiring closet around.

Start by going through your closet and sorting your clothing into piles. Pull everything out of the closet, working in sections. Begin with the hanging clothes, and once you’ve done those, move on to the pieces kept in a dresser. Items that you love and wear often go into the “keep” pile. Items you love but haven’t worn in awhile and you don’t know how they will fit go into the “try on” pile. Items you haven’t worn in forever go into the “purge” pile.

Also, sort your clothing into winter clothes and summer clothes. During the fall, pack your summer clothes (caftans, bikinis, shorts, sundresses, etc.) away. In the spring, pack your winter clothes (tights, gloves, thick sweaters, thermals, etc.) away and keep them in a place that is not easily accessible. Rachel Zoe recommends you "store items you won’t touch until spring as far out of sight as possible."

While every stylist has a different closet organization system, the one thing they all suggest is to organize clothing by category. “Skirts, pants, sweaters, blouses, jeans—organize all of the pieces by category,” Kinney says. According to Stacy London, host of TLC’s What Not to Wear, “It’s the oldest trick in the closet-cleaning book, but grouping by categories does make it way easier to know exactly what you have, and how much.”

Arrange pieces by item, then style, length, and color, so that you can see everything clearly. The same goes for shoes: style, color, height.

Everyone has pieces they gravitate toward, and when you’re sorting clothes, pay attention to items that are repeat offenders. Get rid of duplicates you don’t wear. “Why would anyone have 12 white shirts in one wardrobe?!" wonders Stacy London. If your answer is to have a few extra backups, London has a response: "Why keep the backups if you’re always going to reach for the perfect one you love?" In other words, keep the five black tops you love and wear often, but get rid of the other four that don’t spark joy and you have not worn.

Get rid of anything you haven’t worn, pieces that don’t spark joy, and anything that is damaged, old, or stained. “If you haven’t worn something in over a year, it might be time to get rid of it, because it’s just wasting space,” San Francisco stylist Mary Gonsalves Kinney told me over the phone yesterday. Once you’ve got a large amount of clothing in the purge pile, sort through it. Make a “throw away” pile of items that are too old or damaged to be sold. Make a “to sell” pile of clothes that can be sold at a local consignment shop or on a website like Poshmark or the Real Real. “Recycle, recycle, recycle!” Zoe suggests donating or selling “pieces that no longer fit you or your style.” Finally, make an "archive" pile of clothing you have stopped wearing but want to keep for sentimental reasons, or because it has value.

“Pull out anything that is damaged. If it has a hole or the zipper doesn’t work, get it fixed or get rid of it. If one of the original buttons is missing but you’re not going to find the original buttons, get rid of it. If it’s a designer period piece, say, something that’s obviously from the 1960s or '70s, go ahead and sell it and make money off of it,” Kinney says. Kinney suggests that you edit or purge at least once a season and keep pieces that you know are timeless. “Archival pieces,” she said, “Like an Hermès scarf, even if it’s a print or color scheme you haven’t been into, hold on to it—over time, it will become valuable.”

That pile of clothes you made to try on? Try them on! Don’t let the pile sit around in your closet for another six weeks. Put the clothes on and see how they look in the mirror. Professional closet editor and stylist to the stars Dana Goldenberg says, “I encourage clients to try on pieces that they are unsure about or haven't worn in a while but still love. You might fall in love with something all over again, or decide it just doesn't fit, so toss that in the reject pile.” 

Many clothing pieces can be folded and kept stacked neatly on shelves in the closet. For example, jeans, sweaters, fur, undergarments, and scarves are all items that Kinney says you should fold. “I fold underwear and slips, any undergarments, socks, and tights,” she explains. “Sweaters, especially cashmere, and fur collars should be put in a separate drawer. Be careful with fur. You can really ruin fur by smashing it into a closet.” Andrea Rapke, founder of The Organized Move, concurs. “Fold the very heavy sweaters so they don’t lose shape on the hanger," Rapke says, and adds, "Also, cedar is not a myth. It really does prevent moths from getting into your cashmere or wool sweaters. Replace the cedar every six months.” And Kinney says to make sure your jeans are completely dry before you fold them and put them away. “If you fold them when they are slightly wet, they will get bad creases.”

Once you’ve got everything sorted into separate categories, organize clothes by color. Remember that grade-school acronym, Roy G. Biv? Now is the time to use it! Organize by color: Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. Keep white and black on opposite ends. Organize the items in a manner that works for you. Rapke recommends “hanging items by color rather than length. I also like to start with strapless and go to long-sleeve.”

When cleaning out your closet, keep a pad of paper and a pen nearby. Make a list of items that you need. If your favorite little black dress is too small and you’re getting rid of it, add LBD to the list. If you have six blue dresses that you love and wear, make a note reminding yourself that you don’t need another blue dress. “You wouldn’t go to the supermarket hungry. The same applies to shopping,” says Zoe. “Be rational and strategic about what you need before you get started.”

Kinney suggests paying attention to your ratio of basics to statement pieces: “Less is more. Having basic pieces you can wear in multiple ways, over and over again, is better. Some people are big into colors and prints, but a bright standout piece is something that you can only wear a couple of times. That’s why it’s important to have that great little black dress, the perfect denim jacket, and the killer over-the-knee boots. You can mix and match and accessorize these pieces more so than a statement item.”

Separate your categories strategically. Don’t store your tennis shoes underneath designer evening gowns. Sooner or later, your gowns might start smelling like dirty feet! Place categories that you wear less, like party dresses, in an area of the closet that is harder to get to. Clothing that you wear the most, like everyday tops and dresses, should be the most accessible.

Be sure to place all of your clothing on hangers that will keep them in place. You don't want all of your clothes falling off the hangers. When you get home from the dry cleaner, protect your clothing and take the clean clothes out of the bags. “Never leave your dresses, or any other clothes, in the dry cleaning or plastic garment bags. The chemicals from dry cleaning attack the fibers of your clothing and cause damage,” Rapke says.

Not sure how often you wear certain pieces? Perform the hanger test. Turn all the clothes hanging in your closet so that the hangers face the incorrect way; back-to-front. After you pull something out and wear it, place the hanger in correctly when you put it back in the closet. After six months, you’ll know which clothes you have not worn. Get rid of these items!

Oprah Winfrey popularized this trick when she had Peter Walsh, star of Extreme Clutter, on her show. “If you try it on but decide not to wear it, make sure you put it back with the hanger turned backward—no cheating,” Walsh warns. “Be prepared for a shock; you are going to find you own lots of clothes you have no use for. You should seriously consider getting rid of anything you don't wear regularly.”

Don’t hold onto something just to hold on to it. Declutter your closet, and you’ll declutter your life! It may not be easy, but tossing out old items and donating clothes will create a lot of free space in your closet. Out with the old and in with the new, right? “Be honest with yourself when going through your closet,” recommends Goldenberg. “Which pieces don't really fit, and which ones have you not worn in the last year? Be ready to toss those pieces, and try not to hang on to things.”

Related Stories