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Organization 101: Tackling The Closet

Professional organizer Kelly Pratt shares her tips for getting and keeping your closets organized.

Closet Clearing

Changing seasons create a perfect opportunity to clear closets of old or out-of-season items. As you assess your closet storage during this transition from summer to fall and prepare for clearing and reorganization, follow Marla Dee’s Clear & SIMPLE™ Systems of See It. Map It. Do It.© and S.T.A.C.K.S.©

See It

Preliminary to any organizing project, in this case clearing your closets, it’s important to determine why your clutter exists. Doing so will help you avoid recreating the chaos. Ask yourself these questions in relation to the area you’re organizing:

•What’s working?

• What’s not working?

• Why does the chaos exist?

You can also See It literally by taking pictures. These pictures will provide an objective view of exactly what exists within the space as well as provide some great before pictures. I encourage you to take additional pictures when you finish your project so you can see your progress!

Map It

After you determine what is currently working and what’s not, it’s time to make a plan. You can create this plan in a number of ways, but one of the most powerful is to simply ask yourself, “What is my vision?” Once you know what function you want your closet to serve or how you want it to feel, you can make better decisions regarding what to keep, donate, throw away or acquire during the actually doing of your project. Your vision will help keep you on task.

Another aspect of mapping is to actually schedule when you are going to do your project. Block out time on your calendar to do your project and honor that time as you would for any other commitment.

Do It

Before You Begin

Once you have a vision and a specific purpose identified for your closet, gather all items for that area into one place! The nature of closets and homes is that things tend to get scattered. So, if you are creating a closet with an area for home maintenance, make sure that all the batteries, light bulbs, extension cords, etc. are gathered from the storage room, junk drawers, hall closet and other areas of your home before you begin.


Begin the doing of every organizing project with a sort. Sort everything into categories: pants with pants, long sleeved shirts with long sleeved shirts, short sleeved shirts with short sleeved shirts, etc.

When you sort, you are JUST SORTING. You do not have to decide where you will put items or if you want or need them or who will take care of them. JUST SORT.

In order to contain your piles and maintain your sanity, use banker’s boxes as you sort. Banker’s boxes are available at office supply stores and Costco and are the perfect container for this application. Put a Post-it note label on each box as you create a new category so you remember what the box contains. At the end of the sort, if you do not have time to go through each box to determine what to keep, donate or throw away, you can stack the boxes out of the way and still maintain a livable space.


This step is often the most difficult aspect of organizing because it requires decision. If we knew where everything went, what we wanted to do with it or when we were going to use it, we wouldn’t have clutter. The Toss step is where you decide what to keep, donate or throw away. To make the Toss more effective, follow these guidelines:

• Do the toss at your high-energy time.

• Go through only one box at a time.

• Ask yourself, “Does this serve me in my life TODAY?” If the answer is no, let it go.

• Enlist help if letting go is particularly difficult.

During this step in the process, create categories for “belongs somewhere else” or “belongs to someone else” so you can maintain the vision for your closet. Place these items in a storage area to await placement in the correct area of your home, or return them to their rightful owner.


During the Assign step, you will create zones and find the best home for your remaining items. Creating zones means that you will keep like items in the same area within the closet. For example, in a clothes closet, you might create zones for active wear items, seasonal items, accessories, shoes, inactive storage, etc. In a bathroom linen closet, create distinct zones for towels, other linens, personal care items, cleaning supplies, etc. The benefit of zoning is that you will always know how much you have of like items. Zoning will save you a great deal of time and money in the long run.

Finding the best home for your items means that your highest-use items are most accessible within the zones you have created.


Containing is one of the most rewarding steps in the organizing process because your project takes shape and your space starts looking great! To make containing fun and simple rather than stressful, remember these guidelines:

• Measure, measure, measure! Measure your piles, measure the depth width and height of drawers, shelves and the entire closet. That way, when you shop for your containers, you don’t have to guess if your stuff will fit in your containers and your containers will fit into your space.

• Leave room in your containers for growth.

• Use consistent containers for visual appeal. Use no more than 2 or 3 different kinds of containers per area.

• Consider the items you’re containing when selecting containers. Wicker is great for a master closet, but not necessarily for the bathroom or garage. If you are a visual person or have small children, clear plastic containers are best.

• Use containers you love and that reflect your style.

Some of my favorite closet containers are—

• Wire cubes, available at Target. These cubes help you customize your space without the expense of permanent shelf installation.

• 15-quart Sterilite containers, available at Target and Wal-Mart. These clear plastic containers are so versatile you can use them in every closet from the toy closet to the linen closet.

• White dot baskets, available at Wal-Mart. These affordable baskets come in several sizes and, like the 15-quart Sterilite containers, can be used in a variety of applications.

• Cloth cubes, available at Target and Wal-Mart.

• Hanging closet rod dividers, available at home improvement stores and Bed, Bath & Beyond. These rods convert a single rod to a double one.

• Expandable shelf dividers, available in the kitchen section of most big box retailers. These dividers can create additional storage space on stationary shelves.

Keep It Up

Organizing is a process, so you will have to do routine maintenance. There are two primary things you can to make upkeep easier: label and establish routines.


Label everything! Label your containers, shelves and drawers. Label! Labeling makes restoring a space easier for you as well as for others in your household. People are more likely to put things away when they know where items belong. Also keep in mind that using decorative labels can add a design dimension to your project. You can craft unique labels yourself or order fantastic vinyl labels at

Establish Routines

Keep It Up also has to do with creating systems and establishing routines. High activity closets like coat or linen closets require more frequent restoration routines. Create weekly or monthly routines to maintain these spaces.

You can also observe the practice of “first in, first out.” By removing something old when you add something new, you will stem the chaos created by putting too much in your closet areas. Less active closet areas such as an extra closet for out-of-season clothing may need your attention at a change of seasons or when new items come into your space. Because organizing is a process, you will need to periodically assess how well your systems and routines are working and to change them if needed.


The flow of incoming STUFF is one of the primary space disrupters, particularly in small, closed spaces such as closets. Before you bring new items into your space, ask yourself these questions—

•Does this serve me?

•Do I love it?

•Will I use it?

• Do I have room for it?

If the answer to these questions is “no,” be willing to let the item go. This is a practice that will help you be more conscious in your acquisition and will help ensure that you are surrounded by things that you use and love.

Happy Organizing!


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