Welcome to the New Year! A new year can be a fresh start, but that can be difficult if we are feeling overstuffed after the holidays and our storage spaces are overflowing too. There is help and hope. To cure closet chaos, learn two techniques the pros use. All closet systems manufacturers and professional organizers incorporate these ideas: First, they use every square inch of storage space in closets–taking advantage of spaces overlooked by the rest of us. Second, they make sure stored items are easy to reach and accessible to everyone who needs them (a critical concern unless you like maintaining all the closets in your home or office all by yourself).
To maximize closet space, put extra shelving in closets to use the current dead space above existing closet shelves but below the closet ceiling. Add an extra shelf in every closet for excellent tertiary (infrequently accessed) storage space throughout the home in every closet. Next, use the forgotten middle space between the bottom of shirts on hangers and the floor in the bedroom, entryway, and other wardrobe closets. Do this by stacking storage boxes from the floor up through this “middle” storage space that is often just empty air space. Use hooks inside closets and hang things on the insides of closet doors. Any way to turn empty air space into functional storage is acceptable. Finally, go all the way to the floor with divided compartment storage containers such as divided shoeboxes or other stackable storage containers.
I recently watched some closet pros demonstrate their systems. They showed how to create double hanging and how to maximize shelf and drawer storage space inside a closet. One system was also adjustable. Adjustability is important because storage needs change over time. Children’s clothes get wider and longer as they grow. Adults change their minds about what they want to store as new hobbies, businesses, or clothing habits come into their lives, or, as rooms are repurposed, the closets in them need to be able to store different categories of stuff than previously.
There are professional closet systems, do-it-yourself kits from home supply stores, and stackable laminated wood boxes from retail stores that carry household products. Many of these products are available online. And, of course, you can make your own by stacking up large plastic milk crates or heavy-duty cardboard boxes, and adding your own extra rods or shelving.
For me, it was important to make storage areas functional for everyone in my household. A good example was my small entryway closet. Remember a television series called The Odd Couple? As the family organizer, I was an untidy Oscar pretending to be a very tidy Felix. I was motivated enough to try to jam a heavy Minnesota winter coat onto a flimsy metal dry cleaner style hanger and wedge it into the over-crowded tiny closet. I pushed the other coats to each side, quickly hung up my coat, and let the other coats slip back into place before my coat slid onto the floor–I called this elaborate technique "the pressure fit maneuver."
I was motivated enough to go through that process several times every day, but would the other people in my family put themselves through this? My spouse wasn’t going bother with it. I didn’t blame him. He would throw his coat on a chair or couch, explaining that he would be going out again in a few hours (or days). As for my children? Well, they couldn’t even reach the coat rod, much less perform the "pressure fit maneuver.”
Solution: New rules, good equipment, and better habits
New rule: I limited each member of the family to two in-season coats in this closet at a time (Okay, I cheated–there are a couple of raincoats in there too). I also got rid of a lot of other things in the closet that didn’t belong there.
Good equipment: I bought decent heavy-duty hangers that could handle the weight of heavy coats instead of trying to get by with flimsy, though frugal, metal dry cleaner hangers. Finally, I installed some hooks on a horizontal board that was secured to the solid edges of the inside of the hollow core closet door at kid-height. Now I had a small coat closet that was accessible and functional for everyone in my family. I even had a few decent hangers and a small amount of space for company coats!
Better habits: It took a couple of weeks to train my young children to use the new improved system. They learned to fling open the closet door and throw their jacket hoods over the hooks reachable to them. My spouse turned out to be thrilled enough by the heavy-duty hangers and uncluttered space to help me out too.
Why do I believe in curing closet chaos? Am I digging through the box in the back of a closet to find my authentic self, to move on from the past, or to simply make functional storage space for all family members? Whatever the motivation, curing closet chaos frees up time and space in our lives for what is important, and now we can usually open our closets when company comes. By applying these professional organizer concepts of designing the space to fit your life and closets, and creating new rules and habits using better equipment, you will too!

Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips that readers can pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs. Sign up for her free monthly clutter clearing tips newsletter at www.clutterclearingchoices.com.