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A poorly designed closet costs the same to build as a well-designed closet. It’s how you design and use the space that makes the difference. If you’re starting with a clean slate, this guide will help you decide what to build, what to store and how to get the most out of every inch of space.

Only Build What You Need

Decide how big or small you need your closet to be before you start on the design. It’s tempting to see a big, blank wall and sacrifice it to a closet without considering what the contents will be. 

By building your closet based only on how much hanging space you need, even a small bedroom can retain a feeling of spaciousness, with room for a large bed, a desk and maybe more. You can also end up spending less than half the money you would if you opted for a full-wall closet.

Get Organized

If you want to maximize space, group clothes of a similar size together — don’t waste an inch. If you have a group of similar items that amounts to at least 20 inches in width when hung together, it’s worth giving them a separate section.

By being that specific, in this closet I have managed to squeeze in an extra drawer between the double hanging sections, as well as some handy shelves.


Hang the top rod high enough so you have enough space between the bottom of the hanging clothes and the second rod underneath.

Focus on ergonomics. 
Nobody wants to crawl on the floor to find their summer shorts, and who can be bothered bending down to put bags or scarves on a shelf at knee height? Design your space more ergonomically and you’ll notice things are far easier to find. It will also be much easier to keep your closet tidy. 

Positioning shelves above the hanging space is a smart move ergonomically, and making your shelves just 14 inches deep ensures you won’t lose things at the back. Space the shelves only 10 inches apart and things won’t migrate to the never-never. You can stack right to the top of the shelf because there’s no need to reach to the back. Do it this way and you’ll hardly ever need to reorganize your wardrobe — things have nowhere to go.

Tip: Shelf widths at 12-inch increments are best because folded clothes average 12 inches across and 14 inches deep.

Skip the Drawers

Drawers add significantly to the price of a built-in closet, restrict the layout and waste space. Be resourceful with your space instead. If you already have a dresser or bedside tables in the room, perhaps that’s all you need for underwear and socks. Sweaters and T-shirts are best placed on open shelves where you can see them easily.

Add Storage Elsewhere

When you have a small space, the trick is using every bit of storage fully. I often achieve this by not having anything but hung clothes in the closet. There’s little point in storing folded clothes on deep closet shelves — it ends up a mess. Instead, use deep space for hanging clothes, then put folded clothes and shoes elsewhere. 

In my son’s room, seen here, we have deep drawers under the bed for shoes and sports gear. This is great because he can just dump them in and then open the drawers and see them easily when he needs them (although apparently not as easily as he can see them on the floor!). This is a much better option than storing the items at the bottom of a closet or under the bed.

Get Smart With Your Shoes

If space is tight, storing all your shoes in the closet may not be possible. If you can fit them in, however, aim to stash them on shelves at mid-height so you can see them. 

Whether you choose regular shelves, slide-out shelves or drawers, there’s no need to give shoes too much room to move — they’re usually only 12 inches deep and will fit into some pretty tight places.

This drawer method allows you to use the full depth of the closet, and makes shoes easy to see and access.

If you can’t fit shoes in the closet, a shallow, purpose-built cabinet is a good alternative.

Don’t Waste Your Money on “Clever” Accessory Storage

Storage devices for accessories can be useful, but be selective. If a gadget involves more than one action to perform its role, you’ll probably grow tired of it. I find most closet accessories are a waste of money and space in a small closet.

What does work well are racks for belts, ties and scarves, which slide in and out. Or if you don’t mind things flapping on the back of a hinged door, you can install racks there.

Go For Flexibility

The great thing about this closet is that the hanging rods insert into the same holes as the shelf supports, so you can switch them around as needed. In summer, you could use rods to hang blouses, and in winter swap in shelves to hold sweaters. Store the off-season gear out of the way on the top shelf.

Don’t Forget to Make Use of the Rest of the House

Your bedroom closet doesn’t have to bear the brunt of your your life’s clutter. Store as much as possible in the utility areas of your home to save on the cost of a built-in closet. 

A shelving system such as this stores just as much as a standard built-in closet and for a fraction of the price. I installed something similar to this in my laundry rather than putting a built-in closet into a temporary bedroom for my daughter. Now that my daughter has left home, I have excellent versatile storage in the laundry room. The system is easily adjustable, so I can use it for anything and add shelves if needed.