What is the Best Way to Organize the Clothing in Your Closet?

Organize the clothing in your closet A client of mine recently asked for advice on the best way to organize the clothing in her closet.  She wanted to know if it was smarter to organize it by color, outfit or classification.  I hate to disappoint her, but there is no ultimate right way to do it and there are pros and cons to each approach.  If you haven’t figured out the way to organize the clothing in your closet, check out these three solutions and what I think does and doesn’t work about each one, my preferences for organizing the clothing in your closet, along with some general closet organizational tips that may help.

How to Organize the Clothes In Your Closet

Solution #1- The Outfit Approach

Organize the clothes in your closetMany women like organizing their closet by outfits because it makes it easier to choose something to wear in the morning- the outfits are all set and ready to go.  However, this is my least favorite way to organize a closet because I find it way too limiting.  When your closet is arranged by outfit it can be hard to mix-and-match what you already own and discover new ways to make your wardrobe work.  The appearance of the closet can also look disorganized and unkempt, despite the fact that it is very organized, because there isn’t a look of order.

If you like to organize your closet this way and it is working for you, then there is no need to change it.  However, if you want a look of more order in your closet but like having quick set outfits that you can grab and go, instead, try allocating a section of your closet or some hooks where you can hang set outfits for the week.

Solution #2 The Color Approach

Organize the clothes in your closetOrganizing your closet by color not only creates a look of organization in your closet but it can also help you to identify where you have items in the most color, the least color and too much duplication.  I remember organizing a client’s closet by color and, once all the colors were grouped together, noticing that this client had way too many pairs of pinstripe pieces.  It wasn’t until everything was grouped together that my client could see this duplication.  This is the benefit to grouping the items in your closet by color.  However, the downside is that grouping clothing by color alone may look pretty and help you find color duplication, but, often, that’s not enough.  I find that organization of a closet by color only works when it is categorized by color and classification.

Solution #3 The Classification Approach

How to organize the clothes in your closetOrganizing clothing in a closet by classification or grouping clothing by like items (all pants together, all shirts together, and so on) is likely the most popular way to organize clothing in a closet.  This is how I organize my closet and encourage my clients to organize theirs.  I take it a step further as well by grouping the items in my and my clients’ closets by color from light to dark in addition to classification.

There are many pros of organizing a closet by classification and color.  It’s easy to see in a neatly and organized fashion and you can see where you have too much or not enough of a particular color, pattern or print.  However, the downside to organizing a closet this way is that your outfit choices are not as readily obvious like if a closet is organized by outfits.  As a solution to this, what I suggest is that you keep a record or photograph the different outfits within your wardrobe and keep that list on hand.  With my clients, I photograph all their outfits and they keep those photos neatly organized in an album.

Other helpful closet organization tips

#1- Keep a valet hook outside your closet

Having some sort of a hook or place to hang clothing right outside your closet can be helpful.  You can use this hook to hang tomorrow’s outfit the night before or hang your dry cleaning before you take it out of the plastic and hang it back in your closet.

#2- Hang all your hangers and clothes in the same direction

It may be a bit much for some, but I prefer to hang all my clothes in the same direction with the hangers all facing the same way.  It just keeps the look of the closet organized.  You can take it a step further by using uniform hangers, but I don’t find this as necessary as some people do.  Another tip hanger to identify which clothes you wear the most often is to turn the hanger the other way once you wear something.  By the end of the season you will be able to quickly identify which items got worn and which didn’t.

#3- Try dividers

My good friend and organizer Lisa Zaslow of Gotham Organizers keeps her closet very tidy.  One thing she has in her closet are rod organizers that she uses to separate each part of her wardrobe by classification.  She even created a divider called “Wear me more” and keeps items of clothing that she hasn’t worn in a while and wants to remind herself to get more use from.

#4- Avoid overly designed closet organization systems

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a closet that has been renovated with this amazing and expensive design company only to be unworkable.  For example, the closet designer created cubby holes for shoes that doesn’t give her enough shoe storage space and as a result she has shoes all over the floor.  I love a beautifully designed closet, but if it is too designed, you run the risk of growing out of it as your closet evolves and changes.  Keep closet organization systems less permanently tricked out and use storage bins and other smart organizational pieces that can be changed and altered as your closet and wardrobe changes.

There are plenty of different ways to organize the clothes in your closet and no way that is the right way, except the one that works best for you.

Do you have any clothing organizational tips for your closet?  I’d love to hear them!

  • Renee

    I’m a classification + color person. Happy to know I’m on the right track. Do you have a certain kind of hanger that you like? What about shoe storage? Do you keep them in boxes? I’m a visual person so I’m afraid it would be “out of sight out of mind.”

    • nlebou

      Out of sight out of mind is my biggest problem. It all usually ends up piled at the foot of my bed on a bench. I’m horribly unorganized.

  • Lisa Zaslow

    Great advice – you really do have to set up a system that works for YOU. There’s no one best way. There are at least 5 different methods you can use just to store pants – it can take some trial and error to get your closet just right – but the process is SO worth it.

  • Diane Wyatt

    My closet is organized by classification and then by color. I’m a fan of uniform hangers, which are less visually distracting for me, and of course all clothes are hung in the same direction. I also use the reverse hanger method of determining which clothes have been worn & which haven’t.

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  • Pam

    Like you, I divide my clothes by type, and then from light to dark. Then I put solids before prints. Then from strapless to spaghetti straps to sleeveless, short sleeves, long sleeves. I put knits before woven fabrics within each category. I just had some new hanging cabinets installed on one wall to hang up more of my tops, because it did not work having clothes folded on shelves in armoires. I am organizing the tops and sweaters that were in the armoires. (My pants and skirts are in a closet in another room.)

    What distinguishes a sweater from a knit top? I have traditionally kept sweaters separate from tops, but it is becoming more difficult to know if I should hang something with my tops or with my sweaters, since so many knit tops are are referred to as sweaters, but they do not look like sweaters that look like they were made on knitting needles.

    Also, where should I put cardigan sweaters? With my jackets (not outerwear jackets, but jackets that are part of the outfit, like blazers, jean jackets, or those big drapey cardigan-like things that have become popular in recent years),? Or should cardigans go with my other sweaters?

    Should I hang my sweater vests with all my other vests (like leather and denim) or with my other sweaters? I have one separate hanging cabinet for my vests.


    • What distinguishes a knit from a sweater is really just semantics. However, a knit top is usually a cut and sew knit that is in a very fine gauge (like a t-shirt, for example) and a sweater is chunkier and knit with one long yarn, so to speak. If it is knit, I don’t hang it but I know many other people hang their knits. They usually use a padded hanger.

      I don’t hang cardigans, I fold them. If it was me I’d put them with my sweaters but you have to organize your closet in a way that works best for you.

  • Pam

    PS–I tried posting photos from my new closet, but I can’t seem to get them to post.

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  • meibaola

    I’ve become quite a freak at this.

    I separate laundered items from worn items. This has several advantages. First, it gives me a sense of what is really clean, for example if I am packing for a trip or have a big meeting. Secondly, at the end of the season I can easily recognize what items have never been worn. Finally, when I pack stuff away, I already know what is clean and what needs laundering.

    Then, I separate basic items from the items that in my view “make” the outfit. This helps in the process of outfit creation: I just pick a “hero” item and look for some props.

    Finally, everything is arranged first by classification and then by color.

    It’s an ongoing process and I tweak it often, but I find that an organized closet makes getting ready in the morning so much easier!

    • Sara

      I’m reading ebook How Style Works by Janelle Paige. She says to coordinate what you have in your closet by season, with a sorting 2x a year. Her book has so many fantastic tips for your wardrobe!

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  • Annie

    I organise all my shoes in boxes. I take photos of the shoes. And stick a photo in the end of the box. I then stand the boxes on end all organised by colour and style. Works brilliantly. Shoes stay dust free and you can get more in the wardrobe

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  • Sophia Montgomery

    My categories for organizing clothes are (I actually have according labels in my closet): 1st class good clothes; 2nd class good clothes; undershirts with short or long sleeves; clothes to wear at home; sports clothes; heavy duty work clothes. A separate drawer for underwear, socks etc. Works fine for me.