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12 Biggest Closet Organizing Mistakes and Super-Easy Fixes

No hooks? No baskets? No empty hanger plan? Professional organizer Jamie Novak opens our eyes to the causes of closet mayhem and how they can be easily remedied.

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No storage for “worn once, not dirty” clothes

That pair of jeans you slipped into to run a quick errand or the hoodie you wore to walk the dog are not necessarily ready to be laundered, but they are not clean enough to put back with the clean clothes. Instead of slinging them over the side chair in your bedroom, opt for in-the-closet storage for these articles of clothing. Designate a single shelf or section for anything you are still wearing, so all the semi-dirty stuff stays together. Here’s how getting rid of clutter and recharge your life.

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No lighting

Without proper lighting, the closet can be a dark and messy place, but who wants to pay a pricey electrician to run wiring? Light up the closet with super-bright, battery-operated, stick-up LED light strips. No more wasting time trying to distinguish black pants from navy blue or searching for two matching shoes on the floor of your closet. When you can see the space clearly, you can maximize your storage and keep things tidy. Here are more ways to save on lighting.

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No step stool

Here’s a closet-organizing secret: Difficult-to-reach top shelves become instantly accessible when you can step up. Add a slim, foldable step stool to your closet to take advantage of previously wasted storage spots. Not only can you store things on high shelves, but you can keep all that stored stuff organized. A bonus benefit to using this decluttering tip is that the step stool doubles as a convenient spot to sit while you put on your shoes.

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No over-the-door organizer

The inside of a closet door offers lots of underutilized storage opportunities. While not every closet door is a good candidate for storage—because not every door swings out, when it does, take advantage of all that space. An inexpensive over-the-door shoe organizer, one with pockets, can be the perfect place to stash shoes. But don’t stop there! You can also use the shoe organizer to store belts, scarves, ties, and so many other accessories. Storing things in those easy-to-access pockets makes it a breeze to grab what you need when you need it. Here are more brilliant ways to use the shoe bag organizer.

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No donation bag

Placing a donation bag on the floor of your closet is a clever closet-organizing strategy. This ready-to-fill bag is a perfect place to drop all those things that are no longer right for you, but that might be right for someone else. From the too tight jeans to the blouse you wore once, now you’ll have a place to store them until you have enough to give away. Read more about this super-simple decluttering trick.

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No empty hanger plan

Empty clothes hangers take up valuable hanging space and make things look messy. Don’t leave a bunch of unfilled hangers dangling from the closet rod. Instead, try storing them in a pop-up basket. Typical hangers are about 19 by 9 inches, so if your basket is about 20 by 10 inches you should be able to store the hangers by laying them diagonally inside the basket. The hangers will be handy when you need them, but not in the way when you don’t. You can also simplify the laundry process by taking the basket of hangers with you to hang items as you take them of the washer or dryer. Here are some other clever hacks to make laundry day more bearable.

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No memory box

If you don’t have a place to store sentimental clothing (the kind you want to keep, but will never wear again) then those pieces will get mixed in with your everyday outfits. Not sure how to declutter your closet? Try keeping a box nearby as the one place to tuck those special treasures, like the keepsake T-shirt you were given when you ran that 5K race and the polo shirt your husband wore on your first date. Or try this five-second decluttering trick that will then allow you to send those items packing.

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No shelf dividers

Stacks of clothes are bound to tip over, and tote bags will topple unless you utilize shelf dividers. These organizers are specifically designed to create a partition, keeping items upright and tidy. Shelf dividers are designed to slide onto the shelf, so there’s no installation required. Or, you can go the DIY route and just place a box—like one that housed reams of copy paper—on the shelf. Flip the box so it stands on the end with the opening facing front. The sides of the box act as the dividers and the back of the box prevents items from falling too far back to reach.

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No hooks

If you’re wondering how to organize your closet, dropping stuff on the floor is not part of the plan. Hooks can be clever clutter catchers. You can hang almost anything from a hook—belts, ties, tote bags, and statement necklaces—and these little helpers fit into tight spots, so you can use every inch of closet space for storage. Newer versions are easy to install, can handle a lot of weight, and (depending on the brand) may be easy to remove, which makes them a perfect option if you are a renter or want to re-position them later. Here are more clever ways to store jewelry.

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No baskets

Baskets can act like slide-out dresser drawers, offering another dimension of storage in your closet. Group commonly reached-for items such as socks, pajamas, or workout wear. That way you can grab what you need or put things back where they belong by tossing them in the basket. Baskets are not only functional and a great way to declutter your closet, but they’re also fun, adding a fashionable element to your space.

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No labels

Labels aren’t just for your kids’ school supplies and camp clothes. When it comes to closet organizing, labels are a wonderful way to ensure that you put things where they belong, so you’re less likely to clutter up your closet. Label hangers, baskets, and shelf edges to help you differentiate seasons, sizes, styles, occasions, and colors. Easily tell the lengths of folded jeans by labeling the edge of the shelf where you stack them. Or label the hanger to tell the black trousers from the navy-blue ones. This decluttering tip takes a little effort up front, but you’ll be glad you did the work next time you need to grab a specific item in a hurry. Check out more clever uses for a label maker you’ll wish you’d known all along.

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No routine

If you don’t spend time tidying up the space when it is a little messy, then you’ll never want to deal with it when it becomes a huge mess. A quick daily or weekly touch-up is one of the decluttering tips you can implement today. Keeping things organized takes a lot less time and effort than an all-day decluttering marathon to deal with a disaster. Do you long to know the decluttering tips clutter-free people swear by?

Jamie Novak
Jamie Novak is a globally recognized professional organizer who regularly contributes to RD.com. She has more than 20 years of experience covering the home-organizing industry. Novak wrote Keep This Toss That: the practical guide to tidying up, a top selling book for Reader's Digest. She’s been seen on HGTV, QVC, and national morning talk shows. Her work has appeared in magazines from Better Homes and Gardens to Real Simple. Connect with Novak at JamieNovak.com, @JamieNovak, or using the hashtag #KeepThisTossThat