Before and after: A closet makeover

Clear the clutter from your coat closet and you'll have more space for the things you need.

Story highlights

  • Restore functionality to your overstuffed coat closet
  • By choosing the right storage components, you can make room where there wasn't any
  • Par it down to the necessities and only keep what you really need in the space
The Closet, Before
Sonya Young used to panic when friends visited. "Don't go in there!" she would cry when they approached the coat closet, which had become a dumping ground for all sorts of random items -- a bowling ball, hardware supplies, you name it. "There was no room in there for guest coats or anything else," says Sonya, 43, a finance manager in Hawthorne, California. "It was so daunting, I couldn't face it."
Found in (and Moved From) Sonya's Closet
12 light switches
6 shelf brackets
4 phone books
4 tote bags
2 paint rollers
2 sets of drapery rods
2 packages of cabinet hardware
1 golf bag
1 bathroom scale!
The Closet, After
Enter Real Simple and Gia Russo, an organizer extraordinaire based in Los Angeles and a cofounder of MiGi, an organizing and design firm. In a single day and with an investment of $375, Gia turned Sonya's closet into a perfectly propped, guest-ready storage spot. After assessing Sonya's needs, Gia reconfigured the closet, allocating half the area to hanging items and half to shelves. She mercilessly edited its contents (with Sonya's help) and restocked it with just-right-for-the-job containers.
The Details
Step 1: Paring down to necessities. Sonya needs only a couple of coats handy, so she moved the extras into a less crowded closet. Random DIY materials, like silicone sealant, that had mysteriously made their way into the closet were moved to the garage. High-frequency items, such as Sonya's bowling ball, umbrella, ironing board, and stadium chair (she takes it to outdoor concerts, the beach, and her niece's soccer games), each earned a specific place to live.
Step 2: Picking an inspiring color. When a storage spot is easy on the eyes, you're more inclined to keep it neat. Gia painted the back wall green (one of Sonya's favorite colors, and one that complements the rest of her home), so when the closet door is open, it seems like part of the decor. (Paint color: Valspar Jalapeño Jelly 6005-6A, $28 a gallon, lowes.com for stores.)
Step 3: Choosing the right storage. Boxes that completely fill shelves are ideal, since they leave no space for a mess. (They do fill up, however, and need a purging now and then.) Gia used espresso-colored canvas bins ($34 each, westelm.com) and lime green storage boxes ($20 each, exposuresonline.com) to stash unsightly items that don't get a lot of play. Open baskets (Pjäs, $15 each, ikea.com for stores) that can slide out or sit on the floor stow goods that Sonya uses more often.
Step 4: Making room where there wasn't any. Gia raised the top shelf of the closet and the clothing rod about six inches. She then sawed 17 inches off the rod and reattached it to a six-foot shelving unit (Expedit, $60, ikea.com), making use of vertical space that was dead before. The back of the door provided more "found space," thanks to a hook rack -- a great makeshift spot for coats on their way to the rod and a good permanent home for long, light items, like scarves and sun hats.
Why It's So Hard to Keep an Entry Closet Neat
"When people walk into their houses, they enter a comfort zone," says Fugen Neziroglu, Ph.D., clinical director of the Bio Behavioral Institute, in Great Neck, New York, and a coauthor of "Overcoming Compulsive Hoarding: Why You Save & How You Can Stop" (New Harbinger Publications, $16, amazon.com). "Work is over and done with, and your immediate reaction is to let go of everything from the outside world. And that includes the things you've been schlepping throughout the day."
So what can Sonya and the rest of us do to keep the entry area clear of junk mail, shopping bags, and other random goodies? Neziroglu suggests that just before you step into your home, you take stock of what you're carrying and create a mental list of where you'll stash each item. Then immediately go to the proper places to drop them off. If you know exactly what needs to go where beforehand, it's easier to keep your organization in check. The key is to execute the plan right away. Putting it off lands you on the slippery slope to a closet full of phone books.
Happy Sonya
"Arranging my closet felt like an impossible feat. But watching Gia made me realize it just needed a few simple fixes. There's so much more room in there than I ever thought. And it's so beautiful!"