Behind the closet doors of even the most tidy houses there often lies a dirty little secret: an unorganized wardrobe.


That’s because learning how to organize a closet is a two-fold challenge. The first part is tidying disparate shapes and sizes – long skirts, short skirts, sweaters, belts, tights and undergarments into some kind of cohesive and easy-to-access whole, and the second is understanding how your clothes work together (and getting rid of what you don’t wear so you can really see what you do).


Melanie Fascitelli, the president and creative director of Clos-ette, and author of “Shop Your Closet,” has worked with plenty of clients on these very issues through her holistic organizational design company. Turns out that most of us have similar closet issues: keeping too much unused stuff around, visual clutter, organizing in a way that doesn’t allow us to see what we do and not keeping up an organizing system once we’ve established it. Here’s how to tackle your wardrobe and keep it that way:


Get Inspired: Finding the energy and enthusiasm to really clean out your closet can be the toughest part - look at closet-focused websites like Closet Pages and I Heart Organizing and at stores like California Closet or The Container Store, (not necessarily to buy from, but to gather ideas). Check out a few local stores’ closet sections, and close your eyes and try envisioning what your closet would ideally look like in a perfect world. Melanie says she gets ideas from many places in life, including, “(other people’s) closets, in boutiques, magazines, hardware stores and product stores.”


Before You Organize, Edit:  First, you need to get rid of the stuff you don’t wear. Take everything out of the closet, put it on the bed or the floor, and then examine each piece, and put it into one of three piles: Keep, Store and Donate/Sell. Keepers get hung back up (using the tips below), Stored clothing is out of season or pieces you love but can’t wear now for whatever reason. Make sure they are clean and well-folded and put them away so they aren’t distracting you. Clothes you haven’t worn in over a year or haven’t fit into in ages can be donated or sold to consignment boutiques.


Enlist a Trusted Partner: The most common mistake people make when tackling a closet edit, says Melanie, is trying to go solo (she advises enlisting a friend whose opinion you trust). You should try on clothes in front of them, and they should give you simple ‘thumbs-up’ and ‘thumbs-down’ opinions on your clothes. This also makes the process more fun, and you are more likely to get rid of stuff that just doesn’t work for you if an outside eye is advising you.


Matching Hangers Are Your Friend: If you can, invest in a set of new hangers that are all the same color and hang the same length, which will remove some of the visual clutter from your wardrobe and allow you to see the clothes, not various hangers.


Organize by Color and Type: The best closet organizing system is to hang your separates “light to dark, left to right,” says Melanie. So start with short-sleeved blouses, hung left to right with light colors starting the section and dark colors finishing it.  Then move onto long-sleeved blouses, skirts, pants, etc. This way you can grab what you need in a hurry, and it’s also obvious where each section ends and begins.


Hang Accessories Where You Can See Them: Socks, underwear, tights and nightwear can be tucked away in drawers, but scarves, belts, bags (if you change them out) and vests should be on display, so you can easily coordinate them to your outfit and they don’t just languish in a chest. You can hang them from hangers, over a portion of the rod or rail, or use a wall space to display them creatively (belts can be hung by their buckles on small nails, for example). 


Try It Out: After you’ve completed your organization, or think you have, give it a test – put together an outfit from scratch as you would on a work morning. Is everything you need obviously placed? Can you easily get to accessories and undergarments? Think about any rearrangement that might work better before you’re trying to get out the door on a busy morning.


Have other thoughts on how to organize a closet? Leave us a note in the comments below.