The Right Way to Color-Code Your Closet, According to a Pro Organizer

published Jul 5, 2023
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Blouses in different colors hanging on hangers on a clothing rack, decorated with christmas lights
Credit: Kristina Strasunske / Getty Images

Some things simply don’t need to be organized by color in your home, in my opinion as a professional organizer. While books arranged on a shelf or snacks lined up in the pantry in a ROYGBIV pattern look pretty, they don’t actually serve a function. Not to knock the idea of organizing your things in rainbow order, but I’ve never once thought about the color of a book spine or snack packaging when I’m in the process of looking for one or the other.

Quick Overview

How to Color-Code a Closet

Step 1: Sort all your items by type and occasion. This includes shoes, if you store them in your closet.
Step 2: Decide your color order, whether that’s light to dark or in ROYGBIV order.
Step 3: Figure out what to do with patterned clothing by fitting them into your color scheme or separating them into their own section.

Read on for more details and tips on organizing your closet by color, from a pro organizer.

But when it comes to closet organization, color-coding your wardrobe does come in handy. Because, if you think about it, you probably consider colors when putting together an outfit. Whether it’s dressing for a specific event (such as black for a funeral) or matching shoes or accessories to your ensemble, organizing things by color makes finding what you need a more seamless process.

If you’ve already attempted to get your closet in rainbow order but became frustrated along the way, it’s probably because it’s not so, ahem, black and white. Some obstacles pop up — particularly when it comes to patterned items. However, I’m going to help you get past them with the following tips on the right way to color-code your closet.

Credit: Mary Cornetta

How to Color-Code Your Closet

Here are the three steps to take to get your closet organized by color.

Step 1: Sort your stuff by type.

First, separate your clothes and shoes according to occasion. Either set aside casual items from dressier ones, or take it a bit further and sort things into subcategories. For example, I have a rod in my closet full of casual tops, but on it I keep together the bodysuits, T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, and so on. I then color-code within each of these individual sections. It might seem like overkill, but if I want to wear a bodysuit in a specific color, it takes a mere moment to find. Sorting your things by type first will also make it less overwhelming to color-code, as you’re dealing with a smaller volume.

Pro tip: While it doesn’t necessarily aid in color coding, I highly suggest investing in an inexpensive set of closet dividers so you can see where each clothing category starts and ends on a rod. If you have relatively small sections like I do, this will assist in making things even easier to find and quicker to put away.

Step 2: Decide your color order.

After you have your different categories, next decide what color pattern works best for you. Some people prefer going from light to dark, while others arrange the colors in ROYGBIV order and then tack on neutrals at the end. I don’t own a lot of colors so I’ll admit this part isn’t all that difficult for me. I start with whites and creams, go through the rest of my (very small) rainbow, and then finish with grays and blacks. If you tend to wear darker clothing more often, consider swapping the order so those items are front and center. Within each color, then organize items from lightest to darkest (or vice versa). For instance, in a blue section, add light blue, then cobalt, then navy.

A color that I do wear a lot and that is very tricky to color-code is pink. Because it doesn’t fall on the rainbow spectrum, I’ve had to play around with its placement — especially for clients who also own a lot of reds and purples. If you’re struggling with this, I suggest adding peachy-hued pinks between red and orange clothes and rosier pinks before or after purple items. Browns can also be confusing, so consider adding darker tones near blacks and lighter tans near whites.

When it comes to shoes, I wouldn’t get too fussy unless you have a huge collection. Stick with storing light-colored pairs and dark-colored pairs together on shelves or racks within their categories (i.e., heels, sneakers, and so on).

Step 3: Tackle pesky patterns.

This is really where I see people get tripped up when it comes to color coding. What if you have a top that is made of equally sized black and white stripes? Or there’s a half dozen different shades on a floral dress? This is where you’re going to have to make a choice. If there is clearly a dominant color, place it in that section. If you think you would look for it when you want to wear a specific color (say, green), add it to the that color’s section. If you own a plethora of prints and patterns that you can’t be bothered to separate, consider creating a section in your closet solely for those items. Then you only need to worry about keeping your solids color-coded.

Another pro tip I have is to figure out a dominant color in your patterned clothing: Hold the item on a hanger away from you at arm’s length and squint your eyes. One color should pop out more so than the other(s), and that will let you know exactly where to store it.