Smart Organizing Secrets to Steal From People Who Live Without Closets

Smart Organizing Secrets to Steal From People Who Live Without Closets

Dana McMahan
Mar 12, 2018
(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

"I have so much closet space I don't even know what to do with it," said nobody ever. I mean, even president Obama has a closet-space shortage, so for those of us wishing for just one more little nook to stuff our things in—we're not alone.

When my husband Brian and I moved into our brick behemoth, a nearly 130 year old Victorian with more rooms than we knew what to do with, we were so enamored with things like fireplaces and pocket doors we managed to overlook the closet situation — which is this: our bedroom doesn't have a closet. The sitting room next to it has a smallish walk-in, and that's the only real closet in the house. Brian gets a tiny closet-esque space in the laundry room with a single metal rod and that's the extent of our closets.

I'd like to say we have figured this whole thing out but truth be told his "closet" is a disaster, I got rid of about 80 percent of my clothes (thanks Laurel Kinney, personal stylist extraordinaire!) to make mine work, and the storage space under the stairs (aka the dungeon) looks like a minimalist's deepest, darkest nightmare. I have to brace myself to open the door.

What do other people with almost no closets do, I wondered. Anyone with a tiny house, many other people with Victorians, and basically anything else that's not a traditional modern-ish home probably faces the same issue. So I asked around to find fellow closet-challenged folk and several came through with their best advice.

The Experts

First let's meet our panel (and three cheers for the Austin contingent on this one!) and hear why they opted for their homes with unorthodox closet situations:

Elia lives in Austin in a sub-thousand foot, three bedroom bungalow with a "master" closet with a single metal rod and shelf, that just also happens to house the heating unit. But she loves the quiet street "that feels like you're in the country but is only 10 minutes from downtown and the airport."

Taryn, an editor here at Apartment Therapy, lives in a loft inside a converted 1950's former pickle factory in Atlanta. At 2,000 square feet it's far bigger than they need, she says, but with the only doors in the whole place on the bathrooms there are zero true closets. But who could resist the industrial space with exposed beams, concrete floors and big, bright skylights?

Rachel lives in Brooklyn in a thousand-square-foot loft-style apartment without a single closet – but with a "whole wall of giant windows, so the entire apartment is always bathed in light." (You can check out her place here in our house tour.)

Maya lives with her family in a two-bedroom Austin apartment over her husband's art studio. The couple shares a closet (and their lucky tween daughter gets her own closet – but that holds extra blankets and quilts). The home won her over with its treehouse feel – they're surrounded by trees on three sides – and high ceilings with tons of natural light.

J'Lane lives in 2,000+ square feet Austin house that she says is "deceiving in that it feels like a big house, yet it is not built smart." Their situation: two small walk in closets in the bathroom. The older, affordable neighborhood they love with big trees and great schools drew them in.

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Here's what they've learned.

You can still have your guilty pleasures

I've always had a very robust shoe collection. One of the first pieces of furniture I bought for the house was a wooden bookcase that has shelves spaced perfectly for shoes. It's about six feet tall and I can have close to 40 pairs of shoes on the shelf, plus, I painted it to match my dresser so it's pretty. I liked turning something practical into a bit of a visual display. – Elia

March to your own tune

When your home is light on natural storage, you have to let go of your expectations about where or how things should be stored. Most people keep their clothing in their bedroom closet. Ours is dispersed between several places — the wardrobes and dresser in our bedroom handle our everyday pieces, but we also have a clothing rod mounted to the wall in another room to store coats and more formal pieces, and I keep my bulky sweaters in a drawer in our file cabinet. No space is off limits or out of bounds. – Taryn

Marie Kondo it

I have to purge more often. I really have to ask myself, 'does this piece of clothing give me joy and/or add to my life?' I live in Texas where we actually only have two seasons, cold for a short time and hot. Therefore, I have my cold weather items on one side and summer items on the other side. I do store some of my items underneath my bed as well. – J'Lane

I love getting rid of stuff, so I go through my clothes every few months or so and if I haven't worn something, it has to go. I can't keep waiting for that invitation to an 80s-themed Kentucky Derby Party, you know? – Maya

(If anyone is hosting that party, btw, please let me know!)

Put a lid on it

I love bookcases and open shelves as much as the next girl, but I think it's important that you have — or create, rather — as many hidden storage spaces as you can. Because when you're not concerned about how it looks, you can usually squeeze 10 times more stuff in the same space. I closed off the area under our stairs with a tension rod and curtain so I could pack it within an inch of its life. – Taryn


I pack away all of my non-current seasonal items and store them in a small climate-control storage unit. If you have a garage or an attic, even better, but I have neither so to the storage unit it goes! There's no need for flannels to take up room in a closet when it's the middle of hot summer, and likewise, tanks and shorts have no business crowding the space in the middle of winter. – Elia

Off-site storage is clutch, too. We have a storage unit full of things we want to keep — power tools, holiday decorations, sporting equipment — but don't need to use every day. – Taryn

Play musical chairs

Whenever we buy something new, we have to play the storage shuffle. Everything always has a home, but that home may move from time to time. My husband always laments that we never knows where anything is in our apartment! – Rachel

Require double duty

I just can't buy furniture without storage now. I wouldn't even look at entryway tables without drawers when we were shopping for one. We're going to be looking for a new bed soon, and I keep eyeballing those frames with drawers built in. The storage beds we can afford are not my favorite aesthetically, but man, living without closets forces me — Little Miss Form-Over-Function — to be the practical person I never thought I could become. – Taryn

Long live IKEA

It's hard to add true closets to your space; even if you own, it requires a renovation pro or at least more DIY knowledge than I currently possess. But everyone — renters, owners, anyone who knows how to wield a power drill — can add cabinets. And they're pretty much the same thing as closets. We've installed rows and towers of IKEA's kitchen cabinets and BESTA units in a few places to add "built-in" storage for all the extras that didn't have a home. – Taryn

Get an IKEA Kallax or similar square shelving unit and find a tucked away corner to put it. Mine lives in a nice nook behind my bedroom door and in the winter I store all of my neatly folded sweatshirts and sweaters, plus soft side drawers with hats and scarves. Then in the summertime, I swap out those items for swimsuits, coverups, and other pool gear like towels and goggles. When you unpack all of your seasonal gear next time, it will not only feel a little bit like shopping in your own stuff but it will be easier to get rid of things that no longer suit you. – Elia

Do you live the closet-less life? Have any smart tips to share? Leave your lessons in the comments!

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