How to Unclutter a Closet for $50

An indelible episode of Oprah showed the mega-host getting her closet organized by an interior decorator who basically turned it into a small boutique, for easy and fun wardrobe access. That should get rid of the classic rant "I have nothing to wear!" Now, most of us don't have the budget nor the closet space to recreate this transformation. In this Savings Experiment, we'll find out the best way to optimize a bedroom closet while saving money on the make-over.

You can purchase a closet system, but they will cost you. I've searched online chat forums and reviews for the best ones. The highly favored Elfa closet organizing systems and accessories at the Container Store can cost anywhere from around $600 to $4,000. Customers report that the systems are easy to put together and last. The PAX systems at Ikea are also highly rated but can set you back a couple thousand too. ClosetMaid is much more affordable -- for around $200 you can pick up a system through to fit your closet, but reviewers have complained that they're difficult to assemble and missing parts in the packaging. Let's see if you can create your dream closet for under $50 by shopping for a few key pieces.
The rule of thumb in closet organizing is: before you buy any organizers make sure you take a hard look at all the stuff in your closet. To do this, empty it out completely. This is a great exercise in reminding yourself of what you actually own. Disorganization costs Americans 15 to 20% of the average annual family budget, according to Lesley Adams, owner of Declutter Design in New York, via If you can't easily access your stuff, you forget about it and end up buying more of what you really don't need. Ouch. Talk about vicious cycle. Organizing your closet is the best way to make you "shop your closet" - where you can rock what you've got and cut back on shopping. The savings can go into your retirement or vacation fund. Now let's get organized!

As you're taking things out, organize them into piles. One pile should be for items you absolutely love and wear everyday. This should include classics, like a cashmere black sweater or your perfect little black dress. The second pile should be for items you like but could live without, as they say. The third pile are for giveaways. The best way to determine whether to give something up is to determine if you've worn it in the last six months. If the answer is no, it goes in the third pile. Once you have your piles sorted--and you'll be relieved at how much you're able to toss out -- invite your friends over for a clothing swap.

A clothing swap is a great way to get rid of the stuff that doesn't appeal to you but could freshen up a friend's wardrobe. Remember, one woman's junk is another woman's treasure. Get together over pizza and drinks, everyone brings a bag of unwanted clothes, organize them by item; then, auctioneer-style, have a friend hold up each item and either fight or laugh over who gets it. Trust me, I host a clothing swap every season with the same group of girls and it is not only fun but successful. One of my greatest "wins" was a pair of True Religion jeans (retail cost -- $250) that I got for free!

Now that you've emptied your closet of stuff you don't need, it's time to put back what's left of your wardrobe. Quick note: if you want to go for that boutique effect, consider painting your closet a soothing color like lilac or cream. Assess how you want to organize your closet. The goal is to make the every day items -- gym shoes, seasonal shoes, work clothes -- easily accessible. Here's how to organize the "everyday" and the rest to meet our $50 goal:

  • Boots are bulky so they should go in a small laundry basket, as recommended by Amy Salinger of Sass N Style. For boots, this cute blue storage bin is $8.99 from Target.
  • Use the inside of your closet doors to hang a shoe rack. These are ideal for allowing you to easily scan to find the shoes you need. No more digging into the depths of your closet.
  • Here are some options for great overdoor shoe hangers: Container Store (12-pair organizer for $10.99) a 36-pair shoe rack for $39.99 from, a 10-pair canvass organizer for $14.99 from The lesson here -- use the inside of your closet doors for organizers - great way to optimize space and visually show-off your wardrobe.
  • Any shoes you wear everyday to work or the gym can have their special V.I.P. section on your closet floor for easy access.

  • Hang the items you wear often in the middle of your closet, where they'll be easy to pull out in the morning and put back at night. You'll see how easy it is to keep your bedroom clean and your bedroom floor free of clothes once you're able to easily hang up your clothes.
  • Hang items you only wear on special occasions on the far side of your closet and make sure any gowns or long dresses have plenty of room to hang.
  • You can sort by color, but it's more practical to hang the items you use every week front and center.
  • If you need more hangers, Home Depot's closet organizing tip sheet recommends wood or padded hangers to help keep the shape of your clothes. A package of 5 will cost $10.99 at the Home Depot. Since they're pricey, save them for your most valuable clothes.

  • I didn't realize how many handbags I own until I organized my closet. Now they're all hanging on hooks I've hung on my closet door. Or you can always buy an over-the-door coat rack such as this one for $6.99 from and hang the handbags on the inside of your closet door, if you have one available - remember, we're also hanging the shoe rack on the inside of the door to make room for extra space inside your closet. (The less we keep out of the closet, the easier it will be to organize it and keep it clean). Or hang the coat rack on your wall - here's a cute on for $12.99 from
Organize by the Seasons
  • You should typically organize your closet twice a year - to make it ready for the cold or warm weather.
  • Off-season items should go in a storage bin under your bed or someplace else out of your way. Bringing those clothes out again will give you the sensation of shopping without spending a dime.
  • For storage units, save money by storing off-season items in an old suitcase or purchase a pair of vacuum storage bags from Amazon for $7.89.

Let's see our grand total. With a storage bin for boots ($8.99), a 12-pair over-the-door shoe organizer from the Container Store ($10.99), a package of five wooden hangers from Home Depot ($10.99) for special items, a sweater organizer from Amazon for $8.69, and vacuum storage bags from Amazon ($7.89), our dream closet will cost: $47.55, not including tax. At least you'll get only the items you need and you won't have to use a power drill.

And if you shop online and make all of your purchases for similar items at one site -- Target, the Container Store, or Amazon, you'll save money on shipping.

See how freshened-up your wardrobe can be with a little boutique-like organization. You might even enjoy shopping your own closet.
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