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Oh, the joys of cohabitation. Having your partner bring you coffee in bed. Choosing new furniture. Fighting over the mess in the bedroom closet – it's not all roses and romance when you share a living space with a significant other.
Sharing a closet can be especially tricky, particularly if you have different home organization priorities (i.e. one of you is messy).
Thankfully, closet organization doesn't have to be painful when you live with a partner. With a few simple practical hacks and a few communication tips thrown in the mix, you can master the art of sharing even a small bedroom closet.
How to organize a closet when you live with a partner
We've asked home organizing professionals to share their top tips for navigating this aspect of co-habiting with a partner successfully. Here's what they had to say.
1. Consider investing in separate closets
There really is no better solution to the potential pitfalls of sharing a closet with a partner. If you are moving home and designing a bedroom from scratch, then consider building two separate closets.
Professional organizer and owner of Tori the Organizer Tori Cohen highly recommends this approach: 'This is not possible for a lot of people but if you can have a separate closet from your partner, do. Then close the door on theirs and pretend it doesn't exist; not your monkey, not your circus.'
This can even be achieved in rentals by buying two separate smaller wardrobes or two clothing organization systems. Just make sure you choose ones with doors, especially if one of you is less tidy than the other.
Tori Cohen (aka ‘Tori the Organizer’) has owned a decluttering and organization business for the last 8.5 years. From Los Angeles to New York City to Michigan, Tori has led her clients through the overwhelm of clutter to a more organized life. Aesthetics are important but Tori’s focus is on functionality and systems. She listens to the needs of her clients as individuals and collaborates with them to come up with the best possible solution. As a result, Tori’s clients maintain their systems and experience the lasting joy of a decluttered home.
2. Use the power of zoning and prioritizing
This method is a bit more effortful than just dividing the closet in half, but well worth trying out. In theory, simply dividing your closet in half can work if each of you owns about the same amount of stuff. In practice, though, this is rarely the case: one partner typically has more of everything than the other.
Professional organizer and owner of B. Organized Nicole Gabai recommends zoning the closet. First, you divide the closet into sections, categorizing each section by person, type (e.g. tops, bottoms, outerwear, shoes), and season. In a small closet space, it's best to only have current season clothes out and put the rest in storage.
Now you have your closet zones, each of you will need to prioritize. 'Don't make the mistake of giving each object equal importance. Prioritize the items that are essential to you and place them in zone 1, the most convenient location. Less frequently used items should be stored in zone 2 or 3.'
Each of you will need to spend a bit of time sorting through your clothes and deciding what you want readily accessible and what can go on the upper shelves/in a box deeper in the closet.
Nicole founded B. Organized over 20 years ago and is a Golden Circle member of NAPO – the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals.
3. Set up a grab-and-go station
This is especially useful for couples sharing a walk-in closet, as it's very easy to lose the small things that tend to fall out of pockets. Car keys, credit cards, and other small but important items that you really can't lose deserve their own valet tray, available at Target, basket, or drawer.
Professional organizer and owner of The Clutter Keeper Carrie Ypma highly recommends designating 'a place to drop items after work and a quick spot to grab them the next day. This keeps the little things from getting lost and helps your mornings run smoothly.'
Carrie is an expert organizer and founder of home organization company Clutter Keeper.
4. Color-code your clothes storage
Color-coding your hangers and storage boxes can go a long way to avoid closet confusion and keep your bedroom organized. If you keep finding that your clothes get mixed up, buy different-color hangers and storage boxes for each partner. It's visual, easy to follow, and takes much less effort than having to sort through the entire closet all the time.
5. Create designated areas for dirty clothes and trash
As many of us know from experience, getting someone to carry their dirty clothes to the laundry room isn't always practical. It's much more convenient to just create a designated space for dirty clothes in the closet.
Carrie Ypma says: 'A hamper or a simple basket can be a game changer. And don't forget a small trash can too! It's great for tossing out tags, old receipts, or broken items. This ensures the closet stays neat, and it's super handy for both you and your partner.'
Extra tip: It's a good idea to have a separate shelf of drawer each for items that get more than one wear, such as denim. That way you're not mixing clothes that are pristine with those that have been worn but aren't yet ready to go in the laundry.
6. Be reasonable in your expectations
No matter how much effort you make to keep your closet organized, sometimes your partner will do things a way you don't like, and vice versa. The solution? Picking your battles and, once in a while, letting it go.
Tori Cohen gives sage advice: 'When it comes to couples living together in a space, there's always one person who thinks they're doing it right and the other who disagrees. The truth is that people are telling themselves different stories and different things irk different people.'
Of course, if you very obviously are the tidy one who puts in more effort organizing the closet, 'decide on rules to keep your partner respectful of your work.' At the same time, Cohen gently suggests that it's better you 'don't get on them every time they don't put an empty hanger back with the rest of the empty hangers.'
How do you organize a closet when living with someone who is messy?
Most of us are somewhere down the middle on how much closet mess we create, but every once in a while a couple is truly mismatched in their organizational styles. If your partner is truly very messy and it's getting to you, Karen Powell, founder at The Organising Lady, recommends using dividers: 'You can use expandable bamboo drawer dividers at Amazon, drawing a line firmly between yours and your significant other’s stuff.'
It's best to talk to your partner about it before just putting them in. An honest conversation will go a long way to prevent any misunderstanding.
How do you share a bedroom closet when your space is small?
A small closet is not necessarily an insurmountable problem when sharing the space with a partner. Even if it seems like you two have way too much stuff to fit all of it in, rethink your storage and hangers before you start throwing stuff out. Karen Powell gives a genius tip for helping your clothes fit better in the space you do have: switch to velvet skinny hangers, at Amazon. Doing just this one thing 'will reduce your wardrobe space by a third', she says.
You can also use cascading hangers, also at Amazon, to save on space. These work really well for both tops and bottoms and help you keep items of the same type together.
Ultimately, sharing a closet with a partner is about give and take, and not necessarily about strictly dividing everything in half. Keep communication lines open, invest in plenty of storage boxes and hangers, and try to keep an open mind.
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Anna K. Cottrell is now a freelance writer, having previously been a Content Editor for Future's homes titles. She writes about interior design, property, and gardening. On H&G, she specialized in writing about property – buying, selling, renting – sustainability and eco issues.
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