Organizing: Small Closet Makeover

How to turn a small coat closet into a storage closet with shelves to hold small household items.

Do you remember the dining room in my previous house?


It is one room our lake house does not have.  Since we only used the room a few times a year, I was OK with not having a special room to dine for entertaining purposes.  When we were packing up the house, I edited and purged the items in the room I knew I no longer wanted or needed, but still kept the items I knew I would use again and again when entertaining at our new house.

Without a dining room though, I needed to find a place to store these kept items.

I found ways to repurpose the furniture… the turquoise corner cabinet became a music cabinet in the rec room upstairs. We took apart the top of the hutch and I made a mantel for the living room using a piece of it. The bottom of the hutch is now used as a dresser in a guest room. The white mantel is in my bedroom.  We removed the legs from the table and have it stored in the attic.  The dining table and chairs went to daughter, Kelly since she just moved into a house and was in need of furniture.

Without any of these pieces of furniture in kitchen proximity, I had to find a place for the items that were stored in them.

Open kitchen cabinet dishes

Most of the white pitchers I have displayed in my kitchen. I removed the cabinet doors so I could enjoy seeing them on a daily basis. :-)

closet makeover before

The rest I literally stuffed into this small closet in the hallway of darkness until I had time to deal with it.

The previous owner of the house left a Rubbermaid shelving unit in the closet. That alone with 2 shelves and a rod, it once must have been a coat closet. I knew the closet needed a makeover and finally got around to doing it so I could store and organize the dining room items I kept. I am now calling the small closet my “China Closet”.

Here is how I took a small unorganized closet and custom made it to fit my needs.

Small Closet Makeover

supplies needed:

  • Primed MDF 11-1/4″ wide boards cut to the length needed. Will need 2 cut for each shelf.
  • Primed MDF 1″ x 2″ – cut a few inches shorter than the depth of the closet. Will need 2 for each shelf.
  • Wood screws
  • Bubble level
  • Painter’s tape
  • Pencil
  • Screwdriver
  • Primer, Paint, Paint Roller, brush, and tray
how to prep stained walls before painting

I removed the metal rod and 2 shelves and then cleaned and painted the walls. I don’t think they have been touched since the house was built in 1974. We added new flooring a few weeks ago. I showed you that when I posted about the powder room makeover.

what paint to use to paint over stained walls

I used KILZ Premium primer to block the stains on the walls. Then painted it white, using up paint I had from a previous home improvement project.

how to add shelves to a small closet

The paint and new flooring alone made a huge difference to the space!

I then measured the height of the items I wanted to store in the closet and figured out how many shelves I would need. I used a bubble level, painter’s tape, and a pencil to mark the placement for each shelf.

I cut the  MDF 1″ x 2″s to a few inches shorter than the depth of the closet. I attached them to the wall with wood screws.  I had the 11- 1/4″ wide MDF boards cut to width of the closet and used two to create each shelf.

  • Using two boards instead of one large board for each shelf makes placing them into the small space much easier.

Here is the AFTER

Chaina closet organizing idea

Everything I need can now be seen at a glance and is easy to get to.  It is like a mini version of the pantry in my previous house.

  • I like to use wicker baskets and labels to help me keep smaller items organized.
Closet organizing ideas that are affordable and easy to do

I find most of the small baskets at yard sales and thrift stores. I look for square and rectangular baskets with low sides. Many of the smaller ones I find have handles that I cut off once I get home. They are getting harder to find, but I still go in search for them. I have found a few resources for the smaller ones online. I have them listed at the end of the post.

Small Closet Makeover + Organizing-13

IKEA, HomeGoods, TJMaxx and Marshalls are also good places to find affordable larger baskets to use on the floor of a closet.  I make laminated labels for every basket. You can find all the labels I use here —> on my Free Printable label page.

How-to Attach the Labels:


To attach the label to the basket, make a hole in the label, place the tips of a brass fastener through the hole and into a space in the wicker. Once all the way through, spread out the fastener tips to secure.

Small Closet Makeover + Organizing-3

I added enough shelves to hold everything from candles to infrequently used appliances.

Small Closet Makeover + Organizing-5

I only added one board for the top shelf to make it easy to see and get the contents off when needed.

Small Closet Makeover + Organizing-11

The distance between the lower shelves is 9 inches.

Small Closet Makeover + Organizing-6

I left enough room between the floor and the first shelf to store larger items. The distance is 17″.

Small Closet Makeover + Organizing-7

I can’t seem to pass by a pretty dish towel when out shopping. I do like to change them up in my kitchen seasonally. There are more behind these two piles. :-)

Small Closet Makeover + Organizing-8

I also like placemats, paper doilies, and platters.  Along with…

Small Closet Makeover + Organizing-12

…tealights in two different sizes…

Small closet makeover and organizing ideas

…and lots of holders for all of them.  If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, I am sure you remember seeing these candle holders in many of my posts.

I can’t tell you how much having this closet finally in order makes me smile. It is so nice to open the door now and find exactly what I need in a minute.

There is another closet exactly like this right across from this one that I am going to call the “Party Closet”.  It still needs to be painted. I will share that with you soon as well as a few other decorative things I plan to brighten the hallway of darkness.

Affordable tips to help you make the most of a small closet. I made this coat closet into my china closet. Check out how to use small baskets to help you stay organized, plus free printable labels to download and make to label your stuff.

More Clutter Free Home Organizing Ideas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Christina says:

    Hi Diane,
    Fan of all your DIY tutorials and of course your beautiful house. I am French and I use to look at your photos we a lot of pleasure!
    A take this opportunity to tell you that in France, we put the silverware Inside a cotton black fabric (tissu?) bag to avoid it becoming black/brown too fast… ;-)
    Kinf regards.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Christina – I do have a few of the bags you mentioned, I will have to put the few pieces I keep in the basket in one of them. Thanks for mentioning how you use them. Most of my silverware is kept in a lined wood box made just for silverware. I store it on the bottom shelf of the closet. It is very full and heavy, hence why I placed a few of the items we use more frequently in the basket. I have never been to France. It is one place I have ben yearning to visit. We are planning a trip for the spring.

  2. Do you have a template for those cute large tags you have on thoe baskets?
    They are adorable.

    1. Wacky me. I found them. Thank you so much!

  3. Juliana Chan says:

    OMG!!! I’m glad I saw your page!!!! it’s brilliant!!! I was going to remove the coat closet but after i saw your page, i decided to follow your steps and work on my coat closet!! THANK YOU!!! I think my husband will be the happiest one coz he can save money!! HAHA

  4. Great ideas. Closet looks nice.

  5. Great! I especially your idea to cut the handles.

  6. You can find very cute baskets occasionally at the Dollar Tree

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      You are so right Gloria. Thank you so much for reminding me. They have square and rectangular ones in the craft aisle. I will add it to the post. Enjoy your weekend.

  7. lindalw666 says:

    It looks really nice and organized. Now I’m thinking of how I could use some of my closets to better use! We don’t have a dining room either, but then I’m not the cook that you are! I have coats in my coat closet, but if I could move them on, I’d have space to put a lot more things in there! Maybe shelves, even! Thanks, Diane, you are the best!
    Did I ever tell you that your blog is my absolute favorite?
    It is!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Linda – Yes you have…you are so sweet. XOXO I am not a cook at all!!! :-) I like pretty dishes and have mastered a few recipes that I have shared on the blog, but I am not a fan of cooking. If I ever win the lottery, the first thing I would do would be hire a chef!

  8. I only wish I could convince you to come sit in my house talking me through things.
    It’s true, the blog does all that but just having you sitting nearby- would make it that much more ‘doable.”
    Have a bedroom closet that I’m working on doing this- it’s much wider-just need to bite the bullet and do it!

  9. Sharon Favre says:

    Love the idea for the label holder – the brass tabs. Never thought of that.

  10. Mary Heicher says:

    The closet looks really nice. Finding baskets at thrift stores is also an option.
    I didn’t think of amazon. Thanks for the tip :)

  11. Oh Diane….Once again something we have in common…. cabinet handles from your powder room. We both had them! Ha.
    I took the coat closet in our foyer and turned it into my china closet. We never used our “formal” living room so that room became our dining room and the closet was the perfect place to store my various sets of china, serving pieces, candles, seasonal towels and placemats. My closet certainly is not as neat as yours at the moment. My closet became a necessity when I sold the very beat up dining room set (thanks to LOTS of military moves) and gave my son and DIL our German Shrunk…I could not believe how much stuff I had stashed in those two pieces.

    So glad I stumbled across your blog a few months ago! You’ve been very inspirational. I’m currently saving my pennies for the garden tools you mentioned last week. :-)

    I’m off to organize my china closet!

  12. Nancy Rector says:

    Very lovely makeover. Hope I didn’t over look this but how did you attach your labels to the baskets? Appears it might be metal brads. Very nice look!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Nancy – Good question. :-) I use brass fasteners to attach the labels. I have a few links at the end of the post that show how I do it, but I will add a photo to the post. To attach the label to the basket, make a hole in the label, place the tips of a brass fastener through the hole and into a space in the wicker. Once all the way through, spread out the fastener tips to secure.

      1. Nancy Rector says:

        Thanks Diane. That’s what it looked like. Very creative way to attach them. Thanks for the quick reply. I’ve followed your blog for a while now and really enjoy it. Ü


        1. Diane Henkler says:

          Hi Nancy – When writing posts, I sometimes forget to add the little details. :-) Using the brass fasteners to attach labels to baskets and boxes is my fave way to stay organized. Thanks for reading my blog. XO

  13. It looks great! I especially like your idea to cut the handles off the baskets. I recently reorganized my cupboards and moved things around, culling some old items no longer used. I freed up enough space to put my toaster and crockpot in cupboards – quite an accomplishment in my smaller kitchen!

  14. Joanne B. says:

    Wow! I could just sit and stare at the pics of your new “china closet”! What is it about seeing an organized space that makes me so happy? I do try to keep my closets (and drawers and shelves) neat and orderly but I have a husband who obviously has an aversion to closing doors and after 36 years I have finally accepted that he is not about to change! I’m happy that even if he leaves a door open it looks nice. But those labels? Now THAT takes neat and organized over the top! Thanks so much for sharing your labels for our use. How awfully generous to not only create the file – my daughter is a graphic designer so I know the work that goes into getting it perfect- but to then offer them for free is such a nice gift. You truly are an inspiration! I recently saw some lovely storage boxes at Ikea recently but didn’t come home with them. Now I know I must go back and I’m thinking my shoes need to be organized and labeled! Road trip!

  15. Great use of space and love all the ideas.
    With our new empty nest…we are hoping to do more entertaining on a whim. I plan to keep track of what I really use and what just seems to take up space. Currently the way those pieces are stored I just can’t get a good visual of what I have.

    Wish I could give up some of the pieces…but some are family treasures. Any ideas?

  16. Clearissa Coward says:

    This is a great organization. Many times smaller areas are more difficult to organize. I use a lot of baskets too and I love your labels. Great job.

  17. I can imagine the relief you felt to have your closet finished and organized. For some reason, an organized closet is one of my favorite things and while occasionally other areas of my house may be somewhat disorganized, my closets are painted, have nice flooring (hardwood-look laminate) and neat and tidy shelves so that I know exactly what is there. I love opening a door and finding the inside neat and organized. Everyone has their thing and mine is closets and cabinets that are behind doors. Family members call me crazy …..

  18. Diane I loved seeing all of your treasures in your closet! I too love dish towels, platters, anything that includes entertaining ! HG is one of my favorite places to shop !!!
    Your closet looks awesome!

  19. So lovely and organized! The white paint makes all your pretty things just POP! :D So many ideas for the decor storage room I need to organize!

  20. Fresh white paint and tidy shelves – lovely! Thanks for making me smile today. I enjoy checking in on your progress. On more project done – that should make you smile.

  21. I am suffering from a rather large case of *closet envy*! Great job. I intend to follow your lead. On that note, I just checked the link to affordable baskets, and, sure as the world there was one for $1.99!! However, when I checked shipping – it was$7.99!!! I’m still going to pursue for the cause!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Linda – Oh that darn shipping… sometimes it is crazy expensive. I order a lot of stuff from Amazon and singed up for Amazon Prime. It paid for itself within two months. The best place to get the baskets is yard sales and thrift stores. I got 90% of my small baskets at neighborhood sales and church yard sales. :-)

  22. Dianne, I have an unrelated question. I have searched and searched for your blog post on learning to do your own fancy lettering all to no avail. Could you give me a link to that post? Love your blog and read it regularly. Thanks for all the good info.

  23. You always have great ideas on your blog that help me in my own home! I like how you just get things done yourself! Thanks for the inspiration!

  24. So lovely! It’s wonderful to have a storage place that can make you smile. Have a blessed day!

  25. Did you connect the two boards you used for each shelf in any way? Love the new closet!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Denise – I did not connect the two boards. I simply placed one in and slid it to the back wall and then placed the second one in and pushed it right up against the first one. I did it this way to make it easier to place the shelves in and to keep the wood cost down. I got the inspiration to do it this way from the closet that is across from the one I posted about. The shelves in that closet were created with this way.

  26. I enjoy receiving your tips by email so much. Yours is one of my favorite. So nice to see the finished “product”. Your closet looks great :)