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Organizing: Small Closet Makeover

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

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  1. 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.

  2. 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!

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

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

    1. 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.

  5. 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 :)