How to Plan a Small Walk-In Wardrobe

Our wardrobe is tiny – not helped by the fact it was originally going to be part of the en-suite before we decided that a closet would be a better use of space. It’s around 1mX1.5m with the door opening into the space, so we really don’t have much room to work with. (In fact when I told Lee I wanted to use the space as a walk in wardrobe he laughed at me because he thought it would be useless but he knows me well enough to know that once I have an idea in my head I’m stubborn about it!).

Despite all of this I adore it. It fits all of our clothes, and I feel like (for the first time ever) I can see every item of clothing I own. In fact even Lee (the person least interested in clothes out of everyone I know!) loves how useful it is.

With super small wardrobes you can’t really afford to throw a load of rails and shelves up and hope everything will just fit (it probably won’t). Because of our lack of space I spent hours planning (and re-planning) what we would be doing with it, before heading to IKEA with a very strict list of quantities and sizes of the items we needed. I’m so glad we took the time to do this as it worked out better than we could hope for. I’m sharing our process and tips to try and help anyone thinking about doing the same.

Figure out what will be going in the wardrobe…

Of course it’s clothes. But actually think it through as to make sure you fit things in you’ll need to be more precise than that:

1. Decide who will be using the wardrobe.

The most important thing is to decide who is using the wardrobe. In our case Lee and I both needed to fit all our clothes between it and a chest of drawers. Knowing that this was our only hanging space meant that straight away we knew we’d need to put our shoes, Lee’s shirt’s, coats and my dresses in as a bare minimum. Knowing who/what you’ll use it for is a good starting point, and it’s important to know whether anything else other than clothes (for example storage or a laundry basket) will need to go in it too.

2. Think about what you DON’T need.

The first thing you need to do is think about the items of clothing you aren’t going to be putting in your wardrobe. Don’t make the mistake of trying to squeeze every item you own in – you’ll end up saving room for items of clothing that you’ll never actually put back in your wardrobe, and not having enough room for the ones that do.

For me it’s the ‘outdoor’ clothes: the coat I wear to walk the dog, my wellies, a pair of clogs that I slip on to nip to the bins… essentially all of the clothes that actually live by the back door. There’s no point you factoring these in, because if they’re in your wardrobe they’ll be no use to you.

3. Clear out all of your clothes.

Be brutal. The problem with cramped wardrobes is that you aren’t able to see the clothes you actually have because they’re all crushed in together, which means you’ll feel like you don’t have anything to wear. This results in you going out buying more clothes and desperately trying to squeeze even more in. (If you’re someone who hoards clothes and doesn’t have ‘outfits’ then I’d definitely recommend looking into capsule wardrobes – they’re amazing!)

4. Decide what will be in other clothes storage.

If you’re like us you might have drawers or bedside tables that contain pj’s, underwear, t-shirts etc. Put these away first so you’re just left with everything that needs space in the wardrobe.

Prep and Plan…

At this point you should be left with all of the items that you need to fit in your wardrobe so you can see exactly what you’re working with.

1. Make a list.

Start by making a categorised list of the items you have (and therefore need to fit in). For example, how many men’s shirts, how many tops, pairs of shoes (which types of shoes too – heels, flats or boots). Group similar clothes (long coats, blazers, shirts, skirts etc) together.

2.  Invest in some new hangers.

Not only will this mean you have consistent and beautiful hangers but you can then use them to measure correctly when you’re allocating space.

3. Decide if you want a mirror.

If you’ve got a small walk in wardrobe then a full length mirror may be pointless as you may not be  able to stand far enough away to see properly. Also think about whether there is enough lighting in there to be able to see items – especially if you’re getting ready in the evenings with no natural light. If you do decide to have one consider putting it either on the wall behind the door or get one that will hang on the back of the door to save some space.

Start Measuring…

You need to measure each item of clothing to figure how much room they’ll need to look well spaced and comfortable. This is why hangers are important – measure the length of items when they’re on the actual hanger. For hanging items you need to know what the drop is from the top of the hanger to the bottom of the item. You also need to know the width these items will take up when hanging together. Group these by:

1. Long items of clothing.

Figure out what the longest items of clothing are. We have a dry suit hanging in our wardrobe and this was the item that dictated the longest drop from a rail to the floor. It may be a coat, a dress or a suit jacket, but once you know this drop you’ll be able to dictate where the longest hanging space is and what height it needs to be.

2. Hanging items that aren’t full length.

Suits (measure in suit bags if this is how you store them), shirts (double cuffed ones will have sleeves that hang the lowest), tops, skirts and any other items you’re planning to hang.

3.  Trousers.

Measure trousers separately from shirts and skirts. Trousers are much smaller to hang (as they fold in half) and so by putting trousers on a separate hanger it meant that even with our short wall we could get hanging rail for both shirts and trousers. This pull out hanger from IKEA is designed to get two pairs trousers per hanger (ten in total).

4. Measure the width of any clothes that will be on shelves.

(Same logic as above – figure out how much room you’ll for each type of clothes (i.e you’ll have all of your t-shirts together on a shelf) – stack them together so you can see how wide and tall and deep each shelf need to be.

Make sure you leave yourself a little room for error. You might find you’ve measured incorrectly, or end up with a slightly different hanger, or you may end up buying clothes that need that bit more room in the future.  I’d recommend a 5cm height gap per hanging section (width for shelves) and room for a couple more items of clothes per section.

Putting it all together…

Draw the part of your wardrobe on a piece of paper to plan (and preferably to scale if you can). It might be worth having a few copies of this so you can try different scenarios (I did four before I got it ‘right’). In our case, the door is in the corner and opens into the room, which means two out of the four walls are redundant, but we have hanging space and shelves on one side wall and the back wall.

If you want to be fancy you can do everything to scale and cut out pieces of paper to represent each group of clothing. I just drew them over the template instead. If you do this just double check your calculations to make sure everything adds up. You want to start filling in the spaces in your wardrobes and I would suggest you do them in this order:

1. Work out which parts of the wardrobe are ‘accessible’.

Because our space is L-shaped, we can’t see the items of clothing in the corner. We can slide them out via a rail, but it’s an ideal place to put the items of clothes you use the least often (in our case it’s Lee’s drysuit again!).

2. Large and bulky items.

Most usually need to hang so it’s very likely that your hanging space will be the least flexible so start by deciding where you need your rails to be (full length followed by any shorter ones). Make sure you’ve allowed enough room so that you won’t be bunching clothes together as you’ll only end up ruining ironing. Make sure that you will be able to see each item of clothing well.

3. Rails.

Remember you’ll need things to fasten rails to, so if you don’t have either side of the rail touching a wall you’ll need to create an end panel. We just used boards from B&Q but obviously there are various options (including those pre-drilled for shelves) available from plenty of places. If you don’t already know the width of your panels you’ll probably want to allow around 20mm for them.

4. Shoe storage.

If possible you should keep your shoes near the door. It’ll make it easy to put them away at the end of the day (less change of you being lazy and leaving them in other parts of the house!)

These shoes shelves (also from IKEA!) will fit two shoes side by side. For us we only had a small amount of space before things would over lap our door so had to fit them at a steep angle. (Which was a good use of space as hanging clothes would have over hung the door). If you aren’t stuck for space like this a shallower angle would mean you could have more shelves in this amount of space. They also fit flat shoes too (unlike a lot of ‘rail’ style shoe holders which are only designed for high heels).

5. Shelves.

You want to take up as much of the remaining space with shelves as these are the most adaptable and you’ll be able to use them for various items of clothing. When filling shelves put the items of clothing that you’re most likely to use in the most accessible places. My Christmas jumpers live on the top shelf despite being tall I can’t reach this so need Lee to get them down for me! As I only use them once a year I’m not too worried about this. My t-shirts and jeans live on the shelves that are in my natural line of vision.

6. And finally accessories.

These aren’t essential items, and they’re the smallest so leave these until last and ‘slot them in’ to the space you have left over. Awkward spaces are the perfect place for accessories. Our sloped ceiling mean I can arrange scarves and bags without wasting space. This is a perfect place for other items such as hats, blankets, etc.

Have a look at the amazing accessories that can help keep a wardrobe looking neat: Accessory specific holders (like this belt/tie holder) are also godsends if you can fit them in little bits of spaces. A word of caution though – they can take up more space than you realise and it’s very tempting to buy things that are aesthetically pleasing. Don’t buy a scarf holder if you don’t wear scarves! You’ll end up with plenty of place for all the things you don’t have and no space for the things you do. IKEA (once again!) takes some beating for things like this!

And finally…

If you’re still struggling to fit everything in then consider splitting up your clothes into seasons. The Christmas jumpers that you wear for two weeks of the year, the summer dresses that get use for around three weeks… vacuum packed bags will be your best friend here and are massive space savers. Remember this is a walk in wardrobe, so you really just want to maximize the space with items of clothes you love to look at and really use.

Fingers crossed these tips are useful! Have you designed your own wardrobe? Do you have any other tips to share?