Moving out of an apartment and into a nice, big house? You may think your closet crisis has been solved. But whether you have the smaller closets of an older home or the spacious storage areas of a newer house, it's important to use the space wisely.

Options abound for closet organization systems, from companies that create personalized designs to do-it-yourself kits from home improvement stores. Americans clearly are taking advantage of all they offer: The International Housewares Association says we spend nearly $9 billion each year on space organizers and products for closets and clothing care - almost 12 percent of total U.S. retail houseware sales.

Since an empty closet can be as frightening to a homeowner as a blank piece of paper is to a writer, here are a few tips for strategic storing:

  • Don't store things you don't need. Before you put hanger to rod, assess whether you really need or wear everything you own. If you store warm- or cold-weather clothes for half the year, figure out what needs to be hidden away now. Under-bed boxes and vacuum-sealed plastic storage bags are great space-savers. Find room outside the bedroom - in the garage, attic or basement - for things like ski boots, scuba wet suit, and holiday clothing that you rarely need.
  • Once you have the excess out of the way, you can better design your closet. Write down what you have - 5 sweaters, 10 blouses, 6 pairs of pants, 8 pairs of shoes, etc. - and take it to a closet-design company or a home improvement store. It's easier to buy what you need if you can see all the options and match them to your clothes. Consider defying tradition; just because your closet has a rod doesn't mean you have to hang everything. If you prefer your clothes folded, invest in a closet system with more shelves and drawers than hanging space. Plan to give clothes plenty of room: Freshly ironed clothes, if squashed together, don't stay wrinkle-free for long.
  • Choose a flexible system. Lots of bulky sweaters? Shelves or shelf dividers may serve you best. Nothing longer than dress shirts and trousers? Add a second, lower bar to take advantage of that unused space. Just keep in mind that if you buy more sweaters next year or if skirts get longer (or shorter!), you'll want to be able to reconfigure your closet.
  • Aim for order. Being greeted each morning by an orderly closet somehow seems to make the rest of the day less chaotic. Most closet experts recommend hanging clothes by category (work or casual, and pants, dress shirts, casual shirts, skirts, dresses, etc.), then organizing those sections by color.
  • Tackle accessories. How you store shoes depends on how many pairs you have and what else you have in your closet. If you don't have many hanging items, a hanging shoe organizer might be best. If you use all your rod space already, horizontal shoe racks on the floor or over-door shoe organizers may work better. If you don't have many pairs, invest in see-through shoe boxes so you can stack them to save space. Specially designed racks or hangers for belts, ties and scarves, attached right near the hanging clothes, make it easy to pick out these accessories. I keep a large, flat, multipocket organizer on the inside of my closet door to hold all my jewelry, so I can pick those out as I get dressed.
  • Make it simple. My life got better - and the avalanche of clothes ceased - when I put a simple step stool in my closet. Now I can reach the stacked sweaters and folded jeans on the shelf above the rod without a struggle.
  • Though it may be a tempting, don't put a laundry hamper in your closet. Dirty clothes smell stale (or stink, if they're socks!) quickly, and the odor will permeate your clean clothes.
  • Beyond the bedroom. Try to store bath towels in the bathroom instead of a hallway linen closet. Save that for sheets - putting each full set inside its coordinated pillowcase. Unless you travel often, keep suitcases in the attic or basement or in the closet of a spare bedroom.
  • SEE what you've organized. Invest in ample lighting for your closet so you aren't mismatching clothes in the dark.

    Here are only a few of the many sources for closet organization items:

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