This wood DIY closet organizer is simple to make using inexpensive wood and basic tools and can be made to fit your specific closet exactly. No complicated closet systems needed!
The master closet in our 1970s brick ranch isn’t exactly the huge walk-in closet everyone on House Hunters is looking for. It’s a small reach-in closet that always seems to be packed to the limit.
A few years ago I built DIY closet shelves in the small closet my three boys share and it has been a game-changer for storing all of their things in a way that actually stays neat and tidy.
And I decided it was definitely time to try to work the same magic on our own closet, but in a more grown-up version.
I started by converting the old sliding closet doors into hinged doors so we could see and reach everything in the closet more easily. Then I gave the blah closet doors a major update with inexpensive wood planks and a fun paint color.
Next up: tackling the inside of the closet.
Our closet started with a pretty basic set-up – two shelves across the top and a single closet rod for hanging clothes. It was fine, but it definitely wasn’t making the most of the space.
I knew that with a better closet organizer, I could make the closet look a million times nicer and more importantly, make it much easier to find the things we need.
I know there are lots of closet organization systems out there at a variety of price points. But I quickly realized that I could make something much sturdier that fits my closet exactly for much way less money.
This DIY closet organizer is inexpensive and can be customized to fit any small closet. I’m sharing a full materials list and wood cut list, step-by-step instructions, and a video tutorial below to make it easy to create your own DIY closet organizer.
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My closet is a small closet that is 63.5″ wide. The diagram below shows the dimensions of my finished closet organizer. If your closet is smaller or larger, you can adjust the measurements of the top shelf and the shoe shelves to make it fit perfectly.
In the middle section, the top five shelves are all 11 1/8″ high while the bottom section is 13 1/4″ high.
You can use this wood cut list to make a closet organizer exactly like mine. If you are making a slightly different size organizer, be sure to adjust the measurements accordingly.
1″x12″ MDF for main structure:
1″x2″ boards for facing:
1″x1″ boards for facing:
1.25″ round dowel
Scrap wood for shelf supports
I used 1″x12″ MDF shelf boards for this project. MDF is great for building shelves because it’s super straight and smooth and also a bit cheaper than real wood. And since I was planning to paint my closet organizer, there really wasn’t any need to pay more for nice wood grain.
I also added 1″x2″ boards to the face of the closet organizer. This is a really inexpensive way to make nice, thick shelves.
I used pine boards for this but poplar is also a good choice. If you choose to use pine, remember that you need to start with a sealing primer to keep the knotholes from bleeding through the paint.
Poplar doesn’t usually cause an issue with bleeding through white paint, but is quite a bit more expensive right now. (The two used to be more comparable, but some wood prices have been skyrocketing this year).
Before you get started, you’re going to want to clear everything out of your closet..
This is also a great time to do some decluttering and clear out things you no longer need and wear. Then you can get a much clearer idea of what you have left and what you need to make sure you have room for in your closet organizer.
Once your stuff is cleared out, you can remove any shelves and closet rods that are already in the closet. Depending on their size and condition, you may be able to reuse the shelves that are there in your new organizer.
In my own closet, there were metal shelf supports that were really easy to unscrew. But there were also wooden shelf supports nailed to the walls that I had to use a prybar and a lot of elbow grease to get out.
Once everything was out, I patched the holes left from the old screws and nails with spackling and then gave the whole closet a good cleaning and a fresh coat of white paint.
I looked at a bunch of closets on Pinterest and had a rough idea of what type of organizer I wanted to make. I knew I needed room for hanging clothes, room for folded clothes, and lots of shoe shelves to get all of our shoes under control.
I decided against doing a double row of closet rods since we don’t have a huge amount of hanging clothes and I wanted to use the extra space for shoes instead.
Once I had a basic idea of what I was going for, I used painter’s tape to tape out the design on the back wall of my closet. Seeing it laid out this way made it much easier to visualize what it was going to look like and it helped me finalize the measurements for each section.
Once I had the layout figured out, I took measurements and started cutting my MDF boards to size. (My measurements are listed above in the Wood Cut List).
At this point you can cut the top shelf board, the tall vertical boards, the boards for the middle shelves, and the boards for the shoe shelves. (See the wood cut list above for the dimensions I used).
If you are working on a small closet that is the same size as mine, you can use the same measurements I did. If your closet is a different width, just adjust the measurements to be smaller or larger as needed.
If your closet has baseboards around the bottom of the wall, you will need to cut a notch in the bottom of your two long MDF pieces with a jigsaw so that it can sit flush against the wall.
I decided to use pocket screws to build the middle section of shelves.
I used to be intimidated by pocket screws. But once I bought a simple pocket hole jig and started using them, I realized they really aren’t complicated and make building furniture and other projects so much easier.
For this project I added four pocket holes to the underside of each shelf. (Make sure to adjust your jig to the correct depth first.)
Once you have drilled all of your pocket holes, you are ready to assemble the middle section.
I found it easiest to do this by laying one of my long vertical sides flat on the ground. I then measured and marked where each shelf needed to be placed. Then I used pocket screws to screw each shelf to this side.
Then I laid the other vertical edge flat on the ground and flipped the shelve over to be on top of it.
Make sure that the two notches you cut for the baseboards are both in the same corner. Use a carpenter’s square to make sure all of your shelves are square and then attach them to the second long side with pocket screws.
Now you can lift your middle section into place in the closet. (This is also a good time to remove your painter’s tape layout if you haven’t yet.)
Now you can add the shelf across the top. Set it in place on top of the middle section of shelves.
Now you can use a level to even out the middle section if needed. The weight of the top shelf will hold it in place once it is level.
The middle supports will support most of the weight of the shelf but to keep it stable, we also need to add another support to each end wall.
Attach a 1×4 board to each end wall immediately beneath the shelf, nailing into a stud if possible.
I tried to keep the shoe shelves as simple as possible. One side of the closet has two simple shelves and the other side has smaller shoe cubbies to help keep sandals and other smaller shoes organized.
The main challenge when adding the shoe shelves was working around the baseboards. I used my jigsaw to cut a notch for the baseboards in the inner bottom shelf support, but I had to get a little more creative for the support against the end wall.
I wasn’t able to simply cut a shelf support for this side because of the baseboard, so instead I attached a scrap 1×2 board directly to the wall to act as a support.
Then I set my other shelf support into place – this one is cut from my MDF and has a notch in the back to fit over the baseboard. Then I set my shelf on top of the two supports and nailed it in place with my nail gun, nailing down through the top of the shelf into the supports at each corner.
Then I added the second layer of shelf supports and nailed the second shelf into place.
I built the shoe cubbies on the other side the same way, except I also added extra MDF dividers to create the cubbies. (Remember to cut notches for the baseboards in each of the dividers on the lower level.)
These shoe shelves line up with the lowest shelf in the middle section to make one continuous line.
You could also add a second shelf in that middle block, but I chose to leave it open as a space to store boots.
Once the shoe shelves are finished, the major structure of the closet organizer is complete.
In general I find it a lot easier to paint wood before installing it; it’s just way faster to paint loose boards of wood than it is to try to paint all the nooks and crannies of completed builds.
In this case, I was too eager to get started so I didn’t paint first. But I did stop and remove the shoe shelves and paint everything before adding the outer trim.
Even though that meant I would have to paint the trim separately at the end, it was still worth it. Those little shoe cubbies would have been nearly impossible to paint once they were permanently in place.
While the paint on the organizer was drying, I started measuring and cutting the 1″x2″ boards for the trim.
I know that adding slightly thicker wood to the front of the shelves doesn’t seem like it would make much of a difference, but it really does.
Adding the wood trim makes the separate shelves and pieces look like one cohesive unit. And it makes the finished organizer look much higher-quality.
For the smaller shoe cubbies, I used a 1″x1″ square wooden dowel for the trim because I didn’t want the thicker trim to cut down on the amount of usable space in the small cubbies.
You do need to be careful when measuring the trim to account for the added width of the boards. This wood trim is 1.5″ wide, while the MDF was only 3/4″ wide. Some of your wood pieces will be shorter than the MDF pieces because of this.
You can refer to the wood cut list above for the measurement I used. If you are figuring out your own measurements, it’s easiest to start with the top shelf and the vertical supports and then measure everything else as you go.
When you are attaching the trim, make sure to line up the top edge of the horizontal shelf trim with the top edge of the shelf board. You don’t want the trim to be in the way of actually using the shelf.
For the two long vertical pieces, line the trim up at the bottom to cover the side of the shoe shelves as well as the middle vertical support. This makes the bottom sections look a lot more cohesive.
Once you have each piece cut and lined up appropriately, you can nail it in place with your nail gun.
Once all the trim is in place, it’s time to prepare it for the final coat of paint.
I caulked anywhere there was a visible gap between boards and I used spackling to fill in all the tiny nail holes made by the nail gun.
Finally I painted the trim white to match the rest of the shelves.
The final step was to add the closet rods. I cut my old closet rod into two pieces at the correct lengths and painted them white to match everything else.
When it was time to hang the closet rod sockets, I used one of our clothes hangers as a guide to make sure I left enough room between the rod and the wall.
Then I predrilled holes and screwed the socket into place. When I installed the other three sockets, I made sure to place them so they would all line up.
And it’s finished!
I love how clean and fresh it looks, all ready to keep all of our stuff neat, organized, and off the floor!
Of course the real test is how it works once we’ve loaded everything back in.
I’m happy to report it’s perfect! There is plenty of room for folded clothes, hanging clothes, shoes, and purses.
I borrowed some small storage bins from my son’s closet for this photo, but I’ve since bought these larger bins for the top shelf and they are the perfect fit.
My favorite part of this whole closet organizer is the shoe storage. I hated how our shoes were always a scattered mess before. Now there’s plenty of room for my husband’s big shoes, my smaller shoes, and boots of all shapes and sizes.
This closet organizer came in at around $75 for the lumber and basic supplies. Even if you need to buy paint, you should be able to make this for under $100. I’d say that’s a pretty great deal for a super sturdy closet organizer with lots of added shoe storage.
This project took around five hours to complete. It isn’t super complicated but it does involve a lot of steps.
I’d love for you to pin this post on Pinterest!
1 Closet Organizer
See how we transformed our dated closet with a simple DIY closet organizer without buying a complicated closet system. We used budget-friendly wood and basic tools to maximize space.
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Dap 12328 DryDex Spackling Interior/Exterior, 1/2-Pint
DAP 7079818670 Alex Painter'S (18065) Raw building material, 10.1 oz, White
ScotchBlue Sharp Lines Multi-Surface Painter's Tape, 1.41 inches x 60 yards, 2093, 1 Roll
Kreg Zinc SML-C125-250 1-1/4" Coarse Thread Number 8 Coated Pocket Hole Screws (250 Count)
Small House Painting Tray Set with 4-Inch Foam-Covered Roller Refills (8 Pcs)