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Out, Damned Spot has long provided general tips to keep your fashions looking amazing, but now, I'll also be answering questions about the very specific problems your new (or old!) purchases may present. Do you have questions for me? Ask away!
I acquired a lot of shoes last year (one of my wardrobe goals, gold star for me) but now I'm having trouble trying to organize them in my small closet. Some pairs fit in one of those hanging shoe racks that has the little cubbies and velcros to the rod, but that only holds ~13 pairs (I double up sandals in some of them), and boots/bigger heels do not fit. The rest are scattered on my closet floor or in the area in front of my door, if they're pairs I'm wearing frequently. I'm starting to acquire some nicer pairs with dustbags, which I really need to use because dog hair/dust ends up on my closet floor but then I don't easily see them. I NEED HELP SOMEONE HELP ME. — Laura Gurfein
Laura, I can help. And your question, in turn, is going to help so many others because we've discovered that we at Racked collectively have a Shoe Problem. When my editor Meredith Haggerty forwarded Laura's question to me, she appended this note: "I keep my shoes in three old milk crates, this is not a joke. Is that bad?"
Here's the thing: It's not bad, but only on the condition that it's working for you. If it's not working — regardless of whether it's because you can't find anything or because your shoes are getting damaged or because you just hate the way it looks — then it's a problem.
Out of curiosity, we surveyed 15 Racked staffers to ask "Does your shoe storage work for you?" And hoo boy! No, it is not working for us, and if people who are paid to think about clothing and accessories can't get it right, then we can extrapolate that many of you out there reading this are also struggling.
Nine of 15 respondents answered with some variation of no, ranging from "I mean yeah, I live with it, but no" to "No, I think about it all the time and it stresses me out" to "Fuck no." So this is a pain that many of us are living with, but it's also one that's fairly easily solved. Let's talk about how.
Before You Can Organize, You Must Know What You Have
The glorious nature of shoes is that there are so many styles! But that variation in style, heel height, and shape (i.e. boots versus flip flops) means that different shoes will require different storage solutions. Laura is already feeling this — her shoe cubby works for her sandals, but not for her boots and high heels.
But before Laura — and you out there reading this thinking "Oh gosh, my shoe storage sitch is also out of control" — can determine a better system for shoe storage, she needs to know what shoes, exactly, are in need of storing. That means that it's time to gather all the footwear in one place and assess the collection.
Start by taking all of your shoes out of the closet, but also remember that we tend to keep shoes in a bunch of other places: by the front door, in the car, under the bed, on the porch, under the desk/in drawers at work, in gym bags; probably some of you have stashed a pair of pumps in the oven or kitchen cabinets. Gather them all up. Grab a piece of paper or your cell phone or tablet, because you may want to make some notes during this part of the festivities.
Once you have all your shoes together, start grouping them — the way you group them is up to you, but it's also going to give you a really good idea of what your ultimate organizing system is going to look like. Maybe you'll group them by type: sandals with sandals, heels with heels, boots with boots. Or maybe you'll group them by color, or season, or frequently worn footwear versus special occasion shoes. You get the idea!
Having all the shoes together is also going to allow you to do two other really important things: First, you'll easily be able to see which pairs, if any, require cleaning, polishing, and/or repairing. Set those aside to be tended to, but not before you've made note of what they are, since they'll eventually need to go back into your collection and you should make space for them. Seeing all your shoes together will also allow you to weed out any pairs you no longer need, either because you have duplicates, they're beyond repair, they hurt or no longer fit, or you simply don't wear them anymore.
While You're At It, Clean
Since you've already gone to the trouble of taking all your shoes out of the place(s) where they've been stored, go ahead and remove any racks or cubbies and give the floor of your closet or wardrobe a good cleaning. You don't need to, like, scrub the floor, but either sweeping or vacuuming is a good thing to do.
This will also force you to reckon with your failing organizers. If your shoe rack is broken, repair it or remove it from your home; do not put it back, because then you'll just end up living with it for another year, two years, whatever until you finally have another moment of throwing your hands up and emailing me to say "I NEED HELP SOMEONE HELP ME." (Please never stop throwing your hands up and emailing me to ask for help!)
Now that you have a clean slate and are unencumbered by the shoe organizing system that was failing you, you can assess your space and your collection and create a better set-up for yourself.
Let's start with this important statement: There's no one right way to store shoes, and I would encourage you to let go of dreams of having one of those super glam shoe displays in which everything looks photoshoot-ready perfect. While I was planning this column, Chavie Lieber and I got to chatting about her particular shoe storage woes, and she mentioned that a friend of hers has one of those set-ups we all fantasize about: Every single pair of shoes is stored in a windowed shoe box, all of which coordinate.
That is admirable, but let me also level with you and tell you that that's a big commitment. I mean, it's not a commitment on the scale of a 30-year mortgage or a face tattoo, but it requires upkeep in that every time you buy a new pair of shoes, you'll also need to purchase a new storage box in which to put them. It's also expensive, since you're tacking $15 onto every pair of new shoes to cover the cost of storing them. Now, of course, you're likely shedding shoes from time to time, freeing up a few perfectly matched storage boxes, but unless you're a stickler for the one-in, one-out rule that dictates that for every new item that comes into the home, one old item must go out, you're going to find yourself spending a lot of time and money at The Container Store to maintain the look of your collection.
Because every shoe collection is different and requires its own solutions, I'm not going to prescribe any specific storage set-ups. But because I'm not a monster, I'm going to do two things to help you in your quest to get your footwear under control.
The first is to offer a list of broad stroke suggestions:
- If you like the look of shoe boxes, use them! Storing shoes in the box they came in is better for shoes that you don't wear regularly because it will protect them against damage and dust accumulation while in storage. It's less ideal for shoes you sport often because it's a pain to go in and out of the boxes, especially if they're stacked.
- If you are going to use original shoe boxes as storage — which is something that Chavie specifically mentioned she likes the look of — consider adding a labeling component to make it easier to remember what's in the boxes. Some people take photos and tape them to the boxes, others write something like "black patent 3" heels." In Chavie's case, I handed her a label maker that was provided to Racked by Brother in service of all this great organizing we're doing in the new year and told her to label her boxes for easy identification. I also think the label maker will help Laura to keep track of which pairs she's got stashed in protective dust bags. Label makers are amazing, is what I'm trying to tell you.
- Buckets, bins, and baskets are your friend when it comes to stashing styles like sandals, flip-flops, flats, and sneakers that don't necessarily need to be lined up or stored in protective boxes.
- If you have a lot of boots, reserve floor space for them or invest in stackable boot boxes. Just be aware that the latter option can turn taking them out/putting them away into a chore.
- Put the shoes that you wear most often front and center.
- Measure your storage space — height, width, and depth! — before buying new shoe racks or boxes.
- Know how many pairs you need to store before investing in storage solutions. That's where those notes I had you make come in: If you've got six pairs of ballet flats, it would be very annoying to come home with a new hanging organizer that can only hold five pairs of shoes.
The second is to link to this Pinterest board I've been building out over the years of clever approaches to shoe storage so that you may take inspiration from it and get ideas that will suit the needs of your collection. Do you have specific questions about shoe storage? Email me your queries. Is your organization system one you're proud of? Send me a photo and I'll include it on the Pinterest board!
While it's not a required element of a shoe organization project, it's pretty likely that in the course of assessing your collection, you'll notice that some of your pairs need a little TLC. I've been writing this column for Racked for several years now, which means there's a pretty boss archive of shoe care columns that you can check out. I've rounded them all up so that they're in one handy place: