I share one very tiny apartment (approximately 300 sq. feet) with one human and 29 pairs of shoes.And while I’m fairly certain my shoes are not sentient beings, it often feels like they’re staging a coup to push my husband and I out of our home. Some of this feeling is purely symptomatic of my circumstances–I live in Manhattan, I love shoes, and unlike Carrie Bradshaw, I actually use my oven for food, so my storage options are limited.
Some of this feeling, however, is wholly my fault. For someone whose passion for shoes is both personal and professional, my strategies for storing and displaying mine are… not ideal. The shoes I wear most often get stored beneath the bench at our dining table that doubles as a shoe rack, but all the other pairs are stacked rather unceremoniously on the floor of my closet. At the end of every week, there’s inevitably a pile of them by the front door and, if I’m being completely honest, sometimes said pile trails out the front door and into the hallway, probably to my neighbors’ chagrin.
In the interest of starting 2020 on a note of self-improvement, but, like, self-improvement that can happen in a day, I set out to find a way to tackle my footwear problem. I interviewed a handful of organizational experts and got to work applying their wisdom to my own home. I’ve transcribed my findings below because chances are if you wear shoes, you’ll find them helpful too.
1. Wake all your shoes up, then kick some of them out.
This first step comes courtesy of Jessica Yatrofsky, founder of SjD Consulting, who is certified in the KonMari method and offers beautiful, minimal organizational services for hire. To start, Yatrofsky suggests pulling out all of your shoes and laying them out in the center of the room. In keeping with the philosophies of Marie Kondo, she suggests physically touching each pair and clapping or playing chimes to “wake them up” if they haven’t been worn in a while. (As someone who empathizes deeply with inanimate objects, I loved this idea. If you aren’t into the idea of standing alone in your room and clapping for a bunch of shoes, you’re probably okay to forgo this step).
Once all your shoes are laid out, you’ll have a clear picture of just how many pairs you own. I was surprised to find that I have 23–that seems like a lot! But Yatrofsky assured me this number still places me firmly in the “minimalist” category (even though my husband, who owns a total of six pairs of shoes, is inclined to disagree). Laying them out like this will also better equip you for the editing process, which, according to every organizational expert I spoke, is one of the most important parts of shoe tidying.
For each pair that I pulled out of storage, I asked myself: Do these make me happy? Are they comfortable? Have I worn them in the past month? If you do the same and find that the answer to any of these questions is no, you can likely thank those bad boys for their service and see them out to your local donation center or consignment shop. Of course, workout shoes, snow boots, summer sandals, and occasion-specific shoes like formal heels serve as exceptions to the one-month rule, but still need a critical eye to evaluate them. Even though I pride myself on the fact that I KonMari my entire closet every season, I ended up retiring my workout shoes (which were worn out, uncomfortable, and definitely not making me happy) and letting go of a pair of shoes that were serving a purely sentimental purpose. As a rule of thumb, I give myself permission to have a maximum of one “vanity pair” of shoes in my closet at a time, i.e. shoes that pinch the sh*t out of my feet but are worth suffering through the pain for a great outfit every once in a while. Finally, I reminded myself that the fewer shoes I have, the fewer shoes there will be to clean up, which is an excellent force of motivation.
2. Assess the (non-literal) role of shoes in your life, and use that as a guide.
“If shoes are your thing, if they make you excited to get up and get dressed in the morning, use them as decor,” offers Lisa Ruff, of luxury home organizing company NEAT Method. Ruff suggests using a bookcase or open shelving in order to show off your shoe collection as part of your home. Yatrofsky has had clients convert an old dresser into a shoe display by pulling out the drawers.
The thought of moving my books out of sight in order to display my shoes made me sad, so I took that gut reaction as a sign that my shoes needed to remain in my closet. Out of necessity, the dining bench/shoe rack had to stay, but I resolved to make it an aesthetically uniform display rather than a place to shove my workout shoes before rushing out the door. I followed Yatrofsky’s instructions to create a “capsule collection” of shoes consisting of three or four pairs of shoes that I wear all the time (white Mary Janes, black Mary Janes, black loafers, black-and-white loafers… I’m nothing if not consistent) and gave them what Ruff called “prime real estate,” an area easy for me to see and reach, on the bench.
3. Pick a storage system that suits your shoes and your space.
I’m guilty of practicing an age-old philosophy known as Ye Olde Tactic of Cramming Things Back in the Closet. Often I end up stashing shoes out of my own sight and subsequently toss them out of my mind too. In order to combat this, Ruff urged me to store shoes where I can actually see them. (Time to break up the two pairs of Birkenstocks canoodling in the dark corner of my closet.)
Tidy Tova, a professional organizer who’s worked her wizardry on the homes of Harling and Gyan, advises every single one of her clients to buy a shoe rack. If you’re working with a large collection of shoes, both Tova and Ruff recommend storing them in rolling drawers under your bed. If you have a bit of space to spare in your closet, you can use clear boxes to store each pair of shoes individually. Ruff adds that multiple pairs of flat sandals or sneakers can be stored in the same bin if they’re “filed” vertically.
I already store clothing under my bed, so I ordered a shoe rack for my closet. I opted to spend a bit more than I needed to on this option that matches the other white furniture in my home. I find that I’m more inclined to keep my stuff neat if I like the look of whatever’s storing it. Plus, $34.99 isn’t a terrible price to pay to treat my beloved shoes right, even if no one will really see this rack but me.
It wasn’t until I spoke with these professional organizers that I realized I often make decisions about what shoes to wear based upon what’s already visible and easy to grab near my front door. Though my new system has only been in place for a few days now, I’ve already found myself making more studied decisions about what shoes to wear and pulling out pairs that haven’t yet seen the pavement this season.
4. When in doubt, go vertical.
If you’re challenged for floor space in your home, try moving your shoes upward. Chances are you have more overhead room than you think; you might just need to use a stepstool to fetch the occasional pair of shoes. Ruff recommends storing all season-specific shoes in the same place so that you’re not left searching for your sandals if you get invited on a spontaneous beach vacation. In a slightly less glamorous twist, I’ve opted to store a hefty pair of hiking boots on the top shelf of my closet, out of the way of my everyday shoes but still in easy reach in case of a snow squall.
Yanofsky advises her clients to custom-build shelving in order to get the most out of their space, and she was kind enough to show me the shelves she built herself to store shoes in a tall, narrow area of her bedroom. The last DIY home project my husband and I attempted went egregiously wrong, plus we rent our place, so building anything was out of the question for us. However, if you live somewhere where you’re able to make big changes to your space and you’re handy (or have a little extra money to hire someone else who is), you can turn any unused nook into a bespoke area for your footwear.
To make a little more room horizontally, Tova stores shoes with one shoe pointing out and one shoe pointing in. I first glimpsed this trick in Leandra’s closet makeover here, but I never felt like I had the right place to test it out in my own home. I was wrong! Merchandising my shoes like this makes me feel both clever and classy and not at all like someone who ate loose Haribo gummies out of her purse while typing that.
5. Make shoe storage a habit (and maybe even a moment of joy).
“Unfortunately, there’s no magic solution to getting your shoes back where they belong without putting them there yourself,” says Tova. In an effort to be a little bit more, bear with me, mindful about tidying my home, I’ve been taking a minute before heading out the door each morning to make sure any shoes not on my feet are stored away. Though this is a tiny change, it feels good to not be greeted by a pile of shoes at my front door when I return home.
Ruff adds that if you live with someone else, like a roommate or a spouse, you should designate an area of shoe storage specifically for them, even if it’s just a shelf on a shoe rack. Things will generally stay cleaner if each person maintains responsibility for a manageable area.
Though I’m less than a week into this new shoe-tine (sorry, but also you’re lucky that I made it this far without saying it), it feels good to be treating my shoes well, lifting them up off the floor and freeing them from the dark confines of my closet corners. I know it might sound a bit woo-woo, but this whole process made me realize that what bothered me most about my messy shoe situation was that I felt like I wasn’t treating these possessions in a way that reflected how much I cherish them. As Yanofsky said to me: “Your shoes support you, they bring you through your day. How do you show respect to them?”
I’m pretty sure my shoes aren’t sentient, but just in case they are, I’d rather we live in harmony.
Photos by Beth Sacca.