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Are You a Hoarder? How to Really Make Space in Your Closet

05/13/2015 02:57 pm ET | Updated May 13, 2016

Do friends come over, take one look at your apartment and label you a hoarder? Or are you mostly organized, but afraid to open your closet lest a waterfall of stuff land squarely on your noggin?

In all seriousness, hoarding is a legitimate mental illness that's linked to obsessive compulsive disorder, and if you fall in the category, you should seek professional help. However, if your closet is just in need of some TLC, then we've got some tips and tricks. Here's a look at how to clean out and make space in your closet to keep the rest of your apartment clutter-free:

Get Rid of Stuff

This step will truly test whether you're a hoarder or just have issues with cleaning. Go through your closet (and the rest of your apartment) and get rid of anything you don't need or use. This includes clothes that don't fit, are damaged or are no longer your style.

It also means discarding papers you may have collected, that old magazine collection you say you'll look at but never do and shoes that are falling apart.

Hoarders assign sentimental value to everything from newspapers from 1980 to gum wrappers, and struggle emotionally to get rid of their stuff. If you're holding a McDonald's box and don't want to toss it, you might have an issue. Most people, however, will have a harder time packing up old clothing and shoes.

Be discerning and brutally honest when purging your closet and apartment. Do you need this? Do you have space for this? Is it in good condition? If any answer is no, then throw it out. Keep a garbage bag on hand when purging so you can immediately toss things you don't plan to keep.

Of course, if the items you're discarding are in great condition, but you just don't use them, consider donating them to a thrift store -- you can even write the kindness off on your next tax form if the value is large enough.

Plan Your Storage

Once you have a nice, empty closet (you should have taken out even the items you'll keep), you can plan what you'll use the space for. Whether it's clothing, shoes, cords or anything else, you'll benefit from devising a storage scheme.

Know exactly what your space has to hold so you can design a more efficient storage plan. For instance, if you're storing clothing, you may decide to add another pole to the closet so you have one on top for shirts and one lower for pants. Then you may also need a shoe rack to place on the floor.

Clean Your Closet

Before you start putting anything back in your closet, including organizers, you should clean. The only other time this space will be empty is when you move out, so why not rid the area of dust while you're still living in your apartment?

Wipe down shelves, vacuum or sweep (depending on what floors you have) and spritz a little air freshener.

Use Organizing Tools

Your closet won't be any more spacious after your purge if it still only has one rack for hanging items. You have all that vertical space, so make use of it by installing organizing tools! This includes shelves, poles, racks and hooks. These items give you more surface area in which to store your belongings.

At this point, you should know what you're using your closet to store and have an idea of what tools will support your vision. You can build some organizers yourself-- hanging a shelf with basic brackets requires only a drill and screws.

Purchase a dowel rod and pole supports, and you've got a place to hang clothes. Do-it-yourself custom closets are fairly inexpensive, and most landlords are OK with tenants drilling into the walls.

Additionally, if you don't want to install shelves, purchase hanging fabric shelves, which use hooks to dangle off your clothing rod.

By the same token, only use organizational tools to a point. They should be flexible enough that if you change your wardrobe or switch out other items, the devices you've installed still work. Additionally, picking only a few organizers you'll actually use will keep costs down.

Sort Your Belongings

Before you can put everything back in your closet, sort it out! How you do this is a matter of personal preference. For instance, you can sort your items by type of clothing (i.e., tops, pants, jackets and dresses), sleeve length, color, etc. Or, organize by most to least used.

However you choose to sort, put your items in piles, and when you're done, you can stick everything in your closet.

Put it all Away

Now that you've pared down your belongings, cleaned and restructured your closet and sorted your stuff, you can put it all away (finally)! Insert your sorted piles according to however you want to organize them.

For instance, you might put the items you use most front and center and hang the rest in the back or corners of the closet. Also, you can stick a box of out-of-season clothing on the top shelf -- you won't need that stuff for a few months anyway.

With these tips, your closet will look less like a hoarder's and more like a well-organized dream space.