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How to Build Easy Small Closet Shelves in a Weekend: DIY Closet Shelving Idea

Learn how to build shelves in your small closet

Adding wooden closet shelves is the perfect way to get a custom closet organizer that works for your needs. Here is our simple step-by-step tutorial to build DIY wooden shelves in your closet.

empty closet before with after image showing gray painted closet and DIY white wooden shelves.

One closet at a time

Do you feel more at peace when your house is organized? When life seems to be chaotic, getting organized is always good for my soul. I swear my whole life right now is picking up after people to just have them simply put it right back on the floor (my husband included).

I also know that when you are feeling anxious or down, starting a DIY project can completely turn your day around. One of the places that always need help in our house is our closet and therefore we learned how to build easy wooden closet shelves.

This DIY shelving project was nice because it allowed us to be creative in a home improvement project while helping this small closet finally get organized!

*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission. Read full privacy policy here. *

The “Before Unorganized Closet”

Unorganized small closet

Here is a “before” attempt at trying to organize this small closet. I even tried to use a clothes organizer to store the games. It was brilliant (until it wasn’t). The weight of the games was just too much for a simple closet organizer!

Full disclosure, it was totally my fault. I should not have had a bin of Lincoln logs at the bottom. It was just too heavy.

Once that happened, I knew I needed a better and more permanent wooden closet shelving idea.

Simple, painted pine wood shelves would certainly help my family organize art supplies, kid’s games and still give us a place for our vacuum.

Why make your own DIY wooden closet shelves?

  • Can customize your design 
  • Wood (like pine or common whitewood) is sturdier and more sag resistant
  • Cheaper than having a closet company come out
  • More aesthetically pleasing than wire shelving
  • Can use different types of brackets if not wanting to build all parts of your closet shelf

We have made our own industrial shelves such as our corner shelf for under our mounted TV and in our small bathroom makeover but this closet was something different. Because this was in a small closet, we were going for more functional shelving, instead of pretty (even though I think the end result is still pretty).

What can I use instead of wood for my closet shelves?

  • Melamine
  • Plywood
  • MDF
  • Wire

Factors to consider when building your DIY closet shelves

  • What will be stored in the closet?
  • Do you need to hang clothes?
  • What is the height of the items you want to store?
  • How many shelves do you need?
  • Do you want cubbies or only shelves?
  • What color do you want your shelves?

Make sure you get the free printable instructions at the end of the post.

Easy wooden closet shelf plan

Empty closet with lines sketched to show various heights of wooden closet shelving 24", 16" 10" 14".

As you can see, the heights for each shelf varied. I would not recommend making your top shelf any smaller than 2 feet away from your ceiling. If you make that shelf too close to the top of the ceiling you won’t be able to actually get anything up there if your closet is built like ours.

Before building shelves decide what will be stored

The first thing we had to decide is what would be stored in this closet. While we do use this room as a spare bedroom, no one really currently hangs clothes in this closet. 

We did want to factor in that one day, my husband’s mother may stay longer and want to hang a few pieces of clothing. The simple closet organizer design also factored in a place for the vacuum to go.

Need to hang clothes? Add a rod in the spot designated for the vacuum eventually if needed. 

In addition to one vertical spot for large items, this design has a variety of shelving heights. It also does not touch the carpet (in case we ever decide to replace it).

You can easily customize this simple closet shelving design idea with various heights to meet your storage needs.

Looking for a different closet shelf idea?

blue gray painted wood shelves on farmhouse brackets for closet idea storing crafts supplies.

Check out our farmhouse bracket shelving idea in our basement closet using these brackets.

Supplies need for DIY shelving

1” x 12” x 8’  Pine or Whitewood Common Board (We needed 2.5 boards for the size of our closet)

Measuring Tape

Torpedo Level

Drywall Screws

Circular Saw

Drill

Wood Screws (1 ½”)

Wood Glue

Pencil

Stud Finder (This is the one we used!)

***Supply Alert!***

Tools used to build DIY wooden shelves in closet on plywood outside.

Did you know you can buy a Dewalt drill and circular saw together and save money with free shipping! Check it out now for all of your home DIY needs.

Shelf painting supplies

White Enamel Paint in semi-gloss or gloss

White Latex Primer (We like this brand or Sherwin Williams Multi-purpose latex primer)

Wall Paint in the color of your choice (SW Polished Concrete is what I had leftover)

Drywall mud (depending on if you need to patch drywall before starting)

How to make wooden shelves for small closet

1. Remove all existing contents of the closet. We had to take down a wire shelf and take all the unorganized stuff out!

empty closet before DIY shelves with wood resting in closet with door open.

2. Develop a sketch of your closet based on your closet measurements.  For reference, our closet was 8 ft. tall and 40” wide. See the above image for our plan.

Also, pay attention to the depth of your closet. We found that 12” (or actually 11 ¾”) deep shelves would be perfect for the purpose of our closet. Pine board standard width does not go larger than 12”.

3. Decide the heights for your shelves. Depending on the purpose of your closet shelving, you may need more or fewer materials.

4. Patch any holes with drywall mud from removed shelving.

5. Paint closet…first. Do as I say and not as I did (see closet painting explanation below) 

6. Use a stud finder to find where DIY shelving brackets will be screwed in. You should have studs located near the back corners and once you find those, the others will be 16” or less away.

Hand using Zircon stud finder to help install diy shelves in closet.

7. Make a DIY shelving bracket using pine board scraps. Our pine wood scraps act as DIY shelving brackets. They were approximately 1” x 1”  x 12” for all shelving brackets on the sides of the closet. 

8. In our design, we built the top two shelves first. Level the DIY shelf bracket with a torpedo level in the desired spot. Our top shelf was 2’ down from the ceiling. 

torpedo level on homemade wooden closet bracket with hands holding screw to create DIY closet shelving.

9. Due to the thickness of the homemade shelving bracket, drill pilot holes with the level on before screwing DIY shelving brackets to studs.

TIP ABOUT SCREWS TO USE!

The length of the screw has to be longer than the width of the bracket and the width of the drywall. We used these sized screws.

10. Cut 1” x 12” pine board to the desired length equal to the width of your closet. Our top shelves are 40” across the back of the closet.

pine wood being ready to be cut for DIY shelves with tools and closet design sketch on sawhorses.

11. Put all sides of the DIY pine shelving brackets on the following steps (6-10).

12. Put wood glue on the homemade wooden shelf brackets, drill the pilot hole near the back corner of the pine wood board, and DIY shelving bracket. Attach with 1 ½“ wood screws.

Pine wood for DIY shelves resting on simple homemade shelf bracket in closet.

13. Repeat step 12. Add wood with wood glue, pilot holes and screws on top of homemade shelf brackets for all shelves that go completely across your closet. 

two wooden shelves in small closet installed on homemade wooden shelf brackets.

How to build small closet shelves that do not go all the way across the closet?

1. Put DIY closet side brackets on the following steps outlined above.

man attaching pine wood DIY shelf bracket in closet with Dewalt drill and torpedo level on bracket.

2. Create another DIY shelving bracket out of pine wood scraps to attach to the corner (see picture). Level, drill pilot holes, add wood glue and screw into studs in at least 2 places.

3. Due to our closet being out of square, we had to add an extra 1” x 1” pine scrap to corner DIY brackets to allow our pine shelving to rest nicely and match the depth of the other shelves. 

Create a DIY L-shaped shelf bracket adding extra wood for even closet shelving.

4. Follow the same steps (11 & 12) from when you were using glue, pilot holes and screws to attach shelf top. However, for these shelves, you will need to glue and attach the top of the shelf to the back corner bracket and the side bracket.

adding more pine wood brackets for wood closet shelves under two larger shelves.

5. Cut a board to the desired length to create a box with shelves that do not go completely across.

6. Glue, drill pilot holes, and screw board to the smaller shelves in 2 places on each shelf.

I should have painted the closet walls first!

How to paint a small closet with wood shelves

We totally made a mistake, but it was simply because my husband had the time to build shelves before I had time to paint. This would have made my life so much easier.

I had to paint the wall first with a small roller and brush. It really wasn’t that bad, because it is just a closet and really didn’t have to be perfect. I might make a real painter cringe, but I painted the closet wall and shelves in tandem. I knew it would be easier to trim around the small closet shelves. So after the final white paint was done, I just went back with my gray brush to do the last trim and touch-ups.

Even though we don’t recommend painting your closet after you put the shelves in here is what it looked like.

  1. Trim out wall. We used SW Polished Concrete.
Painting closet walls a darker color around DIY wood closet organizer.

2. Use a primer to prime shelves with a brush or small foam roller.

Sherwin Willams polished concrete trimmed on closet walls with wood shelves partially primed white.

3. After the primer is dry, paint white latex enamel on your shelves (or any color your choice). We have a great post about some of the most popular white paint colors if you need help. Our color was SW Proclassic paint in Pure White.

4. Trim out any other spots that you need to with a brush. As we said, make your life easier and just paint the walls of the closet first!

wood closet shelves being painted white with gray closet walls getting painting around the closet shelves.

4. Let the paint dry and start to organize.

White DIY wooden closet shelves in gray closet with biege carpet and white closet door open.

For a closet, I know it is different to not have the back wall be all white. I decided to try to use the same gray paint that I used in my small bathroom accent wall. Mainly, because I had a lot left and I thought it would make it look pretty cool. Having color contrast in this closet truly made it unique while staying on budget! We absolutely love the darker walls and white shelves.

Looking for other shelving ideas? Read more about 40+ DIY Shelves For Any Home Decor Style

Time to get Organized! (My Tips and Tricks)

I am not a professional organizer nor is my house always clean. However, the biggest thing I try to remind myself about the following tips:

  • Take your time and organize right at the beginning
  • Whether that is folding something correctly, putting lids on Tupperware, or putting something back in its proper space. You will be happy you took the extra 2 seconds to do it right.
  • Slowly revisit and reorganize. 5 minutes here and there can really help you stay on top of it
  • Sometimes, it is okay to just close the closet door and deal with it later. 
  • You always feel better when things seem to be decluttered and organized (just getting moving).

DIY small closet organizer storing games, craft supplies and vacuum.

Past DIY Organization Projects

A few years ago (before this blog was started), my husband followed very similar steps to turn an entryway closet into a storage cubby near our garage door entrance. You can see here, how we used beadboard and hooks to really add to our hallway organization. 

Sherwin Williams Rookwood Sash Green painted in mudroom closet with blue rug and items hanging.

Four years later and this space is used all the time and it is so much better once we decided to take the closet doors off. It stayed painted white for a while. However recently we decided to use our favorite blue green paint color to repaint this cubby mudroom.

Another great organization DIY project that I love is this DIY children’s wardrobe that I was able to redo very cheaply. We finally have a place to store all those dress-up clothes. 

Future DIY Shelf Projects

You know how one DIY project can always make you think of another. I totally think we will eventually be getting rid of the wire closet shelving units in our primary closet to give it a whole makeover. I also may even try to wallpaper or get a cool design in my closet before the shelving goes up.

After this simple shelf-building project in this small closet, I do feel a sense of relief. One more closet that can slowly become organized.

Closet shelving organization systems you can buy

Now if after reading our post, you decide this is not a full DIY project. Here are a few closet organization products or systems you may be interested in listed above.

Closetmaid Adjustable Closet Organizer Kit: Very highly rated and seems to work for a variety of spaces.

Rubbermaid Configurations Deluxe: Again, also highly rated and adjustable. A little bit more expensive than the Closetmaid version.

Resin Slat Expandable Closet Organizer System: Reviews state that this is a great & solid piece for the price.

Yield: Closet Shelving Idea

How To Build Wood Shelves In A Closet

DIY small closet shelves

Create simple wooden shelves in your closet with this step-by-step closet shelving idea tutorial.

Prep Time 1 hour
Active Time 4 hours
Total Time 5 hours

Materials

Tools

Instructions

  1. Remove all existing content from the closet.
  2. Patch any spots on the wall and paint the walls with the color and finish of your choice.
  3. Develop a sketch of your closet design. See tips above for factors in your closet.
  4. Use stud finder and mark where you will be screwing in wooded brackets (small pieces of wood made from scrap pine wood).
  5. Cut 2 pine wood brackets for all shelves. Ours measured 1" x 1" x 12'.
  6. Attach pine wood brackets for the first shelf. Use a torpedo level to make sure they are level.
  7. Mark the wood where the studs are and drill pilot holes through the pine wood scraps.
  8. Use screws to attach the bracket to wall into the stud.
  9. Cut common pine wood to desired length (the width of your closet).
  10. Attach shelf to wood brackets by using wood glue and wood screws. Again, drill pilot holes before using 1 1/2" wood screws.
  11. Repeat bracket building steps and add pine boards across for each level.

Did you make this project?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

What DIY projects have helped you stay organized? Recently we just redid a cheap file cabinet that also would be great to help keep the bottom of our closet organized. It was such an easy and fun DIY project using contact paper. We would love to hear your organization tips, tricks, and secrets!

Follow us on Pinterest, Youtube or Facebook for more DIY inspiration!

It is nice that we were able to increase our storage space in our small closet with DIY shelving!

DIY small closet shelves

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Alexander Goode

Sunday 14th of March 2021

Hey Erin. Shelves look nice. You mention the studs would be 16" or less from the back wall and the brackets are 12" long. If the stud is 12"-16" from the back wall, it would be helpful mentioning if you'd recommend using drywall anchors or longer brackets or another solution.

Quianna

Wednesday 29th of April 2020

I am so excited to start this new DIY project. I need more space in my son’s closet. This will be extremely helpful.

Erin

Wednesday 29th of April 2020

Hi, Quianna! Good luck with your DIY closet shelving project! You will love how much storage you will have.

Sandra Tanner

Monday 27th of April 2020

This is going to come in so handy. Thank you for sharing this DIY!

Erin

Wednesday 29th of April 2020

Hi, Sandra. I am glad that you like these easy DIY shelves.

Kam

Monday 27th of April 2020

What a difference in the before and after pictures. Your new shelves look so much more functional, more storage space and overall beautiful. Great job!

Erin

Wednesday 29th of April 2020

Hi Kam! Thanks for the kind words. I absolutely hated the "before" closet and could never really keep it organized. These simple wooden shelves really were the DIY storage solution for us!

Jen

Monday 27th of April 2020

I think I'm gonna put my husband and brother in law on this project once social distancing is over. I would to better organize our closet, but it's so overwhelming.

Erin

Wednesday 29th of April 2020

Hi, Jen! You always feel so much better when you declutter! Thanks for the kind words and good luck with your project.

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