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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

When life seems to be chaotic, getting organized always is 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, making something 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 create while solving one of our organization’s challenges in our small closet!

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DIY design cheap diy closet shelves

Why make your own DIY wooden closet shelves?

So when I opened a closet and things fell on me, I said we need to fix this disorganized mess! We came up with a plan to make our own DIY shelving in our small closet. 

We have made our own industrial shelves for under our corner-mounted TV and in our small bathroom makeover! I would say these definitely were functional, but we also considered the design aesthetic we wanted. However, 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).

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

The “Before Unorganized Closet”

Unorganized small closet

Here is my 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)…

and the tore at the top! 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.

So once that happened, I knew I need a better and more permanent closet shelving idea.

Small Closet Organization: The Shelving Design

So 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. We also needed a place for the vacuum to go.

Therefore, eventually, we figured we can add a rod in the spot designated for our vacuum. 

In addition to one vertical spot for large items, we knew we wanted to have a variety of shelving heights and that we did not want our whole shelving unit to touch the carpet (in case we ever decide to replace it). We came up with this simple closet shelving design with various heights for our shelving.

Looking for a different closet design? Check out how we attached brackets to the cinderblock wall to add shelving in our basement closet.

Supplies need for DIY shelving

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

Measuring Tape

Torpedo Level

Drywall Screws

Circular Saw


Wood Screws (1 ½”)

Wood Glue


Stud Finder (This is the one we used!)

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Tools used to build shelves

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 in 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!

2. Develop a sketch of your closet based on your closet measurements.  For reference, our closet was 8 ft. tall and 40” wide.

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.

use stud finder to help install diy shelves

7. Make a DIY shelving bracket using pine board scraps. Our pin wood scraps/DIY shelving brackets were aprx. 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. 

Levels to create DIY 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.


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.

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

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

13. Repeat step 12 for all shelves that go completely across your closet. 

Pine wood for DIY shelves

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.

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 shelf bracket

4. Follow the same steps (11 & 12) but glue and attach the top of the shelf to the back corner bracket and the side bracket.

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.

Painting Small Closet and Wooden Shelving

Wood shelving in small closet being painted


We totally made a mistake, but it was simply because my husband had the time to build shelves before I had time to paint. I should have painted the closet walls first! 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.

I carefully primed the shelves using this primer and used white enamel paint. I used two coats to really cover the pine.

DIY small closet shelves

For a closet, I know it is different to not have the back wall be all white. I decided to try to use the small 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.

I am not sure I would do this for a master closet, but for this closet, I 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 or 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 organization

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. 

white beadboard and DIY shelves built-in an entryway closet

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.

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 my master closet and give it a whole makeover. I also may even try to wall paper 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.

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.

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 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!

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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.


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.


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!


Wednesday 29th of April 2020

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


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!


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!


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.


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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