Organizing your closet: a step-by-step guide


Getting your closet in order is actually very fulfilling and can be fun as well. Once you get it done you will have a sense of accomplishment plus extra time since dressing in your new space will be quick and easy because you will know where everything is and ready to wear. The problem most of us encounter is just getting started. Most of us just don’t know where to begin. 

So pick a day and just get going. Step 1 is the hardest and once you master it everything else will fall into place in no time at all.

Step 1 - Get your mind ready.

This really is the hardest part. People have an emotional attachment to "things." We all have way too many clothes, shoes, purses and accessories. You probably have worn only a few of them in the past year or two. 

Most professional organizers will agree we all wear 20 percent of our wardrobe 80 percent of the time. Even so, the thought of giving them away or throwing them out just seems impossible. 

Depending on the size of your closet, you just need to realize that less is more, and by learning to have key pieces in your wardrobe to mix and match you just DO NOT need to keep all those unwearable items. They just take up valuable space. It is ok to give up items, regardless of how much they cost, if they were gifts or you think they might fit again or may come back in style someday. 

Before you start sorting the clothes, allow your mind to take an inventory of your favorite items, the pieces you feel fabulous in. If you know your body type, you know there are certain items you look your best in. You know the colors that are right for your skin tone. Save those items to create the perfect wardrobe, and get rid of the rest. 

If you are not sure what looks best on you, learn a couple of simple rules: draw attention to your best features and detract from the parts that you would rather conceal. A good example is someone with a larger upper body and bust will look best in V-neck tops and open necklines to draw a nice line down. Turtlenecks and ruffles will only make you look larger on top. 

Once you have a style in mind for yourself, your new closet will have the space for some new items for future shopping trips. 

Step 2 - Create your action plan.

You will need to decide if you are keeping your closet the way it - do the poles and shelving stay, or does your budget allow for some remodeling, adding some of the wonderful organizing products on the market today? 

Either way, you will want to maximize the space you have. If you live in a newer home, you might have 9- or 10-foot ceilings in your closet. You might have a huge walk-in closet all your own. If you do you have lots of space, you can go high with shelving, bins or extra poles for things you don’t use often. 

If you don’t have that kind of space, there are all kinds of containers and bins to organize everything. Remember we're not keeping as much, and it is those huge closets that allow us to keep too many things anyway. 

Step 3 - Remove everything and sort as you go.

It is easier to just empty out your closet and put everything back in its new organized space. This includes your shoes, purses and accessories as well as your clothing. As you pull things out, start making only four piles:

1. Items to throw away
2. Items to donate to charity
3. Items you know you are keeping
4. Items you are just not sure if you are keeping for now

Get over the emotions and just start sorting. Once the closet is empty, go back and deal with your piles.

Step 4 - Throw away any items that are old and holey.

Some things are too bad to give away. Throw away pantyhose with runs. Don’t forget underwear with broken elastic and socks with no match. 

Step 5 - Donate all the things you never wear anymore to your favorite charity.

This is my favorite part. Helping someone in need is a great way to feel good about giving up some items. You will feel really good and get a tax credit too. 

Another option for really quality stuff is to sell to a consignment store. I have had a bad experience with this, but people who find a great shop have sold some things or just take a store credit if you like what they offer. Just know these places have strict rules and guidelines as to what they accept. I love the idea of giving it to someone less fortunate but the main thing is to give it away. 

Step 6 - Keep all the things you love.

This is the fun part. Decide how you want to sort your wardrobe. I like to hang similar things together: dresses, skirts, pants and jeans, jackets, sleeveless tops, short sleeves and long sleeves. You can go further and hang according to color as well. 

Decide what you don’t hang and decide on an appropriate container for it. My favorite containers are cheap, clear large plastic totes you get from WalMartTarget or Home Depot. Their transparency allows you to see what’s inside. They stack nice and high and the lids keep everything clean. I use the small shoe-size ones for shoes I don’t wear often. 

Suggestions for items to go in bins or dresser drawers are underthings, pajamas, exercise wear and sweaters. You can fold jeans and t-shirts too, but I like to hang them if possible just because they stay less wrinkled. 

If you are limited to hanging space, the best option is to go for a seasonal closet. If you have a closet in another part of your house or room for a wardrobe in the basement, you can put opposite seasons away and switch when the new season begins. You can also add a pole up high if your ceiling allows for those seasonal things and just rotate them. It is best to always store coats and jackets in a hall closet or extra bedroom. 

Use hooks to hang robes and things you use everyday. You can also use high ceiling space for large hooks to hold purses and totes. I keep a small step stool that folds flat in my closet so all of that high stuff is easily reached. 

They make all kinds of hangers for belts and scarves. Even a row of nails on a back wall behind the hanging clothes works great. You can also hang your necklaces and chains there. 

Shoes seem to be a main issue. They do take up a lot of space. Like I said, I use plastic shoe boxes for shoes I don’t wear a lot, and I have a hanging shoe rack for everyday ones. Keeping things off the floor make it easier to keep your closet clean, but most people use a floor shoe rack and they work well. Don’t forget to utilize the back of the door. Another great place for a shoe rack, but they also work great for jewelry and belts and anything else small that can be stored in those pockets. Look for clear pockets. 

Step 7 - Deal with items you're unsure of.

Not sure of this pile? That is why we saved it for last. It is best to have a trusted friend or loved one help you with this one. 

Start trying each piece on and do your best to be unemotional in deciding to keep it or have it go to another pile. Having that second opinion will help you release the piece if it just isn’t that great. You should look and feel fabulous in it. 

Remember, don’t just keep it because it was expensive or a gift, or any of the old reasoning that comes back into your head. It either goes back in the closet or is given it away. 

If you absolutely still can’t make a decision, then do the hanger trick I use. (I wish I knew who to give credit to for it, but I have heard it a lot from other organizers.) If you put these or any other articles back, place the hanger backwards so that the hook is facing you. Set a time frame (6 months or a year works well) and when you wear it put it back with the hanger the normal way. If you do not wear it, the hanger will still be backwards after your time frame, proving you will not wear it and need to get rid of it. Same for shoes. Just put them in a box with a date taped to it. 

Now everything you have placed back in your closet is organized, ready to grab at a moment's notice.

Avoid common pitfalls:

Always finish your job. Don’t become overwhelmed and just shove everything you are keeping back without an organized system in place. 

Don’t keep more than your space allows. Remove and deliver all items you are getting rid of immediately. Don’t just move them to another room to deal with later. Develop great habits to keep your closet clean and organized. Take time each week to return everything to its proper place. 

Favorite tips and ideas.

Keep a hamper in your closet for dirty things. 

Keep a small trashcan for price tags, labels, shopping bags and any trash that you have. 

Keep a bag for items to go to dry cleaners. You won’t be sorting them from your laundry each week, plus they won’t accidentally get washed. 

Look for fun, inexpensive, useful containers for each area of your home. They will contain the piles and it makes it easier to go through and purge on a regular basis. 

Create smart shopping habits to ensure you don’t overbuy and find yourself with too much stuff. 

Never, ever buy something because it was on sale, almost fits or doesn’t go with anything else in your wardrobe. 

Once you have finished your project, you will have a closet full of pieces that every time you wear them, you will look and feel your best. It will be worth the effort.

Friday, September 4, 2009