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Into the Closet

By Joseph Rosenfeld

IF the faltering economy is preventing you from looking fashion-forward, now is the perfect time to take stock of what's lurking in your clothes closet. Over years of auditing clients' closets, I have been concerned about the crazy consumption on clothing left unworn, or not worn enough to have warranted the purchase in the first place. It's time to get back into the closet and get your wardrobe organized.

Carol Stephen, owner of Stephen Organizing Services in Sunnyvale, and I dished about the disorganization we both see in our clients' closets, and therefore in their lives. Without naming names and outing our honored clients, we had a heart-to-heart about helping them both in the closet, and out. "Usually, I don't see any organization," Carol said of the spaces clients hire her to manage. "There's stuff on the floor, on the bed, on exercise equipment. So there's no underlying structure." This might tempt a person to reach for the Calgon bath, but it won't clear the clutter.

Stephen says the top mistake people make with their clothes closets is "they keep stuff because they paid a lot of money" for various clothing items but that "it doesn't lift their spirits. Usually when they get rid of it they feel a lot better." I couldn't agree more. Often people buy something new to lift their spirits—call it retail therapy—but if the item wasn't purchased to coordinate or to complete a look, it tends to hang in the closet with the price tag attached as a constant reminder of buyer's remorse. Carol, whose positive spirit is as breezy as a day at the beach, encourages clients to rid their closets of these items so "something great can come into their lives."

Another reason for the closet chaos is that people hold onto things for the wrong reasons. "Sometimes they think—like with shoes—they're going to break them in. I'll just wear them a little longer and they'll get comfortable," she said while kindly imitating the good intentions of a client. Apparently not enough people know the rule to shop for shoes after 5pm, when feet are as swollen as they will be after being active all day. Also there's a correlation between clutter and weight. "People whose weight varies a lot have a lot of different-sized things; so it's harder to organize," she claims. "When they let go of things, it's weird, but that's when they start losing weight. When they get something that's really gorgeous and appropriate, they can finally see the difference."

Then there is the issue of holding onto clothing that's not age-appropriate. "They're missing out on the beauty that is their age," says Carol, who has lived just long enough to use herself as an example of appropriately maintaining a youthful appearance. "Accessorize at Forever 21, just don't buy your whole wardrobe there," she advises women clients, and says everyone needs to let go of the past.

The key to organizing the wardrobe is to develop a system. Carol warns against purchasing a closet system without first inventorying what you have. Even trying to decide between organizational systems leads to a lot of confusion, she says. Even if all you have to work with at first is a closet rod, at the very least figure out a way to group items by clothing category or color. For a more sophisticated wardrobe, try to group items by wardrobe cluster. Separate items that you won't wear again until next spring and summer from the ones you need to wear through fall and winter. If all else fails and you're ready to pull your hair out, seek out one of us well-organized types.

Carol was known by her peers at such companies like Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard and 3Com to be quite organized. As a technical writer, "I had to be organized for my job. So I started helping my family and friends. Writing is lonely work, especially technical writing. You can get there when it's dark, see no one all day and get home when it's dark." Somehow through the darkness, she saw the light and nuanced her natural talent into a viable vocation. "I'd like to encourage people to just let go of things. Most of the time, they're not even going to remember that they owned a particular item. The closet does not need to be so stuffed."

Organizing Tips

1. Find items rarely or never worn and look for items in the closet to wear with them. If you don't find good combinations, let them go.

2. Eliminate items that are not the right fit, color or age-appropriate.

3. Create separate spaces for seasonal clothes.

4. Organize what's left by style, color, work-related, nonwork casual.

5. Invest in a closet system once the wardrobe has been inventoried and you know what needs to be organized to make your "look" and your life easier.

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