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Closets, Clothes, Perspectives

There’s a reason clothing closet organization can be elusive. Most people don’t realize that the clothing we own is like a journal or psychological profile and chronicles our past, our self-image and our dreams. That t-shirt is not just a t-shirt but a memory of a great concert in 1984. Those pants aren’t just pants, they are the last time you were a size 2. Which was also 1984.

Tricky issues like body image, career changes, and sentimentality can block progress in a closet reorganization. There are certain keys to organizing a closet and one of them is having clear perspective.

The absolute very first way to get a clear perspective of your closet is to check out the lighting. If you have a dimly lit closet, you are setting yourself up for unnecessary irritation. One client of mine had a red lightbulb in her closet light, making everything look black or grey. Another client had an incredible closet but went for form (a tiny chandelier) over function (adequate lighting). The closet is not the place for mood lighting—it should be as clear and bright as possible.

Another essential for perspective is recognizing our variable climate. If you’ve worked with me or read my column regularly, you know that I discourage separating clothing by season, especially in California. As I write this in mid-May, it’s pouring down rain and quite chilly. Clients who’ve insisted on moving their winter clothes to storage and space bags are scrambling to find a warm sweater and a waterproof jacket about now.

If you have to move clothing because of space issues, make it only bulky outerwear or seldom worn dressy clothing. If you still don’t have room, you probably have too many clothes! We can only wear one pair of pants at a time, so if you have over 200 pair, as one client did, there is some thinning to do.

When you get dressed for work or a special occasion, how easily do you put together an outfit that a) fits b) is clean c) has the right shoes/coat/belt, etc. to match and d) makes you feel fabulous?

Perspective about one’s body is such a common closet organization blocker. People keep their “fat” clothes out of a fear they will gain weight back. Women keep maternity clothes in case they become pregnant again (these could be stored outside of the main closet). And, of course, people keep aspirational clothes; the clothes that are always five or ten pounds away from fitting. If it doesn’t fit you now, let someone else enjoy it while it is still in style. If you lose weight, you’ll probably want to buy yourself something new anyway.

Check your clothing to make sure there are no stains or perspiration before putting it away. People sometimes put things away that really should be dry cleaned but hope to get one more wear out of it to save money. Clothing moths love food and sweat stains, so don’t skimp on dry cleaning because you’ll pay for it in wool, silk and cashmere loss.

More and more people I work with are going toward a no dry cleaning, no ironing wardrobe. An element of clear perspective might be acknowledging that you hate to iron and can’t tolerate expensive dry cleaning bills. Then gradually weed out items that need that kind of care.

If you don’t have the right belt or shoes for an outfit, get clear—do you love it enough to add the cost of special shoes and other items that will make it “work”? I remember splurging on a navy blue suit in my mid-20s. Suddenly I had to search for the perfect navy blue shoes. I found that there is navy and then there is navy—it’s very tough to match and not many shoe companies do navy editions. The suit never really worked; I learned my expensive lesson and went back to black.

Similarly, if you have an item of clothing that you put on, check in the mirror and take off time after time, it will probably never be right. Let it go so that you don’t have to keep considering it.

Last, some perspective about sentimental items of clothing. If you must, store sentimental items in a bin outside the main closet. If there is no one in the family who might appreciate the item, for example, an heirloom baptismal garment or confirmation dress, a better solution would be to take a photo of the item and let it go.