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10 Tips for Organizing Your Closet

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When building her room-size custom closet, interior designer Shawn O'Brien visualized a space where she could see all her clothing and accessories. She then spent hours drawing out the space to accommodate her wardrobe. Clothing is organized by groups and colors. A rolling table in the room's center has shelves for storage bins containing small items like lingerie, workout gear, socks and scarves. Other organizational tools include a laundry hamper and hooks, which come in handy when getting dressed or hanging up pajamas and robes. - PHOTO BY EUGENIA UHL
  • Photo by Eugenia Uhl
  • When building her room-size custom closet, interior designer Shawn O'Brien visualized a space where she could see all her clothing and accessories. She then spent hours drawing out the space to accommodate her wardrobe. Clothing is organized by groups and colors. A rolling table in the room's center has shelves for storage bins containing small items like lingerie, workout gear, socks and scarves. Other organizational tools include a laundry hamper and hooks, which come in handy when getting dressed or hanging up pajamas and robes.

Today, the trend in closets is to make them as large as possible. But whether your closet is room-sized, walk-in or small, the same organizational tips apply. According to professional organizer Virginia Barkley of Let's Get It Straight (615-2678; www.virginiabarkley.com), a streamlined closet makes getting dressed easier and less stressful.

   "The master closet and the kitchen are areas people go to first thing in the morning and therefore are the two organizational priorities," Barkley says. "How well these spaces are maintained can truly dictate how the rest of your day goes."

  While custom-designed closets are nice, Barkley stresses that it's not the physical dimensions or layout that matters most — it's the arrangement of the contents. When organizing a clothing closet, she offers the following 10 tips.

1 | VISUALIZE

Imagine what you want the space to look like. "Most people are overwhelmed by the thought of tackling their closet," Barkley says. "Make it an adventure." Barkley recommends clipping magazine pictures for ideas and as a way to shift the focus from fear to fun.

2 | CATEGORIZE

By grouping like items such as jeans, pants, dresses, blouses, skirts, jackets, folded garments, lingerie, etc. and then categorizing by color, you can assess your needs and determine whether you have duplicates. "It's easy to let go of an old, faded black shirt when you can see that you have seven others that are in great shape," Barkley says.

3 | PRIORITIZE

Ask yourself whether you like it, use it or need it, Barkley advises. If the answer is none of the above, donate the item or take it to a consignment store. If you're having trouble letting go, Barkley suggests storing the item in a plastic bin for six months. At the end of that time, if you can't remember what's in the bin or haven't missed it, donate it.

4 | MAKE IT MANAGEABLE

Once you know what you have and what you're going to keep, approach the rest of the project in phases. "Avoid taking everything out of your closet at once," Barkley cautions. "Break it up into doable tasks to prevent overload. If you've categorized, then work through one category at a time: blouses, skirts, dresses, pants, purses, etc. Only take those items out that you are unsure of and want to try on."

5 | THINK OF YOUR CLOSET AS A STORY

Think about how the arrangement of your closet should play out from left to right and bottom to top. Place the most often used items in the most accessible places and lesser-used items on higher shelves or harder to reach areas. If you have room, separate winter from summer. Being able to see things is key.

6 | USE CONTAINERS

Storage containers help maintain order. Barkley prefers translucent plastic boxes for shoes and suggests identifying each with a photo of the shoes inside. She also uses containers to organize small things like undergarments and socks. Containers come in endless varieties, so finding sizes and shapes to suit your needs shouldn't be difficult.

Where space is not an object, prioritizing can refer to amenities you don't want to do without. For interior designer Natasha Shah, a washer/dryer in the closet she shares with her husband was a must have. By installing it underneath a center island designed to also house drawers and incorporate a vanity, she eliminated the need to cart laundry between rooms or up and down stairs. - PHOTO BY SARA ESSEX BRADLEY
  • Photo by Sara Essex Bradley
  • Where space is not an object, prioritizing can refer to amenities you don't want to do without. For interior designer Natasha Shah, a washer/dryer in the closet she shares with her husband was a must have. By installing it underneath a center island designed to also house drawers and incorporate a vanity, she eliminated the need to cart laundry between rooms or up and down stairs.

7 | MAKE THE MOST OF WALL SPACE

Utilize all the real estate, Barkley says. If you have a small wall, it's more efficient to have two racks — upper and lower — than one. Space-saving items like vacuum-seal storage bags and tie racks for holding belts are also useful when maximizing the room you have to work with. Putting accessories like purses on shelves reduces bulk in your hanging space and enables you to see them.

8 | USE ONE TYPE OF HANGER

"Regardless of what kind of hanger you prefer, pick one kind," Barkley says. Using the same hanger throughout can increase hanging space and the uniformity is visually pleasing. When organizing a closet, Barkley tells clients to face hangers the wrong way. Then after wearing the garment and hanging it up again, clients turn the hanger around the right way. Over time, they can see which clothes get worn and which do not.

9 | CREATE AMBIENCE

Fragrances, displays of favorite clothing and even music can enhance the atmosphere inside your closet. To keep things smelling fresh, Barkley recommends a fragrance diffuser and Damp Rid, a product that eliminates moisture from the air.

10 | PUT THINGS AWAY AFTER WEARING THEM

To keep things from returning to a state of disarray and to preserve the life of your favorite fashions, Barkley advises that garments always be hung up after they're worn. "Have a hook in your closet," she says. "Even if you don't have time to put [a garment] back in its special place, hang it on the hook. It's the consistency of purpose that matters."

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