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Conquering closet clutter - a weekend warrior project

Geralin Thomas on The Nate Berkus Show on November 11, 2010
Geralin Thomas on The Nate Berkus Show on November 11, 2010

Welcome guest contributor, Geralin Thomas of Metropolitan Organizing, LLC

So you need to get organized and you're pressed for time? Why not start with your closet?

A closet is a clutter magnet and regardless of whether you are a stay at home mom, a metropolitan working woman, or a glamma (glamorous grandma), you most likely start and end your day grabbing clothes or putting them away in your closet.

Step 1: Before You Begin

There are many wonderful products available to help you get organized and stay organized, and although I don't recommend running out and buying an expensive closet system, there are a few basic items that might be helpful. I recommend the following:

  • Full length mirror
  • Valet rod
  • Shelves and metal hanging rods
  • Boxes to store shoes and other accessories
  • Wooden, plastic, padded or flocked hangers
  • Light fixture

Step 2: Behind the Seams

Start by pruning what you already own. First, pull everything out of your closet.

Once the closet is empty, paint the interior a clean, bright white color. A bright closet will make it easier to find what you need, and the paint can dry while you go through the next steps.

Random items like long-lost art projects, photo albums, and rolls of paper towels bought on a bulk shopping spree do not belong in your closet. Unless your storage space is scarce, this space should be limited to clothes and accessories.

Donate "trophy sized" garments. (Trophy sizes are the single digit sized garment that you USED to wear.) Ditto for all the clothes you paid a "fortune" for. That money is long gone and hanging onto the garment is not going to magically replace the money you've already spent.

Locate MIAs (mending, ironing, alterations) and act fast. Those clothes are taking up valuable real estate space in your closet, so either take action or let those items go.

Step 3: Sort Your Stuff

Take what's left and group all garments in Roy G. Biv order: red, then orange, yellow, green , blue, indigo, and violet garments together. Then group the white, black, browns, and grays together. Start at the upper left side of your closet (like you read a page in a book).

Pay attention to missing colors; more importantly, note the colors you seem to have the most of. Most of us are "serial shoppers". To see if you are a serial shopper ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you own 10 pale blue tops and a dozen pair of black pants?
  • Are all of your clothes solid colors?
  • If you see a shirt (shoe, skirt, pant) you like, do you buy it in every color?

Next separate your now color-sorted clothes into types:

  • Bottoms: skirts, pants, capris
  • Tops: shirts, jackets, blouses

You most likely aren’t wearing a lot of what is hanging in your closet. According to The Pocket Stylist (Gotham Books 2004) all you really need are the following:

  • 2 pairs of dark pants
  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 3 skirts
  • A white button-front shirt and t-shirts
  • 3 sweaters
  • 2 jackets
  • 3 coats
  • A nice dress and accessories

Once you pare down your wardrobe to the essentials, it will be easier to keep it organized.

Step 4: Outfit Your Closet

You'll get the most mileage from your wardrobe when everything you own is visible and accessible. If you have to hunt for it or if you can’t reach it, you won’t wear it.

No matter how big your closet is, chances are that you’d like to get the max for the minimum when it comes to using space wisely. Using your closet efficiently helps transform chaos into calm and is usually more affordable and less time-consuming than hiring a crew to construct a new “custom fit” closet tailored specifically to your needs.

Double your storage space by installing one closet rod about 40 inches above the floor and a second one about 40 inches above it. If you are shorter, the rods can be lowered so you can reach them easily and, if you are taller, both bars can be raised so your clothes don’t hang on the floor.

The hanging rods should be installed about 13 inches away from the back wall. This distance allows about 3 or 4 inches beyond the ends of the hangers so the hangers and your clothes won’t touch the back wall.

Hanging rods are available in wood and metal. I suggest metal because they don’t bend or warp. Rub the rods with wax paper to help the hangers glide smoothly along the rod.

To keep sweaters neatly stacked, you need shelves. If you plan to install shelves above the top hanging rod, make them no deeper than 12 inches so that you can easily see and retrieve the items you’ve stored.

If you plan to install shelves below eye level (more usual in a walk-in closet), the shelves should be no more than 16 inches deep for easy access.

Great lighting is a must.

Brightening your closet will help you sort the blacks from the blues. While other lighting in your home can be softer, the closet is one area where a light touch isn’t the brightest idea. It’s best to be practical when it comes to lighting a closet.

If accessing your closet is a problem, you may need a different type of door. Full-swing doors are best, followed by bi fold. Pocket doors and sliding doors are the worst.

Step 5: Put It Away

Dust or vacuum before you put anything back in the closet. Dust mites destroy fabrics (and are horrible for people with allergies).

Wooden, plastic, padded or flocked hangers are best for maintaining the shape of a garment. Make sure you shop for hangers with a nice, elongated hook and contoured shoulders. The longer hooks will help keep your collars in shape. The contoured shoulders mirror human shoulders and will help keep the garment in shape.

Clip or clamp hangers, used for skirts and pants, should have cushioning fabric, such as felt or foam to protect crushable fabrics such as corduroy or velour. This is also true for tube style hangers, also known as open-ended hangers.

When placing your garments into the closet, group like things together: long-sleeve shirts, short-sleeve shirts, and sleeveless shirts all belong in the shirt section.

Next, group all bottoms together: skirts, pants, and capris. Grouping like things together is known as organizing by type, and you may prefer to organize by color or function (work clothes, resort wear, social event clothing).

Step 6: When the Weekend's Over

Now that you've taken the time to organize your closet, here are a few tips to help you keep your wardrobe organized and in good condition.

Get in the habit of cleaning out your closets on a regular basis (like when school starts and ends or daylight saving time begins and ends).

Wash and dry-clean out-of-season clothes before you put them in storage because antiperspirant, cologne, and makeup residue attracts insects. Make sure all items are dry when storing them–dampness will lead to mildew and a musty smell. Never store clothes in plastic bags like those from dry cleaners. Remember, clothes need fresh air. Store them in cotton zip-up bags. No mothballs. No exceptions!

Avoid serial shopping, and make a habit of getting rid of clothing that you don't wear because it no longer fits or for some other reason.

With your organized closet, you'll always be able to find what you're looking for in no time!

Geralin Thomas is a professional organizer and founder of Metropolitan Organizing. She has been featured on several television and media outlets, including A&E's "Hoarders" and The Fine Living Network. For more on Geralin and Metropolitian Organizing, visit her website at For more information from Geralin's recent appearance on The Nate Berkus Show visit


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