"First thing I like to do is a good, thurough look at everything in the closet. Assessing the mess," says Mary Kacaba, professional organizer and owner of Cincinnati-based company Choice Environment. "I try to get a picture of what the closet could look like in its best state," she explained. Kacaba then recommends removing everything from the space, using a system she calls "Treasure, Trash, Tithe," in which a person's belongings are separated into keep, trash and donation categories.
At the same time, Kacaba advises the would-be organizer to put like treasures together and carry full trash or tithe bags to the car immediately, so that once the organization is finished orderliness mavens aren't left with twenty trash bags to carry out. Otherwise, "it's a breakdown in the exciting flow of the day," she says.
But if you don't like the sound of completely emptying your closet, Jamie Sebens, professional organizer and owner of Cincinnati company Working Order LLC, says a just as efficient way is to select a category of clothing, such as work, and remove those pieces from the closet. Then, make space in the closet for that section, hang the clothes back up and move on to the next.
"Favorite categories are work, gym, casual, evening," Sebens says. "So that when you are getting ready for work you're not sorting through evening clothes to find your work clothes and so forth."
This system works well for most people, Sebens says, but especially for people who have trouble getting ready in the morning. "So if every space is given a name, and those names correspond with uses, then when you go to dress you have a smaller section to look at," she explained.
Kacaba agrees. "The goal of organization is for everything to have a home and putting like things together," she says.
Another small, but important, step to organizing clothes is utilizing the right hanger. Standard plastic tube hangers are useful for most items, but for heavier pieces of clothing like suits, the best choice is the wooden variety with clips so that the jacket and pants or skirt can be on the same hanger, Sebens says. Wooden hangers also prevent ridges in sweaters and other heavy pieces of clothing, which sometimes happens with wire or plastic hangers.
Shoes and Accessories
Once you've got your clothing separated into sections, it's time for the hard part: shoes. "The shoes are the problem for a lot of women. Once you stop debilitating behavior, you've pretty much got it nipped," Kacaba says.
One way to nip your shoe organization problem in the bud is finding your perfect shoe holder. This choice depends on the individual, but, as always, space can be the deciding factor.
"Shoe holders oftentimes are not so much of a choice in terms of exactly what a person exactly wants, but often it's what will fit in the space that they have, although, my theory is that the floor is not a storage shelf," Sebens laughs.
Instead, try an over-the-door holder, plastic tubs or the oversized box variety, complete with compartments holding up to 50 pairs of shoes. Sebens also says running shoes and other non-crushable varieties can be stored in a basket on the closet floor.
Once you've sorted your shoes, it's time to organize the trimmings: jewelry and accessories.
Difficult to store items such as necklaces, bracelets and even camisoles and slips are easily kept on a belt rack, Sebens says. When hung this way, matching your accessories to clothes isn't a problem because you can see everything you own at once, and match accordingly.
Another good way to store miscellaneous items, Kacaba says, is to hang s-curved shower hooks from your closet's rod. Scarves, purses and belts can be stored on them. "It's easy to slip one off and return it to its home on the hook," she says. Kacaba also recommended using plastic milk crates on their side, as a kind of cubby hole, to store oddly shaped items such as boots or tall handbags.
Once your closet's become a paradigm of organization, you may wonder, "How long will this last?" That's up to you, but both Kacaba and Sebens says five minutes will do the trick.
"Put it on your calendar for every Saturday morning to spend five minutes making sure that it's still in order," Sebens says. "It's ongoing maintenance like anything else, and if you just check it once a week to make sure that it's not slipping, then you won't end up with it back where you started."
Another way to keep your organized closet staying that way is to allow yourself a little breathing room, Kacaba says.
"I like to create 12 inches of hanging space that can be your messy space. It creates a little space where you can quickly put things back and they don't have to return to its original home," she says. In other words, these temporarily-stored items can be put back in their proper place when it's most convenient, rather than shoving them in other sections.
Extras to Remember
Real life isn't a TLC special, Sebens says. "I think that, particularly, on TV shows, organization is done too much by neatness," she says. "Neatness and organization are not the same thing."
Sebens stressed that while there are many neat people who are terribly disorganized, there are also fairly messy people who have strong base organizational systems, and know how to put things back quickly.
"Gross organization is putting all of your underwear in the underwear drawer, but not necessarily folding it or dividing it by color," Sebens says. "And that's fine. Some people don't have time for refined organization. They can just work with gross organization and still get dressed."
When you don't worry too much about neatness, your organizing can go even more smoothly by using the buddy system, Kacaba says. "It's a vulnerable experience to let someone into your messy space," she says. "Ask your friend or professional organizer to ask you questions like 'When did you last wear that?' and 'Will you wear it in the next year?'" If you're not sure about whether to treasure, trash or tithe, an extra voice can help move the process along.