St. Petersburg Times Online: Home and Garden

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The clutterless closet
[Times art: Teresanne Cossetta]

Feeling disorganized? It's probably time to closet yourself with your closet. Small, inexpensive changes can bring order and a sense of well being that percolate into other aspects of daily life.

By JUDY STARK

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 24, 2000


graphic of closet
[Times art: Teresanne Cossetta]
Closet organization hints
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You've seen the ads. Handsome, furniture-quality drawers and cabinets in glowing wood line the walls of a spacious closet. Stacks of color-coordinated sweaters are meticulously folded, perfectly aligned exactly an inch apart. A beautifully tailored monochromatic wardrobe hangs serenely from expensive wooden hangers.

Not a rumpled pair of jeans, clashing sweatshirt or scruffy pair of sneakers in sight. No dirty socks in the corner. No teetering piles and stacks and bundles toppling over from the top shelf.

Oh, if only!

"People think their closet has to look like those in the magazines," said professional organizer Ann Cueva of Clearwater. "It doesn't! You need to get a life if you have time to do that."

Our closets may never look like the ones in the magazines, but it's not for lack of trying, and spending. The $1-billion-a-year residential storage industry has grown 300 to 400 percent in the past decade, estimates Peachtree Consulting of Atlanta. A consumer survey cited by Peachtree reports that 100 percent of new homes costing $100,000 or more have walk-in closets, all fitted with racks, shelves and organizers.

The old plank-and-pole closet setup will do no longer. From Poliform's Italian-made custom closet fittings that cost $6,000 to $100,000 to the do-it-yourself kits available at home centers starting around $15, we are a nation committed to getting ourselves organized. Really.

"The peace of mind is priceless when everything is in order," Cueva said.

And these days time is money. "Nobody has time. It's the mantra of the new millennium. The better organized you are, the more efficient your life becomes," said Devin Dutcher, a spokeswoman for ClosetMaid, the vinyl-coated wire shelving made by Clairson International in Ocala.

Custom-closet merchants note these trends:

Out of the bedroom, into the closet: "People are eliminating some of their bedroom furniture," replacing it with storage systems in their closets, said Bill Siviter, co-owner of California Closets in Clearwater. Instead of a bulky chest of drawers that eats up space in the bedroom, they'll outfit their closet with drawers and baskets to store the same items of clothing.

It's not just for adults any more. Kids and teens want organized closets, too. For a teenage boy with two closets in his bedroom, ClosetMaid outfitted one with adjustable shelving and storage for clothing and turned the other into his home computer station.

Storage for the unusual. Velvet-lined, divided drawers for jewelry are pretty commonplace. But closet builders get calls for gun cabinets, hidden storage, safes hidden behind false panels -- "things people don't want people to know they have," said Jennifer Holcomb, production manager at the Closet Factory in Tampa.

Something for everyone. Even as the bottom end of the market insists on closet systems, the top end wants something unique: real wood rather than melamine-clad particleboard or coated wire. Lift systems that raise a rack of seldom-worn or seasonal clothing above head level. Special storage areas for leathers and furs. Pullout rods for temporary storage. Islands on which suitcases can be packed or unpacked. Recharging stations where cell phones, Palm Pilots and laptops can be plugged in overnight.

Cueva, who conducts workshops and offers help by the hour to the organizationally challenged, shared some of her closet advice recently. (See the graphic on Page 1D for a dozen of her best hints on reorganizing your closet.)

Special order for closets
Specialty closets may make life simpler around your house.
"First, take an inventory of what will be in the closet," she said. Get rid of things you don't need, want or wear.

Take everything out of the closet, and as you do so, sort it by color: all the blue shirts together, all the white ones. "That will give you a notion of what you have," she said, "and it's a timesaver when you're trying to put outfits together." You may find it enlightening to discover you have 19 white shirts, all essentially alike, and a dozen blue ones.

Often Cueva's clients are amazed at how small steps can gain big space. That dead space from the closet ceiling to the top of the upper shelf is often underused. This is the place for plastic bins to store seldom-used items.

"Use colored bins if what you're storing is not attractive, clear ones if the things are nice to look at," she suggests.

Don't leave empty hangers on the pole, she said. They can eat up 6 fo 12 inches of usable hanging space. Whenever you remove a garment from a hanger, put the empty hanger at the end of the pole or in a basket on the floor. "That will give other clothes more room to hang," she said.

She's always amazed to see clients shoving and stuffing their clothes just back from the cleaner into the closet. "You just paid to have that cleaned and pressed!" she wants to say.

A third step: Buy hangers with swivel tops, like those in department stores. It's easy to hang them with one motion; you won't have to turn hangers around to get them facing in the right direction. "It's a simple tip that you wouldn't think would make much difference, but it does." These are available at stores such as Target; buy a few every now and then until you've replaced all your hangers.

"Don't put your money into items that are going to be behind closed doors that no one will see but you," Cueva counseled. The job can be done perfectly well with plastic shoe boxes you can find on sale for 99 cents, decorative boxes you already have and hatboxes in several sizes that you can find at off-price retailers such as Stein Mart.

Cueva suggests using suitcases to store items you use infrequently: out-of-season or seldom-worn clothing, shoes and accessories. No need to take up valuable space among your everyday clothing with things you wear once a year (or never). Luggage can also store items from elsewhere in the house, such as books. But Cueva cautions against this practice if you use those suitcases frequently. The stored items will get tossed out of the suitcases onto the closet floor and will never find their way back in.

Reorganizing your closet "is not something that is done fast. It's a good long weekend task," she said. "You're really talking about building new habits." People tend to start out full of enthusiasm, but after a few hours they grow tired and bored. They push the clothes off the bed onto the floor or just stuff everything back in the closet without having completed the task.

"It's a mess while you're doing it, and that's what people don't want to have," she acknowledged. "But it's contagious: Once you've done it, you'll want to go on to another."

And you can work at it a bit at a time if that's more appealing: one weekend, get rid of clothes you don't need; the second weekend, group clothes together by color; a third, start rearranging the way you hang and store items.

"Give some time and thought to what you want from your closet and how you want it to look," Cueva said. "Get your closet in order and an orderly state of mind will follow."

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