Let’s face it. We are regular people who do not live the lives featured in glossy magazines. We aspire to be neater, but to achieve this optic we would need to subsist on six interchangeable outfits of monochromatic khaki and white. What about winter clothes? What about navy blue? How can we whittle away our wardrobes to better suit the life we lead?
After moving fourteen times over the past thirty years, I have discovered I have a knack for the packing and unpacking process. When my college roommates marveled at how I organized, they often asked if I could help sort their dresses, tops, and sweaters, too. As I have aged, I have found organizing to be my great stress release.
This closet call for order has continued for decades because many of my moves involved tricky closet negotiation. An unforgiving space requires a “can-do” attitude. I once gave up a generous walk-in closet for a cute neighborhood with an “I Love Lucy” sized closet. The single shelf above a wooden rod that spanned the same narrow width as those 1950s refrigerators reminded me that everything back then was slim.
It was my greatest challenge. But I relished every moment of reimagining how I could make my wardrobe fit efficiently into this unrealistic space for a modern day woman.
Fortunately, by the time my Depression-era mother needed help managing her own home filled to the hilt, I was not at my wit’s end as I took in the mess of five overrun bedrooms and closets. I was in a state of creative delight, setting timers and working feverishly against the clock to clean sweep—ultimately giving her a home that she loved for its order and cleanliness.
Here is my tried-and-true go-to plan for an efficient closet makeover.
Step 1: Sort
The best way to sort a closet is to pull everything out at once. Set 4 zones to Keep, Toss, Dry Clean, and Donate. Set a timer, give yourself a two-hour window and have your sorting crates nearby. An old piece of luggage you want to donate, or a sizable box, or a Hefty sack can be used to stuff inside the clothes you no longer wish to keep.
Pile your contents onto the bed according to categories: all tops together, suits, pants, day dresses, fancy dresses, coats—all in separate mounds.
Do not be afraid of your disaster zone. I have seen this a thousand times before, and it does nothing short of inducing an adrenaline rush most athletes have to run five miles to achieve. I get mine without the sweat, or, sadly, the calorie burn.
Eliminate from your wardrobe threadbare or unnecessary multiples. Be selective. Do you need all of the black tops you have amassed? Keep only what you love and feel great wearing.
My 1950s closet meant that instead of being able to accommodate four pair of black boots (knee-high heeled, ankle-high heeled, knee-high flat, and cowboy style) I would need to make do with one all-purpose pair. I chose to save the knee-high heeled, which looked far better under trousers than the short boots ever did.
Step 2: Set-Up
My favorite 4 closet essentials are always the same:
1) Beige suede hangers, the thin kind. This will help to create a uniform look, and maximize the hanging space you have; bulky wooden coat hangers that curve have no place in a lady’s closet. All crooks to face wall uniformly when rehanging garments.
2) A good shoe organizer is key and the benefit of trial and error keeps me coming back to the same one: a vertical hanging style with twelve shoe-boxed sized compartments. Metal shoe racks on the floor, or hanging pockets over the door all end up hogging precious real estate or become buried beneath a sea of clothes, thus making your shoes inaccessible.
3) Storage boxes with lids. I always pick a couple of oversized hat boxes to contain clutter, or keepsake cards. Lids are key—you don’t want to see the mess. It disturbs the Zen of your new closet.
4) A double-hang rod is essential for keeping shirts and blazers above skirts and folded trousers below. If you are really Type A, you will correlate your wardrobe so like colors hang above like colors.
Step 3: Stage
Create a visual aesthetic. Hide clutter, loose bobbles, or love letters inside storage boxes. Wardrobe moves light to dark, ordered by sleeve length within palette. Top rung—hang blouses, jackets; bottom—skirts, pants, in corresponding hues.
Space beside double-rod is for dresses together according to color (light to dark), style, sleeve length; special occasion dresses come next; then swing coats; then winter coats, if you don’t have a hall closet.
If you have bonus space, move a dresser inside the closet, opening up the bedroom floor. A nice add-on: family and friends in frames of similar colors, varied styles.
With all of your clothes hanging according to style, and color, you have a better idea of what to shop for next, and what to avoid doubling up on.
Your timer should be dinging just about now.
“Managing the Paper Trail” will be the next blog posting here.
By Stefania Shaffer
Stefania Shaffer, a teacher, speaker, and writer, is grateful her WWII parents raised her to do the right thing. Her second book, the Memoir 9 Realities of Caring for an Elderly Parent: A Love Story of a Different Kind has been called “imperative reading”. Funny and compassionate, this is the insider’s view of what to expect from your daunting role if you are the adult child coming home to care for your elderly parent until the very end.
The Companion Playbook is the accompanying workbook that provides the busy caregiver with the urgent To-do list to get started today.