The Record – Out of the closet: A decluttering guide

Out of the closet: A decluttering guide

The Record
July 8, 2004 Uh-oh!

You’re 20 minutes late for work, and you can’t find your gray slacks or your white shirt. Sloshing through the tiny closet, you find yourself knee-deep in a mound of smelly Keds, old Halloween costumes, and MC Hammer pants circa 1990 in every color and print combination.

With no slacks or shirt in sight, you’re now 30 minutes late for work …

Yeah, you need help.

While building a larger closet may not be in the realm of possibility, maximizing the closet space you already have is. So put aside some time – several hours, at the very least – to reorganize that black hole you call your closet. Your job will thank you.

Pull it together

Here are five products that’ll help you organize the mess you’ve got growing in there.

Stop spraining ankles on that blanket of heels covering your closet floor and start stacking them in see-through shoe boxes.
Clear Shoe Drawers, $6.99

Statistics say that 18 billion amateur prints are produced each year in the United States. So where are you keeping yours?
John Porter Archival Envelopes, $5.99
All Target locations; john

You and your pants can finally say goodbye to slipping and creasing. Plus, the more you order, the less they cost.
6 Tier Pant Hanger, $14.95

Out of sight, out of mind, right? So throw your winter clothes into a couple of these and do not open until Christmas.
Yaffa Underbed Box, $9.99

If your space is a standard size, splurge on this “Complete Closet Kit” and everything just sort of falls into place.
Birch & White Elfa Décor Reach-In, $627.19


The cold, hard truth is that you would have more space in your closet if you had less stuff.

According to statistics from ClosetMaid, maker of home storage and organization products, you only wear 20 percent of your clothes 80 percent of time. That means 80 percent of your wardrobe is a candidate for the Salvation Army.

Obviously, giving up all 80 percent would be unwise and unrealistic. Just shoot for some with the following advice from closet experts.

Empty your closet and try on all your clothes, says Maureen Gainer, a professional organizer based in Chicago. Only those that look good and fit well should go back into the closet.

Or try a ranking system, says Sunny Schlenger from Fair Lawn, author of “Organizing for the Spirit” (Jossey-Bass). First are clothes you wear all the time and can’t live without; second are ones you like and want to start wearing more; third are ones you’re not sure about. Then just keep the first and second, she says.

If you haven’t worn it in a year or more, let it go, says Stephanie Winston, author of “Stephanie Winston’s Best Organizing Tips” (Simon & Schuster/Fireside). Exceptions can be made for formalwear and things of sentimental value.

Make a resolution for the future – e.g., every time you buy something new, get rid of something old, ClosetMaid advises. (Of course, amendments to this rule are allowed.)


We all hoard clothes for different reasons. Some of us think that we’re going to lose weight and fit into those size 4 acid-washed jeans from high school again; some of us are preparing for the day shoulder pads come back in style; the rest of us think back to how much we paid for the item and can’t let go.

But they’re not good enough reasons, Gainer says. “I always call those ‘clothes for your make-believe life,’Ÿ” she says. “Try to get out of keeping clothes for scenarios that might not happen.”

If you do lose weight, get yourself a new pair of jeans. Ditto if shoulder pads make a surprise comeback. As for the expensive clothes, no matter how much you paid for them, they are junk if you never wear them.

Instead, make a donation and get a tax deduction. There are programs out there to help you calculate the value of your donations; Intuit’s ItsDeductible ($19.95 at guarantees $300 in tax savings.


Of course, the really ratty stuff should be thrown out or used up as rags. The decent ones should go to a clothes donation bin in your neighborhood (see for where and how).

Another option is to sell on eBay or have a garage sale. Also consider reselling unwanted garments at online vendors such as

To get rid of other junk in the closet, find out ways to recycle. Old phones can be donated through, (877) 2-RECYCLE. Rechargeable batteries can find new life through the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Program, or (800) 8-BATTERY. Visit the National Recycling Coalition at for other recycling possibilities.


Think of a closet as real estate, Gainer says. “The only thing that deserves that Manhattan real estate is something that’s used every day and something that you need to see.”

Frequently worn clothes, shoes, and accessories meet the criteria, but the following items don’t:

Out-of-season clothes: Put them in storage bins under the bed, says Winston.

Sports equipment: Don’t waste space with skis, tennis rackets, and golf clubs, Gainer says. Keep them under the bed, in the garage, or in the storage room, where they’re also less likely to get banged around.

Luggage: Unless you’re a very frequent flier, keeping luggage in the closet is a waste, says Audrey Thomas, author of the upcoming “The Road Called Chaos” and an organizing consultant based in Minneapolis. Consider filling it with smaller items (e.g., travel totes and makeup bags), and put it wherever you might put the sports equipment.

Photographs: Those boxes and boxes of old pictures sitting in the corner of your closet need to be treated similarly to your clothes. Edit and organize, because “photos in a box are like a tree that falls in a forest but no one hears,” says John Porter, photographer and album designer for John Porter’s Everyday Archives.


Keep like things together – pants with pants, shirts with shirts. Not only is this an easier system to find clothes, “it will make you more creative with putting different outfits together,” Gainer says.

Wood, wire, or plastic hangers are a personal choice, Gainer says. Remember that wood hangers, while they are better for your clothes, take up more room. For skirts and pants, consider space-saving multitiered hangers. However, beware of poor-quality tiered hangers, as they are more likely to bend and fall apart, says Schlenger.

Don’t keep shoes in their original boxes on the closet floor. You can’t see what’s inside, and they have to be moved and restacked every time you open one, Winston says. Instead, consider over-the-door bags, which typically hold up to 30 pairs, or clear, stackable shoe drawers (

These days, the single pole across the closet is pretty medieval, Gainer says. Make the most of your space by installing another rod or shelving (


Some closets require help from a third party, most likely professional organizers and closet designers. Visit the FAQ page on (National Association of Professional Organizers) to get an idea of what kind of service they provide.

You can customize your closet at any Home Depot store ( or find a local provider through offers free space-planning with Elfa organization products. For more swanky, personalized service, visit and

You may want to enhance your newly organized closet space by treating it to designer clothing, such as collections by Ralph Lauren.


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