I got to work on a GREAT space with a client this week. She and her husband share a walk-in closet, that has some tall built-in closet and shelving space, but the client called it “a disaster”.   She really has a closet that so many of us would die for, but her life had gotten to the point that it proved that, just because you have a large closet, doesn’t mean it’s any easier to stay organized or keep it clean.

A busy professional and busy mother, she’s constantly trying to find what she needs, and the order she had in there (skirts were with skirts, shirts were together), wasn’t really working for her any more.  She said it had been a long, long time since the space really worked for her, and she was wasting time EVERY day trying to get dressed, and it was causing her stress. Further, the fact that her husband shares the space means it is impacting him daily, too.   She asked me to help, and we tackled almost the entire space in just a few hours.  Here’s one angle of the “Before”:

Before

Before

THE PROBLEMS: 

Clothes:  My client had already realized that she had clothes she could donate, because they were either dated or she just didn’t love them any more. They were perfectly fine clothes, but just not part of how she saw herself at this point in her life.

Shoe storage:  Similarly, she knew that not only did she have more shoes than she needed, she was still holding onto shoes that just didn’t work for her, “No More Pointy Shoes!” she exclaimed more than once.  Beyond the volume of shoes, they were in a number of different spaces, and all mixed up. Dress shoes, boots, and casual shoes altogether made it harder to find what she wanted, when she wanted it.  It also made it too difficult to tell what she really had, and whether the items she had were in good enough shape to wear.   Finally, one of the primary spots for shoes is a plastic stacking shoe rack, that feels more like an eyesore to her in this beautiful closet.

Scarves:  She LOVES to wear scarves, and in the colder weather in New England (you know, the next 5-6 months) she really feels most comfortable when she’s got her neck covered.  But they were all bunched together on a couple of hangers, hanging off of the shoe rack, and hard to find what she wanted, when she wanted it.

Belts:  Belts posed an issue for both my client and her husband.  For her, it was too many, and they are tucked in a hidden area that is hard to see. For him, there’s no spot for them to live, so they just get draped on a shoe rack.

Handbags:  Like lots of women, she has a decent handbag collection that gets added to with a new style here and there. What to do with older bags that won’t get used again, and how best to protect the bags being kept were issues for the space.

WHAT WE DID:

First, the client had already decided she didn’t want any dry cleaner/wire hangers in the room any more.  She purchased the felt-covered thin hangers (which I *love*) and hoped to begin replacing all the wire hangers for the items she was keeping.  (She needs to buy more, now that we’ve finished, but we repurposed plastic hangers to tide the project over and ensure the elimination of the wire hangers.  No, there was no “Mommie Dearest” moment, but we did gather almost 100 wire hangers to be given back to her dry cleaners.

Next, we tackled the clothes.  I told her my “rules” for cleaning out closets that I think can help people be critical about what to keep and what to donate:

  • Do you love it?

  • Does it love you back? (Does it look great on you? Is it free of stains, rips, stretches?)

  • If you went shopping today and saw it in the store, would you buy it?

The last one is important:  If you wouldn’t *buy* it today, you probably aren’t going to choose to *wear* it any time soon.   It can help to let go of items that you hold onto out of guilt (“I paid a lot of money for that”) or for sentimental reasons (“I used to love this shirt!”)

She went through and got rid of a LOT of clothing!  She probably pared down her wardrobe by a quarter to a third.  With what was left, we organized by group (Dresses, Skirts, Pants, Winter tops, Summer tops, and Tank tops).   Dresses, suits, pants are in the long side and tops and skirts are on the double-bar side of the closet.  For each category, we organized by color in rainbow order. This makes sure that (a) she can find what she wants when she needs it and (b) she can very quickly determine where to put something back when she’s hanging it up.  We put all the tank tops on one hanger that had 8 “arms”, separated by color, so there is just one stop to make if she’s looking for a tank top.

Next up: Shoes.

Like clothing, my client announced before we even started today, “I bet I can get rid of at least a third of my shoes”.  She delivered on that promise, for sure!  She admitted that, once you start letting go of things, it gets easier to toss the marginal items in the pile.  Besides her commitment to herself (and her feet) that she would no longer wear pointy shoes, which generated quite a few donations, she also was more critical about “I wore these once, a long time ago; will I REALLY wear them again?” as a guide to help make decisions.  (SPOILER ALERT: No, you won’t wear them again!)   And then, in one of the most surprising moves of the day, with only a moment’s consideration and hesitation, she put the shoes she wore to her wedding reception (more than a decade ago) on the pile.   Knowing how sentimental my client is about these kinds of items and tokens, I knew that this was really tremendous that she was able to see past the sentimentality and look to the future of a less-stressful closet!

From there, we separated out into a few categories:

  • Occasional/Dressy shoes.  We put these in clear plastic shoe boxes, keeping them from the dust that gets accumulated on occasional-use items. We stacked them where her dresses are.  (A project for her and her daughter will be to put some labels on them, to help hunt for the right ones when the time comes.)

  • “In rotation” shoes.  These are about ten pairs that she’ll wear regularly for work or nicer outfits, but not the super-dressy group.  It also includes her running shoes (she’s a long distance runner!).  She has these lined up in the bottom of the “tops” side of the closet, for easy visibility and access.

  • Boots.  She has about 5 pairs, and as these are seasonal, they’re best kept away, where they can be protected from the dust a bit. We assigned a couple of shelves in the cabinet for these, and adjusted the height to make it work for them.

  • Flip-flops.  These are seasonal, and she loves her sandals! She got rid of a number of pairs, but the ones she kept, we placed inside the same cabinet… they don’t need to come out for many more months!

  • Everyday shoes. These can be rotated of course, but she knows that, realistically, there are shoes she wears regularly enough that she’s just going to want to kick these shoes on and off each day. We retained 2 of the stacking shoe shelves (one for current shoes, one for a bit of expansion, if necessary) and created a MUCH smaller space to house those kinds of shoes.

Scarves were next.    Clearly, the bulky hanger on the side of the shoe rack was not going to be part of the plan, but given that it is such a key part of her year-round wardrobe, we decided to create a dedicated space for her scarves on a wall. We installed two 6-hook sets, making sure to accommodate for height above the radiator, where she could organize her scarves, but they would still be a *little* tucked away and out of sight.  I honestly think this one change is going to make the biggest difference in this space for her!

Belts we handled similarly… she pared down her own collection, but we gave her husband a dedicated hook-set for his own belts, rather than having them draped on the shoe rack. (I hope to hear that he loves this new set up, too!)

Finally, handbags had been in several spots, but mainly all along the top of the closet.  This closet set is REALLY tall, and so they were very much out of reach.  With all the reduction in clothing that she did, and being able to re-dedicate some of the upper shelves inside the cabinets, we decided that moving what remained of the handbag collection inside the cabinet would go a long way to protecting their value, not making them dust-collectors, AND accessing them more easily when she wants them.

I know you’re dying to see the before and afters!  Here are just a few that highlight all the great work we accomplished, and how much more functional and attractive this place will be for the both of them going forward!

Wide Left

wide right

shoe rack collage

rainbow PM

Scarves PM

boots PM 3



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