Hanger Management and Other Ways to Cure Closet Chaos
I remember the moment three years ago when I sternly told my closet: "I will deal with you later." My husband and I were moving from the happy yellow house to the happier yellow house, and moving day being, well, moving day meant making thousands of game-time decisions about where and how stuff will go in the new home.
You have to move fast, which is how the sewing basket ends up in the dog-kibble bin, because if you aim for perfection, you could spend the whole day on the silverware drawer. To keep the momentum, you tell yourself, "This is just for now. I will sort it out later."
Except you don't.
But last weekend, I made good on my closet threat. Like a determined soldier, I said to my closet: "I'm going in." The attack was three-pronged: First, I pulled everything out, which looked as if the Salvation Army had vomited up its women's section. Second, I revisited the shelving. Third, I sorted and purged my clothes, before putting the edited wardrobe back in a smarter way on matching hangers.
I hadn't felt this much joy since I turned my first cartwheel.
Folks, if you don't want to live with a tangled hanger jungle looming over a knee-deep shoe pile with a janky-smelling laundry basket shoved in the corner, follow the 10 steps below. An organized, clutter-free closet guarantees you will begin and end your days with at least some part of your life under control:
1. Take everything out. Ooof! I know. It's ugly, and a hassle. But almost every organizing professional advises this, so I did it. Beware, as with any major organizing project, the situation looks worse before it looks better. Hang in there.
2. Size up then modify. Often, we default into making our clothes fit our current closet configuration instead of designing the space to fit our clothes. Assess your clothing by category. Decide what you want to hang, fold, or roll. (In general, fold and stack sweaters and sweatshirts. Hang dresses, shirts, slacks and skirts. File-fold items in drawers, so you can see the edge of each garment.) Make the structural changes - add shelving, another hanging rod, drawers, bins, or racks for shoes, belts, ties or scarves - to accommodate your edited (see steps 6 and 7) wardrobe.
3. Adjust to fit you. My closet's prior owner was at least six inches taller than I am. I had been stretching and cursing trying to reach high shelves. Why? This was my closet. I took the rods and shelves down a few pegs to accommodate my shorter clothes and height. Duh.
4. Use the whole wall. But I still made use of the two unreachable feet of space between the top shelf and ceiling. This is an ideal spot to store lesser-used items, such as suitcases, beach bags or snow wear. I keep a stepstool in the closet, so these items are always in reach.
5. Start with a clean slate. Because it's likely to be a long while before your closet is empty again, wipe down all the shelves, and sweep or vacuum the floor.
6. Shop your clothes. With all your clothes out of the closet, choose to keep, rather than choose to let go. In other words, rather than rifle through your clothes looking for what to get rid of, work in reverse. Hold up every item and ask yourself, "Would I buy this again for my life now?" Let the rest go.
7. Eliminate duplicates. As you cull the pile, don't just weed out the old, stained, worn, ill-fitting and unflattering. Look for redundancy. I had several pairs of black pants and black skirts. I kept my two or three favorites in each category, and donated the rest.
8. Have a trial separation pile. When waffling over a garment, rather than err on the side of keeping it, put it in a "trial separation" box. Revisit these items in a few months to make a final call. This way you don't lose momentum, or cling too much.
9. Unify your hangers. By far, the single biggest closet improvement I made, even better than donating two boxes of clothing, was trading out my plastic hangers for slim, velvet, non-slip hangers. One pack of 50 slim, non-slip hangers costs $24, about 50 cents each. Having uniform matching hangers ushered in order, and made a measurable difference. The new hangers are half the width of the plastic hangers I'd been using. (None of us is using wire hangers, right? Those all go back to the dry cleaners. Good. Just making sure.) A stack of 12 slim velvet hangers measures 2 inches; 12 plastic dress hangers measure 4 inches. So for every 12 garments on velvet non-slip hangers, I gained two inches of rod space. (Bonus: I gifted 130 plastic dress hangers through my city's Buy Nothing Project.)
10. Replace with care. Resist the temptation to put your clothes back as they were before. Think about what wasn't working - stacks were too deep, belts were tangled - and eliminate pain points. Organize by type of clothing, sleeve length, then color.
PS. Ignore the one-year rule. Whoever said you should get rid of any garment you haven't worn in a year never spent $100 on a piece of clothing, been pregnant, skipped the holiday party, or lived under a stay-at-home order for a year. If it still fits, is in good condition, you like it and would wear it again, keep it. Recency of use should not be your criteria.
Photo caption: Resolving hang-ups — Replacing an assortment of mismatched hangers with thinner ones of all one type and color brought order and breathing space to a chaotic, crammed closet. Photos courtesy of Marni Jameson