Organize Your Closet

This week, you can

• Clean out and reorganize your closet
• Make a space for your soon-to-arrive maternity wardrobe
• Designate items for charity donation and/or giving to friends

CLOTHING TENDS TO BE an emotional issue for most women. I often see clients hanging onto multiple-sized wardrobes in the same closet. Hormones can cause some women’s bodies to blow up and shrink down faster than tires in a tack factory. And that’s just during menses or after a heavily salted meal! Now your body is expanding for a different reason. This is the perfect time to clean out the space so it will be easier to use for the next year or so.

After your pregnancy, even if you return to the exact same weight you were before, it’s likely that your body is going to redistribute your weight differently. So it might be time to take a second look at those teeny tiny T-shirts you’ve been saving since college. We need to make room for a fabulous new wardrobe. In a few weeks’ time, we’ll tackle the rest of the bedroom. You’ll have a true sanctuary by the time your baby comes home from the hospital.


First things first: see if a girlfriend (who isn’t pregnant) can volunteer to help be your hands and feet today. Don’t feel guilty if you need to sit down during this process. You’ve got the toughest part to play: making decisions.

It doesn’t help if you are ready to let go and your partner isn’t. You’ve got to make unfettered decisions about your stuff. Let me say that again for emphasis: your stuff. No one should toss another person’s things without permission unless the person in question is five or under.

It’s time to gather your supplies and get started. You’ll want several heavy-duty garbage bags to hold clothes for donation as well as items to be tossed. Most people also find things that need to be returned to loved ones and friends. And of course we’re likely to encounter a few items that were surely meant to live elsewhere in the home. Set aside a few hours one day for eliminating and distribution; a few hours of shopping on another day to pick up any supplies you need; and a final day to put the pieces of the puzzle together. You can also shop online or send a friend out to shop for you. Be sure you have healthy snacks on hand and lots of water. If you are feeling at all nauseous, be sure the food isn’t highly aromatic.


You have two main objectives today. You want to create space in the front of your closet for the maternity clothes you need to purchase. (I’ll have guidelines for you next week covering every aspect of the process: shopping, borrowing, and of course organizing.) And you need to keep nearby the items that will serve you from your current wardrobe until you get to the “final expansion.” Think billowy sundresses, for example. Your other objective is to get the clothing that you weren’t even wearing before you became pregnant out of the house. You don’t want to live with the clutter. Nor do you want to be tempted to sneak a few items back into the closet. Trust your instincts.
The most creative and expansive step in the Magic Formula (eliminate, categorize, organize) is eliminating. Don’t be surprised if you’re more tired than you anticipated when you’re done today. It won’t be from the physical labor involved. Decision making wears all of my clients out. It’s an important skill to have and there’s no better time to practice than today in your closet.

Of course the Magic Formula isn’t just about tossing things out permanently or setting them aside for several months. It’s also about putting the items you are keeping back in your closet in related categories. When I teach the Magic Formula in my seminars, I always use the closet as an example because we all have at least one and clothing categories are pretty universal. To wit: tops, sweaters, jeans, slacks, suits, shoes, and so on. Wondering how to make the clothing categories functional and beautiful? Read on! I’ve got the tips and tricks professional organizers use listed below.
Before we start, an important note. Do not remove items on hangers. If you pile them on your bed, you will only succeed in wrinkling the ones that return to the closet.
Immediately pull off and throw away the plastic covers that have come home from the cleaners. They seal in the chemicals, some of which may be carcinogenic. You don’t want to breathe in those chemicals the next time you wear that item, especially if it has been covered for several months.
Now look for empty hangers and remove them all. Throw away the cheap wire ones that come home from the cleaners with you. They destroy clothing over time.
Next, I want you to work one section of your closet at a time. Mark off about a foot of hanging clothes with your eyes and pretend that whatever hangs in that area is all your closet holds. Look at one item at a time. Most things you will have an immediate reaction to; when you aren’t sure, ask yourself some questions. When was the last time I wore this? Is it still in style? Does it look good on me? Does it represent a special time now past?

There are organizers who will tell you the “rule” is to toss one item when you purchase something new. Still others will say if you haven’t worn something in six months or a year, it should go. I think these rules are arbitrary. If they work for you, that’s great. Use them. But the reason you haven’t worn something is usually lodged in something emotional. You can make a better decision if you figure what bonds you to this item. If it’s an experience or a special time in your life, for example, do you have a photo of yourself in the item? Why not put that photo in a scrapbook or a small shadow box instead. Attach a swatch of the fabric. You’ll have a fitting memento without clogging up your closet.
Items that are frayed, hopelessly out of style, torn, or stained should go into the trash bag immediately.
Items that are decade-specific and in good condition can be donated to the local community theater (gigantic shoulder pads or wide bell-bottoms, anyone?)
After you are finished with the hanging clothes, go through your shoes. This is usually a big task for most women. Be fearless when it comes to eliminating items like sky-high heels. Your feet are likely to grow larger over the course of your pregnancy. And unless you are in politics, the entertainment industry, or the upper echelons of business, glamorous evenings out are probably over for a few years. They will be replaced by days at the park and the zoo. Hang on to the shoes that offer good support.
The next big category in your closet will be handbags. Do you really need twelve black purses? You’re on a roll. Don’t hold back now!
Most women have large sweater and scarf collections, especially if they live in a four-season climate. Check for moth holes, stains, and other signs of wear. If you have expensive cashmere, consider taking some items to a tailor for repair. If these are inexpensive garments that are past their prime, pass them on to a charity. By the way, if you don’t already have a favorite charity, call around and see if there is a women’s shelter in your city. You’ll be helping someone start a new life.
If you have been working in corporate America, you probably have a collection of suits. Are you going back to work soon after the birth? If you plan to take several years off, consider donating your suits to Dress for Success. You will help a woman enter the workforce by giving her a beautiful suit to wear for her interview. When you are ready to return to work in a few years, you’ll probably want a new wardrobe. Save one or two suits at most if you have several.

After clothing has been eliminated for charity donation or set aside for friends and family, you can start categorizing. Go back to your closet and look at the items you wish to keep but know you won’t fit into for quite some time. You might as well put these away for a bit. You need the space for that maternity wardrobe you’ll be creating soon. Space bags are a wonderful way to store these things. Place your clothes in the bag and suck out the air with a vacuum cleaner. Your clothing will literally shrink before your eyes. When you need them again, just open the bag. It has the same type of closure as a zip-top food storage bag. Voila! Nothing has been ruined. It has been waiting to serve you again.

There are space bags that hang in the closet and others that are flat and can be stuffed on a high shelf. The only item that doesn’t work well in a space bag is one that is designed to “puff up.” Think comforters and pillows and you’ll get the idea.

Alternatively, if you are blessed with a large walk-in closet, you might simply store items you wish to keep but won’t be using in the far back. Perhaps you have a large home with a guest room closet you can commandeer for this purpose?


In the best of all possible worlds, no closet would house anything except clothing. In reality, I usually find a mishmash of all sorts of items. The most common are fans, small weights, memorabilia, and photos. What’s a new mom to do? If there is no other logical place for such items to be located, store them in your closet as discreetly as possible. Most closets have a huge space between one existing shelf and the ceiling. Create a second shelf by placing a brace on each side and laying a piece of lumber across. Your local home store will cut the lumber to your specifications. You can leave it plain, cover it with decorative contact paper, stain it, or paint it. I vote for plain. This high shelf will enable you to put miscellaneous items away until you are ready to deal with them.

Try and break the “I’ll just shove this here” syndrome. It’s not something you want to teach your child. Rather, cultivate the art of making decisions. Use the Magic Formula when deciding the fate of every item that enters the home. Ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” If the answer is “Yes,” the next question is “Do I have other related items?” When you identify the right category, work the new item into the system. It seems huge to you now because it’s a new way of thinking. Give it a few weeks and you’ll find it will become quite simply how you process information, whether it’s a new purchase, the incoming mail, or that thingamajig in the back of your closet.


What do professional organizers do in a closet? I’m going to give you our top secrets to help you make your closet more functional and beautiful. Decide which ones you’d like to employ. If a purchase is necessary, The Container Store is my favorite source for products (and I’m not a paid spokesperson!). First, their quality is outstanding. If you purchase cheap or flimsy products, you’re going to have to replace things frequently, and over time you’ll be wasting money. Second, if you discover you need more of a particular item, you can bet The Container Store will still carry it in six months or a year. A mishmash of organizing tools in a closet can make it as crazy as an unorganized one.

Here, in no particular order, are a few of my favorite things when it comes to closets.

1. Use one type of hanger throughout the closet for uniformity and visual appeal. Wood hangers do the least harm to your clothes. There are other great choices: hangers (originally from the Home Shopping Network and now in stores) that have a sticky fabric that prevents garments from falling off, tubular hangers, and thin, clear plastic ones.
2. Face your clothes in the same direction, preferably facing the door if it’s a walk-in closet. This is how department stores make their apparel appealing and easy to find.
3. Group related items: Shirts, slacks, jeans, suits, and shoes all go together. This cuts down on time when you know what type of garment you need.
4. Arrange all groups in color order. This gives the closet a restful appearance and makes finding items within a category a snap. If something isn’t where you expect it, try the laundry or the dry cleaners. I use the following order: white/off white; beige/brown; blue/ purple; pink/red; yellow/green; gray/ black.
5. If you really want a closet that looks like a pro did it, within the colors arrange by “style.” For example, with blouses I do sleeveless, short sleeved, then long. I keep patterns behind solids. If your head just exploded at the idea of giving this much attention to clothing detail, don’t worry. Just keep those colors together!
6. Shoes need to be off the floor. Over-the-door canvas shoe bags are great for sneakers and exercise shoes. Expanding shoe racks are great for shoes with any kind of a heel. Those evening shoes you’re going to save for the next time you get to dress up like Cinderella can go into an acrylic shoe drawer and sit on a high shelf. Or, if you have several pairs, you can stack several shoe drawers on the floor of your closet.
7. Avoid hangers that hold multiple pairs of slacks. When you are in a hurry, you will reach for one and three will fall to the floor.
8. Sweaters can be stored in stacks on the shelf or in acrylic sweater drawers. Some people like sweater bags. If you go that route, be sure you get the ones with a clear front so you don’t have to unzip the bag to view the contents.
9. There’s a wonderful item called a shelf divider that will keep your categories separated. But you need a wooden shelf to snap it onto!
10. I like my purses lined up in color order and I use tissue paper so they keep their shape. I keep the tissue inside a cloth bag (the kind that some shoes and many purses come with). The tissue goes in and out in one piece.
11. If you don’t have a light in the closet, try one or two of the battery-operated, portable lights you can stick on the wall. It’s so important to be able to see your clothes. And if you are blessed with a light, use a good-sized bulb. Black and blue look an awful lot alike in a dim light!
12. Finally a word about closets with sliding doors. They are a nightmare, aren’t they? You would best be served to remove the doors and put up a simple bamboo shade. You can lower it when you expect company and keep it up the rest of the time. This will give you added incentive to stay organized as the closet contents are clearly on display. If you must keep the sliding doors, arrange your clothes in the order you put them on. That way you won’t be returning to a section over and over. Each door will slide once.


I’ve had many clients walk in to see their newly organized closets and burst into tears. They tell me they wish they could sleep that night in the closet because it’s the most restful place in their home. It may sound lofty, but you’ll have the same reaction when you have followed these simple directions. Again, please do ask someone to come and help you. This project is exhausting even when you aren’t pregnant.

But in a few months when your baby has arrived and you need to move like greased lightning, you’ll be so grateful you took the time to organize your closet. The time you save will quickly outstrip the time you spent working on this project. And there’s another perk hidden in this project. Children aren’t born organized. They learn the skill from their parents. You will organize your child’s closet using the same guidelines and techniques. And she’ll just naturally grow up an organized person. Now doesn’t that just make you want to jump up and switch out hangers?
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