Moving to a house with smaller closets has forced me to get smarter about closet organizing. In my new place, closet space isn't just smaller overall, but the master closet area is divided into three closets: his, hers and I don't want to go there.
Because I purged when I packed to move, all the clothes I brought to my new digs are staying. Every garment fits, looks good, the zippers work, and nothing bears some sorry hope of coming back in style.
As I set about organizing my new closets, I knew they would have to meet minimum standards: no belt snake pit, no sweater stack that comes with an avalanche warning and no hangers so tangled they look like they've been in a barroom brawl.
More than that, what I really wanted was a closet so organized that I could pull together an outfit without taking a step.
I started by sorting. I grouped clothing by color, then by season. I divided clothes into fat days and skinny days, by short and long, by categories (pants and blouses), and by function (work, casual and dressy).
To help I called Lisa Engel, vice president of marketing for ClosetMaid, knew my pain. "Moving is a major closet-makeover trigger," she said, sympathizing. Other ones are having a baby and getting married.
The recession is also having an impact. "Before, when people got married or had a baby, they often got a bigger place," she said. "Now people are stuck, so they're making the closet space they have work harder."
To help my get the most out of my closets, Engel shared some inside-the-closet scoop. Here, she said, is what most consumers don't know:
• How much space a standard closet wastes. The typical eight-foot-wide wall closet with a pole and a shelf holds eight feet of hanging clothes and eight feet of stacked folded clothes on the shelf. That same closet with a system can hold nine feet of hanging space, 17 feet of shelves for folded items, plus drawers and racks for belts and shoes.
• Spending more on a closet system does not add function. After a point, additional cost buys strictly looks. For a relatively minimal investment, you can have a wire closet system that does everything a pricey cherry wood system does: organize and add useful, differentiated space.
• It's best to make your closet fit your clothes, not vice versa. DIYers often install systems without first measuring their stuff, then try to make their stuff fit. Instead, first size up your contents - after you've pared them down. Measure how many feet of long-hanging items you have. Start your plan there, then add upper and lower hanging racks for short hanging items. Next add a shelf tower, bins, and racks for ties, scarves and belts.
• The difference good hangers make. The best hangers curve like shoulders to keep garments in their ideal shape, but contoured hangers can hog space. Next best are flat, thick ( 1/2-inch) wood or plastic hangers, which take less room. In a perfect closet, all hangers would match. At the very least, wire hangers need to go. Give them back to the cleaners.
• The best way to organize clothes is by season. The primary rule of closet organizing is put what you wear most within easy reach, said Engel. And that changes with the season. For now archive items you won't wear until the weather cools. Consider under-the-bed storage boxes. After that, how you arrange your clothes is personal. Men like to organize by color, she said, women by sleeve length and category.
• Don't hang what you should fold. Also don't hide what you should see. Fold and stack t-shirts, sweaters and exercise wear, and don't keep shoes or jewelry in boxes, which waste space, and make you forget what you have hidden.
• It doesn't have to be permanent. Homeowners often panic about what happens when their storage needs change. Buy systems you can adjust. This way you won't worry if you make a planning mistake. Plus, you can take flexible systems with you when you move, which you may not have to do if you get the closets right.
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Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of "House of Havoc" and "The House Always Wins" (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com