How to Organize Your Closet

Real Style on 03.14.11
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Photo: The Container Store

Spring is here, which means that soon it will be time to put away your heavy winter clothes and get out something a little lighter (thank goodness). This is a perfect time to rethink your closet; start with a thorough clean out, to assess what you have and what you need. Once you’ve done that -- and have whittled your wardrobe down to only those pieces that you really wear -- rethink your organization.

We tend to think of our clothes in categories -- work clothes, for example, or casual clothes or date night/dress up clothes. Often, we organize our closets along these lines, because it just seems easier to have all the work clothes together, right? Not necessarily.

Organizing clothing by category can be limiting. Instead of thinking about your closet in terms of where you go in each piece -- the office, playgroup, church -- think about each item individually, and then rethink your categories.

Sort by type. Rather than hanging all the work clothes together, think about hanging all of the like clothes together -- hang jackets with jackets, skirts with skirts, and so on. Break up suits; you’ll get more wear out of them if you make a point of considering them as separates rather than as a single garment. Within each set, organize by small differences -- jackets with three-quarter sleeves first, with long-sleeved jackets next, for example.

Why this works: Thinking about pieces outside the box of “work” or “casual” means you’re more likely to wear them. The jacket from your navy suit, for example, is perfect with your dark wash jeans for a Saturday of running errands.

Sort by color. If you’ve cleaned out your closet but you’re still not sure what you have, try organizing everything by color; a simple Roy G. Biv approach works well for most closets (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet). Black and white (or gray and cream) pieces should also go together. Within each color block, arrange pieces by characteristic -- sleeveless tops, then short sleeved, then long sleeved.

Why this works: We tend to gravitate toward the same colors over and over, which can mean buying multiple green sweaters. Organizing by color gives you a sense both of what is appealing to you (my closet is heavy on blue button-down shirts and little black dresses) and what you’re overbuying (you don’t need four green sweaters -- trust me).

Sort by outfit. If the idea of staring at a closet full of separates stresses you out, think about organizing your clothes by outfit. While this approach takes more time initially -- after all, you have to create all those outfits -- it can substantially speed up your mornings. Keep in mind that the goal is to break the categories rut -- don’t just hang your suits with some white shirts and call them outfits. Mix things up -- hang the skirt from your black suit with a bright pink blouse, for example, or the same suit’s jacket with your jeans and a sparkly tank from the “dress up” category. Need more help? Use post-it notes to detail shoe and accessory choices; stick these on the hangars.

Why this works: This is a particularly efficient strategy for working moms, who are often trying to do ten things at once in the morning, including getting dressed for the office. Having your clothes sorted by outfit means you don’t have to spend time thinking about what to wear while you’re also trying to sign a field trip permission slip and find everyone’s shoes.

The bottom line is this: when your closet is organized, it’s easier to see what you have and decide what to wear. Find a system that works for you and stick with it; keep a laundry basket in your closet for dry clean or hand wash item, and put pieces away where they belong, rather than tossing them any old place. Making the effort to get organized will streamline your morning and change the way you dress. I promise.


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