The word closet can have several meanings. The one most commonly accepted is a place for storage of clothes. It can also mean a state or condition of secrecy or carefully guarded privacy. And for some, the two meanings merge together.
While some closet keepers may try their best at tidiness and organization, they -- actually, I should include myself and say we -- would prefer that our dirty little secret, the condition of our closets, stay exclusively with us.
As I show homes on the market, I note that most prospective buyers will open every closet in the house they’re exploring. If a house is properly prepared for showing, all closets are usually beautifully organized, varying most by the amount of clothing or other items they hold. There have been a few cases, however, when clients have opened a mess of a closet and fear that they have poached on really private territory.
Closets that invariably are best organized are those that have been planned by one of the closet system companies, and there are many, both national in scope and small, local businesses. Whether utilizing budget materials or polished, solid wood and handsome fixtures, these closets are well designed and installed. With their features of perfectly measured shelving, hanging poles at varying heights, shoe racks, and drawers – there is more incentive to go with the flow. They seem to beg their owners to make use of their basic purpose: organization.
Surely we would all prefer walk-in closets with a professional system neatly installed, but the plain truth of the matter is that the greater majority of us live in older homes that do not have them. Instead, we have linear closets, usually six to 10 feet in width, starting out with the basics of a single hanging bar and a long, continuous shelf above it. It never seems to offer enough space for the average person who dresses herself/himself for work every day.
I happen to be one of those people. I live in an historic house with no “official” closets. In the 1700s when the house was built, most clothing was folded and stored in chests. Outer garments were just placed on hooks. One of our first projects when my wife and I bought this home was to hire a carpenter to tuck in closets in those alcoves created on both ends of a fireplace wall. My wife and I are lucky in that we have enough bedrooms in the house to make dressing rooms for each of us out of two smaller bedrooms that also include built-in closets.
But even that did not seem to be enough space, so we doubled our clothes hanging capacity in our dressing rooms by making use of the high ceilings and utilizing two wooden hanging bars, one as high as we could reach and the other half way down. That trick obviates the possibility of hanging pants or dresses straight down in some of the closets, but that’s an acceptable trade off.
As for organizing a traditional closet, I don’t set myself up as the model. In fact, I’m the antithesis of the model. Mind you, I’m not sloppy about my clothes. It’s just that there is no rhyme or reason to how they’re organized. My clothes are arranged loosely according to suits, sports jackets, pants and shirts, separated by dress and casual categories.
As for ties, of which I have about two hundred (Seriously - I guess I’m the Imelda Marcos of ties), I’ve devised a massive self-devised tie rack on the back of each closet door in my dressing room and bedroom, made from dozens of old wall hooks. My wife, Miss Organization that she is, suggested that I arrange them by color, but I have my own system that works better for me. I place separate hooks for stripes, polka dots (of which I have a preponderance as a polka dot fan), solids and odd pattern ties.
Sometimes I manage to sort my shirts by color group, but that lasts only about a week and mystically they all meld into one patchwork of color and pattern. I suspect that my shirts and other clothing conspire against me while I sleep. I console myself by saying that by the time I place our home on the market, I’ll get my act together so that I won’t be humiliated by the prospect of potential buyers opening those closet doors. But, I’ll probably need a professional organizer for the task. Then again, I could plead with my wife Margaret to help me do the job.
My wife could throw open her closet doors at any time, prepared or not, to Westchester Magazine, The New York Times, the Journal News and the AP and the UPI (as we used to say when UPI still existed). Here she shares her system of “ordinary” closet” organization with me for The Examiner’s readers.
“It’s easier to be organized than not,” Margaret explains. “First, I separate by season. Then, according to dress, business or casual clothing. Then, by color,” she ticks off.
“And here are my hard rules for making it all easier from the get-go,” she continues. “If you haven’t worn an article of clothing during the past 12 months, chances are you won’t wear it during the next 12 months either, so just discard it. If it’s in good shape, give it to charity. And, when you buy a new article of clothing, discard an article in the same category.” (These last two advisories were given for my benefit, I’m sure, because of my addiction to buying ties, some of which have reached historic collection status).
“Next, ‘display’ clothes so you can see them,” she advises without having to take a moment to gather her thoughts. “Even shoes should be in transparent boxes. If you see them, you’ll wear them. Other tips: Don’t store anything but clothes in your clothes closet because other items will just collect dust which in turn will fall on the clothes. And, buy the same type of hangers because mixed hangers take up more space.
“Finally, arrange for good lighting inside the closet, which brings a whole host of benefits, including an easier path toward organization. It can be as simple as one of those new and efficient battery-powered lights.”
Being that wonderful creature known as woman, she throws in a couple of niceties that a man would probably never think of: “Use scented paper for closet shelves (I didn’t know there was such a thing!) and consider a moisture control container too, to keep everything pleasant.”
I’m ready to follow my wife’s advice, with the possible exception of using scented paper, so that some day soon, my own closet can come out of the closet.
Bill Primavera is a residential and commercial realtor affiliated with Coldwell Banker and a lifestyles journalist who writes regularly as The Home Guru. Visit his website at: www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com and, if you would like consultation about buying or selling a home, contact him directly at 914-522-2076.