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Order Out of Chaos: The Closet

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A feng-shui and decluttering expert explains the secrets of the well-organized closet.

The big unavoidable — that’s what I call the bedroom closet. You can leave the house without eating breakfast (not that you should), but in most parts of the world, you really cannot go out without first putting on some clothes. When your closet is easy to navigate, it allows you to start the day gracefully. That’s harder when the day begins with a war between two wire hangers refusing to release your favorite shirt. Here’s how I helped Experience Life’s manager of digital initiatives, Jamie Martin, get her busy days off to a better start.

The Challenge

On the morning of the decluttering session, I sat in Jamie’s spotless dining room while she cheerfully explained how she and her husband “moved in on a Friday, threw our stuff in the closet, and haven’t changed it since.”

Most of us can identify. Because other people rarely see our closets, they tend to be a low housekeeping and design priority. But having a good system for keeping closets well organized isn’t just an aesthetic concern; it’s a huge factor in how pleasantly you start your day — and how efficiently.

Keeping your closets easy to navigate — endowing them with  “breath” and “good energy flow” — is a central goal of feng shui. As you can see from the “before” photo above, there was not a lot of flow in Jamie’s closet. In fact, it was nearly impossible to get around. Shoes were piled on the floor, clothing was jammed on mismatched wire hangers that got tangled and refused to give up their garments, and sweaters were piled overhead. The drawers of the dresser were filled to overflowing and required a muscular struggle to open. Even the door barely opened, thanks to a cluster of bathrobes hung behind it.

My mission: to create a pleasing space for Jamie to get dressed in the morning, where she can easily find and access what she needs without frustration. A place where energy can move.

Before I could do that, however, everything had to come out of the closet. We examined every shoe and sweater, and sorted them into separate categories: “keep,” “recycle/donate,” “trash” and “giveaway for family and friends.” We dusted and vacuumed every surface. Then we began establishing the systems that would keep the closet in good working order.

A System That Works

One of the main things we wanted to create in this small space was a sense of “breath.” So the first order of business was to make sure only wearable, wanted clothes went back into the closet. Jamie put her husband’s infrequently worn clothes into a pile that he could sort himself, and we went through the rest of hers together. She got rid of everything with stains or holes and put nice but no-longer-wanted items in the “giveaway” bin. (I recommend a twice-yearly wardrobe sorting, as seasons change.) We hung the remaining clothes on a mix of matching wooden and plastic swivel hangers. These streamline the look of the closet and reduce the amount of “visual sorting” the brain must do when scanning for a shirt.

To offset the oppressive feeling created by the piles on the overhead shelves, I placed fabric bins there to hold sweaters and sweatshirts that get worn less often. The bins are easy to take down and sort through, and there’s no threat of pulling down a whole pile of clothes for one shirt. I also put a small bin on the dresser top for Jamie’s workout tanks to facilitate easy daily access.

It’s best to store shoes off the floor, where they scatter easily and make it hard to walk. I moved Jamie’s shoes to a set of shelves that she reclaimed from another part of the house, and her boots to another set of low shelves next to the door.

Smooth and easy openings are critical to energy flow, so I addressed the drawers and door. My two-pronged solution to the stubborn drawers: Get rid of extra clothes, and get the runners waxed for smoother operation. Jamie’s husband installed a hook on the wall for the bathrobes, so the door can now open fully.

Finally, we put some pretty framed artwork and a photo of their infant daughter on the walls, so even if the closet gets a little messy again, this bit of beauty will still be the first thing they look at. A much nicer way to start the day than a hanger war.

Andrea Gerasimo is a certified feng-shui and decluttering expert. Learn more about her work at www.thirdmountain.com.