Professional closet organizer Mary Mobley (212-330-6982) practices what she preaches; she lives in a 360-square-foot apartment on the Upper East Side with her husband, child, and cat—and one closet. During her first, free visit, she interviews clients to understand how they live and what they can get rid of (a banker turned baker doesn’t need suits anymore). She also gently coaxes the sentimental to reduce keepsakes to one object per life event, instead of ten. Once she’s assessed your living space, she’ll shop with you to get the right storage solution, and even hammer up a plywood shelf. Mobley charges $60 an hour and is usually able to schedule an appointment within a week. She’s worked with some people over months to de-clutter; others just need one visit and some advice. “It can be scary,” she says, “but there’s a lot of freedom in having less.”
If you decide to actually tackle the closet instead of just talking about it, enlist a friend. A thorough, deep weeding takes at least two days or sixteen full hours (allowing for occasional burnout). Psychology is important here; you need an outside authority to help you let go of college-era T-shirts. Make it manageable by breaking down the closet into smaller sub-spaces: the hanging bar, the floor, the shelf, even the front and the back.
Gather a supply of boxes and garbage bags, plus a broom or vacuum. Clear space on the floor and surfaces of the room so you can empty the closet. Divide everything into four piles: daily use, storage, charity, and junk. (Don’t bother with “sell”: Professional organizers say most people never get to selling anything. If you’re determined to try, get rid of it quickly using eBay resellers like iSold It or AuctionDrop.) Establish cutoff dates: If there was a different mayor in office the last time you used or wore that thing, out it goes.
Take out the junk pile (along with the empty hangers). Put the charity pile in bags and bring it to the nearest Goodwill (212-874-5050) or Housing Works (212-366-0820). If clothing is the bulk of your donation, call the Salvation Army (800-958-7825) to schedule a pickup. Sweep or vacuum, and stop for the day, even though you have two piles left. Reloading and establishing an organizational system is best done with a clear head.
Next, tackle storage. The Home Depot and The Container Store have hanging shelves that can make up for absent furniture, and are more space-efficient than putting every garment on a hanger. Hanging shoe bags will get footwear off the floor. Every hardware store sells folding cardboard boxes for storing winter clothes (don’t forget cedar blocks or mothballs).
When you refill the closet, organize what’s left by color, fabric, season, or end use (work clothes together, weekend clothes, and so on). But keep the system simple; the idea is to not need to do it again next year.
Hefty garbage bags … $10.99
for one box at Ace Hardware (160 W. Broadway, nr. Worth St.; 212-571-3788)
Hanging shelves … $17.98
at The Home Depot
Shoe bags … $9.99
at Target (139 Flatbush Ave., nr. Tech Pl., Downtown Brooklyn; 718-290-1109)
Cedar blocks … $2.49
at The Container Store (629 Sixth Ave., at 19th St.; 212-366-4200)
Cardboard storage boxes … $4.99
at The Container Store
Any empty space can be turned into storage; Mobley hangs an organizer with pockets on one of her doors.