Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Slaying the Closet Monster – Part 1

Imagine if you only had an armoire to arrange your wardrobe. At least you would know what you own and organization would be imperative.

Marie-Therese Norris, French wardrobe consultant extraordinare and creator of the blog, 
The French Touch, is back to tell us about closet organization which she does for her clients. In our pre-post conversation we both agreed this is a subject that has been discussed to death, but I insisted I would love to hear her take on the challenge. 

Here she offers the preliminaries, next week she will tell us what happens after the purge.

The last time we were together, Ladies, I had to rush off to do battle with a closet monster. Tish thought you might be interested in a few of my dragon-slaying techniques.

In the opera “Siegfried,” the title character goes into a dark and foreboding forest to slay a dragon that guards a cave full of gold. Our young hero is handsome, fearless and totally clueless about life and love. Not his fault, really. Orphaned at birth, he was raised in that same dark forest by an evil dwarf who plans to poison Siegfried as soon as the dragon is slain so he can get his hands on the gold.

Armed only with a magic sword, Siegfried slays the dragon and, after tasting the beast’s blood, is granted the power to understand the songs of the forest creatures and read the hearts and minds of men.

While it would be really helpful to have a magic sword and dragon’s blood handy, I must use more mundane means to slay the monster in my clients' closets.

Before I arrive at the precipice of her deep, dark closet, I ask my client to do two things:

1) Segregate or remove out-of-season clothes (we’ll get to them next season).

2) Set aside the clothes she would normally wear within a period of a week or so. (This gives me a clue to her lifestyle and favorite “go-to” pieces.)

Because Wardrobe Consultations are intense, emotional and draining for the client, I usually schedule several sessions, normally lasting no more than three hours each. The clothes in a woman’s closet represent her life, so I need to be firm but gentle.

Just looking at this makes me nervous.
Step 1: I make four piles:

“T” for Toss – items that are beyond saving or wearing.

“F” for Fix – keeper items that need some TLC (i.e., cleaning, missing buttons, hem repair, alterations, re-invention).

“D” for Donate – items that are in good repair but don’t work for the client (i.e., out-of-style, don’t fit, etc.).

“S” for Sentiment – items that client holds onto for sentimental reasons (more on that later).

Step 2: I make a quick scan of the closet as if I were flipping through books of wallpaper samples to eliminate items that really jump out at me as totally wrong – wrong color, wrong cut, jackets from the ‘80s, tee shirts with logos or “witty” sayings, such as “I’m with Stupid,” sweat shirts that tell the world “Jack’s Firehouse Has Great Eats,” etc.

You get the idea.

Step 3: I evaluate the “go-to” pieces, which can run the gamut from stay-at-home Mom to work-place/professional clothes. As more women work from home, I am seeing less work-place/professional clothes among the “go-to” pieces and more over-sized tee-shirts and sweats, the outfit of choice for the busy American woman.

She hits the ground running in the morning and doesn’t stop until she collapses, exhausted, into bed at night. The last time she bought a sexy “Date Night” outfit she was 30 pounds thinner. Now, when she squeezes into it, instead of saying, “Let’s Go Out to Dinner, Honey,” it says “Hi, Sailor, lookin’ for a good time?”

Step 4: With the List of Wardrobe Basics as a guide, we go through the closet together to see if the client already has some of these important pieces. Sometimes we get lucky; sometimes we don’t.

Step 5: This is the most exhausting Step. From this point on, we will look at and, if needed, try on every piece and make a decision. Keepers are moved to the front of the closet to be arranged later. Everything else gets tossed onto one of the four piles.

A well-organized closet, yes, but an essential detail is missing. . .
If the client does not have a favorite charity, I always recommend taking the Donation pile to the Good Will or the Salvation Army. Holiday-themed sweaters are always a big favorite among the residents of St. Mary’s Catholic Home, where I donate my time and where my Mother has lived for the last four years. They absolutely adore anything in bright, festive colors with Easter bunnies, Christmas kitties and puppies with Santa hats, and so on.

The items on the Sentimental pile are usually the hardest to part with. Often they represent something or someone special from the client’s past – the sweater that Grammy Emmy knitted for her when she went off to college; the pink dress that got her elected Prom Queen; the macramé vest she was wearing the night she met her husband…..and so it goes.

One could get sentimental about Siegfried, n'est-ce pas?
If she has room in her closet, I tell her to keep them (I do have a heart!), but to put them way, way in the back and “please promise me you will never, ever wear them!!”

At the end of three hours, there is a fifth pile labeled “C” for Client, as she lies in a heap, exhausted but happy. I told you this would be exhausting; but it’s worth it.

Get control of your closet; get control of your life.

Sometimes, I think I’m getting a bit too old to slay dragons, but I know I’ll feel better after a long, hot soak and a very large Kir.

Next up, we put my client’s closet back together. I’ll tell you about some surprising things I’ve found in closets, give you some quick tips and -- throw a few other things into the mix.

A plus tard.


josina said...

great post! i'm always doing a battle as I am a great hoarder; when i lose wieght , I will wear this again;it willcome back into fashion.....

Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

it may be over discussed, but I needed thank you for discussing one more time. Closet purge is first on my list for my brief time off next week...I will the guidelines and see how I do. I am printing this post to keep by me as I work!!

Vicki Lee Johnston said...

Oh dear after travelling to France I have come home and want to throw the whole lot out and start again.
But being raised in a thrifty family and raised to appreciate what we have - I am fighting the need to not be wasteful versus the desire to downsize, declutter and redefine ... I need help ..

kathy peck said...

You've caught me at the right time - in the middle of the different piles. Need to buy some more hangars before I put things back together again. It's very odd when I'm getting rid of so much, that I need more hangars, but it's true?

RebeccaNYC said...

The Siegfried stuff made me laugh out loud. I work at the Met and have been looking that stupid dragon in the eye every time I'm backstage. Now I get to think about it when I'm in my closet! Great post.

frugalscholar said...

It's harder when you don't have the stuff that's easy to get rid of: I don't own any tees with sayings, holiday sweaters, etc. Most of my clothing is "the right stuff." However, I do have a closet about the size of that armoire, so I am continually reassessing.

Joni James said...

This is cool! And, my closet IS a wardrobe just like the one above. I have to constantly remove items to make room for new.

French Girl in Seattle said...

MA chère M-T, so happy to see you here again, on Tish's blog. Another lovely post: It includes your signature blend of humor, creativity and, well, practicality. All great advice. You have inspired me to keep sorting out my closet (and I already spent a couple of hours in there last Sunday.) A bientôt, Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

My closet is not much bigger than that wardrobe but I do have an of season wardrobe like that in the lower level of the Humble Bungalow.
It is time to swap the clothes for the summer now and I will be culling what no longer works for me.

Vast walk in closets fascinate me...
when my son and his wife newly married bought their home and we toured the matching side by side walk in closets I blurted out oh look you could make one of these into a nursery! (oops!)

BigLittleWolf said...

What a great post!

I have such a problem with that "T" for toss... especially when it's clothing I "invested" in, and it's 5 pounds out of reach...

I can't bear to toss or give it away. But I can't wear it. (Is there a statute of limitations on this tendency?)

7 years?


Anonymous said...

Great, and much needed, post! I'm "slaying" my closet this weekend! I've been putting it off since April 1st...2008' just kidding! This has given me the inspiration and tools to get it done! I also plan to take some of the items nicer items I love, but can no longer wear, to consignment in hopes that someone else will love them as much as I do! Thanks for an excellent post!

Jill Ann said...

I've been working on my closet for some time now. I have a big walk-in, but it's packed full. It holds many of my smaller size work clothes (although I haven't worked in an office for 7 years). There are also large sized clothes of all varieties, which I am happily reducing my way out of. And multiples of many things; at one point I found four pairs of beige capris, all in the same size!

Since embarking on my weight loss scheme a year ago, I've lost 50 lb (yay!) and have slowly but steadily weeded out items as they became too big. The other main category of culled items is smaller size clothes which I've held on to for the 10 years I was overweight, and which now fit, but are unfortunately out of style. And will never come back in style!

I still want to lose 10 lb more, so I haven't done the final cull. But I am resolved to get rid of everything that doesn't fit perfectly, both on my body and in my lifestyle. And I will quit buying multiples! I'm sure I'll always have Too Much Stuff, but I will make it way more manageable. Better quality, smaller quantity.

Duchesse said...

The two meetings I had with an organizer/image consultant like you were some of the most productive hours I've ever spent, and her lessons have endured.

Many of you will think "Oh, I can just do this myself" but please get a pro- you will *not* see with unbiased eyes and you will not cull as much. It's a terrific service.

Duchesse said...

to BigLittleWolf: The person I worked with said, "I don't care what you paid for it, if it's wrong and you've only had it for a month (and it is not a matter of alteration), it goes." The pain is short and sharp but when it's gone you cannot even recall what it was.

webb said...

A good post indeed. I think cleaning out the closet is like quitting smoking - you have to be ready to do it or it doesn't stick.

I share two mid-sized walkin closets with my husband, so keep one season in each and swap out twice a year. I think that actually helps... not much space for my clothes (he has 2/3 on the premise that his clothes are larger and I tend to toss the stuff that didn't work last year instead of putting it in the closet this year.

I think we all need to commit to follow M-T's plan and combine it with one or two of Vivienne's color designs and only purchase new things that will fit into our color plan. I am hoping that will slow the increase in bulk!

HandMade Gifts and Souvenirs said...

Great and useful post. I share my closet with my husband...Organization is a must have! Hugs,


NotesFromAbroad said...

When we bought this old place, we took the maids room and made it into our vestidor ( dressing room) ,cutting a pretty arched doorway into the connecting wall.
I have shelves and closet and cubbies all the way up to the 15' high ceilings.
I still need room .. my shoes are complaining about over crowding and I can't reach my hat box.

Just so those who wish they had more space will understand .. there is never enough space :)

Linda C. said...

De-clutter and keep your life simple...

wellfedfred said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wellfedfred said...

Did I miss the List of Wardrobe Basics? more, please!

Northmoon said...

I don't have sweaters with bunnies or santas (good grief). I don't have oversized Tshirts or elastic waist pants. Very little is too tight. However, I still have too many items and not enough outfits! Telling me to get rid of this type of stuff isn't very helpful. Perhaps I need the name of Duchesse's professional!

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