My Thoughts

How to Design A Custom Closet in 5 Easy Steps

If you own your home, or can get permission from your landlord, one of the best ways to organize your wardrobe is to install a closet system. A coherent system will optimize your space, create a clean look, and help you keep everything organized for the long term. 

But how, you ask, do I pick from the myriad closet system options available? How do I know what elements to include?

The process can seem overwhelming, but you can break down the creation of your dream closet into 5 concrete steps.

Photo by  Kelly Vorves

Photo by Kelly Vorves

Step 1: Declutter and measure.

You KNOW I was going to start here! The closet of your dreams will contain only clothes and accessories that make you feel great when you put them on. That, and you need to know how much of each category of clothing, shoes, and accessories you’ll be storing in that closet. Don’t forget to account for the fact that you will shop again in the future - give yourself some breathing room!

Step 2: Choose your product.

There are A LOT of options out there, from big box stores on up to solid wood custom. First, weigh your budget, your aesthetic, and the flexibility you need from your storage to narrow down what type of system you’re shopping for. Then you can look at a couple of manufacturers in that space and select the one that’s right for you.

Whatever you choose, know that a closet will seem way more expensive than it should be - frustratingly so - but once it’s installed, you’ll be so glad you made the investment!

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Step 3: Consider your personal wardrobe.

Closet companies all have a recommended basic layout for both men’s and women’s closets that they start with, but to truly get the best solution for your wardrobe you’ll need to have a really good handle on what you own and how you like to store it.

Do you wear more separates or dresses? Do you like to fold your knits on shelves, or in drawers? Is a varied collection of shoes and bags important to you, or do you only own tried and true essentials? What about belts, ties, and hats - are they key parts of your wardrobe or just sometimes pieces? The answers to all these questions will determine which closet elements you need and the appropriate proportion within the space.

Step 4: Save space and flexibility.

Closet companies have developed modular options that are specifically designed for particular items. But sometimes, those mods actually aren’t the most space efficient way to store things! For example, regular old flat shelves fit more shoes than angled shoe shelves.

Also, don’t be afraid to move things around or ask for more pieces! In most systems, the shelves and hanging bars are all adjustable, so you can custom fit each shelf height to the items it stores and add more to maximize the space.

Photo by  Kelly Vorves

Photo by Kelly Vorves

Step 5: Add finishing touches.

It’s the little things that truly make a closet feel perfectly organized. I generally don’t believe in cluttering a closet with lots of labeled containers, especially when you’ve been able to design the space to your specifications. But one thing I do highly recommend is starting with a complete set of matching hangers. This allows the hangers to recede into the background of your visual field and puts your focus where it should be: on the clothes!

I absolutely love the process of designing a beautiful closet for a client - it’s such a gift to the client every time they get dressed! If you want to create your own dream closet but feel stuck or overwhelmed, I can help. Click here to contact me or schedule a complimentary in-home consultation.

LMW

4 Powerful Strategies for Getting Organized As A Couple: Couple Struggles Part 5

You may see yourself in one or more of my previous articles on struggles that couples face when trying to get organized:

  • Part 1: Every Couple Struggles

  • Part 2: Who’s Really “The Organized One”?

  • Part 3: Whose Responsibility Is It, Anyway?

  • Part 4: Just Get Rid of It!

If so, know that you are very much not alone! You’re also probably wondering how to tackle your organizing struggle with your loved one. Here are some strategies that I both use and recommend to keep the organizing process smooth and as low on conflict as possible.

Photo by  Kelly Vorves

Photo by Kelly Vorves

1) Acknowledge that it takes two to tango.

Both of you got your home the way it is today, and both of you are going to have to work together if you want it to change. This doesn’t necessarily mean that each of you contributed 50% of the mess or have to do exactly 50% of the work during the organizing project! It does mean that it isn’t productive to spend time and energy blaming one half the couple (whether it’s yourself or your partner!). Instead, team up as co-conspirators in the organizing process.

2) Avoid placing a value judgement on organizing skills.

Some people are good at organizing. And some people aren’t. That’s ok! Organizing is not an inherent trait, it's a skill that can be learned. So, if you’re already good at organizing, that doesn’t mean that you’re better or smarter than someone who isn’t - and the reverse is of course also true. If you can separate your feelings about your partner’s organizing skills from your feelings about them as your love and partner in life, it will be at lot easier to work together!

3) Give each person their own space.

I find that a lot of organizing struggles stem from objects being commingled at random. Of course, many items in a home are shared among everyone that lives there - kitchen tools being one of the most obvious examples! But by mixing up things that clearly belong to individual people, you muddy the waters about who is responsible for organizing those items and the spaces they live in. And in a vacuum of responsibility, nothing gets done. The more you can separate belongings and give them dedicated, designated locations, the easier it is to assign responsibility and the more control each person will feel over their own belongings.

Photo by  Kelly Vorves

Photo by Kelly Vorves

4) Think about how tradition has affected your approach.

In pretty much all the heterosexual couples I work with, the female partner is in charge of the home - whether or not she works and/or earns more than the male partner. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s of course up to each couple to divide responsibilities in the way that works for them. However, this traditional division of labor can become a problem when it happens by default and/or puts a greater total burden on the female partner.

(Note: this dynamic can also exist in homosexual couples where the partners have defined their identities based on traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity.)

So, I really encourage you to talk to your partner about the goals you share for keeping your home organized and how each person can contribute to reaching them. This keeps the focus off divvying up major, well known tasks like laundry and dishes, since this traditional approach can obscure the many smaller tasks that contribute to a home but are often automatically picked up by women and unnoticed by men.

In conclusion…

All of the above are strategies, but none of them can be implemented without a shared vision. So Step 1 should always be to get on the same page about what you want your home to look and feel like, and how you want to use your space. After all, it’s impossible to properly share the load when you haven’t defined it in the first place!

LMW

Just Get Rid Of It! - Couple Struggles Part 4

For more on organizing for couples and the issues that come up, check out the earlier posts in this series!

  • Part 1: Every Couple Struggles

  • Part 2: Who’s Really “The Organized One”?

  • Part 3: Whose Responsibility Is It, Anyway?

Today, we’re diving into what happens when partners have very different levels of tolerance for the sheer amount of stuff in their space. Some people prefer a really minimal environment, containing only a few objects that have been carefully chosen. Others like to be surrounded by a bounty of things, all of which have personal meaning and aesthetic appeal.

Just like we talked about in Part 2, neither one of these approaches is necessarily the correct one! A minimalist may be missing out on memories, connections with loved ones, or even experiences that they aren’t prepared for. A maximalist may lose time and energy trying to find and use things that they may actually prefer to spend somewhere else.

The commonality is that these types frustrate each other! In particular, I often find that the maximalist partner wants to work meticulously through a space in order to organize it, while the minimalist partner believes that if they just throw everything away and start from scratch, all their problems will disappear.

Now, if you’ve read anything on this blog, you know that I do believe very strongly in the concept of less is more! It’s so important that I start each and every organizing project with the decluttering process. This is a critical step, because it opens up storage space and ensures that the client is surrounded by only the things they love and use.

However, this process is also crucial for a reason many of my clients don’t expect. By going through all of your things and making decisions, you can piece together the story of how you got to this place where the level of disorganization really frustrates you. You can see patterns: what you hold on to that you don’t actually use, the types of things that cause you guilt, the patterns in consumption that have led you to waste things. Decluttering can be incredibly eye opening.

On the other hand, if you were to just throw everything away, you’d avoid that entire critical learning process that informs and motivates behavior change going forward. Also, in the case of a couple, the person whose stuff got tossed might feel betrayal and distrust towards the person who talked them into it!

I worked with a wonderful couple living in a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco. He definitely leans minimalist, while she forms a stronger attachment to things and has trouble decluttering. When we first started to work together, he expressed that he just wanted to see her “get rid of” a large percentage of her stuff.

This client’s beautifully organized “command center” - everything neatly organized, with just the most meaningful inspirational touches she needed.

This client’s beautifully organized “command center” - everything neatly organized, with just the most meaningful inspirational touches she needed.

So, I carefully guided them through a middle ground. By respecting the wife’s attachment to things and being willing to take the time to talk through each and every object, I was able to get her comfortable with reducing the amount of stuff in the space in order to accommodate their larger goals for their home. And by discovering the true meaning and intention behind the things she decided to keep, I was able to help the husband understand how to incorporate those things into their life in specific ways so that it didn’t just feel like “more stuff.”

So if one of you just wants to toss everything and the other can’t bear the idea, know that there is room to meet in the middle if you’re both willing to commit to the process. After all, there’s more to each of you than just being a minimalist or maximalist!

Stay tuned for the final post in this series: strategies you can start using immediately to find common ground on the often-fraught topic of organizing your home with your partner.

LMW

Who's Responsibility Is It, Anyway? Couple Struggles Part 3

For more on organizing for couples and the issues that come up, check out the earlier posts in this series!

  • Part 1: Every Couple Struggles

  • Part 2: Who’s Really “The Organized One”?

Today, we’ll explore what happens when one partner either doesn’t acknowledge that organizing is a problem, or doesn’t want to participate in the organizing process. It’s really tough to organize your home when one half of your partnership doesn’t want to get involved in the process or see any value in the result! I actually see quite a bit of this, and the pattern is fairly similar. 

One partner is responsible for the upkeep of the home, and they’re at the end of their rope. It might be because they don’t have enough time, they’ve outgrown their skill set, or life circumstances have added complexity to a routine that used to be comfortable. Either way, their home isn’t working for their family, and it’s stressing them out big time.

The other partner isn’t stressed at all! Their day to day experience hasn’t changed much, so they don’t see the problem as significant, or something that requires their input.

I’ve been working with one couple to declutter an all-purpose storage room and garage in preparation for a remodel to create a home office. The husband is really successful, driven guy whose career demands that he spend very little time in the home, so it falls to the wife to run the household. She’s also incredibly busy with growing her business and parenting two young children, and she feels a significant amount of guilt and shame that she’s allowed parts of her home to become cluttered.

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At the beginning of our first organizing session, my client and I couldn’t walk very far into the room. About halfway through the second session, we started discovering boxes of the husband’s old school work, papers, and memorabilia, and by the end of that day we had cleared approximately 3/4 of the floor space.

I encouraged the wife to show him the progress, and ask him to take the time to go through his own belongings to contribute to the success of the organizing project. She was realistic - he doesn’t have time, she explained, and when he’s home he wants to be with the kids. All fair, I told her, and we’d organize the space no matter what happened with his stuff. But as I left, I encouraged her again to invite him to participate in his own way.

When I arrived for the third organizing session, the room was even clearer - the husband had been impressed by our progress and inspired to contribute! He had sorted through all of his papers and downsized the collection significantly.

This only happened because we showed him what was possible in the space, rather than trying to convince him of the value of organizing or forcing him to participate during the organizing sessions. We respected his ownership of his own things, and inspired him to engage.

As a matter of fact, I still haven’t met this husband, and that’s ok! The point is that the space that was completely stressing out my client is getting organized, and enabling her to move forward on the remodeling project.

It’s not for me to dictate who should handle what in a household - those sorts of negotiations are not in my scope of work! Instead, it’s my job to meet each member of a couple where they are, and to move the project forward productively while respecting each of their time, needs, and belongings.

LMW

Who's Really "The Organized One"? Couple Struggles Part 2

If you’re just joining us, take a peek at my introduction to this series on how differences in how people approach organizing their homes can cause relationship strife!

Today, I’m tackling the most common flavor of imbalance between partners when it comes to organization: the partners have accepted their roles as The Organized One and The Disorganized One, and The Organized One is in total control.

But, you might say, doesn’t this make sense? The person who’s better at something should be in charge of it! Well… not necessarily.

In many cases, the more organized person blames the less organized person for 100% of the clutter. Guys, if there’s one thing my mom taught me, it’s that it takes two to tango. Sure, it’s possible - even likely - that one person contributed more to the clutter than the other, but I have never worked with a couple in which one person was in fact perfectly organized.

This is a pile from a day of organizing in my own home - I never show my clients’ dirty laundry without permission!

This is a pile from a day of organizing in my own home - I never show my clients’ dirty laundry without permission!

One couple I worked with was dealing with what they affectionately referred to as “The Pile.” This was an ever growing and changing heap of things they didn’t know what to do with and didn’t have time to think about. The wife was suffering quite a bit of guilt about it and using humor to deflect… and the husband wasn’t exactly absolving her of that guilt! They both were totally devoted to the story that The Pile was her fault and hers alone to deal with.

Well, imagine both of their surprise when we found quite a few items belonging to the husband in “The Pile” - and not only that, but things that mattered to him that he had been looking for.

No one’s perfect, especially when it comes to organizing. And this is a key component of my work: showing my clients what’s really going on in their homes, and how everyone who lives there can contribute to creating a more organized environment no matter their natural organizing aptitude.

In the case of the couple above, the root of the problem was that they didn’t have designated homes for all of their stuff in places that made sense to both of them. During our time together, we edited their collection of belongings and created systems that both partners committed to using together. Was the process tension-free? Certainly not! But when I arrived at their home a year later to reorganize their spare bedroom for their new baby, most of the systems were still working.

So if you’re The Organized One and frustrated with The Disorganized One, it might be time for a little self-self-examination about how you might be contributing to organizing problems. And hey, Disorganized One - you might have more desire and talent for organizing your space than you thought!

Next up: what happens when one partner just doesn’t see what all the fuss is about?

LMW

Organize a Closet for the Present: How To Handle Changing Sizes

Like many women, I hate clothing sizes. I hate how inconsistent they are from brand to brand, I hate how they tell you absolutely nothing about fit or proportion, I hate that only a certain range is considered normal for an adult woman, and more than anything I hate the power they have to affect my confidence and self worth.

I know I’m not alone, because in my years of organizing, the subject of clothing sizes continues to be one of the most delicate, emotional things I handle with my clients. An awful lot of women (and many men!) have a visceral hate-hate relationship with the size tags on the clothes in their closet. 

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Body dysmorphia can come at you from every angle. I’ve worked with thin, fit women who see a much larger person in the mirror and can’t really believe that their old clothes are falling off them. I’ve worked with women who have gained weight suddenly and still try their old clothes every morning hoping against hope that they’ll fit again. And pretty much every woman whose closet I’ve worked in has recited a laundry list of things she hates about her body and how it looks in clothes.

How do I help? I encourage my clients to love themselves now, just as they are, and curate a wardrobe that makes them feel their best today. After all, the entire purpose of organizing a closet is to make sure that getting dressed is an easy and pleasant experience! 

And clothing that doesn’t fit doesn’t exactly arouse pleasant feelings. Clients who have made a weight change that’s positive for them dread a return to their old size, while clients who have made a weight change they perceive as negative feel guilt and shame that that they can’t wear their old clothes.

So, I recommend that if a weight change has been recent and/or sudden, that clients do store a wardrobe of things they love at a size they are likely to return to within the near future. I suggest that they give themselves a reasonable time limit, and if the clothing still doesn’t fit at that time, to donate it.

 However, if the weight change has been maintained for a longer period of time, I do encourage my clients to donate all clothes that no longer fit, even if they were once loved. This process is usually difficult, but it allows the client to focus on the present, and living with and loving the person they are here, today.

After all, that’s what I’m trying to help my clients do: be present!

LMW

Couple Struggles Part 1: Everyone Has Them

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There is a fundamental truth I have learned: if there is a couple that exists, one person will be more organized than the other, and this discrepancy will cause strife.

I’ve lived this conflict in my own relationship! I’m sure you can guess who the more organized person in our household might be… and it used to drive me crazy that it seemed like my husband was either blind to clutter or just didn’t care that he was living in the middle of a disorganized whirlwind. 

Notice that I said “seemed.” Because how we perceive things in our own heads is very rarely the same as the way other people see them! What to me looked like disorganized chaos looked extremely unremarkable to my husband, and he was completely confused as to why I was so upset by something as simple as stuff.

If you’re curious about our personal story, I talked about it here, way back in 2016!

So, given the fact that I am, well, me, you might assume that I always side with the more organized partner when I’m working on organizing a space with a couple. You would be wrong! I treat each client with same respect and trust and take that responsibility very seriously. This is just as relevant across projects as it is across household members within the same project.

So, for the next couple weeks, we’re going to take a deep dive into the various delightful flavors and variations of organizing imbalance in couples, the kind of trouble it can cause, and some strategies to help you rebalance the concept of home organizing in your own relationship.

Everything in this series is based on my professional expertise and my experience of organizing homes for couples over the past nearly five years. I’m not a counselor or therapist, I’m just sharing what I’ve seen in my work in hopes that it might help you!

First up: the classic story of the couple consisting of The Organized One and The Disorganized One. Surely it’s all The Disorganized One’s fault… right??

LMW

Don't Buy Random Crap for Your Loved Ones

You’ve heard of The Five Love Languages, right? If not, the basic premise is that people tend to prefer to give and receive love in one of five ways: words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, gifts, and quality time. Once you and your loved ones figure out your individual love languages, it can help you show love to each other more effectively. In fact, if you’re not sure what you prefer, there’s an online quiz you can take to find out!

Recently, I’ve watched my clients struggle with the gift giving love language. Specifically, they have family that lives very far away and misses them very much, and shows their love by sending them inexpensive gifts regularly. While I haven’t met the gift givers in person, it’s clear to me that these gifts are sent out of an abundance of love, with absolutely no ill intent.

However, there are serious side effects to a regular gift giving routine.

  1. Those gifts add up fast. In thinking of one client in particular, her mom likes to send her costume jewelry, cloth bags, cute glasses and dishware, and general tchotchkes. My client, like many of us here in San Francisco, lives with her boyfriend in a one bedroom apartment. It’s plenty of space for them and their cats, but there just isn’t enough storage to accommodate the constant inflow of gifts. 
  2. Those gifts cause serious guilt. My clients tell me that they don’t want to donate these gifts because they know that if the giver found out, they would be hurt. The gifts, in effect, become an emotional burden and an extension of the guilt my clients already feel over living so far away from their loved ones.
  3. Those gifts can cause relationship strife. I have a couple of clients who deal with continuous gift giving from both of their moms. They are each uncomfortable with dealing with so much stuff from their own mothers, but end up taking that frustration out on each other and the other’s mom. While this is so common for all of us as humans - we redirect anger at a person we can’t confront to the people who see us every day - it’s completely avoidable in this case.
This is what years of inexpensive gifts looks like after I've helped a client decide what's important to keep... and what's not.

This is what years of inexpensive gifts looks like after I've helped a client decide what's important to keep... and what's not.

People whose love language is gift giving (and I am one of them, so I know of what I speak!) sometimes struggle with the idea that a gift could be a bad thing, and they often don’t know how to communicate their love in other ways that feel just as effective. So, I have a few suggestions!

  1. Take a picture of the cute tchotchke, send it to your loved one, and tell them why it made you think of them. How fun is a random loving message in the middle of the day? You get all the benefits of gift giving, like reminding someone that you love them and showing that you understand what’s special about them, without any of the downside. This also gives you the opportunity to see whether or not your loved one actually wants that item! If they text back “hahaha, love that, I miss you too!” then the thought was enough. But a text that says “OMG I need this!” means you have the green light to send a gift!
  2. Give experiences rather than objects. This is something my family has wholeheartedly embraced as part of our gift giving tradition and we all absolutely love it.  You get the gift giving experience - opening something, the surprise, the feeling of being special to the giver - and then you get to extend it by talking about the upcoming event, planning for it, then doing it and reminiscing about it after the fact. My sister gave me a trip to Jackson Hole for Christmas a couple years ago and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten!
  3. Direct your gift giving energy to people who are in need. Every holiday season, my husband and I adopt a family through Compass Family Services, and take great joy in making their Christmas magical. I love giving to friends and family, but it's even more rewarding to give to people who truly need and appreciate the gifts.
  4. Save your gift giving effort (and budget) for select occasions. Often, people send many cheaper gifts because they feel that the number of gift giving occasions should be maximized but they don’t have the funds to purchase high quality gifts that often. When it comes to gifts, like many other things in life, I recommend going for quality over quantity. Two high quality, beautiful gifts per year will give your loved one all the surprise and delight you crave, and because you have the extra time and money to spend on selecting it, chances are much higher that they will use and love the gift.
  5. When in doubt, just pick up the phone and say “I love you.” Because that’s what we’re all really trying to do with gift giving, right?
This not my family's Christmas, but the gifts prepared for our adopted family this past holiday season!

This not my family's Christmas, but the gifts prepared for our adopted family this past holiday season!

I, personally, will never stop loving the process of opening a present that someone has selected just for me, and then watching them open something I know they’re going to love. But I love it even more when it’s a truly special moment and not just a regular thing.

LMW

My Most Difficult Organizing Job

Last week, I was explaining my work to someone, and they asked me a question I actually had never been asked before. They wanted to know what had been my most difficult job, and why.

I have been so fortunate to have absolutely wonderful clients over the past few years. There really have not been any horror stories - my clients have listened to me, trusted me, and been honest with me. I value the relationship I have with each client, and remain incredibly grateful they have allowed me into their lives to help them.

That said, one job does come to mind. The client wanted me to help unpack following a move - which is a great time to get organized! However, this person was also absolutely unwilling to consider changing any habits or getting rid of any items at all whatsoever. This person believed that I could wield some sort of organizer magic to make the stuff they owned take up less space and look prettier, without requiring them to put in any effort to change.

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If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that’s not what it’s about. I do not wave a magic wand, and I do not do cosmetic fixes. I create an organizing system that works for each of my individual clients, and then I make it look beautiful. People come to me because they realize that their space is not working for them, and I do my very best work when they are willing to undertake change.

Plus, when you come right down to it, organizing and storage are limited by the rules of physics. There is nothing I can do to make a certain number of shirts suddenly take up less physical space. I cannot bend the space-time continuum! This is why I always tell people that organizing is not about the storage, it is first and foremost about the stuff.

So there you have it: my most difficult organizing job. And if that’s all I’ve had to deal with, then I count myself very lucky indeed!

LMW

On Long Term Love

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not a relationship expert. I’m a professional organizer, which means I’m much more qualified to tell how to store your sweater collection than how to recognize true love.

What I can tell you is that I’m lucky enough to be living in a truly fulfilling marriage, one that just turned eight years old today. I can also tell you that the first indication that I’d found the love of my life was so simple that at the time I didn’t think much of it.  

It’s ridiculously simple, in fact: when I told friends and family about my relationship, the phrase “it just works” came out of my mouth.

From the first time I hung out with my husband, he fit into my life. There was no worrying over whether or not he liked me, no strategizing over how to get him to commit, no counting of pros and cons.  I had spent my high school and college years striving and searching and pining for love, and then when I met my husband, it felt like, “Oh, there you are. That wasn’t so hard.”  It. Just. Worked.

Nearly thirteen years after we first met, we are still just two ordinary people who were lucky enough to find each other and smart enough to hang on to each other. No Great American Novel will be written about our love... and if you grew up obsessed with the great literary love stories, as I did, the sheer normalcy of a real, lasting love may at first feel like something of a come down.

Photo courtesy of  Timothy Teague Photography

Photo courtesy of Timothy Teague Photography

But I promise you: the love that just works is worth everything.  It will give you new depths to find in yourself where you least expect them, challenge you to be your best even when life is monotonous, teach you how to give more to another person than you thought you ever had in the first place, and give you a bedrock of security from which to conquer the world in your own way.

Thank you, AVW, for all of it.

LMW