The Boston Globe Magazine, September 15, 2002

Battle of the bulge Making space in the closet for the clothes you actually do wear.

Closets keep secrets. The good ones. The bad ones. The hideous, the end-of-season-markdown, the doesn't-quite-fit-but-might-if-I-stick-to-the-Zone-Diet ones. And unlike chatty friends or a misplaced journal, closets do not reveal their secrets easily. In most cases, it would take a whole troop of investigators - a sort of Law & Order fashion-victims unit, if you will - to piece together a person's profile based on the contents of his or her wardrobe. Perhaps that's why the idea of cleaning and reorganizing a clothes closet is so daunting. There's just too much personal history to slog through. The too-short cocktail dress you wore to your college roommate's first wedding. The size-4 leather pants you thought might fire up a tepid relationship. (They didn't.) The red platform boots you regretted buying the minute you walked out of the store. Purging a closet forces you to dredge up failed relationships, yo-yo diets, lapses in taste. However, the alternative - an endless struggle to make space for the clothes you actually do wear - is even worse. Which brings us to the first step in organizing your closet - and your wardrobe - this fall: Before you whip out your credit card and buy a stack of clothes, figure out what you already have. The best way to do that? Pull everything out and take stock. Yes, it's an arduous process, but a necessary one if you don't want to stare at your old, frayed, ugly, out-of-date, or ill-fitting clothing purchases for the next five years. What you'll quickly realize is that you tend to buy the same items over and over again, depending on your style. (Especially if your closet is so crammed you can't find anything.) If your taste runs to the traditional, you'll gravitate to the rack of charcoal wool pants every year around this time. Sweater-set fans keep buying shell-cardigan combinations. Those who prefer tailored skirts will inevitably buy more of them. Trendy types: You'll tend to have less overlap from season to season. On the other hand, the pieces you buy start to look dated sooner. Either way, once you've hauled out all your clothing and organized it, you can start pruning - or editing, as they call it in the fashion biz. This second step requires a detailed examination of each piece. If an item is torn, stained, or simply not your style anymore, toss it into the charity pile. (More on this in a moment.) If something needs mending, toss it onto a repair pile (and commit to making the fix - otherwise, you're better off getting rid of the item). Unless you're a diehard collector willing to sacrifice an entire room to house clothing that's out of date, the idea of holding on to your old garb because "someday it'll be back in style" is a nonstarter. If you're not wearing it now, donate it to someone who will. By the way, most charitable resale shops (Boomerangs in Jamaica Plain is a good one) aren't fussy about the quality of the clothes that people drop off. For pricier items (your DKNY slacks, perhaps?), a consignment shop may be the way to go. Second Time Around, one of the best-known shops in the area, accepts high-end and designer items that are no more than two years old. When one of your items sells, you're automatically sent a check for 50 percent of the sale price, which makes parting with expensive items a bit less painful. And you can even check the status of your consigned items on the store chain's Web site, "People love the Web site," says Jeff Casler, who runs Second Time Around's Newbury Street location. (His mother, Dorothy, opened the Newton location 30 years ago.) On the site, people can sign up for personal accounts that track how much money they're due and how much they've received for their consigned clothing. "People check their accounts all the time," says Casler. "It's like tracking the stock market." Once you've gotten rid of the stuff you no longer want, you can put everything else back in your (still tiny) closet. To squeeze every inch of space you can out of it, installing a closet system - complete with dividers, high and low rods for hanging, and small compartments for shoes, accessories, and hats - may be what you need. Depending on how big the closet is to begin with, a shelving system may only run you a few hundred dollars. And, to hear those in the closet business tell it, such systems can increase the resale value of a house or condo. Even better, you'll have room for all the new fall clothes you're about to buy.


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