My earliest memory of helping anyone purge and organize their clothes closet was in 11th grade. Phylicia, one of my best friends at the time, had a bedroom closet under the eaves. On the right side of her closet was a single rod for her many clothes. Beneath the rod the ceiling angled down until the space became very narrow and the ceiling met the floor. On the left were shelves that she used to store her board games, notebooks, stuffed animals and gadgets. Straight ahead was a solid wall without any hooks, shelves or storage units. This was the late 1970s and people were not trained to think of smart ways to utilize vertical space, blank space and lack of space.
Although the closet had enough room for a person to take a step inside, there was so much piled high on Phylicia’s floor and so many items squeezed onto her clothes rod, no one could actually enter. It was not even possible to close the door. Is it any wonder Phylicia’s mother declared she would not buy her any clothes until the closet was cleaned out? This was not an idle threat... She meant it! Thus, Phylicia wore clothes from previous years that were now too small and previously worn clothes from her older cousins that were way too large.
I got it into my head that I really wanted to help Phylicia clean her closet. I also wanted to take Phylicia shopping and help her choose clothes that would flatter her. After hearing my plan, Phylicia did not take me seriously. I finally convinced her I was serious on a day when school was cancelled because of a snowstorm. I insisted I would happily walk the quarter mile in the fierce snow to tackle that even fiercer closet. Trouble was it was the last thing she wanted to do on her day off and the thing I most wanted to do on mine.
The things I remember finding in that closet! Baby toys, clothes from as far back as fourth grade and onward (we were long-time friends so I remembered her wardrobe), a huge collection of stuffed animals, sleeping bags, board game pieces and endless notebooks and loose papers.
I had never undertaken anything like this before. Somehow 16-year-old me knew to ask for plenty of bags for garbage and for donation. In those days there were no recycling programs. What I didn’t know about were all the handy storage boxes and attractive hooks for belts and jewelry. Another thing 16-year-old me did not know was how to relate to a person in a non-judgmental way. I probably made some negative comments about Phylicia’s clothes. Since then I have grown and learned how to emphasize the positive, give the benefit of the doubt and hold my personal opinion to myself.
Despite some sassy comments, our friendship was very strong and no offense was taken. I remember the great fun we had holding up items and reminiscing, listening to music as we worked and taking a break for hot chocolate. I wish I had thought of asking Phylicia how she was feeling about her closet before we started and how she was feeling about it after we finished, as I ask my clients now.
It took several hours. When I left her house, it was dark and she had a closet with a clear floor. The shoes were in pairs and these pairs were restricted to those in her size. The clothes rod was no longer sagging. Her shelves held board games piled in size order, rogue puzzle pieces and game pieces were no longer invited. The stuffed animals that made the cut were displayed in her room on shelves, no longer hiding in her closet. Now her closet door closed with ease.
We called her mother in to see and asked her how soon Phylicia and I could go shopping.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have explored the most flattering colors for her skin tone and I would have made a shopping list of clothes Phylicia needed. It is always wiser to stick to a list when shopping for clothes. It can get very pricey when you buy everything that strikes your fancy whether it coordinates with anything or not.
It took until the springtime before we could schedule a shopping trip. I remember among the items we selected was a beautiful dress from Casual Corner. (There’s a blast from the past.) It looked so beautiful and natural on her. It was as if it was designed with Phylicia in mind.
From then on, I was obsessed with shopping with friends and guiding them to the most flattering styles for their body type, lifestyle and taste. In general I have a sense for what styles suit not only myself but other women as well. Back then who would have thought about putting together outfits for my friend from the clothes in her wardrobe and then snapping a photo? Happily that is what I can offer my clients now.
Since that snowy day I have helped family members, friends and now clients to purge and organize their clothes closets. I offer new choices to the woman who says she has nothing to wear. I create outfits from items in her closet. I am always hearing “I never would have thought of putting that together, but it works and I love it!” I walk my clients into or in front of their closets and I ask them to take in the brand-new set up and the stream-lined wardrobe. I ask them to describe how they feel. Often the response is that they feel a sense of relief or they feel “lighter.”
After freshman year of college, I lost touch with Phylicia. I hope she became the successful actress and singer she wanted to be. I also hope she has a wardrobe to die for and a large, organized walk-in closet.
If my organizing or styling services can be of help to you, a family member or a friend, please contact me, Ellen Smith, at [email protected] I take a gentle approach; I am nurturing and non-judgmental. Be sure to check out my website www.ideclutternow.com.
By Ellen Smith