Even as a toddler, Kim Cosentino was tidy. An acquaintance once recalled how, at the age of 3, Kim had set about helpfully organizing her utensil drawer. And as Kim grew, her knack for organization matured along with her, eventually transforming from a hobby into a profession. "God gives everybody a gift, and God gave me the gift of space," she says.
Today, she puts her gift to use as owner of The De-Clutter Box, which serves the Western suburbs and the city of Chicago. She and her team manage assignments from coordinating moving sales in people’s homes to helping them with paperwork organization, services that “give [clients] control of their environment again.”
Without that control, it can be hard to achieve a sense of calm. Kim believes that disorder causes stress, especially if the chaos lies in the bedroom, where clutter is "the first thing [people] see in the morning and the last thing they see at night." And one of the most common culprits of bedroom clutter is an overflowing closet.
To create a more peaceful home for your sweaters and yourself, Kim outlines some handy tips. Don't expect any hard-and-fast rules, however—she insists that the best system is whichever one works for you.
Set Aside Time to Organize
No matter what the organizing project, Kim's first rule of keeping neat is to schedule a time for getting it done. "It doesn't have to be that much time, as long as you're making progress," she says. If you really want a cleaner closet, pull out your smartphone (or old-school planner) and make an appointment with your mess.
This tip might sound basic, but Kim says that many people overlook it. She remembers giving an organization presentation to a group of realtors. Afterward, a 60-year-old woman came up to her and told her that she finally realized why she had never fully tackled the chore: she’d simply never scheduled it.
Setting aside small chunks of time for sprucing can also help perfectionists deal with an all-or-nothing mindset. "Progress, not perfection, is what people want in life," Kim says. "Schedule time and make progress."
Try the Hanger Trick
The changing seasons are an opportunity to reassess what clothes you really need, but a try-everything-on marathon can be overwhelming. Kim’s less-stressful alternative? The hanger trick.
"When the weather changes, usually about October, turn all the hangers in your closet so they face out toward the room," she says. "And then, when you wear the item and launder it, turn it back the normal way."
In about a month, you'll have identified the core items in your wardrobe—the things that you wear on a regular basis. Then, if you wait until March or April, you'll see what things you haven't worn at all. Those are your prime targets for weeding out.
Recognize Your Limits
"The size of your closet sets a limit as to how much you can accumulate," Kim says. That fact can be hard for clothes-lovers to accept, but organizational aids such as extra shelves and dedicated boxes can help.
A trip to The Container Store in Lincoln Park, Oak Brook, Schaumburg, or Northbrook can give you the supplies that you need. But then, it's up to you to stick with the system. For instance, if you find a box for your scarves, “the container sets a limit for how many scarves you [get to] have,” Kim says.
Of course, you don’t have to go crazy buying pretty new organizers to keep your closet uncluttered—Kim often uses basic supplies when she meets with clients. She visited one client 12 years after their appointment to find her using the exact same old shoebox. “I just could not believe it,” Kim says. “She said, ‘Oh, it works for me, I just left it that way.’”
Weed as You Go
An organized closet starts at the store. When you’re shopping, learn to give nonessentials special scrutiny. "Look at the item you're buying," Kim recommends. "Are you willing to get rid of four things in your closet if you buy this one item?"
Once you’ve made a purchase, you should prune down your old possessions to make room for the new ones. Take the castoffs to a donation center (such as Goodwill or The Salvation Army) or trade them in for cash at places such as Crossroads Trading Co. in Lincoln Park and Wicker Park or Buffalo Exchange in Wicker Park.
It might sound like a daunting task, but if you stick with the principle of clothes in, clothes out, you won't find yourself buried in items you never wear—and your favorite pieces will be even easier to find. "Maintenance really is the key to organizing," Kim says.
Illustration: © Dav Yendler, Groupon