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Closet Capers

When the lady who would become my wife first moved in with me, I lost a lot of closet territory. In fact, I had to start stacking my T-shirts and socks on wire shelves next to paint cans and tools in a utility closet. Extracting any hanging clothes from their tight quarters required considerable leverage. And that was after I dumped half my wardrobe into garbage bags and turned it over to Goodwill.

So when we moved to our current house, I was excited about the generous closet space. Somebody had solved the problem most historic homes have, minimal closet space, by carving out about one-third of the room next to the master bedroom and turning it into a walk-in closet. Surely this would do the trick.

How naïve. I quickly came to realize that my wife’s wardrobe is not a wardrobe at all. It is an otherworldly Blob that defies physics to overflow any space it occupies. It can also make itself invisible. My wife can stand in front of her closet in the morning, with her hand on her hip, and declare: “I have nothing to wear.”

This year, we broke down and bought an entirely new bedroom set with about 30 drawers and claimed an antique steamer trunk from my parents. The closets are still cluttered and cramped, with hangers scrunched together, but now you can actually walk into the walk-in closet. You no longer have to climb over a knoll of clothes to get to a pair of shoes.

Make no mistake, though. We still have clutter. The Blob lives.

There are several companies in the New Orleans area with experience taking on such Blobs. The owner of one of them is quite the veteran Blob-slayer. Rob Dunn started out in the closet business two decades ago. A New Orleans native stung by the oil bust, Dunn took a job as an executive with California Closets when it was a fledgling company. It turned out to be a surprisingly gratifying line of work.

“I used to be a CPA, and nobody ever hugged or kissed me for doing their taxes,” Dunn says. “But lots of ladies have kissed me for organizing their shoes and dresses and everything else.”

After a career in the business, Dunn decided to return home to New Orleans to open a nice, quiet retirement business, Bayou Closets. But in 2005 disaster hit, and suddenly people were rebuilding their houses –– and rethinking the way their stuff was organized. Business started to boom.

Organizing is not just about clothes. There’s a world of storage solutions beyond wardrobe closets that includes pantries, garages, workshops, home offices, entertainment centers and laundry rooms.

Dunn has also done “shoe closets.” One of his customers wanted space devoted solely to her 650 pairs of shoes.

Among his customers, Dunn sometimes faces unwitting accomplices to the Blob. “The hardest thing for people to do is part with stuff that really shouldn’t be in your closet in the first place,” he says.

But Dunn works from a key principle: “What you see is what you wear. If you can’t see it, what’s the point of keeping it in your closet?”

He says that people wear 20 percent of their clothes 80 percent of the time, and their organization should reflect that. He advises people with high ceilings –– often those in older homes built without much closet space –– to take advantage of height. Less-used or off-season clothes can go up higher, on shelves. Or, with enough height, you can get an entire extra run of hanging space. You can access these with a garment retrieval pole or –– as Dunn does –– with a pneumatic lift.

Although building sophisticated storage spaces won’t necessarily be cheap, Dunn makes two arguments for the investment. First, closets help to sell a home; a spectacular closet can actually enhance resale value. And, second, Dunn says: “When you see everything you have, you’re more likely to wear the clothes you have than go out and buy more.”

The same principle applies to garages and workshops. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone out and bought a tool I already had but couldn’t find.

Dunn advises people renovating or building a new house to call the closet guys early on so the closet can be built to  serve them most effectively. “When we have a good space to work with, we can give you the best possible design,” he says.

Watch your backs, Blobs. 

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