Case Study #3: The Cramped Closet
Last updated November 2017
I don’t think of myself as someone who needs a professional organizer. My mother and sister mock me for my frequent closet purges and yard sales—I hate clutter. I open the day’s mail over the trash can. And you won’t find a single pair of too-tight pants or blister-inducing shoes in my closet. If I don’t like it or don’t need it, it’s gone. Open shelves and clear countertops make my heart sing.
But as much as I enjoy downsizing, my family is expanding. With a baby girl joining our family in our closet-challenged 1930s colonial, my dress collection is facing eviction from the closet in our guest room-turned-nursery. The closet in my bedroom is already full and isn’t going to welcome another 20 garments. But I’ve read enough issues of Real Simple and watched enough infomercials (Wonder Hangers, anyone?) to know that when it comes to maximizing closet space, with the right gear and expertise, magic can happen. So I look forward to calling in an organizing pro.
The first company I contact looks amazing online. There’s an impressive before-and-after gallery, testimonials, and organizer bios, plus an extensive client application that lets me upload photos of my closets. I fill it out and soon after an organizer I’ll call “Steve” calls. Steve explains that his company begins with a two- to three-hour walk-through of the home—for $400. I ask, “You mean you come out, look around, and then help me organize the closet during that visit?” Steve says no, that the consultation is just that—a consultation only. He will check out all the available storage in my home and propose some ideas. Then, if I want, I can hire him to do the work for $130 per hour plus materials—or I can do it myself.
I’m a bit puzzled. Why does he need to snoop around my entire house if I just need to reorganize my wardrobe? And $400 sounds steep for getting some ideas on what I think is a pretty straightforward closet redesign. So I bid adieu to Steve and his fancy-pants prices and go hunting for another option.
Let’s dub the next organizing service “Randi and Co.” Similar to Steve’s outfit, Randi’s team has a flashy website and impressive credentials. I fill out a form, explain my closet challenges, and click “submit.”
Two days pass. I finally receive a nice email from “Becky,” who explains that the company can definitely help solve my problem. But not for two months. As I might expect, its services are in high demand. Oh, and there’s a $3,000 minimum retainer. That’s so ridiculous I’ll write it again. There’s a $3,000 minimum retainer. Suddenly Steve and his $400 get-to-know-you session look like a bargain.
My rip-off radar is screaming. There has to be a better (and much, much cheaper) way to deal with my wardrobe woes.
In the past, when I’ve needed inspiration to solve storage problems (I’m looking at you, spice collection), I’ve taken a spin through The Container Store. I know the place carries a bunch of closet gadgets and space-saving superweapons. I have an iPhone loaded with photos of my closets that I sent to the organizing services that offered to gouge me. What if I ask employees to help me devise a plan and sell me supplies, and then do the work myself?
I visit The Container Store and approach Nigel. I show him pics of the closets I need to merge and provide measurements. He asks for 10 minutes, so I peruse their selection of space-saving hangers (that I later order on Amazon for half the price). After eight minutes, Nigel beckons me over to a desk and unveils a computer-generated design of my new closet.
Can I get a “Hallelujah”?
It’s perfect. New shelves, a hanging rack for my dresses, bonus storage at the top for off-season apparel. The damage? Jaded, I take a deep breath and brace myself.
The supplies cost $220, and the store can install them within a few days for another $180. So for about $400, it’s a done deal. I return to the store a few days later to pick up the gear (saving its $40 delivery fee). The day after that, the store’s installer comes over and does the work in an hour.
I love my new closet, my dresses have a new home, and I’m already stuffing my daughter’s closet with adorable little clothes I can’t stop buying. I’ll probably have to revisit Nigel soon.
Cost: $400 for plans, materials, and installation
What We Learned:
- Be flexible. I was frustrated early on when I encountered organizers who didn’t fit my budget or timeline. But after a couple of wrong turns, I made it happen without shelling out for an overpriced pro.
- Don’t settle. If a proposal doesn’t seem right for your needs, or is too pricey, move on.
- For closet projects, the hangers you use can make a huge difference. Switching from thick plastic hangers to slim velvet-covered cardboard ones was a game changer. Think 40 dresses on a bar instead of 20.
- You probably can gain a lot more storage in your closet by utilizing all the space at the top for off-season shoes, special-occasion bags, and other items you don’t often use. If it’s out of reach, get a folding footstool.