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Paradise Reorganized

A Pack Rat Comes Out of Her Overstuffed Closets

October 25, 1998|NANCY SPILLER | Nancy Spiller last wrote about figs for the magazine

Celebrities never have to throw anything out, which is just one more reason to hate them. While we civilians jam our pret-a-porter onto plebeian poles, Hollywood stars walk into closets the size of Rodeo Drive boutiques. The Aaron Spellings have an entire floor of their Holmby Hills mansion devoted to storage.Why, they probably still have daughter Tori's original nose floating around there somewhere. The late Roy Rogers tenaciously clung to everything he ever owned. Not only did he have his dead horse, Trigger, stuffed, but he also kept old digital watches, favorite bowling balls and a half-used bottle of bug repellent. He eventually built a museum to house the "collection."

All I wanted was a closet from which I could pull a towel without setting off a shower of hotel shampoo bottles or find a sweater without undertaking an archeological dig. Over the years, I'd tried to get organized. I'd bought all the baskets and bins from the mall shops and one mail-order outfit I came to call "Hold This, Why Don't You?" My closets still looked like a collision between high-speed shopping carts.

Articles and books by clutter cops all gave the same advice: Toss what you don't use; label and store what you do. But they ignored the psychological pain of parting with possessions, however mundane. I had to breathe deep (inhaling several inches of dust) and tell myself that tossing stuff out was not losing a part of one's being. Only then could I let go of the decades-old college lecture notes, "Dynasty"-age double-wide-shouldered dress and door knocker earrings.

That said, and many bags of precious garbahge later, I still needed to call in the professionals. The hell with trying to learn untangling skills for a small planet. I was going to have my closets done.

Betty arrived at our door just days after I'd called one of the myriad companies that design and install organizing systems. Crisp, punctual, the perfect suburban mom, she came with a home economics degree from a well-respected university, an employment history that included recipe development at a major food manufacturer, an author's credit on a best-selling earthquake preparedness book and a fruitcake-baking habit. First I'd let her design the closets, then I'd try to persuade her to adopt me.

We toured my pathetic storage areas. Rather than pass judgment, she whipped out graph paper and sketched designs. I hadn't a clue what any of this was going to cost since none of these companies seemed to advertise prices. But when the bid for the first two closets was so reasonable, I threw in two more, deciding to do the entire house at once. I was drunk on the promise of neatly stacked shelves and double-hung poles.

My new friend Betty left with a deposit check for half the amount. Alone with the contract, I quickly sobered. Described in detail worthy of a drug packaging insert were all the things I would have to do to prepare for and recover from installation day. Everything had to be removed from the closets before the workers arrived. They would then tear out all the old fixtures, including baseboards, before installing backless melamine shelves. Unless I chose to live with the scars of their rip-and-run policy, I would have to patch and paint the closets before putting everything back in.

Silly me. No one does it all anymore. So my husband and I would be partners with the company on the project, with us contributing half the labor and all the money. I miraculously found painters at the last minute, their fee adding another third to the overall bill. It suddenly felt like the MTA subway project, with desire blindsided by reality and cost overruns.

Installation day arrived and our closets were empty, as required. Our house looked ransacked, dripping with errant belongings like some sea cucumber that had spilled its guts in a panic. My fear that the workers might steal something precious turned to a wish that they'd haul out the whole mess.

But days later, after the dust cleared, the paint dried and the last forgotten toe kick was in place, I swung open the closet doors, turned on the overhead light and experienced the perfect joy of having my own lifestyle store. It was like living at Banana Republic or J. Crew. I could arrange my folded tops and pants on an inviting expanse of open shelves, hang the rest on double-stacked rods or tuck them into the easy-glide drawers. As I stood folding and stacking my unremarkable wardrobe into seductive, color-coordinated piles, I thought of how content has taken a back seat to access in this age of the Internet. It didn't matter what was on my shelves. What mattered was that I could put my hands on it. The frisson of excitement I felt was because I finally had access to everything; I had control of my inventory. I was a happy consumer at last.

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