WTNH, Channel 8, 3/2006

Closet Switcheroo

Time again for the great closet switcheroo: tips for storing winter clothes

(AP, Mar. 14, 2006) _ It's an end-of-winter ritual some would rather ignore: packing up sweaters, coats and other cold-weather essentials. Unfortunately, there's no ignoring the holes you may find in that favorite cashmere sweater when seasonal clothes aren't stored properly.

"The care you take when you're storing your clothes away is going to have an effect on how they look when you take them out the next season," says Mona Williams, vice president of buying for The Container Store, based in Dallas.
Leaving garments unprotected for several months is an invitation to pests and can lead to mildew, discoloration and fading. Still, developing and executing a storage plan can be daunting, especially when space is tight.

Cynthia Braun, a Long Island-based professional organizer,
often finds clients "overwhelmed by how to keep the clothes, where to keep the clothes."

She and other experts offer these suggestions:

-- Before you pack, purge.
Donate the garments you didn't wear all season, along with the clothes your children have outgrown, Braun says.
Many people struggle with this step, says professional organizer Michael Nowlan, recalling a client who instead curtained-off half the living room of her one-bedroom apartment to create a walk-in closet.
"Some people can't help themselves," says Nowlan, also a feng shui designer based in New York and Sydney, Australia. "But what are you doing with six winter coats?"

Retirees Stephen and Susan Bennett enlisted Braun's help when they moved to a new townhouse in Coram, N.Y. Before purchasing wood veneer wardrobes for winter clothes storage in their finished basement, they gave away what they didn't need and immediately saw the benefits.
"Now I know what I own," says Stephen Bennett. "You love your home more after clutter is gone."

-- Start your washer.
Insects and mice are attracted to natural fibers, especially wool. Perspiration or food stains make garments even more enticing. The pros' advice: Wash or dry-clean everything, except leather and fur, before storing it.

"You never want to store a soiled garment," says Alan Spielvogel, director of technical services for the National Cleaners Association. In addition to attracting pests, "stains will oxidize over time and become even more difficult to remove," he says.

Don't be deceived just because clothes look clean. "The food that we may not even see on them -- that's what the insects go after," says Lorene Bartos, a home environment columnist and University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension educator.
Pests also can be attracted to starch and fabric softener, so avoid those when laundering before storage, Bartos says.
The insects that do the most damage -- primarily clothes moths and carpet beetles -- "avoid the light and hide in the cracks and crevices," she says. That's why you should disinfect and vacuum storage containers and closets before filling them. If you have a cedar closet or chest, rub the cedar with sandpaper to revive the scent.

-- Pack and protect.
Never store items in the covers provided by dry cleaners, the experts say, because the plastic can trap humidity, which causes mildew.

Spielvogel advises against most plastic storage products, preferring fabric boxes and hanging bags, particularly those made from muslin.

Bartos says plastic containers are safe for seasonal storage, especially if you line boxes with a clean sheet or wrap garments in acid-free paper so they don't touch the plastic.

And plastics have at least one advantage: visibility. "You can immediately see what's in the top of that closet and pull it down the next season," says Williams of The Container Store.

For those with limited space, Braun recommends vacuum-sealed nylon bags, which compress bulky items to a quarter of their original size. The bags, available at organization stores, discount retailers and online, are not recommended for delicate garments or down comforters.

Storing clothes in clean suitcases also conserves space, says Nowlan, who counts many apartment-dwellers among his Manhattan clientele. Some use risers to add storage space under beds. "It's not a good feng shui thing," Nowlan says, referring to the ancient Chinese art of placement. "But it's New York, so it's a practical thing."

-- Insect insurance.
Those who recall the smell of grandma's wool blankets may be reluctant to use mothballs. Fortunately, the vapors in today's mothballs don't linger as long, and items can be worn the same day they're unpacked, Braun says. But read the directions carefully: Most mothball products should be kept away from children and pets, and should not touch fabrics, Bartos says.

Cedar products such as blocks, sachets and drawer liners smell better and, unlike mothballs, can be renewed with sandpaper or spray. However, while cedar will repel new moths, it won't eliminate an existing infestation.

-- Location, location, location.
Choose cool, dry, dark and well-ventilated spaces for your bags and bins. That leaves out most attics, Bartos notes, but basements work if they aren't humid. Some organization stores sell moisture-absorbing packets to place in containers and closets for added protection against humidity.

The rules are different for leather and fur. Most experts recommend professional storage for fur. The air circulation and consistent temperature in these facilities allow fur to maintain valuable moisture.
Leather and suede can be stored at home, says Megan Morley, marketing coordinator for Wilson's Leather, a Minnesota-based national retailer. Hang garments in a cool, dry place and cover them with a pillowcase, she says. Storage in plastic bags or bins can cause leather to dry out.

Once your winter wear is safely stowed, take a well-deserved break -- after all, you'll be back on storage duty soon enough. Spring and summer clothes also are susceptible to insects, mice and moisture, and should be stored with the same care.

More tips from professional organizers on closet maintenance and creative storage options:

  • Don't overstuff your closet, which makes it difficult to find what you want. Even if your closet is spacious, move out-of-season clothes elsewhere, says Candita Clayton of Your Life Organized in Rumford, R.I. "People wear the same things over and over again," she says. "A little space opens up the space in your mind and allows you to be a little more creative with your wardrobe."
  • Don't buy storage containers until you know what you're storing. If you purchase six bins for winter clothes, you're likely to fill them, even if the contents of two of those bins should have been donated to charity, says Michael Nowlan of Clear the Clutter, based in New York and Australia.
  • Control clutter one piece at a time. When you buy something new, give away something old, advises Cynthia Braun of Organize Your Life in Lake Grove, N.Y.
  • If you love it, keep it. Organizers generally suggest donating anything you haven't worn in a year, but it's OK to hang on to a suit that has proved lucky in a job interview or a dress from a special event, Nowlan says. Just make sure they are stored properly so they'll be ready the next time you need them.
  • Be honest with yourself about clothes that are too small. "Psychologically, it's bad for you to keep looking in your closet at something that doesn't fit you," Clayton says. If you're on a diet and reluctant to part with your smaller sizes, store the clothes for six months, then re-evaluate.
  • Keep storage needs in mind when shopping for new furniture. Bed frames with attached drawers or ottomans that open may be wise buys when space is tight.