An organized closet and a functional wardrobe can be a part of our meaningfully productive life. This week Geralin Thomas shares wardrobe wisdom as she and I talk about building a wardrobe that is versatile, organized, and stress-free.
A little wardrobe wisdom can help us be more productive!
Geralin Thomas is a professional organizer and a career coach for professional organizers and teaches three classes for the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. Her business, Metropolitan Organizing, established 19 years ago, is based in Cary, North Carolina! She has published two books (one has been translated into 8 languages!) In addition, she appeared regularly on the Emmy-nominated TV show, Hoarders, where she and team members compassionately decluttered and organized some of America’s messiest homes. Geralin loves lists, puns, the oxford comma, and alliteration as much as she enjoys going behind the “seams” for “clothes calls” with clients who not only have the right to “bare” arms but bare their souls as well!
When not working, Geralin, and her husband of 33 years, Bill, enjoy their empty nest where they dote on their spoiled six-pound Papillon, Pip, and their two grand-dogs, Sally and Minnie.
Geralin has been a professional organizer for the past 19 years but is no longer taking one-on-one clients and going into people’s homes. Instead, she is now coaching organizers who have their own small businesses. She teaches them how to start their business with a focus on decluttering closets and wardrobes and helping women build better, more sustainable wardrobes with pieces that suit their lifestyle, budget, and the image they want to project.
Using systems to keep our closet under control
Even those of us who are very organized in our everyday life can struggle to keep our closets organized. Maybe this is because we have more clothes than we have space for, or because our closets become a catch-all for things other than our clothing. Regardless of the reason, Geralin and her “wardrobe wisdom” can help us turn our closets into a space that serves us instead of one we dread looking at.
When Geralin first starts with a new client, she begins by asking them about their goals, likes, and dislikes. She reminds them to control what they can control—start with the things that can be done, analyze the situation, and then strategize about what’s working and what isn’t. This is where productivity begins. So for example, items most often worn should be the most accessible. If rickety doors on the closet should be replaced or old boxes or storage containers need to be thrown out, do those things right away so the closet is more inviting and accessible.
Geralin also likes for each item in the closet to have a “permanent address”, meaning that when you are out shopping for an item, think about where it will live in your closet.
She also thinks it’s important to have a system for your various items, such as scarves, belts, shoes, jewelry, tote bags, even receipts and tags (for those who like to consign).
For clothing items that need attention or repairs to be wearable, Geralyn refers to them as “MIA’s”, meaning mending, ironing, alterations, or stain-removal. These items need their own spot in your closet too.
There also needs to be a system for your dirty and clean laundry. Will you launder your own clothing or have it sent out? Do you prefer to hang or fold your clothing? Do you want to organize by color, function, or season?
Finally, Geralin also recommends having a full-length mirror, excellent lighting, and some kind of hook to hang up outfits that you would like to wear.
Geralin’s advice for getting started
If you are someone who would like to begin tackling your closet and building a workable wardrobe, the first step Geralin recommends is to get accurate measurements of your body so that you know exactly what size clothing to purchase, especially if you are buying offline. Paying attention to proportions is very important. Don’t be scared or intimidated by taking your measurements. They are just numbers and don’t reflect anything about you as a person.
The second step is to plan your outfits. Don’t just randomly shop (although it is fun and entertaining)! Planning your outfits and what you will purchase is a much more simplified, intentional, and purposeful way to plan your shopping trip. Before going out shopping at all, see what you may already have in your closet and if you don’t have enough for the event or occasion you’re planning for, then create your shopping list and acquire those items.
Once you have all the items you need, Geralin recommends photographing your completed outfit, although some women like to write the outfit pieces down on paper.
Geralin’s strategies for building a versatile wardrobe
We want to have a wardrobe that we’ll feel good in and that will fit our lifestyle. We also want to be happy with what we see in our closets. Geralin likes to start with the basics of what we want to have in our closet. The majority of people she works with want to have a more classic wardrobe, and Geralin has made a list of basics to have if this applies to you. But ultimately, the basics that would work best for you really depend on what you want. Geralin recommends the following:
- A cocktail outfit (not necessarily a dress) in a dark color, appropriate for a more formal evening activity
- Great fitting jeans that are comfortable and flattering–the style is your preference
- A cardigan, overcoat, or parka–depending on where you live and the weather
- A good daytime bag
- A nice pair of lined slacks
Once these basics are established, Geralin works with her clients on what type of silhouette they prefer and anything they may want to hide (or show off), and then builds their wardrobe shopping list based on several different preferences they may have:
- The coloring of the client–are they cool or warm complected?
- Fabric preferences or sensitivities–wools, silks, polyester, cotton, etc.
- High or low-maintenance clothes–are you trying to avoid dry cleaning?
- Do you prefer certain heel heights?
- Body parts you prefer not to show off–neck, chest, varicose veins, back fat, etc.
There is no right or wrong list of things to have in your closet, but rather it should all be based on you and your preferences. Don’t follow trends or feel like you have to wear certain items. Instead, go with what feels good to you.
Geralin’s recommendations for investment pieces and where we can save money
Most of us don’t have an unlimited clothing budget, but some items are worth the extra investment because they are high quality and will last us longer.
When it comes to saving our money, Geralin says that our cocktail outfit can be comprised of more budget-friendly pieces, especially since we won’t wear this outfit as often or for as long. These pieces will rarely come out of the closet.
For our “splurge” pieces, Geralin recommends spending the most money on our everyday wear, because we need these pieces to be the most durable and high quality. She refers to these as the “workhorse pieces” because we wear them the most often. For example, if you are a swimmer and go to the pool every day, splurge on the best quality swimwear you can afford so that it will last as long as possible.
Geralin’s Wardrobe Wisdom Workbook
Geralin has created a workbook, available on her website, which helps you measure your body, identify your preferences, and more. She made this because she noticed a pattern with her clients being intimidated by shopping and clothing, and being self-conscious about their weight. This workbook helps you simplify the whole process and feel more confident.
The process of “letting go”
We often accumulate a lot of clothes we no longer wear, and getting rid of them can be difficult for a variety of reasons. Maybe these items represent times in our lives we miss. Maybe we hesitate to get rid of them because we wonder if we might need them again, or because we spent a lot of money on them. In Geralin’s work, she most often encounters the money reason–her clients can’t bear to part ways with items that were very expensive.
She also often hears clients say that a particular item represents who they want to be–these are aspirational clothes for a lifestyle the client wants but doesn’t really have. When it comes to these kinds of clothing items, Geralin recommends donating them and trusting that whoever gets it will be someone who wants and needs it.
For investment pieces, once you have worn them, they depreciate in value pretty quickly (unless they are very high-end such as Chanel or Louis Vuitton) and may not be worth as much as you originally spent on it. We often assign a greater value to items we own than other people do.
Think to yourself: Have I had an occasion to wear this item but chose something else? Typically, the answer is yes, and that means that item could be given away.
Geralin plays a game with her clients called “Friends, Acquaintances, and Strangers”, where she pulls items out of the closet, hangs them up, and then decides if the item is a friend, acquaintance, or stranger. How often is it really worn? If you wear it a lot, it’s a friend. If you don’t wear it often or at all, it could be an acquaintance or a stranger. Geralin says that usually 75% of the acquaintances can be donated and most all of the strangers can go too.
Geralin also encourages you to ask yourself if your style icon would wear that particular item. Does that item personify what you want to look like? If you have a whole closet of items that you don’t think your style icon would wear, you may want to rethink the items that you have.
Finally, Geralin recommends having a friend take a photo of you in your clothing, to make sure it looks and represents something you like.
If you are really trying to hold on to an item that no longer serves you and you just can’t part with it, Geralin encourages you to imagine if your best friend or sister wore the exact clothing item you are reluctant to part with–what would you think of that? Would you want better for them? Shift that thinking to yourself!
What does “making a life that matters” mean to Geralin?
For Geralin, making a life that matters means being content (not happy; that can be overrated).
Along with being content, she also wants to be able to indulge in solitude, participate in activities that provide meaning and satisfaction, have conversations with people she enjoys and respects, stay informed about the news of the day without feeling overwhelmed, having enough and caring for and maintaining what she does have, caring for her clients, and being a life-long learner.
What do you do to get back on track on a day when everything gets away from you?
On these kinds of days, Geralin acknowledges that she is having a crazy day and likes the saying, “To change the direction of a spinning object, you just have to change one small thing”. She will pause in the moment and think about something she can control and change right then and there (compared to what she can’t control). There is almost always something that can be changed in that moment and if so, she will do that in order to make things better. This will often lead to more things changing and improving.
Geralin’s last words for the listener
Geralin hopes you are motivated to declutter and organize what you have, put together a kit of items that help you maintain your clothes, preserve them, and keep them looking their best. Add items like stain remover, hemming tape, mothballs, a sweater shaver, lint roller, etc. Take good care of your clothes because you’ve already spent the money on them.
What do you think? Questions? Comments?
Connect with Geralin
- On Twitter
- On LinkedIn
- On Pinterest
- On Youtube
- On Facebook
- On her website
- Geralin’s free wardrobe checklists and inspirational videos
- Check out Geralin’s Wardrobe Wisdom Workbook
- From Hoarding to Hope: Understanding People Who Hoard and How to Help Them
- Decluttering Your Home: Tips, Techniques, and Trade Secrets
Podcasts Geralin enjoys
Youtube channels Geralin enjoys
- Wayne Goss – make-up tips
- Audrey Coyne – clothing/style
- Justine Leconte – fashion/education
- Pahla B Fitness – fitness / menopausal women
An article from Geralin’s blog containing her favorite productivity tools
A list of Geralin’s current favorite gadgets:
- Fabric + sweater care: The Gleaner
- Washi tape, label maker, markers
- Scarf tricks: Mini Invisbobbles
- Hangers for coats: slim profile
- Bamboo drawer dividers
- Jar openers
- An article where Geralin asked colleagues for a list of their favorite organizing products
- Geralin’s best (luxury) investment-time-saver-makes-me-more-productive: robot vacuum
- Super sticky extra-large (11×11) Post-It Notes
- The paper calendar Geralin has used for 20 year
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Royse City, Texas