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Closet clutter: How having fewer, better-quality clothes can bring style and happiness

Published: Tuesday, July 22 2014 4:15 a.m. MDT

Some people have more clothes than they know what to do with. But focusing on high quality fashion can actually save money in the future.

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Even with a big walk-in closet all to himself, one of Suzette Smith’s clients, whom she calls “The Bachelor,” needs a lot of help.

Smith is a professional organizer in the Washington, D.C., area who is helping The Bachelor, who works in finance, get a handle on all his clothes. His closet is packed with dress shirts and innumerable ties. The floor is piled with sports clothes and gear.

"It is totally jammed to overflowing," Smith says.

Smith has her work cut out for her. But so do many Americans. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that households spend, on average, $1,700 a year on apparel, footwear and related products and services — that's 3.5 percent of their average annual expenditures. And like The Bachelor's closet, the items pile up and overflow in closets.

But experts say that closets don't have to be packed and stuffed for people to look stylish. If people were more careful in their purchases — buying higher-quality clothes, for example — and if they purged their closets of the things they don't like, people would find that instead of wearing only 20 percent of their clothes and not donning the other 80 percent, that percentage might flip.

Out of control

It is easy for people to know if they have an excess of clothing, Smith says.

"If the clothes you have don't fit in your closet, you have too many clothes," she says.

Leticia Pfeiffer agrees with this rule.

"The right level for everyone is the amount of space you have," says Pfeiffer, a professional organizer and president of the National Association of Professional Organizers in Dallas/Ft. Worth who also has a degree in fashion. "Everybody in the world has space and size restrictions. Even Oprah Winfrey."

Pfeiffer says it is so easy today to buy more clothes than a closet can hold.

"You are in Target buying groceries and breeze by the clothing department and then, 'Isn't that cute? I'll just take it,’ ” she says. "But you probably didn't even try it on and will never take it back. You just hang it up in the closet."

She says women will often hold on to clothes, hoping to someday lose weight and be able to wear them again. But it won't happen even if the weight is lost, she says.

"What is the first thing you want to do when you lose weight?" she says. "Go shopping and reward yourself with new clothes."

And so the clothes keep coming in, overflowing the closet and filling other places in the home.

"If clothing overflows, it makes the whole house feel jammed and cluttered," Smith says.

Getting control

Keila Tyner's first principle in wrangling a closet is "Why have anything in your closet that you don't love?"

Tyner, who has a Ph.D. in textiles and clothing and works as an image consultant and personal stylist in New York City, advises cordoning off a section of the closet and putting clothes there every time you wear them.

"Notice how often you go to that section," she says. That section holds a person's favorite clothes, the 20 percent he or she keeps coming back to.

So why hold on to the other 80 percent? Time. Money. Emotion.

"People invested in these garments," Tyner says. "And they don't even love them. They feel stuck with them."