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The Inside Story : When there’s more stuff than stuff to put it into, it’s time to get organized. So contain yourself and read on. Even chronic clutterers can benefit.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It’s spring, and that means cleanup time. And we don’t just mean outdoors. Maybe this is the year you look at those overflowing closets--junk drawers of the ‘90s--and decide it’s also time to get organized.

How can you tell?

Well, look at the master bedroom closet.

* Do you paw through the pile of shoes on the floor two or three times before finding the mate to the one you want?

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* Do you have to sidle into your “walk-in” closet, dodging loose rolls of wrapping paper and maneuvering around golf clubs, skis and tennis rackets? Do you think there’s a video camera buried under the sweaters?

* Do you have trouble getting the doors to close completely?

* Do you feel as if your life is getting out of control?

Answer “yes” to any--or all--of the above, and you are a candidate for an organizing effort, closet experts say.

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At the Container Store--a Costa Mesa business that sells 10,000 storage and organizational products--it’s shoes that usually bring customers in, said co-owner Sharon Tindell.

Store research shows that their average woman customer owns 40 pairs of shoes. And there are almost 100 ways to organize them, Tindell estimated.

There’s the over-the-door shoe bag, the shoe cubby, plastic units that lock together and the company’s clear plastic shoe box that holds individual pairs (sold by the case of 36).

Then there are variations of shoe shelves, racks and hooks that are part of the store’s biggest seller, the elfa wire storage system.

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What keeps superstores such as the Container Store, mall shops such as Hold Everything and even the storage aisle at the neighborhood do-it-yourself warehouse in business is that once you’ve made the commitment to get organized, top-to-bottom closet remodeling usually follows.

The chronically cluttered may find this hard to believe, but it’s possible to get so organized that outfits are hung up together--arranged so that coordinating jewelry and shoes are all lined up.

And that’s just the beginning.

Want to watch late-night TV from the comfort of a bed that faces a closet? Need an out-of-the-way place for the family pet to sleep? No problem.

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A custom closet company can fix it so that the TV swivels out of the closet, said John La Barbera of the Closet Factory, a Los Angeles-based company that installs custom closets in Orange County.

They’ve installed small desks in clients’ closets, built niches for expensive sports equipment such as golf clubs and skis that people don’t want to store in the garage and even created a master bedroom closet with sleeping quarters for a pet. You can also get clear Lucite drawers and a velvet-lined jewelry box.

And once past the master bedroom closet, there’s an array of organizing products for the kitchen, the bath, children’s rooms, school lockers and even the car.

What’s behind this organizational mania?

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The near-frantic pace of life today and the desire to do something about it, say storage industry representatives and those who deal with the human psyche.

People who become more organized at home improve at work too, according to Lyndel Brennan, executive director of Pathways to Discovery, an addictive behaviors program. Organizing can be good therapy after a divorce and for those coming out of a depression or recovering from an addictive process, she said.

Organizing is a modern day response to stress, said Melissa Reiff, vice president of sales and marketing for the Container Store.

“It’s a great stress reliever to know where everything is and be able to put your hands on it,” she said.

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Tindell, whose husband, Kip, is one of the store founders, agrees.

“There’s this underlying almost-neurosis that people have nagging on their brains that they want to have their lives in order somehow,” Tindell said.

La Barbera thinks it’s even more basic.

“People buy stuff but don’t get rid of it. If they have a large closet space, it will take them a few years to fill it up, but eventually it will get filled,” La Barbera said.

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Closet experts can come to your home and double or even triple closet space with double hung rods, several levels of shelves and pull out drawers.

Or you can measure the space, inventory your clothing and go to a storage store, where staff work with you to plan a closet. You take home all the pieces and install the closet system yourself, which can take about an hour.

But what price organization, you ask?

La Barbera said a basic master bedroom closet starts at $350. The average bill is $1,500 to $2,000, but that includes more than one closet, he said.

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The most expensive closet he knows of? An $87,000 closet that’s really a good-sized bedroom. It has lots of clear Lucite doors, crown molding and custom-stained wood veneer, he added.

Sample closets shown in the Container Store’s catalog include a $469 reach-in master bedroom closet, a 6-foot by 8-foot walk-in closet for $741 and an 8-foot by 10-foot walk-in closet for $1,115.

And what about the hall closet? Here’s where most people keep the vacuum cleaner, a stack of old games, a lifetime collection of coats and snow boots and inexpensive sports equipment such as baseball bats and basketballs. You can organize this with an 8-foot tall system of shelves and bins and double-hung rods for $418, available through the catalog.

Not into closets? There are plenty of other storage and organizational products at the Container Store.

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Take the Junk Drawer Organizer, for example. The tray comes with decals depicting things you might want to put in there, such as a tape dispenser, playing cards and sets of keys.

Got a daughter whose headbands and hair Scrunchies have taken over the bathroom? How about a plastic cylinder that Tindell loves? The headbands hug the cylinder and Scrunchies and barrettes go in the open barrel top.

Tired of leaving your kitchen scrub pad lying around the counter top? An explosion in sink products has produced a suction-cup backed holder that could also be stuck on a dorm mirror and used to hold make-up.

Tindell believes storage items should be used for more than one purpose. There are cutlery trays that work just as well as desk organizers, laundry bins that can also be used to store toys or recycle trash.

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Many products have been borrowed from commercial industries, such as the wire toy barrel that was designed to be a leaf burner. There are several sizes of round, white tins that entered the world as lard cans but could be used to store lots of other things. Flight attendants buy the small, guaranteed leak-proof commercial beverage bottles to hold their shampoo and other travel toiletries, Tindell said.

Containers range from the tiny--a 1-inch by 1-inch acrylic box--to the Stor-it-All 1000, a giant plastic chest on wheels that holds up to 225 pounds. Even this pales in comparison to the commercial kitchen racks. Each chrome shelf holds up to 800 pounds.

And that’s a lot of stuff.


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