When people think about spring cleaning, they don’t usually think in terms of closets and drawers. But it’s a great time to try on clothing to see what still fits and what’s still “in style.” Winters are often a tough time to drop a few pounds, so don’t be too hard on yourself. I recommend that people clean out their closets and drawers every season, but for some of us, this is a little too ambitious.

Carve out two hours to try on clothing that you haven’t worn for six months and decide if all this clothing is still worth saving and storing. I bet you’ll find clothes that you weren’t crazy about when you bought them, and now, you really don’t like them.

This is the first step to lightening up your baggage: emotionally and literally.

Some of your clothing may have small, mysterious new spots. White and light-colored garments often have small yellow or brown stains, soil or rings on the collar and cuffs, maybe some fading on the shoulders from light exposure, and dust build-up on the shoulders and fold of the slacks. And most of these problems could have been avoided with a little effort and education.

It’s time to adopt a few practices that will change your life and prolong the life of your clothing.

The First Steps to Storage

Carve Out an Hour or Two This Spring

  • Before you put your wardrobe away for the coming season, inspect all clothing closely and under bright light for stains, especially underarm stains.
  • Clean all clothing with collar or cuff soil, underarm rings and absorbed stains. If you don’t, then these items will become permanently discolored.
  • Empty the pockets of money, candy, gum and sharp, heavy items.
  • If you have jewelry or stick pins on a blouse or lapel, remove them because they can oxidize and deposit a nasty black stain that can be difficult to remove.
  • Inspect each garment for minor repairs; loose hems and buttons, open seams and holes in pockets.
  • Garments that have been worn, even for five minutes, may contain body oil, perspiration, perfume or food particles, and can easily become “insect bait.” Summer fabrics, such as cotton and linen, are food for crickets and silverfish. Silk and wool are considered a delicacy to moths.

Do a Closet Consultation

  • Remove all plastic bags from the dry cleaners, but keep the paper shoulder covers on the garment to protect your clothing from dust and fading.
  • Remove fragile and heavy garments from wire hangers and use plastic and padded hangers whenever possible, especially when hanging jackets for long-term storage.
  • Consider using a freshly washed cotton sheet (unbleached) to protect many garments at a time from dust and fading. For the best use of space, spread the sheet over a six-foot closet pole.

Destroying Myths

  • Cedar-lined closets, chests and drawers must be “renewed” each season to be effective. If the pungent smell dissipates, then so does the protection. Cedar must be sanded or re-treated with fresh cedar oil each year.
  • Mothballs, often believed to be the ultimate panacea, are poisonous to humans and animals, and must be kept away from children. Mothball odors are also difficult to remove from many dry clean-only fabrics.
  • Avoid wet or musty basements and attics and never store clothing directly on the floor. Plastic and nylon garment bags should also be avoided. Breathable cotton bags are available at The Clothing Doctor.

Storage Alternatives

If you have space limitations, then consider using a professional storage facility. Most quality dry cleaners offer temperature-controlled storage for clean clothing— on hangers or folded boxes, at a reasonable price. Regardless of where you store your clothing, remember that all clothing must be washed or dry cleaned beforehand.

Storing Your Clothing at Home

  • Clothing should never be stored in cardboard boxes. Insects that munch on fabric are also attracted to the protein glue that holds these boxes together.
  • If you store clothing in “Tupperware-type” plastic boxes (available at the Container Store), then realize these boxes are not air-tight or insect-proof! In fact, these boxes should not be air tight because clothing needs to breathe.

If you are storing clothes in your basement, keep them off the floor and make sure that you do a cursory examination every few weeks: smell it, touch it and look at a few pieces. By doing this, you can avoid mildew, dye-bleed and water damage.

Storing Your Clothes at a Dry Cleaners

Remember, it’s one thing to leave credit cards and jewelry in your pockets if your clothing is stored at home, but if you’re sending it to a dry cleaner for storage, then it’s very important to retrieve your valuables.

In most cases, dry cleaners only accept clothing for storage if it is going to be cleaned as well. Sometimes a dry cleaner considers clothing that has not been worn during the previous year as clean, and they allow it to be stored with the other clothing, but it’s a sticky call

  • Before you take your clothing to the cleaners for the season, make a list on your computer and describe each garment. This way, you’ll have a list from year to year in which to add and subtract, as needed.
  • If the dry cleaner stores the clothing on the premises, then ask if their storage space is temperature controlled. If it’s not, then ask them to send it to a place that is, or you should find another facility.
  • Fur, leather, suede and individual garments (such as a single cashmere coat) are usually stored on hangers. Most woolens— such as sweaters, suits, dresses and overcoats— are usually folded and stored in boxes.
  • If a company offers only hanging storage, then ask for knitted and other similarly constructed clothing that may stretch during long-term storage to be separated, folded and stored in boxes.
  • Give a copy of your computerized list to the dry cleaner and ask them to double check it. If they do not make a list, or have a problem with you submitting a list, then you should speak to the owner to find out why. It’s for your protection.

Lastly, when storing clothing and furs, be sure you have your homeowner’s insurance in place and properly worded for storage outside your home. Insurance may be offered by the dry cleaner or the storage facility, but it is often very expensive compared to adding a rider to your existing policy.

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