“It’s finally nicer out! I’m dying to break out my spring wardrobe, but swapping out my bulky sweaters and coats feels overwhelming. Last year I just heaped everything into a spare bedroom and ended up with stained, smelly, dusty clothes. This year, I want to look after my nice things nicely. Where do I start?” —Maryam, Toronto
There is so much promise in a new season and a fresh closet. Being reunited with favourite pieces woven with cherished memories; organizing lightweight spring looks by colour. In your head, the closet spring cleaning experience is like a movie montage starring you as Marie Kondo. But the reality involves a lot of work and endless piles, and is a task best approached with a firm plan in hand. If you keep your eyes on the prize — a wonderful experience next fall when sweater weather beckons again — winter storage can be very satisfying, indeed.
First, this is a time to edit down your closet to what you really wear, and make sure it looks smashing when you pull it out again. “It’s the chance to check in on stains and see what needs minor repairs or alterations, what no longer fits or suits you,” says Kelly Zarif, chief operating officer of Dove Cleaners, which launched on Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, in 1993; it’s been in Canada since 1997. Dove is becoming something of a one-stop service centre for household maintenance: There’s a new closet-cleaning service that cleans and packages everything up for you, and a new consignment program with the RealReal that whisks off the good stuff you no longer want and sells it on your behalf. There is even a team that will whiten your running shoes or clean your outdoor fabric cushions. Aspirational!
If you’re in DIY mode, the first rule of seasonal closet swapping is to launder or dry clean everything before you put it away. “The most crucial items to clean and fix up are sweaters and coats,” says Zarif. “If you let them sit with dirt and salt stains until September, the damage will have been done. Getting stains out after time in storage is extremely difficult in some cases, impossible in many.” Getting odours out of your winter clothing is critical, too. Not only do body odour, dirt and microscopic leftover food bits attract moths, smells permeate fabric and will leave that stinky yellow stain under the armpits of your crisp white shirt.
Now is a great time to address pilling as well: Dove has an entire de-pilling department, FYI, but I bought a nifty fabric shaver by Steamery, and I’ve been thrilled with how it has revived sweaters, coats, even wool throws that were starting to show nubbly wear.
Sweaters should not be stored through the winter on a hanger, as they will get that awkward imprint of the hanger at the shoulder, or what my mother used to call lady fingers. If you are dry-cleaning them, ask for the fold option. “Take the plastic off,” Zarif says definitively, “and keep it folded in a drawer, dresser or bin. If it is clean, it is less likely to be eaten by moths.” There are a dizzying number of sweater-folding YouTube videos out there to help you make pretty rows.
For clothing that does require hangers, Zarif puts to rest a subject I have long been stressed out by, in a Joan Crawford-Mommie Dearest no-wire-hangers kind of way. “As long as the packaging keeps the shape of the garment, it should not matter whether the hanger is wire, plastic or coated.” I’m still going to stick with my wooden hangers, though, and please don’t tell my husband it doesn’t matter.
Zarif recommends keeping your best items in breathable garment bags, rather than the acid-free bags currently on the market. “If the clothes are clean, moths will not get into breathable garment bags,” she says, adding that such bags from Amazon are just fine, as are breathable boxes. Storing clothing in plastic bins with no air flow runs the danger of being too hot, and moths are attracted to warm, wet, dark places. “I don’t recommend it,” she says.
Zarif is a fan of cedar blocks to naturally repel pests (she picks them up at Home Depot). Herbs can help, too — mint, lavender, rosemary, thyme, cloves (which are technically flower buds) — in essential oil form or dried in sachets that can be tucked in drawers, boxes and in between hangers. Since no one ever wants to smell like moth balls, this is a pleasant first step if you don’t have a big problem. If you do have a moth issue, Zarif says get everything out of there. It all needs to be treated. Bring in a professional to assess and recommend treatment. Clean all clothes in hot water or take them to the dry cleaners. “Do tell your dry cleaner there is an issue!” says Zarif, as that clothing has to be segregated.
Don’t forget your footwear! Most importantly: Clean winter boots and shoes before they go away, or those stains will stay forever. If they have salt on them, that will continue to do damage unless you act now. Zarif recommends saving those silica gel packs shoes come with to absorb moisture during storage. Make sure tall boots are stored with boot trees, and use your shoe bags! Zarif says they are breathable, prevent dust and dirt buildup and are more likely to keep your treasures at a cooler temperature than a box — and heat is the enemy to long life for clothing and shoes.
That brings us to a subject I think about a lot: celebrity closets filled with Birkins and Chanel bags and Louboutin shoes, all on display in candy-coloured rows. Is that really good for them? Not in Zarif’s opinion. “If a purse will not be in use again until the fall, put it in the dust bag,” she says. “It looks good on social media, but it isn’t good for your bags to be out on display all the time.” Unless you have an army of staff to stay on top of dusting them, keeping them out of sunlight and in cool temperatures with air flow is your best bet.
Once you’ve gone through your stuff, now is the time to physically deep clean your actual closets, too: Vacuum carpets and corners and crevices, and wash the whole thing out with a vinegar-water solution.
Clearly, this task takes some time and thought, so book yourself a day to do the closet switch right and you will reap the rewards come fall.
Shop the Advice
Stock up on a few essentials to keep your winter wear in tip top condition
Squared Away 36-piece cedar set, $25, bedbathandbeyond.ca SHOP HERE
Tuck these little cedar blocks in between hangers or inside breathable fabric storage boxes for a pleasant scent and a layer of protection to thwart moths.
Chefic Under Bed Storage Boxes, $29 for two, amazon.ca SHOP HERE
If you don’t have spare closets to rotate out-of-season clothes into, make use of under-bed space with these flat-pack breathable boxes.
The Laundress Wool & Cashmere Shampoo and Spray Duo, $36, thelaundress.com SHOP HERE
A lovely option to hand-wash your fine wool and cashmere sweaters (in cool water) and spritz them before you put them to sleep for the summer.
Steamery fabric shaver, $78, goodeeworld.com SHOP HERE
I promise, you will never know what you did before you owned this gadget: It resurrects any item that develops fabric pills instantly, and satisfyingly!
Librao-Ca garment storage bag, $39, amazon.ca SHOP HERE
Breathable, waterproof, dust-proof storage bags will help protect your garments through summer heat waves and potential insect colonization.
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