Purging Closets, Organizing Lives 5

Simplicana’s Eliza Cantlay transforms even the most cluttered areas in your home.

There are many things to love about our 30-year-old home in Leawood—fantastic open floor plans and ample natural light—but the master closet definitely doesn’t make the list. But thanks to limited space, there’s little room for hoarding extraneous clothing…or so I thought. Sure, I still was holding on to that vibrant sequined dress from Junior Prom. But aside from this and a few other items, surely I didn’t fare that bad.

Eliza Cantlay thought otherwise. As a certified residential and small business organizer, Cantlay’s passion is de-cluttering and organizing. She’s an independent rep and organizer for The Container Store in Hawthorne Plaza and can help people build custom closet systems. Her work has been featured on the Steve Harvey Show, local news stations, and she loves speaking to groups about “being more with less.” In short? Cantlay is a dynamo and just what my house needed.

Over the course of four hours, Eliza and I went through my entire closet, in what will forever be known as “The Great Purge of 2015.” Eliza pulled out clothes that haven’t seen the light of day in more than a decade. After some initial hesitation, I agreed these items were dated, so into the donate pile they went. Business suits from my Chicago days, complete with pointy lapels and the tiniest hint of shoulder pads, and sweaters that were pilling or out-of-style were quickly added to the stack.

I tried on clothes I hadn’t worn in years, rediscovering my appreciation for some long-forgotten items, and coming to grips with the fact that some no longer fit. Meanwhile, Eliza introduced some brilliant hacks: the use of a pop-can tabs to hang coordinating pieces together and empty wine bottles to keep my boots standing straight.

Parting with some items proved difficult, but the drive to purge persevered, and in all, five large plastic bags were filled with clothes, purses, and shoes that no longer fit, were too worn, out of style, or simply unused for too long.

Even more startling than the amount I cleared out was the scant replacement pieces needed to round out my wardrobe. Eliza and I agreed that all I needed was one classic business suit and a pair of black dress pants. After these timeless staples were filled, I would need to work on a one-in-one-out policy for my wardrobe.

As my closet—never terribly overcrowded to begin with—began to open up, I felt the tiniest glimmer of panic. But more than anything, I felt lighter, streamlined, and in control of my wardrobe. I had renewed awareness of what was in my closet and the relief that accompanies the absence of clutter.

One problem that arises when Eliza comes to visit, however, is the almost immediate and insatiable need to continue the purge throughout the house. When Eliza remarked that my closet really wasn’t bad in comparison to most, my competitive nature reared its ugly head.

I marched her to our house’s proverbial wasteland: the basement. And then I took her into the dredges of the basement, our back storage area. It was difficult to force upon the door, as it came up against teetering stacks of bins filled with clothes, photos, and more. This is where we store our luggage, items long forgotten about, and more.

Eliza turned to me, with something akin to a gleam in her eye. “Now THIS would be fun,” she said. And just like that, a bedroom closet cleanout morphed into the basement back room challenge.

The basement purge was a different beast and one that necessitated my husband’s involvement. He wasn’t thrilled to spend the better part of a Sunday tackling the back room, but he also readily admitted that the room was out of control.

We had boxes from high school, college, our days in Chicago, and more. And if we didn’t need these things nearly a decade or more later, would we ever need them?

I have to give Eliza incredible credit. This is a dark, dank room. And it held some frightening finds: Stuffed animals from childhood (some, handmade by my grandmother, were kept, helpfully put in a bin labeled “Scary Childhood Toys”), my husband’s attempt at a high-school pottery class, and even more embarrassing, the mummified remains of a small mouse (and a collection of droppings).

We also unearthed boxes of my old swim-team trophies. Thankfully, Eliza knows how to re-home just about anything, including all those awards. They can be re-plated and used by organizations such as the Special Olympics.

We donated easily more than a dozen bags of knick-knacks, an old desk, long-forgotten microwave, unused luggage, and more. Deffenbaugh Recycling inherited a frightening mound of empty boxes, which we’d held onto for no clear reason. And we trashed a healthy amount of…well, just about everything you can think of.

Eliza left us with a clear to-do list (and places to turn for help): Go through boxes of old files and shred what we don’t need. Wipe an old computer tower and responsibly dispose of it. Convert old VHS tapes to DVDs. Look through bins of mementos and pare them down, deciding what truly merits keeping. And finally, sort the baby clothes and decide if any are worth consigning, giving to siblings, or donating.

The room is now entirely transformed. What was once a veritable dungeon, home to hoarded items and DEAD things, is now wide open. I never realized what a huge space was hidden underneath all that junk.

Some of Eliza’s clients claim her visits are life altering. I wouldn’t disagree. Remarkably, we’ve continued purging, tackling a coat closet, a linen closet, and more. There’s something incredibly refreshing about the organization that Eliza instills in a home. Talk about a simple joy from Simplicana!

For more information, visit Simplicana.com.