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The desire to get organized is a major stimulus for all this closeting. (That and the fact that on average, Americans buy about 75% more clothes now than they did 10 years ago, according to census data.) A 2005 survey by Rubbermaid claims that more women said they wanted to organize their closets than said they wanted to lose weight. Another spur to the industry: celebrity closets. Often the most interesting part of MTV Cribs is a peek into the clothing warehouses of the rich and famous: Mariah Carey's revolving, glass-enclosed shoe cabinet, for example. Other shows--including TLC's Clean Sweep, HGTV's Mission: Organization and ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition--fuel the same hankering.
For many people, the path to closet mania starts innocently. Wanting extra space in their bedroom for exercise equipment or a home office, they go to a store or leaf through a catalog. But as soon as they see all the available goodies, the reorganizing bug spreads. "Every time we install a valet rod, they come back and want two or three more," says Kristina Ferrigan of Closets.com And once you've done one closet, how can you ignore the others?
Sue O'Gara, 49, outfitted 10 closets, from bedroom to mud room, in her home in Northbrook, Ill. "I know it's a complete luxury," she says of her white melamine shelves with room for as many as 200 pairs of shoes. "But it seems to have become a necessity." Call it closet creep. Says Perfection Custom Closets owner Tim O'Hagan, who is working with O'Gara: "It sounds hokey, but when you've got a place for everything and everything's in its place, you feel better."
Nadine O'Malley, 36, of Hinsdale, Ill., did not simply organize her life through her closet. She realized her fantasies. Spending $50,000, she remade her master-bedroom closets, following photos she had ripped out of Architectural Digest. Her husband Bill's closet now has dark wood, granite counters and custom carpeting (plus a secret passageway to his office). Her closet has mirrored doors, crystal knobs, marble counters and muted shades of creamy beige and icy green, much like a Jimmy Choo shop she adores. "It feels like I'm shopping in a fancy store every day," she says.
Apart from a kind of sybaritic utilitarianism, there is science to explain this yen for closets. Getting organized appears to lower stress and anxiety and increase efficiency. Sheila Jowsey, a professor of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic, says, "Organization is comforting. It's soothing." How does this age of bigger and more luxurious closets bring about that kind of Zen? "We don't have the disposable time to go through our possessions and determine what we need, so it accumulates," Jowsey says. "What Americans do have is enough disposable income to tell somebody, 'Build it for me.'" It is the purchased sort of wellness previously seen with the growth of kitchens and great rooms: the pursuit of happiness built into the furniture.