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For many couples in this age of downsizing, the days of his-and-hers closets may be over.

If you share space with a significant other in an older house, in all likelihood you're both crammed into a single clothes closet, wrestling for hanger space. And the divide is not always clear. One partner may start encroaching on the other's space. Over time, a clothes closet can become so crammed it's hard to see what you have, and clothes can get wrinkled, damaged or "lost."

The solution, professional organizers say, begins with a hard purge and negotiation.

"It's really about coming to grips with the volumes of stuff people accumulate," said Kathleen Crombie, an Oakland-based organizer who helps people all over the Bay Area wrestle with their mess. "And it's one of the biggest obstacles for most people, making decisions."

It is possible, however, for couples to find peace around their respective stuff.

"Most folks don't utilize closets very efficiently. So we try to help them understand the things they use on a consistent basis should be closer and easily accessible," she said.

Crombie will lead a workshop on "Helping Couples Meet Their Organizing Goals" when the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers — the second largest chapter in the U.S. — converges on Santa Rosa Nov. 2 and 3 for a regional conference.

While geared to organizing professionals, the conference also is open to the general public. It includes sessions packed with tips to help people get control of their stuff.

There also will be sessions dealing with organizing photos, using technology to organize, eco-friendly organizing and feng shui.

And on Friday, Scott Roewer of Style for Hire, a network of personal stylists led by Stacy London of the TV show "What Not to Wear," will co-lead a workshop on "Wardrobe Wisdom: Every Day, Every Way, Every Woman," with tips on creating a closet filled with clothes you really will wear.

"You need to make your closet shoppable. Clothes need to hang freely," he said. His rule of thumb? If you have to squeeze a hanger into the line-up, your closet is too full.

Crombie says that "containerizing" is one of the last steps in tackling a closet, no matter what you keep in it. The first step is the purge, with each partner ruthlessly evaluating every garment and accessory and tossing in a "give away" box anything that doesn't fit, is a duplicate, or that they haven't worn in a long time.

Sometimes it can be tough to let go of things. But one trick, says professional organizer Linda Pufford, of Organize With Divine Style in Santa Rosa, is to give everything a six-month reprieve. Hang all your fall and winter clothes backward. Then when you wear something, turn it around. At the end of six months, any garment on a hanger still backwards is just taking up precious real estate. Donate it, she said.

When it comes to apportioning space, Roewer always encourages couples to start with "50/50," and renegotiate if necessary after removing everything that both partners don't wear on a daily basis. That means specialized sports clothing, hiking gear and really formal or special-occasion wear you may don once a year. Store all that in a guest closet, a trunk at the end of the bed or in a container under the bed, organizers say.

Crombie recommends removing everything from the closet and putting back in only clothing that fits and that you wear on a regular basis.

"I see a lot of stuffed animals, wedding dresses, ashes of loved ones," she said. "We make jokes about bringing grandma out of the closet. I see paperwork, old bank statements."

She likes organizing clothes in zones, starting with type of garment — shirts, slacks, skirts, jackets, dresses, all hung in a group. Then within those zones, it can be helpful to subgroup by color. Some people may want to take it further to subgroup by fabric. But some may want a different system altogether, such as putting entire outfits together.

Organizers love slim hangers covered in microfiber ($8 for a pack of 20 at Big Lots). Clothes won't slip off.

If you have a single long rod, you can maximize space without purchasing a costly closet organization system, with an inexpensive adapter. You can add a second rod that hooks onto your existing rod for a lower layer, handy for his-and-hers apportionment.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.

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