Can't Find a Thing in That Pandora's Box You Call a Closet? Summon Spacemaker Neil Balter

updated 08/13/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/13/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

While everyone else, it seems, is coming out of the closet, Neil Balter is going back in—and making it a better place. For about $350 Balter will take that cluttered disgrace where you toss your smelly sneaks and transform it into a nest of color-coded order and serenity. "No matter how much closet space you have," the master organizer maintains, "it's never enough. It is one of America's least talked-about problems."

Balter, 24, is doing more than talking. He has built his six-year-old California Closet Co. and its 33 franchises called Creative Closets into a business that he estimates will gross $12 million this year. Balter pulls out the single long bar and replaces it with a honeycomb of shelves and compartments, leaving low-slung bars for shirts and blouses and a narrow high bar for robes and dresses. After four hours of carpentry the job is done.

"Grown people act like little kids with a new toy," Balter beams. "They keep walking past their closet just to take a look at it."

Brought up in Los Angeles, where his parents ran an antique store, Balter showed early talent. At 10, he took two paper routes, paid other kids to deliver and still turned a profit. At 17, he revamped the minuscule closet in his student apartment. When friends admired it he shelved college and went into "closetology," working first from a van, then a garage. Now from his store in Canoga Park, Balter supervises franchises across the U.S. and Canada. "We're the McDonald's of closets," he says.

Balter's business, he insists, provides a service that is not a luxury. "A few years ago if people didn't have enough closet space, that was a good reason to move. But they can't afford to do that anymore. They can justify spending $350 on a closet instead."

The most common closet conundrum? The stuff people won't throw out. "I call them lovable items," Balter says. "A lady keeps the dress she met her husband in. A man keeps the suit he was wearing when he made the biggest sale of his life. I say if you haven't worn something in a year, give it to Goodwill."

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