This is the best time of year to clean out your closet. Why? Because it’s the most annoying time of year to get dressed. It can be cold enough to dip under freezing, warm in the afternoons, sometimes borderline hot in direct sunlight. It can rain. It can be sunny. Hell, it could even flurry and then be too warm for anything but a sweater the next day. There is no perfect way to dress for spring, especially if you have to commute to work. An educated guess is the best you’ve got. But, these annoying-to-dress-for temperatures and the overwhelming desire not to touch that down parka with a ten foot pole makes this a great time to sort through a closet or two.
One of the most amusing dichotomies on Pinterest or blogs is the fact that everyone (including me) is pinning (blogging) tons of organization tips, but we also keep pinning (blogging) everything we want to buy. Organization and consumption do not make great partners. With each changing season, I have this really intense desire to buy an entirely new wardrobe for that season—neglecting the dozens of items I already have that would work perfectly. It’s a combination of excitement (no more down parka!) and trend-mongering and it’s deadly on an already-disorganized closet.
Within the past year, I’ve made a huge effort to keep my closet more pared down and practical than I have in years past. I suffer from Nostalgic Hoarding Disorder (not real, but could be), meaning that if I’m left to my own devices, I’ll keep almost anything that has even the slightest nostalgic value to me. Whether it fits, looks good or bad, is horribly out of style, something I bought 8 years ago…none of that matters when my NHD kicks in. I can and will justify clinging to any piece of clothing or accessory or shoe, no matter how irrational my excuse.
I am getting better about this though. I really am. The trick to keeping a closet organized and exciting is a good balance of consumption and practicality and most of all, keeping in mind that…
Your closet needs to fit your life right now.
This is the most important rule and the one that’s easiest to break.
Here are a few questions to get you thinking:
- If you work in a business casual or very casual office environment, get rid of nearly every conservative piece of work attire you don’t wear. You won’t use it. Keep a suit or a favorite dress or two, but the rest should go. You won’t wear it and it’s taking up space. On the off-chance you change jobs and have to completely change your wardrobe, you can rebuild a modest business wardrobe very affordably, especially if you look in sale or outlet pieces from stores like LOFT or J.Crew Factory. (Obviously don’t do this step if you’re job hunting.)
- If you no longer go out a lot on weekends, start thinking about letting go of the dime-a-dozen dresses/miniskirts/sparkly tanktops that have languished in your closet since college. Keep a few for emergencies.
- If you’ve recently moved to an area with a different climate than your old one, get rid of anything you won’t need. If you moved somewhere that’s mostly cold/temperate during the summer, you won’t need many shorts or sundresses. If you moved somewhere warm, you need to weed through that outerwear and sweater collection.
- Don’t keep anything that doesn’t fit. It all goes. Sometimes people say to keep that pair of jeans that you try on every now and then just to see, blah, blah, blah. I say no. Get rid of the damn jeans. If you lose weight, it will be more fun buying new ones anyway.
- Don’t forget that fit isn’t just about size. Obviously if something won’t zip up, you shouldn’t keep it. But what about that dress that just doesn’t make your hips/boobs/stomach look quite right? Or the sweater that’s just a little too bulky? Unless you feel confident in something, set it aside.
- With that being said, if you’ve recently had a baby, don’t go too crazy. I went nuts on my closet about a month after having Isobel and while I’m glad it broke me of my NHD, I also made some very strategic cuts that I sort of regret. Why did I make them? Because they didn’t fit at the time. There’s nothing like trying on clothes less than four weeks after giving birth for making the hard calls. “Can’t pull it up over my ass! See ya!” “Won’t go over my boobs! ADIOS!” “ZIPPER WON’T MOVE! OH GOD!” etc.
- Be honest about what shoes you wear. I don’t wear nearly as many heels/pumps as I used to so I donated a lot of my shoes. I kept trying to justify keeping them, but I knew that I wore flats, boots or wedges 99% of the time. There was no reason for me to keep all those 4+ inch heels around.
- If you can’t think of any occasion you will attend in the next 12 months where you will wear an item in your closet, kiss it goodbye.
Here are a few more general tips:
If you have more than three of anything similar, keep only your two favorites. (For example, five pairs of identical black flats, 10 gray cardigans, etc.)
Anything that is waiting to be tailored, altered, mended, etc., needs to go. If it’s been waiting longer than a month, it HAS to go. Either get it fixed or get rid of it.
Have anything laying around that you can’t wear because it’s been waiting to go to the dry cleaner for half a year? If you don’t regularly dry clean, don’t keep or buy anything that’s dry clean only. Get rid of it.
Any shoe that gives you blisters or cannot be worn comfortably while standing longer than 10 minutes has to go. Don’t even think about keeping them.
Say adieu to the stored maternity clothes. Unless you’re planning to have another baby very soon (within a year?), get rid of all those blissfully stretchy waistbands. You’ll probably want to buy new things anyway. The exception might be a favorite pair of maternity jeans you invested in or a dress you wore to your baby shower.
Take a hard look at your bras and underwear. Anything old, anything uncomfortable, anything you don’t wear has to go.
Sort through the extras. A lot of wasted space happens when 30 pairs of socks are allowed to accumulate. No one needs that many socks! Don’t forget to sort through belts, scarves, tights and leggings.
Handbags pile up. And take up so much space! If you only use one or two, why keep 10?
Pajamas and loungewear are space-hogs. Pajamas take up a lot of precious drawer space. Do you wear all of them? Do you even like some of them? If not, get rid of them.
Trends return, but it’s not worth it to wait. If you’ve kept something waiting for the trend to circle back, don’t wait any longer. Trendy clothing is the easiest to replace. No need to have anything trendy eating up valuable space.
Think of the big picture. Can you wear more than one pair of shoes with that dress? Can that top go with multiple pairs of pants? Can that jacket be worn with several different outfits?
Don’t get hung up on labels. The trickiest part of cleaning out a closet is letting go of labels or pieces that you spent a lot of money on…but if you don’t wear them, you have to. Let it be a shopping lesson for the future: labels or a high price tag don’t automatically translate into wearability.
Think of your closet like your favorite store or boutique. I’ve had so much more fun getting dressed since I made a few changes to the way I keep things organized.
- First, I folded everything in drawers using the techniques in these videos. I can fit so many more things in my drawers and they look so clean and organized. Everything is folded this way now, from t-shirts to scarves.
- Don’t forget lingerie/bras/underwear. Stack bras in drawers like they do in lingerie drawers at stores. (Cups into cups.)
- What is your favorite store to shop in? Some stores organize things by type (sweaters here, dresses there, pants there), but other stores organize by style, collection or season. What is your preference? Instead of keeping all your skirts and dresses together, maybe you might find it easier to have work dresses in one section and day/weekend dresses in another. Try separating your shoes by weekend shoes, athletic shoes and work shoes. Layering pieces (tanks, long-sleeve tees) could be in one drawer while more dressy tees could be in another.
- Once you’ve made the initial cut, step back and evaluate your closet like you would a store. Would you hold that up and consider buying it, or pass it up and move on? Anything you wouldn’t buy again should go in the donate pile.
What to do after you’ve sorted through?
- You can sell your clothes online. Sell them through your blog or Poshmark or eBay.
- You can ask a friend or sister or coworker if they’d like to take anything off your hands. (Or do a clothes swap.)
- Donate! There are lots of donation options, but Goodwill is probably the easiest and most accessible. If you’re getting rid of some work-friendly pieces, consider using Dress for Success. You could also search for clothing donation + your location to see if there are any other local organizations.
For the future:
I think that most closet overloads happen when trends meet sales. There is nothing wrong with sales and there is nothing wrong with trends, but combining the two can be dangerous. After doing all this hard work to edit down your closet, make sure that anything you add is practical, well-fitting and can be worn with other things you already own.
There is no pride in having a huge closet that you wear a small percentage of. Better having less that you can do more with.
If a price tag stays on an item of clothing longer than two weeks, return it or donate it. (The exception would be on an out-of-season item you get on clearance, like a winter coat.) Anything that you don’t immediately rip the tags off of and try to wear as soon as possible is not worth keeping long term. If you don’t like it after two weeks, you really won’t like it after 6 months.
Last week I had a moment where I was getting really frustrated with the consumption/curation cycle of blogs and Pinterest and everything else. The evil side effect of consumption is how stressful and depressing it is when I survey the damage and realize that I don’t even like a good percentage of it. Buying something just for consumption’s sake will not make you happier or more stylish or change the way you feel about yourself. Developing a practical, stylish closet that is within your budget and works for your life is a far better (and achievable) goal. I mean, I admit that buying an item of clothing or a pair of shoes sometimes makes me happy, but that’s only a lasting feeling if I know that I’ll wear it often and love it for a long time. The clothing that makes me happiest is the clothing I’ve made memories in. (I know that’s why I have such a hard time letting go of things that have long seen better days.)
Clothing and style are such personal things, so why do we keep trying to make it so homogeneous? Finding inspiration is one thing, but I know that I’ve thought that if I could only dress like this blogger or that blogger on a daily basis that I’d really feel happy about myself then.
The truth is that all that consumption—all this dumbing down of so-called mid-range priced goods ($100-$300) as “affordable”—is a big trap. It took me a long time, but I finally realized that my closet won’t make me happy. The clothes in my closet have to fit my life, not the other way around. Yesterday I wore leggings and sneakers and a sweater to the park and I haven’t had such a good day in a long time.
Good luck and happy spring cleaning!