—Nina Garcia, Style Strategy
I’ve been on a declutter campaign. Ever since I set out to find my personal style and start this blog, I’ve been trying to reimagine what belongs in my closet. And though I did a major wardrobe cull when I moved in May, I’ve regularly visited my local thrift store with donations from my ever-slimming wardrobe and fabric stash.
Cleaning out the closet can be a painful process for many women, so I’d like to share with you what inspires me, what works for me and my rationalization. We all hold onto clothes for a number of reasons, which I suspect are largely emotional. For example, the emotional-me protests, But this is the dress I had tailor-made for me in Shanghai! And the rational-me responds, And that you haven’t worn in the decade since. I’ve come to believe that having an excessive amount of clothes is actually detrimental to both my sanity and my style.
Sarai of Colette Patterns wrote a wonderful post about this very topic, and she notes, “Studies have shown that in many situations, the more choices we have, the less capable we are of making good decisions, and the less happy we are with the decisions we make. We hem and haw over all of our choices and then finally, in the end, choose something that doesn’t even make us happy.”
This happens to me often. I want wardrobe choices, but when I have too many clothes I spend way too much time getting ready and end up defaulting back to the first thing I tried on. And then the urge hits me that I obviously need more, since my closet clearly has nothing that suits me.
Nina Garcia in Style Strategy addresses these shopping urges. She says that “[t]aking stock of what you own, when done correctly and thoroughly, actually helps to dampen the urge to shop frivolously. Once you realize how many different options are already in your closet, you’ll be able to channel your shopping energy more productively.”
So cleaning out your closet is two-fold. You have fewer choices, allowing you to make better wardrobe choices. And you know what you’ve got, so you can focus on buying what you need (and probably a bit of what you want).
And sure you can wait until you find the Perfect LBD or cardigan (I make these excuses all the time) and replace the natty one you’ve been wearing, but consider Danielle LaPorte’s Law of the Ugly Chair:
In a past life, I did a bit of interior design work to pay the bills. This was a common scene: The homeowners and I do a walk through of their house. In the living room is a garish chair. Fugly. Usually a lounger, often with some kind of floral pattern. The couple has brought me in because they want fresh, contemporary, comfort. “What’s with the chair?” I ask. “We know it’s horrible, we hate it. But we haven’t had the money to get a new one.” Me: “Get rid of it this weekend.” Them: “But what will we sit on?” Me: “Sit on the floor. Pile up on the couch. You’ll figure it out. The sooner you get rid of it, the sooner the right chair will show up.”She goes one step further, "The Divine Law of the Ugly Chair applies as much to furniture and stuff, as it does to lovers, jobs, and thought forms. Because: Going without, and holding out, is better than selling out. Always."
Wow. She rocks. Anyway, back to our closets.
Here’s what I’ve been doing. (I may be repeating some of this from a previous post! Sorry about that, I’m passionate about declutter!)
1. Begin with one big wardrobe cull.
Set aside a few hours for this. Go through everything. The partner-less socks, the laundry-day underwear, the favorite hole-riddled tees, the special occasion gowns. If you need advice or emotional support, ask over a friend who you feel comfortable hanging out with in your underwear (there will be a lot undressing and redressing!). I do this for my sister and I’m ruthless.
For someone who rarely shops, and certainly not retail, I had a lot more clothes than I thought I did. This is largely due to the fact that I shop at thrift stores (“Only $2! I’m sure I can pair it with something!”) and that I take all the clothes my fashionista friends donate to me, no matter if their style and coloring differs from mine. But it’s de-clutter time, no matter. This is triage.
There are three piles. 1) Keep 2) Donate and 3) Repair/Refashion. Here’s how I prioritize, in order. These are no-brainers but I have to remind myself because the emotional-me gets in the way.
Size—If it’s too tight or too short at all, it goes in the donation pile. I’m not getting any smaller. I have to be honest with myself, I’m a size
If it’s too long or too baggy, but I love love love it, it goes in the repair/refashion pile. I can either adapt it to fit or use the fabric for something else. Hooray, sewing!
If I start making excuses—it’s kinda cute, I have nothing else like it, I made it myself, etc.—it goes straight to the donation pile. (I’m really bad at this, but more on that later.)
Color—We all probably have an instinct for what colors flatter us, and I’ll write more on this in another post. My challenge was that I had a whole bunch of stuff I thought flattered me but in reality made me look sallow. Sometimes it’s more fine-tuned than that: It may work perfectly as bottoms but not near my face, or the hue is deeply unflattering i.e. Orange-red (yuck!) vs. Blue-red (holler!). I also justified keeping clothes with the waffling mentioned earlier—but it’s perfect for work, it goes with everything, etc. → Donation pile.
Quality—Cheapskate that I am, this is hard for me, but sewing is introducing me to the value of quality, which I’m defining broadly. For me, quality is anything that makes me feel fabulous. Some things I consider.
Fabric: I’ve learned that I really love natural fibers like cotton, wool, and linen, but what's more important is how I feel in the clothes. I have some rayon knit, and I feel utterly luxurious in it. Definitely keeping. I’ve got some perfectly-hued though synthetic-looking polyster. Totally tossing.
Trendiness: Do I feel funny or trendy or costumey at all when I wear this? Does it make me self-conscious? Donation pile.
Details: I have ten black shirts, but only wear two. What details make the difference? A slimmer fit, a defined waist? Note details that work, donate or refashion the rest.
Whew! Are we tired yet? When I go through one of these wardrobe culls I usually end up with one to two garbage bags full of clothes. Put the donated clothes in your car (or wherever you’re most likely to deal with them) and bundle up the refashion/repair pile somewhere else so they don’t re-enter your wardrobe.
2. Keep on Truckin’
A lot of fashion books tell you to cull your wardrobe every season. I think that’s sound advice, particularly since our wardrobes change season to season. But this summer I’ve been a bit more hands-on: I keep a donation bag ready by the door.
See, a lot of times I talk myself out of donating something and place it back in the closet or in the refashion/repair pile instead. Or, if I’m really bad, I pull out a few items at the moment I’m handing over my donated goods. Ah! The emotional girl wins.
But now, when I try something on and it doesn’t fit, it goes straight in the donation bag. Or if I look in the mirror and think: This is why I never wear this blouse, you know where it's going. And then, when I’m ready to go to the thrift store, I just pick up my already-packed bag and I’m off.
This method works for me because it’s an easy way to fit in regular culling into my daily routine. And besides, my flimsy excuses can't withstand regular scrutiny.
3. Reap the benefits
The bonus of all this? I get to know that others might be able to enjoy the clothes I’m lukewarm about and, in fact, may be excited about them. And all the proceeds from the sales go to charities.
On a more selfish note, my thrift store offers me a 20 percent coupon every time I donate. So when I come in with my little bag of donated clothes, I also linger to see if I can find something I could really use for my wardrobe or home at a discount.
During my most recent visit to the thrift store, I gave up ten pieces and I came home with a 100% silk blouse and a Michael Kors linen tunic, both that fit well and are in flattering colors (total damage? $13). Next time I go, I suspect the weather’ll be cooler, so I’ll try and snap up some cashmere. This hardly feels like deprivation.
Further, I can attest now to the advice of the folks I quoted earlier. As Sarai said, it’s easier for me to get dressed (and feel great about what I'm wearing!) and I feel like I’m making room for what I really want. With less in my closet, I’m actually dressing better. To give you an idea, this is what my closet looks like:
I’m using Wonder Hangers because I don’t have much room, but space is at a minimum so I need to be picky. That's all my tops, skirts, and dresses. There’s many clothes in here that I’ve yet to find the courage to toss, but the donation bag by the door’s patient. It’ll be there when I’m ready.
4. Don’t forget your fabric stash!
I recently organized my entire fabric stash. Here it is, blanketing nearly all of my living room.
Yikes! I've got just as much fabric as I do clothes hanging in my closet.
I culled this stash using the same criteria: Size, color and quality. If the size of the scrap was too small to make anything, I tossed it. If the color wasn’t right and I couldn’t foresee it as a lining or to use as a muslin, I donated it. Ditto on the quality. I ended up donating two garbage bags full of fabric. And now I know what I have and I’ve also organized everything by color and separated them by wovens and knits. This'll make my sewing so much easier.
Thanks for bearing with me in this long post! The quality of my closet is something I consider often, partly because it’s the foundation on which I base my sewing: It’s the playground to discover what I like, what I don’t, what I have, what I don’t. This continued self-awareness, I hope, will allow me to develop a wardrobe that reflects me.
And what about you? Do you cull your closets and/or fabric stash? What works for you?