This is it. It’s time. It’s time to attack, head-on, the looming problem you face each morning: your closet.
You clear you schedule, set aside a weekend and vow that this time, THIS TIME, you will purge. You will be reasonable, sensible, and not be distracted by emotional attachments to inanimate objects.
You will take a good hard look at yourself and only choose the items you love. The items that represent you as a person. The items that bring JOY. And when you are finished…..ahhhh.
Visions of white, light-drenched spaces filled with a single eames chair and sheepskin rug (casually tossed onto the chair) come to mind. A single flower in a simple, colorful vase, matching hangers (rose gold, perhaps?) from which your artfully curated wardrobe will hang….yes. You can see it. You can feel it. You are almost there….
You turn to your closet, wardrobe perfection shining brilliantly in your mind. You start off strong: Wrinkled blazer that you haven’t worn in 5 years? GONE. Red sweater that washes you out because it’s not the right shade of red? GONE. Ugly skirt that was a gift? GONE. Bootcut jeans? GONE. No, wait. They might come back. Ok, keep those. Onward!! Stained tee? GONE. Plaid shirt you only wore once? GON- oh, it’s missing a button. Hunh. Maybe you didn’t wear it because it was missing a button? I mean, how can you evaluate it honestly if a button is missing? Ok, keep and fix the button, THEN decide.
“Stay strong!!” you vow, and continue….riiiiight up until the tshirts. I mean…they’re perfectly good tshirts. There’s nothing wrong with them, you paid good money for them, you just… don’t…. wear….them.
But it’s OK!! You need to wear something to bed, right? And around the house? Or to work out? OH THANK GOD. THE TSHIRTS CAN STAY. They are now just repurposed into house/bed/workout shirts. How clever you are!!
Then, you turn to your jeans. Most of them are designer. You can’t get rid of DESIGNER clothes, right? Shouldn’t you keep them for posterity? Your daughter/daugher-in-law/grand-daughter? Yes, of course you should. She will thank you later. Oh crap. What’s this? A shirt with the tags on? Ouch. Maybe you could sell it? Speaking of, maybe you could sell the designer bootcut jeans? Shoot – you’ll need to start a “sell it” pile now.
Before long, after constantly second guessing and dithering and worrying (am I making the right choice? am I facing future devastation years from now??) the closet cleanout looks like this:
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Pretty much all of the closet cleanouts I’ve worked on have followed this pattern. Here’s how to break the cycle, and create a working closet you LOVE. I can’t promise pretty Pinterest anything, but I can help you conquest the wardrobe mess once and for all.
Step One: Understand the Ultimate Goal
The goal here, in a closet clean-out, is to arrive at a functioning closet, capable of inspiring outfits that fit the life you are actually living.
For most of us, a closet capable of inspiring new outfits needs to be a manageable size – where each item can be easily viewed.
Secondly, these outfits need to represent you. An understanding of how you define ‘good style’ – what is your own personal style? – will be really helpful. For a quick and easy method to determine your personal style, you might want to run through this exercise.
Step Two: Remove the Fear
The biggest hurdle in any closet clean-out is fear. Will this come back into style? Will I like it better once I lose 10 lbs? Is it cool and I just don’t know? Will I regret giving this away? et cetera, et cetera.
So let’s remove the fear. For this method, you will not be throwing anything away. Let me repeat: YOU WILL NOT BE THROWING ANYTHING AWAY.
I know this seems counter-intuitive, but just go with me. The ultimate goal is to end up with a well-functioning closet, right? To do that, we need to get rid of the fear, and listen to our intuition.
Step Three: Block Out A Day (or Two)
There’s no getting around it – a thoughtful closet clean-out takes time. Even a method as easy as this one. So: Block out a good solid day, find someone to watch the kids, and when the day comes take a shower and do your hair and makeup. You’ll be staring at your face in the mirror all day – it helps if you like what you see. (Also, if an item of clothing doesn’t look good when you look your best….it’s not gonna get any better at 6AM when you’re rushed and trying to get out the door.)
Step Four: Create Three Zones In Your Room
I like to use laundry baskets for each zone, but piles around the room work just as well. The zones are simply:
1. LOVE IT
2. HATE IT
3. DON’T KNOW
Zone 1: LOVE IT
This zone is only for the pieces that make you swoon with joy, the pieces that give you a little rush of love. I don’t care how often you’ve worn something (or not), or whether it ‘fits’ with your current lifestyle. If the piece makes you happy, it goes into the LOVE IT pile. Once the closet clean-out is complete, the LOVE IT pile will be hung back up in your closet.
Zone 2: HATE IT
These are the pieces that you’ve always secretly (or not so secretly) hated. They are the odd colors that do nothing for your skin tone, the stretched out, shrunk in the wash, stained, or otherwise totally unattractive pieces. If your first reaction when trying something on is “UGH!!”….throw it in the HATE IT pile. Once the closet clean-out is complete, I strongly suggest throwing these into a garbage bag and donating them. This is the one pile I do suggest getting rid of.
Zone 3: DON’T KNOW
The DON’T KNOW pile is everything that didn’t spark an initial gut reaction. It is the clothing you once liked but doesn’t currently fit. It is the clothing that you are keeping in case you get pregnant again, stop nursing, or start nursing. It is the clothing that may see new life if tailored. It is all of the confusing pieces in your closet, and the likely culprits of past closet clean-out fails. Based on experience, this will be the biggest pile by far. That’s good!! We’ll deal with this pile later.
Step Five: Try On EVERYTHING, Assign To A Zone
Your job is to try on everything in your closet. Put something on, look in the mirror, and give yourself only seconds to decide if you love it, hate it, or don’t know.
This gut reaction is important. Why? Because if we want to avoid getting bogged down by dithering and second guessing, we’ve got to clear the path somehow. Remember, there are no wrong answers – nothing will be thrown away. So assign items to their proper piles without fear. Go with your gut. Don’t overthink.
A few other tips:
- Start with pants and skirts – they’re the foundation of every outfit. Wear one of your favorite (or most-worn) tops, and your fav shoes. Try on every pair. Pants that don’t fit (but you once loved) go into the Don’t Know pile. Pants that need to be tailored go into the Don’t Know pile. The only pants that can go into the LOVE IT pile are the pants that you currently wear and love.
- When you try on tops, try them on with your favorite bottoms and high heels. If your gut instinct is still ‘NOPE’ in heels, you won’t like that top any better in flat shoes.
- Don’t forget to try on pajamas, workout clothes, and random bedtime sleep shirts. They all get the same treatment – LOVE IT, HATE IT or DON’T KNOW. Socks, tights, and underwear, too. (You probably don’t need to try these on, but you do need to consider every single pair.)
- Alternatively, you could try asking yourself, “Does this item bring me joy?” This question is from the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. We used this method throughout the house before we moved last summer, and while it did bring clarity to my sock drawer, staring at my tired face in the mirror – clad in anything – did not bring me joy. But it is another way of getting to your gut-level intuition.
Step 6 – Put Back Everything In The LOVE IT Zone
Once you’ve gone through all of your clothes and assigned them to a zone, anything in the LOVE IT zone can be hung back up in your closet. For now, this is your entire wardrobe.
I know what you’re thinking: “S!! I don’t love anything in my closet! I won’t have anything left to wear!!”
First of all, I hear this all the time. Most people are pleasantly surprised by what they have left over. And there’s still that DON’T KNOW pile we can raid, if we must. But the goal is to try and live with nothing but “LOVE ITs” for two solid weeks. (A month, if you can.)
Working with just your LOVE IT wardrobe will force you to get creative, see pieces and combinations in a new light. You’ll be able to better understand exactly what you need (and take on the tricky ‘Don’t Know’ pile with a critical eye.
So for now, just hang up the LOVE ITs and move onto the next step.
Step 7 – Get the HATE ITS Out
Get ’em out. If you can, throw them in a trash bag, take them to your car and send them off for donation. If that stresses you out, then take that trash bag, label it HATE ITS with a sharpie and throw it into the basement. The point is this: one way or another, get them out of your closet.
Step 8 – Deal With The DON’T KNOW Zone
Ok, now for the tricky part. At this point, your favorite pieces are hanging back up in your closet. Your hated pieces are gone. But you’re still facing a mountain of clothes in the middle of your room. Here’s what to do:
A – Pull Out Anything You’ve Worn In The Last Month
If you’ve worn it in last month, pull it out of the DON’T KNOW zone. These pieces don’t get to go back in your closet (not yet, anyway) but they should be on hand, just in case. I like to throw these into a laundry basket and keep them next to the closet. A garbage bag works just as well.
B – Pull Out Pieces To Be Tailored
If you have pieces that just need to be tailored, throw them into a shopping bag and put them by the door.
C – Pull Out Pieces For Your New Body
If you are currently trying lose weight, gain weight (hey new mama!!), breastfeed, recovery from surgery or any other such thing that can suddenly make a perfectly good closet full of clothes NOT FIT, pull out those pieces that you hope to fit into again someday. Create two piles: one for 6 months out, one for a year. Throw into bins (or garbage bags) and label them correspondingly. Pull them back out and reassess in 6 months, in a year. (Depending on life stage, you might also want to make a bag for Maternity, and another for Nursing / Post-Partum.)
D – Set Aside Emotional Pieces
What about your actual prom dress from the 90’s that you’ll never wear but can’t bear to part with? Your husband’s old collage tshirt that says, “It’s All Good”? Your grandmother’s scarf that isn’t your style but you keep around anyway? Create a Clothing Treasury bin and set it aside.
E – Separate Everything Else by Type
Shirts go into one bin, pants in another, dresses and skirts into a third bin. Label them, move them out of the closet and forget about them. These bins are basically safety nets. They’re not going anywhere, they’ll be there on that random day you freak out and start desperately searching for that one top that – finally – might work!!
And truthfully, sometimes it does. There have been many occasions where I’ve raided my ancient DON’T KNOW bin only to fall in love with something all over again. But be warned: That love affair usually doesn’t last. And the item eventually ends back up in the bin (sometimes within hours). You gut instinct is usually best – but it’s scary! So these safety nets are important. At some point (heck, even years later) you can donate these bins. When you’re ready. No pressure.
Step 9 – Live With Only Your LOVE IT Wardrobe For Two Weeks
Now the fun begins! Using only the pieces you love, see what new and interesting combinations you can create that fit your lifestyle. Take pictures of outfits, or potential outfits, and keep a list of items your new wardrobe is missing. Strategically pull pieces from your most-worn DON’T KNOW bin to fill in gaps as you go. As you live with a closet you love, you’ll get a better sense of your own personal style, and understand what types of items work really well for you.
Step 10 – Now Onto Your Husband’s Closet!!
Haha just kidding. Before we moved this summer, Mike did his own. It took him all of 15 minutes. He was all “No, No, No, Yes, Yes, Yes, Done. Babe, what’s so hard about this?”
[deep cleansing breath]
Soooo…ignoring annoying men for the moment…..good luck!!! I can’t wait to hear how your closet clean-outs go!