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How To Edit Your Closet

I playfully refer to myself as a shopaholic. But, I actually consider myself a curator of clothes. I don't shop willy-nilly, adding every shiny or trendy thing to my wardrobe. I have more respect for my closet than that (although granted, 2022 was an anomaly. I bought a lot of trash that didn't suit me or my style). Rather I love to pick and choose unique, quirky, edgy, classic, and stylish pieces for my closet one at a time. I (usually) build my wardrobe, piece by piece, filling my life with items I am enamored with. Even still, I, too, sometimes fall victim to the "I have nothing to wear" blues. And when I do, it is time for a closet edit.

It's second nature for me to zip through my closet and pare down. I often pick a section (dresses, jeans, jackets, etc.) and cull, cull, cull. These quick clean-outs keep my collection edited and focused. But every now and again, I have to do a larger cleanse, from top to bottom, and give myself a fresh start.

For the untrained in closet cleansing, where do you begin? I'd say the first thing you have to clean up is your attitude. Before you start, you have to be in a mindset of letting go. Never clean out your closet when you're feeling needy or sentimental. You'll end up justifying why you should keep every item and throw out nothing. Which defeats the purpose and wastes your time. No, come at it from a place of, "I am releasing the past. I am letting go of baggage. I am moving forward unfettered and surrounded by great clothes." Try it. It works.

I have a large collection of clothing. Thus I like to work in sections so I have natural stopping points if I get overwhelmed. Of course, if your collection is smaller than mine, you can tackle it all at once. I start by pulling out anything I know I don't want. That's the easy stuff. And it gets the momentum going.

Next, I set aside anything I know I want to keep. Now, hear me out. Consideration for this pile means the item must have been recently worn (like, say, within the last season). I had to have had NO issues with it. I didn't have to fuss with it. I didn't struggle to style it. They are pieces I wear over and over again and love. Anything questionable - whether for style, fit, age, or something else - cannot go in the keep pile. At least not yet.

Everything that remains must be tried on. MUST. No exceptions. Because this is the stuff that can make or break your closet. And usually, there is a lot of it. This is the stuff that is making you wishy-washy when you're getting dressed. It makes you think outfits are there that aren't. And it fills your closet, giving the impression that you have things to wear - when, in fact, you don't. These items are very deceptive. Which is why you must try each one on. Determine which items of clothing are legit and wonderful and waiting to be worn. And which ones are the detractors.

While trying on, here are some keys to keep in mind. Anything that doesn't fit must go. Anything that's not your personal style must go. (Don't know your personal style? Start here. It's key to paring down your closet. How will you know what you should be keeping/tossing if you don't know the look you're trying to achieve?) Unless it's very well made or designer, anything older than ten years old should go (there are a few exceptions. But only a few). If you run across items you're keeping for sentimental reasons, consider whether they deserve to take up space in your closet. Would a picture of you in the item suffice? Is a memory good enough? Sentimental items are tricky, I know. I allow myself to keep a few, but one must not get carried away, lest you never make room for new memory-making clothes. Be very ruthless when it comes to those items.

Don't forget shoes, bags, jewelry, sleepwear, and undergarments. Especially undergarments. Please toss stretched-out knickers and threadbare bras. They are no longer serving you. You deserve better. Same for sleepwear. Consider how badly you need and want to hold on to that tattered college sweatshirt you sleep in every night. Instead think of how amazing it will feel to cozy up in a soft, new, matching PJ set. Just think about it. Under no circumstances may you add any clothing from your toss pile to your sleepwear drawer. Do you hear me? Not allowed.

Now, what to do with those piles of rejected clothes and accessories? Here are some options:

  • Have a swap party. If you've got a few friends who are roughly the same size, have a clothing swap. Everyone gets to clean out their old things and trade them for something "new."

  • Resell. Sites like Poshmark, Mercari, Depop, and eBay can help you recoup some of your clothing costs. You'll need to do the work to see the results (snapping photos, writing descriptions, negotiating the price). But you can use your profits towards something new!

  • Send nicer items to a resale site or to a consignment store. Not interested in all the work or reselling? Let a site like ThredUp do it for you. Or find a local store that will sell your items on consignment or pay cash for them upfront. Either way, the clothes are gone and you've got money (or store credit!) in your pocket.

  • Donate. Goodwill is the easy option but also look for charity centers that have specific needs, like Dress For Success. These kinds of donation centers will make sure that items or resources get to those who need them most.

  • Trash or fabric recycling. Discard anything that's not worth donating (damaged, stained, etc.). If you can find a fabric recycling facility, that's the best option. If not, send those tattered clothes to their final resting place.

That, dear friend, is how you get to a beautifully pared-down closet. Imagine waking up to a wardrobe full of things you want to wear. Ahhhh. You'll be able to tell where the holes are now, too. Without all that fluff, you can see that you're missing a pair of dark wash jeans and an oversized blazer. You can assess that your t-shirt drawer is a little light. Or that you need a new pair of heels for work. All things you couldn't recognize when your closet was full of, well, everything.


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