Do you ever find yourself staring at your closet full of clothes and feeling like you've got absolutely nothing to wear? During those dark times, it might seem like the only logical course of action is to go shopping — inject a little newness into that tired, old wardrobe of yours — but shopping is the last thing you should do.
The very fact that you just looked at a wardrobe bursting with clothes and said to yourself "there is nothing here" proves that you are not thinking straight. Walk into a store with that kind of logic and you're almost guaranteed to walk out with a bunch of junk you neither need nor actually want.
Here's the truth: You don't need more clothing. You need less. And not so you can make room for all the new stuff you are going to buy afterwards. That's how you got into this mess in the first place. Instead, think of your closet as a block of marble. Inside that big, awkward hunk of rock is a beautiful sculpture — your ideal wardrobe, whole and intact — just waiting to be revealed. All you have to do is chisel away the excess.
But first you're going to need a few things: some paper and a pencil for writing down notes about the items you are purging from your closet, and a brutally unforgiving eye. The tougher and more honest you are with yourself now, the easier things will be for you later.
Here you go.
1. Clone Clothing — anything you have multiples of
Underwear and T-shirts are one thing, but if you notice that you've got six of the same floral dress, that should raise a red flag, especially if you tend to favor one or two heavily above the others. Lay them all out and think about exactly what it was that made you think these pieces were so different to begin with. Now that you look at them all together, do those differences really hold up? Are you sure? What was it that compelled you to buy these things when you already had nearly identical pieces in your wardrobe? Were there specific circumstances in which you bought these clothes? Were you shopping with friends? Were these pieces on sale?
Identifying the pieces and the circumstances under which you bought them will help you to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future. It's not just enough to make a mental note. Actually writing them out will help you internalize the information and give you with physical document to refer to later.
Pick your favorites from each group and hang them back in your closet — clearly these are things you are really drawn to so having a backup isn't a bad idea — before moving on to the next step.
2. Virgin Clothing — pieces you've either never worn, or only worn once
Are many of them from the same store? Were they bought for special occasions? Was there some unbelievable discount involved? Do they common design details like ruffles or bright colors? Do they fit a certain way? Even if just two or three of the items a distinctive trait, it's worth writing it down, especially if it's something you noted previously. The more often one of these traits pops up, the more important it is for you to be wary of them in the future.
3. Comfort Clothing — super-comfy house clothes you only wear when you are feeling schlubby
This is the kind of stuff your wouldn't be caught dead in outside the house — worn out sweatshirts, oversized, stained T-shirts, saggy-bottomed yoga pants. Now, I know what you're thinking, "Who cares what I wear when I'm just hanging out at home?"
You're right. 100%. But this isn't about anyone else. It's about you. Whether you want to admit it right now or not, what you wear has a profound effect on how you see yourself. If you've ever got dressed up and felt a rush of excitement and confidence, then you know what I'm saying is true. Yeah, no one is going to see you in those dingy cotton pajama shorts but you, but isn't that enough? And as comfy as those shorts may be, can you really say that wearing them makes you feel good, or do they just reinforce for you that the day you where them is a schlubby day where you will see no one and do nothing?
Now, I'm not saying that throwing out your lazy-day wardrobe will suddenly cure you of your shut-in tendencies. The clothes themselves are just a trigger. But a big part of this closet clean-out is identifying the triggers within your wardrobe that are holding you back or compelling you to make bad choices and eliminating them. Besides, it's not like you won't still have comfy clothes after all this is said and done. It's just that now you'll have one or two nice lounge-y sweatshirts that you can also wear out of the house, instead of a whole menagerie of broken down sad-sack pieces.
What do all these clothes have in common, besides being soft. Are they covered with little flowers? Do they have lacy bits that have grown gray and dingy over time? Are these design details you see popping up throughout your wardrobe, or do you have a special blind spot when it comes to things that are soft and stretchy?
4. Ghosts of Bad Outfits Past — pieces you once loved and wore all the time, but now hate
No over-stuffed closet would be complete without a few shameful fashion skeletons hidden in the back. It's time to confront your old bad style habits head on and learn from them.
You once loved this stuff. Why? What changed? Were you just copying a style you thought looked cool on someone else? Were you distracted by some tacky, bedazzled flourish you only now see for the horror it truly is? What was it that first drew you to this cloth abomination and what was it that finally forced you to retire it altogether?
5. "Other You" Clothing — anything that doesn't fit or would fit if you were a different you (skinnier, fatter, taller, shorter, whatever)
Lay out all the stuff you own that no longer fits. Where exactly are the problems? Is it the buttons? The cut of the hips? The shoulders? Is it too long? Too short? Are these problems that always existed or are they issues that developed over time?
Pay special attention to items that are particularly difficult for you to imagine giving up. Maybe it's a designer piece you spent a bunch of money on or it was once the key component of your favorite outfit. What is the specific issue that made this piece unwearable? Put stars next to any pre-existing fit issues that you somehow convinced yourself to overlook at the store. Once you identify what those are, it will be harder for you to ignore them in the future.
It's also worth noting any fit issues that are the result of fluctuations in your weight. If your changing weight means you often find your pants either too big or too small, you might want to consider switching to something with more stretch or a different style of bottom altogether that can better adapt to your changing body. If not all the time, then at least when you are looking to invest in a more expensive item.
6. Junk — anything that is stained or damaged beyond repair (which is to say, you are never actually going to repair it)
Ok. What's the deal? Are you a messy eater? Do you snag all you sweaters? Are you particularly hard on your bags or shoes? Some clothes just aren't for everyone. That's cool. Better to know your limitations before you buy something.
7. Filler — anything remaining that you just plain don't like
What is about these pieces that is turning you off, even though they don't fit into any of the other six categories? More likely than not, you will find a lot of overlap between this and all your lists.
Take some time to distill everything you've written down into one, smaller, cohesive list that you can carry with you to remind yourself of the major pitfalls you are likely to face the next time you go shopping — styles that you are drawn to but never wear, colors you think are pretty, but not on you, stores and sales where you tend to make your worst choices, even people who compel you to buy things you don't actually want.
Now, look upon your new, tightly edited wardrobe and try not to have a panic attack.
I know, this is way less stuff than you had before. You may even feel like you have nothing to wear, but I promise that you do. In fact, you can probably pull more good outfits out of the remaining pieces than you could have before because now every item in your closet is a legit winner. And if you're worried about people noticing that you've started wearing the same clothes over and over again, don't. No one will notice. You're not a celebrity. You can wear the same red sweater 10 times a month if you want. If it looks good on you and you feel good in it, the only thing anyone is really going to notice is how good you look in red sweaters.
Give yourself a day or two to get used to your new wardrobe and then, when you're ready, start a new list.
Now that you've edited out all the bad from your closet, the good should finally be able to show through. What is it about these clothes that you like? What do they have in common? Are there particular colors or silhouettes that have taken over following your ruthless edit? These are the elements of your personal style — something you probably had difficulty articulating before. Now that you know what they are, you know what to look for the next time you go shopping. And, armed with your trusty triggers list, you should be able to stop yourself from making the same shopping mistakes that forced you to embark on this epic closet cleanse in the first place. Oh, the money you'll save and the stress you'll avoid. It's gonna be smooth sailing from here on out.