How To Clear Out Your Closet
Well, I don’t know about you, but I spent the Easter weekend cleaning out my closet.
(NOT in the Eminem kind of way.)
(Don’t worry, I also ate my own bodyweight in chocolate: I’m not THAT stupid…)
I’d been itching to have a good ol’ closet clearout since before I went on holiday, but before I go any further here, let me just quickly reassure you that this is NOT one of those posts about minimalism, or capsule wardrobes, or any of that other trendy stuff. I mean, I’m not saying I’m not just as obsessed with all of that as every other fashion blogger on the planet right now, but, well, if you’d seen how much I packed for a two-week holiday, you’d know that minimalism and me just don’t mix. (Er, you already knew that, didn’t you? Or could’ve guessed it from the photo at the top of the page…)
I might not ever be going to have a capsule wardrobe, however, but I AM slowly (veeeerrry, veeeeerrryyyy slowly) working towards having a better one: one that’s filled only with things I love and wear, as opposed to all of those things I bought because I thought I might wear them one day, or because I did that thing again where I start thinking it’s 1958, and I’m about to be presented to the queen, OMG, where are my opera gloves?! With that in mind (well, at the BACK of my mind, anyway), I approached this particular clear-out feeling particularly ruthless. Here’s how I got on…
The received wisdom on closet clear-outs seems to be that the first thing you should do is remove everything from the closet in question. My best advice to you? DON’T DO THAT. Because then you’ll just have to put it all (or most of it, at least) back again, won’t you? And THAT won’t be fun. I tackled this particular clear-out over three days (not because it took a full three days to do it, I hasten to add: purely because it was Easter, and I had a lot of important Netflix-bingeing to do, too….), and I wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night if there was STUFF everywhere, so instead of pulling everything out and throwing it on the floor, I started off by simply flicking through everything I have (while it was still on the rails), and weeding out the things I KNOW I didn’t want to keep.
Obviously I’m very lucky in this respect, in that I have easy access to everything: if your closet is crammed, then yeah, pulling everything out might be the best way forward, but the basic principle remains the same – go through it all, and ditch all of the obvious stuff first. How do you decide what’s “obvious”? Well, I haven’t read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Yes, I know it sounds like the kind of thing I’d like, but I just haven’t found the time), but I HAVE read enough about the KonMari method to know that the book advises you to pick each item up and ask yourself if it brings you joy. I… don’t really ask myself that exactly, but I do basically work on instinct here. Well, there are some things you just KNOW you’re not going to wear, aren’t there? Sometimes it’s because they’re so old they should really have been put out of their misery years ago, other times it’s because they don’t fit well, or are no longer my style…
Most of the time, though, it’s just this feeling I get when I look at them: I just don’t want to wear them, and whereas in the past I’d possibly have talked myself into keeping them “just in case”, this time I decided to trust my instinct, and let them go. Sing it with me, people: “Let it goooooooooo…”
Clothes on trial
With that done, my next step is to go through everything again, this time looking at each item, and asking myself: should it stay or should it go now?
Often, this involves trying it on first:
(Please excuse the dodgy lighting in these photos: I couldn’t fit my studio lights into this room and still have space to move around, so I had to rely on the flash, which is never fun…)
It also involves making a huge mess:
(It doesn’t HAVE to involve looking unbearably smug, but apparently it did for me, so sorry about that.)
Now, again, the received wisdom here is that when you’re clearing out your closet, you should follow some kind of “rule”, like, “If you haven’t worn it in the last year, get rid of it!” or some such thing. Again, I totally ignore those rules: I tried following them for years, but the fact is, they just don;t work for me. For one thing, time-based rules like that don’t really take into account people like me, who love clothes (and, you know, who blog about them for a living…), and enjoy collecting them, but for another, those rules also make the assumption that in the space of that year (or two years, or six months, or whatever the time period is), you’ll encounter every possible situation and/or weather condition you’re likely to encounter in the rest of your life.
Which is kind of nuts, right?
If I were to get rid of everything I haven’t worn in the last year, for instance, I’d be throwing out almost all of my summer clothes, because we just didn’t get a summer last year. That doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t ever get one again, though (or at least, I hope to God not…), so it would be pretty stupid of me to be all, “Oh, I didn’t wear this sundress last year: OFF WITH ITS HEAD!” I mean, it would, wouldn’t it? I have the same issue with eveningwear. None of my friends got married last year (I know, so selfish of them!), and I wasn’t invited to any swanky events, so I didn’t have much use for evening dresses, or some of my fancier heels. Doesn’t mean I won’t EVER be invited anywhere again, though, and kicking them all to the kerb would be the easiest way I know to start the invitations flooding in, so I’m not throwing out my favourite dress, just because I haven’t worn it within an arbitrary timeframe, nuh-uh.
Oh, and I know I’m over-explaining this now, but I also go through phases with things. Case in point: the gold sweater I haven’t worn in at least two years, for reasons I don’t even know myself. I still like it, it’s still in pristine condition – but for a long time, I just wasn’t feeling it, somehow. About three weeks ago, though, I threw it on while I was doing some household chores, and I must have worn it at least half-a-dozen times since then, because all-of-a-sudden I LOVE that sweater, and it’s all I want to wear. I was on holiday for two weeks during this time – without the sweater – so that’s actually pretty heavy rotation for something that had previously languished unworn for two years, and which I’d have felt obliged to get rid of ages ago if I was following some kind of time-based rule.
So, how DO I decide what to keep? I use a handy little quote from William Morris:
“Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
I mean, he was talking about houses, obviously, not closets. I think the idea still applies, though, and this is the little motto I keep in mind when I’m clearing out my closet. So I keep the things I wear all the time, even although they might not exactly set my heart on fire (basics, workout gear, jeans, etc), and the things I just LOVE, even if I haven’t worn them in a while, and don’t know when I’ll have the chance to wear them again. This goes against the idea of only keeping the things that “bring you joy”, (which, in my case would mean throwing out all of my tights, and lots of other basics, because it’s not like you pick those things up and think, “OMG, I just ADORE this!”, is it?), and it also goes against the idea of getting rid of things you’re not wearing often enough. It does, however, leave you with:
a) The things you literally couldn’t live without, because you wear them every damn day.
b) The things you just don’t WANT to live without, because they’re OMGAWESOME, and you know that if you got rid of them, you’d spend the rest of your life regretting it.
And that works for me.
Following this basic idea, I ended up with a huge pile of clothes I wasn’t willing to give closet space to any more, so it was time to move on to…
Divide and conquer
I took all of the clothes I was rejecting, and divided them into three piles:
01. Things to throw out
02. Things to donate
03. Things to store
The first two categories are hopefully self-explanatory. The third was for things I thought I should probably get rid of, but which I wasn’t totally sure about. As I said, I was trying to be really ruthless with this clear-out, but I’m not naturally a ruthless person (particularly where clothes are concerned), so rather than just getting rid of everything and then regretting it, I put some items into vacuum bags, which I’ve stashed in the attic for now. The idea is one you’ve probably heard before, and it’s basically that if you don’t miss it, you don’t need it, so I’ll leave them there for a few months, and if I don’t find myself hankering after something that’s out of reach, I’ll donate them at the end of that time. In an ideal world, obviously, this step wouldn’t be necessary, and I’m sure it probably goes against the rules of minimalism or something, so I guess it’s a good idea I decided against the whole “capsule wardrobe” thing, huh?
Once I’d done all of the actual clearing-out of the closet, it was time to put back everything that had ended up on the floor, and spend a bit of time tidying up. I didn’t have a huge amount to do here, because I’d ignored the advice to empty the closet first, but it’s worth going through everything one last time anyway, because there’s always something you’ve missed. In this case, my final sweep revealed a few things I’d decided to keep, but which I all-of -a-sudden decided to ditch, mostly because I just instinctively felt they wouldn’t get worn. Let’s just hope I was right about that, otherwise I’m going to be making a lot of trips to the attic over the next few months…
And after all that…
… I STILL have way more clothes than I expected to. GAH.
As I said, I wasn’t trying to create a capsule wardrobe, but I DID have this idea that I’d end up with some kind of Pinterest-worthy collection of clothes, all neatly organised and looking a bit like a little boutique or something. Well, that didn’t happen: even after filling three giant bags full of clothes, I’m still not even close to that ideal, and I don’t think I ever will be, but… I’m working on it. Slowly. And I DID get to colour-code my shoes with my bags, so that has to count for something, right?