How the Ultimate Closet Clean-Out Will Rejuvenate Your Wardrobe

Real Style on 03.08.11
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Photo: The Container Store

I am a big believer in the well-edited wardrobe, particularly for busy moms. Getting dressed shouldn’t be a chore or a bore, but when you’re faced with row after row of pieces that don’t fit your current body or your current lifestyle, it can be both. The opposite, of course, is also true -- when your closet consists only of pieces that fit and that you really wear, picking an outfit is super easy. So what’s the strategy for whittling your wardrobe down to only what works?

You need to clean out your closet. Seriously. Here’s how.

Empty your closet.
Take everything out -- every dress and shirt and pair of shoes. Sort them by season and focus on the current season; don’t try to cover everything at once. If possible, move all the off-season clothes to another place -- a guest room closet, if you have one, or a plastic storage box under the bed. If everything needs to live in this one closet, put the off-season pieces in the back or off to the side; you can deal with them when the weather changes, but in the meantime, don’t let them take up much needed space in the front of your closet. Give the clothes you’re wearing right now the best space, up front, where you can see and find them easily.

Try everything on.
Once you’ve pulled out all the seasonally appropriate pieces, try them on. Every. Single. Thing. All the dresses and skirts and tops and bottoms -- everything. Keep only the pieces that fit and are in good shape. Pieces that are too small go in the giveaway pile; pieces that are too big should go to the tailor. Pieces that are stained or pilled or worn don’t go back in the closet at all. The goal is to open your closet every morning and see only pieces that work for your current shape and lifestyle. In other words, clothes you can really wear.

Postpartum exemption: If you’ve had a baby in the past year, give yourself a little more leeway in getting rid of things that don’t fit perfectly right now; it can take a while to get your pre-pregnancy body back, after all. Rather than giving those pieces away, store them -- anything that doesn’t fit at this moment shouldn’t be in your closet when you’re getting dressed in the morning. If you’re still nursing, or still working on losing the baby weight, don’t go crazy and empty out your closet. Think of this as the wardrobe version of not getting a pixie cut two weeks before you deliver. You’ll thank me.

Create outfits. Now that you’re down to only pieces that fit and are in good condition, start over. Try everything on again, but this time make outfits. Experiment with different combinations -- pair pretty tops with basic shorts, and skirts with t-shirts. Think about where you go every day and what you have to wear -- can you find something other than yoga pants and a tee for the park or playgroup? I’ll bet you can. Don’t be afraid to mix and match; it’s possible that some of the pieces you used to wear to work can be repurposed as part of your stay-home closet, for example, or that some of your weekend wear can actually go to the office. Focus less on what clothes are “work” or “weekend” and more on what fits and looks great on you. Even with fewer pieces, you’ll find that you have more options.

Make a list.
Inevitably, you will find gaps in your wardrobe. As you try things on, make a list of pieces that are missing -- and when you shop, stick to the list, rather than impulse buying. I keep a running list of things I need on my iPhone; when I find myself aimlessly flipping through the racks at J. Crew, I get out the list and focus on what I need, rather than on what’s right in front of me. Shopping from the list means that you will bring home pieces that fit easily into your carefully edited closet, and that you will wear over and over again.

Editing your wardrobe can be scary, but limiting your choices to only pieces that really work -- for your body and your life -- will make getting dressed so much easier. After all, putting on clothes should be the easiest thing you do each day.


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