Question you may be asking: Are wardrobe clean-outs a form of self-care?
Answer: They are if you consider your wardrobe an extension of yourself. (I do.)
And I spend a lot of happy, dreamy hours puttering around in there. Thus, I have been through many a wardrobe org sesh, solo and with friends. And I have learned a little about how to have a successful—and quick—clear-out.
Side note: Like some of you, I have used Marie Kondo’s method. I regret a good 20 percent of what I tossed during that process. Such as a Rick Owens dirty-denim jacket with a rip in it. Like that’s a problem. I try hard to forgive myself for this one.
Anyway! I admire Marie, but am here proposing a more modest approach, in which we take what we need from KonMari, and leave the rest, including those frayed jeans that would look amazing if we were to add a calico Log Cabin patch over the hole.
Here’s when to consider cleaning out/switching up your wardrobe:
- With the change of seasons.
- With a change of lifestyle, such as a new baby, a new job or after moving house.
- When your weight has not changed; when it’s been stable but your closet is all over the scale.
- For no reason! It’s a random rainy Thursday and you’re drawn to do it.
- Or regularly, because you dig it so much.
My Method, in Three Easy Steps
Step 1: Throw out anything too ratty to wear or repair. This is easy. It probably won’t be a lot, but I suspect there are things at the back you feel too guilty to toss.
The first rule of closet cleanout club? No elaborate disposal strategies. That way lies paralysis. Turns out that donating non-wearable clothing too often means sending scrap bales on barges back across the ocean; not a win for the planet.
Next, if you have things you don’t want that can still be worn: all one destination. Saving this piece for Jane and that other piece for Kira will spiral into complexity and stymie your ultimate goal: putting together a wardrobe that works today, preferably before cocktail hour. And not having a mudroom full of labeled bags all going to different destinations.
VIQ: Are ratty handknits an exception?
A: We often think of things we buy in the shops as machine made, but most clothes are made by human hands, just like handknits. So no. Same rule: if it’s too raggedy to wear or repair, dispose of it.
Step 2: Remove what doesn’t fit the body you have right now. In daily life I often work with people who want to lose weight, and that usually means a closet with a lot of clothes that don’t fit. This makes getting dressed a rebuke (“I should be able to wear this!”) and going shopping a misery. (“I have a closet full of things that SHOULD fit me!” or “I don’t want to buy anything that will fit me now because it’ll be too big in a month!”)
So for the second pass through the closet, put aside anything that doesn’t fit right now. No need to permanently deaccession anything today; we’re going to put anything too small into a box, seal the box, label it with today’s date, and stow it someplace cool and dry. Goodbye (temporarily!) to all that.
Pick a date six to twelve months in the future for evaluation and put an alarm in your calendar. That’s long enough to be a different size; maybe you’ll have changed your habits and lost so much weight that those formerly too-small things are now actually too big. This happens all the time when we create space for ourselves, and is part of the real life-changing magic of tidying up our closet.
Six to twelve months is also long enough to accept that some things are not big enough and may never be. Acceptance will be much easier when we have a closet that doesn’t taunt or shame us. And that’s what we’ll have later today: A nice closet that’s on our side. A friendly closet, not a frenemy closet.
As you face what’s left—those items that are wearable right now—a few scenarios are possible:
- Maybe nothing is missing. Perhaps you still have a post-purge plenty. (This doesn’t happen a lot, but it could.)
- Maybe you don’t like what’s there. Maybe there are things that just don’t make you happy when you put them on. (If so, proceed as in Step 1.)
- Or maybe you’re not left with much, but your few things are well chosen and beloved. Maybe, like Lawrence of Arabia, you enjoy the limitation game, and can let “[austerity] be your luxury.” You win Capsule Wardrobe!
- Most likely, you’re left with everything you’ve been wearing anyway: the stuff that fits, but is not the stuff of dreams. You could maybe use a few more things? But how much better to see it clearly, without the blinding sideshow of Clothes That Should Fit (But Weirdly Don’t).
And now you can evaluate what’s missing for your real and present body’s needs.
In the likely case there are things you still need, here is Step 3: The French 5. (Oh, Frenchwomen, I just can’t quit you!)
Note: A quick Google search of “French 5” will turn up the absurd idea that Frenchwomen get by with five wardrobe items. I adore those blogs, but any actual Frenchwoman—and anyone who has been to France —will tell you this is wrong. The French have tiny armoires, but they squeeze every available centimeter out of them.
No, the French 5, as I use it, is the idea that limits are good for budgets, people, the planet and wardrobes, and thus planning is essential. It’s a list of desired items to be acquired not tonight, not tomorrow, but over a season or a year or even longer. It’s a considered list which every item must fight its way onto: your Top 5.
Here are some questions to consider (these are not rules!) as you are vetting desired items for your list:
- Is this wardrobe glue? That is, does it go with virtually everything?
- Is it timeless and will it thus last more or less forever, practically paying for itself?
- Or is it of the moment? Will I see it on everyone and quickly tire of it?
- Is it sustainably made? Or is it something that represents a net loss of human and planetary health?
- Can I get this, or something close enough, used?
- Is it a poor substitute for something we can’t justify, like a funny #needmoneyforgucci t-shirt when the truth is we want Gucci, and it’s out of reach?
- Is it affordable? Or is it just cheap and disposable?
- Is it affordable? Or does it represent a crime of passion—against my financial security?
- Is there a version that will actually look and feel good on me, or is it something that will never love me the way I love it?
That’s it: Three steps. KonMari would argue Not comprehensive enough! You’re going to have to do it again someday!
And I would counter: You’re probably right, Marie! And that’s OK. Because when you do it right, it’s fun.
Fringe Association’s Slow Fashion October series.
The RealReal: Gently used (and carefully measured!) designer clothing.
Wear What You Make, Sonya Philip’s First Person series.
Paper Theory Patterns: Five Things I Learnt from a Year of No Shopping