You’ve made the decision to go through your closet. That is a big feat. And while you might want to just dive in and start purging, like much else in life, you need to first have a plan—a goal to justify dedicating an hour, a day or a weekend to overhaul this space—or else it will all be for naught. You’ll get frustrated, overwhelmed and eventually be left with all your clothes piled up around your room, surrounded by chaos.
Don’t worry, we’ve been there. Often.
These are some tried-and-true exercises we’ve used to purge our busting closets. And while the act of getting dressed in the morning still takes thought, we’ve now whittled it down to about 5-10 minutes of picking, dressing and accessorizing.
1. Know your real style.
Of course we love clothes. We take note of what’s walking the runways. We dog-ear magazine pages. We pin our hearts away during our lunch breaks and in the evenings. And we hit the pavement and try on all the latest pieces at the local boutiques. But to have a working closet, you need to know what you will realistically wear day in, day out.
While I would love to don the latest trendy pieces every day, I know that at 6:30 a.m., I’m grabbing basic pieces and adding some extra flare with jewelry. I utilize my Pintrest board by only pinning photos of pieces I already own, or ones that are similar, and looking at My Style board each morning while I’m filling up on coffee and getting my boys out the door for school. And when I do add items into my wardrobe, I follow the reasoning of: Do I have more than one piece I can wear this with? Am I buying it because I love it and it looks great on me or because I think I’m getting a good deal?
Our copy editor, Winn Duvall, goes a step further and breaks her Pintrest boards out by season, making it easier to search through for inspiration.
Food editor and restaurant critic Stefanie Gans makes sure her favorite pieces are only an arm’s reach away by having a coat rack just outside of her closet so she can grab and go. “My favorite pieces are staring at me,” she says. And for her style inspiration, she looks to actual street style—not the photos posted online but rather what she sees people wearing while she’s out and about Northern Virginia. She also mentions that she finds herself drawn to merging what she sees on the young (“Those who are trying to fit in,” she says.) and the older set (“Those who just don’t give a fuck anymore,” she says.).
[Let us see your style by posting your outfits to Instagram, #NoVAStyle.]
So once you’ve figured out your actual style, you’ll have a parameter for what you should keep and what you should toss or donate.
2. Let the purge begin.
So now that you’ve figured out your style, you need to keep this in mind for the purge.
Continue to trust your instincts when going through your clothes. As you take one piece out, quickly say yes or no; don’t contemplate, just do it. Place the piece in its respective pile. I make a separate pile for items I hesitate with.
Once you’ve gotten through every piece in your closet, immediately bag up your no pile. (I bag up my hesitate pile in a separate bag.)
Take extra care when placing your yes pile back in your closet. I follow these rules:
1. Are there any holes, pulls or tears? If yes, I ask myself if it is worth the cost of getting it fixed. Yes? It goes in a bag for the tailor. No? Put it in a toss bag.
2. Does the piece need any alterations for size, hems, buttons, etc.? If yes, put it in a bag for the tailor.
3. Am I holding on to it because I actually wear it or because it has sentimental value? If I wear it often it goes directly onto a thin, velvet-lined hanger. (These hangers keep the clothes on the hanger and take up less space.) If I’m not sure, I put it on a colored hanger (more on that below under “Restocking your closet”). For those sentimental pieces, which I have a handful of—my grandmother’s favorite sweater, a high school T-shirt signed by teammates and a couple of other items—I determine if I actually wear them or if they need to be stored somewhere other than my closet.
4. Is this an everyday item or a special occasion item? If it’s a special occasion item, put it in a separate pile. (These will be stored in the back of the closet.)
With the hesitate pile …
I bag up these items separately and sit them in the corner of my room. I only leave them there for a week—and rightfully so. I have found myself going into these bags to pull out pieces to wear. (I was too quick to dismiss the item in my purge.) After a week, if I didn’t pull an item back out to wear immediately, they go to donation.
With the no pile …
I take the time to sit down and separate the no items into toss or donate piles. This is important, because you don’t want to send your ratty items to a charity. Once the no items are packed up, I throw the toss bag into the trash. (You’re not going to go dig them out later.) The donate bags go right into the backseat of my car. (I need a visual of them or else they’ll sit in my trunk for months.)
3. Restocking your closet.
The hard work is done. At this point you have a curated pile of items that you love, wear often and fit into your realistic style wardrobe. The first items that should go back into the closet are those special occasion pieces—there’s no need for them to be taking up prime real estate.
Next, follow the traditional sorting method of items by type (shirts, sweaters, pants, skirts, dresses). I even take it as far as sorting by seasons I can wear the item. (This is mainly for dresses as I try to get the most wear out of items and layer up in the winter.)
After all my curated pieces are in the closet on velvet-lined hangers, I move to the hesitate pile, working them in using the same sorting method. Since these items are on different hangers, I’ll always be reminded of my uncertainty about them. If I end up wearing one of these items within six months, I hang it back up on a velvet hanger. If I don’t, come six months, I know that the item needs to go.
4. Helpful tips moving forward.
A great rule of thumb for keeping your closet in pristine shape is to go by the one in, one out rule. Each time you buy a new piece, toss or donate an item you don’t wear very often.
Keep track of what you already own. A great way to do this is by using the Stylebook app ($3.99 in the iTunes store). Use it when you are restocking your closet. Having your wardrobe at your fingertips when out shopping will help you pair potential buys with what you already have, and it will help you avoid purchasing duplicate or similar items.
Be aware of your changing style. As seasons change, sometime so do the styles we gravitate toward. It’s a good idea to quickly go through your closet every season and do a quick yes/no test. It’s also a good time to take a look at those colored-hanger items again.
Most important, fashion is supposed to be fun. If you’ve spent the time figuring out the look you want to convey to the world, show it off.
Our culture and lifestyle writer, Eliza Berkon, has a great way of doing this: Check out her Instagram and see how she pairs her outfits with music.
Caught in a Daze @penguinprison #sotd #anthropologie #stitchfix #loft #localjewelry #ootd