Seven Tips To Start Simplifying Your Wardrobe

Full disclosure: this wardrobe simplifying thing is still a work in progress for me. I have clothes in two closets, one dresser, and two under-bed boxes. I still have too many clothes. But I am making progress!

Here is my closet from February and my closet now:

Closet then and now

I have also done some major cleaning out in the second (guest room) closet. A couple months ago, that was an “open at your own risk” type of closet, the type to open v-e-r-y c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y. It was packed to a comical, pile-toppling point. If you came to my house now, you could not only open the closet door, but also safely step inside! The single rack is still full of clothes on hangers (mostly my off season or vintage pieces), but a guest could easily stash a suitcase there. Progress.

I’m still learning, and I feel my relationship to my belongings being transformed. Simplifying is a process.

If you are interested in simplifying your wardrobe and don’t know where to begin, here are some ideas. These are things I’ve found helpful in my closet makeover, and perhaps they can get you started on your own journey.

1. Start the “keep” pile with your favorites and your basics.

Begin by setting aside the items you love and wear often, the things you know you want to keep. Sometimes it’s easier to eliminate some clothes once you’ve identified what stays. Also include your wardrobe basics or staples, like your favorite jeans.

Note that your basics might not be typical neutrals, like a trench coat or a white oxford shirt. Just because these items appear on many “must have” lists does not mean you must have them! I do have a trench, but in a darker tan that suits me better than classic khaki, and I prefer my blue button down to white, especially since I spend much of my time with a toddler–crisp white and everyday childhood messes do not mix well for me. High-waisted, rust-colored shorts might not be everyone’s basic, but for me they are a staple. They go with all my favorite tops, can be worn with flats or heels, and I even sometimes rock them with tights and a sweater in the fall.

I love pattern mixing, and for me, stripes are a basic. I wear my striped tops with just about any and everything. A capsule wardrobe can be black and white and gray, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.

Find your own staples, pieces you feel great wearing and can easily combine into outfits. Let these be your signature pieces and form the base of your wardrobe.

2. Eliminate duplicates.

You may find you have two or three very similar items but generally prefer wearing one of them. When I put my colorful tanks (or my oxford shirts, or my patterned skirts) side by side, I usually have a clear front-runner. The others serve as back ups or extras, and I can free up closet space by keeping the favorites and donating seconds. Now instead of going to my second best when my favorite item is dirty, I just do laundry. It’s slightly less convenient, but I actually feel happier and more comfortable wearing only my top tier clothing.

3. Store out of season and out of size items.

If you have the space (under bed storage, an extra drawer or closet space), store things you aren’t currently wearing, or at least move them out of the front of your closet. Since I had a baby two and a half years ago, I finally put those last couple maternity dresses in storage. No need to have these items right in my sight line when I’m dressing each day. The weather has also gotten hot, so under bed boxes and space bags keep my sweaters out of the way and moth-free during the summer. When the seasons change, it feels like a treasure hunt to rediscover what’s been hiding in storage. If space is at a premium, a wardrobe bag in the back of your closet or a box on a high shelf could keep these items out of the way.

4. Remove things that are worn out, stained, or beyond repair.

When I examined some of the clothes I wasn’t wearing, particularly former favorites, I discovered that many of them were worn out. It’s hard for me to say goodbye to once beloved clothes, but I am not going to feel good wearing the pilling sweater or the shirt with twisted side seams. If the items cannot be cleaned or repaired, I am better off without them crowding my closet. If you are particularly attached to something that is no longer fit for daily wear, consider whether it could transition to lounge wear. This is the best second life I’ve found for moth-eaten sweaters that I still like but wouldn’t wear out of the house.

5. Find new ways to wear what you have.

This won’t get anything out of your closet, but it might grow your appreciation for some things you already have. This is one of my favorite uses for Pinterest, where I keep a secret board of capsule wardrobe inspiration. I included the mustard cropped chinos from my spring capsule in my summer collection, and when I search “mustard pants outfit” or “mustard color combo”, I get lots of new ideas. If you have a piece you’re unsure about or wonder if certain colors work together, search for how others have worn them and find inspiration. You can do a regular internet search as well, but I like how easy it is to collect and store inspiration on Pinterest.

Also think about whether some pieces could be worn unconventionally. Two of my dresses also serve as tops when tucked into a skirt or knotted at the waist with a pair of pants. The two outfits on the right, from my late winter/early spring Project 333, show that in action.

Striped Dress and Chambray Tunic

6. Discover what you’re actually wearing (and eliminate what you’re not wearing).

Try the hanger trick or keep a log (written or photographic), or use an app or online resource to document what you wear for a season. If you are struggling with some of the previous tips, this one might lend some objectivity to the simplifying process. Becoming aware of unworn clothes may make it easier to part with them or could motivate you to make new outfits and transform these items into favorites.

Seeing what’s not working can also help with future shopping. Common themes among my unworn clothes included demanding care requirements (dry clean only, etc.), unflattering styles and colors, or items unsuited for the climate where I live. I now check care labels when I shop, and I limit “hand wash” and “dry clean only” items. I have also avoided buying additional cold climate items like heavy sweaters or lined pants; I live in the Deep South of the United States, and I will rarely have a chance to wear those clothes.

7. Go for a trial separation if you have trouble letting go.

Sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder, and sometimes out of sight is out of mind. And sometimes clichés also apply to clothes. Try stashing clothes about which you are undecided. I kept a pile in that doom closet for a couple months and then reassessed. Most of those items have since been donated, but I’m holding on to a few until I make my fall wardrobe. A box or bag in an out of the way place can give you a break from the clothes. If you haven’t accessed the stash or thought about its contents for a specified time (I recommend between one and six months), you might be ready to part ways. You could do this sight unseen or go through items again–whatever works for you. Or you might discover you are more attached to an item than you realized and choose to keep it in your closet.

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Ready to try it? Let me know how it goes!

Have you already cleaned out your closet? What helped you get started?

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7 comments

  1. The Sartorial Coquette

    great post and advice!! 😀 it’s so hard to let go sometimes though… especially since clothes are so often associated to memories. I ❤ your outfits too 🙂
    thesartorialcoquette.com

  2. Joanna

    Great tips! I have been using the hanger trick for a couple of months now and am just starting my first Project 333 (if a bit late!) I find the ‘trial separation’ works well for me; I can’t actually remember everything that’s in my undecided drawer.

    • harkathome

      Thanks, Joanna! I’ll be interested to hear how Project 333 goes for you. I found I didn’t miss most of what I’d taken out of my closet…except for shoes and accessories. I kept pulling those out of storage for some reason. 🙂

      • Joanna

        I’m trialling it for the first phase and I might blog about it afterwards 🙂 I’m not including shoes or accessories for my first Project 333; I thought I’d just focus on clothes to start with (I have a large number of scarves that I don’t want to part with just yet!)

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