Keep It in the Closet

My dream closet: an airy, sophisticated, orderly refuge.

I’m both a clothes horse and a neat freak, two traits that do not necessarily play well together. Consequently, I make it a point to regularly clean out my closet. I enjoy the process (it feeds both my shopping and my culling tendencies) but even those who dread it usually find that the results make the process worthwhile: A clean closet/concisely edited wardrobe saves time and makes you look and feel better.

The new year is a great time to pare down, declutter and generally lighten the load. I started off 2016 by overhauling my closet/wardrobe, and thought I would share some of my tips, tricks and lessons learned. There are hundreds of great closet cleaning/organizing suggestions out there, but this is the process that works best for me, and I think it’s pretty foolproof! Here are a few things to keep in mind before you begin:

1. Know your style. If you don’t, take some time to identify it. When you look at Pinterest or fashion mags/sites, what looks do you gravitate toward? Soft and feminine? Boho chic? I would peg my style as “classic with an edge.” My go-to looks are jeans with blazers or biker jackets and heels/boots/booties, pencil skirts and silk blouses, tailored suits or trousers, and LBDs. My pieces are predominantly black, and often embellished with edgy rocker-chic details. Yet one of the items I pulled from my closet this go-round was a Lily Pulitzeresque sundress. It was frothy, feminine and lovely, and its aqua shade entranced me when I bought it, but it wasn’t me. It hung in my closet unworn for ages before I accepted that I would never wear it and sent it on its way. Which brings me to number two:

2. Forget about sunk costs. We’ve all bought clothes we’ve never worn, and it seems such a waste to get rid of a garment with tags still attached. We trick ourselves into thinking that if we hang onto it, we might wear it, and therefore we didn’t waste the money. Here is where you have to be honest with yourself. The funds are spent and can’t be recovered (a sunk cost). If you won’t wear the garment, you are burdening yourself by keeping it; just let it go.

3. Consider your age and how you want your wardrobe to work for you. When I was in my 20s and my style was still evolving, if a trend looked good on me, I bought it, no matter how impractical or flash-in-the-pan. Most of those clothes have now been discarded. By my mid-30s, I decided to buy primarily investment pieces, timeless classics that will never go out of style. Most of these items–tailored pencil skirts, cashmere sweaters–will work as well for me in 20 years as they do now. (I know we’re talking about culling and not shopping, but here is where I have to advise you to always buy the very best quality you can afford. Don’t spend money that you don’t have, but the adage is true: One quality item is worth ten cheaper versions. With care and maintenance it can give you many seasons of wear and in some cases will last a lifetime.) I don’t believe in hard and fast style rules. I think anything potentially works these days: I wear white after Labor Day, and I have a chic friend who is 50 who can rock a miniskirt without looking like “mutton dressed as lamb.” However, I do urge you to consider your age, lifestyle and goals–and how your clothes can project and aid you in those pursuits–when you turn a critical eye to your closet.

One of my style staples–boots and more boots.

Once you know your style and free yourself from regrets over any “wasted” spending, it’s time to open those doors and dig in. I like to pull everything out of the closet and pile all like items together. Then the fun begins–trying it all on. It’s like a day at the mall, and you’re guaranteed to find things you forgot you had. Pick one category at a time, e.g. jeans, try each item on, and ruthlessly evaluate it. Does it fit? (My weight has a tendency to fluctuate by 10 pounds, so I let myself keep garments that are one size too big or one size too small. That’s it.) Is the item in style? Does it flatter my body? Do I feel good in it and love it? (I always ask myself: Would I feel comfortable in this if I were wearing it when I met a VIP?) If you can’t answer yes to all questions, toss it out.

At the end of this process, you should have a large pile of rejects. I had six big bags full, half of which went to a consignment store, and the remainder to charity. The items that passed muster and stayed are things that are stylish, flattering and, most of all, are pieces that I truly love. I like my closet organized by type of garment, and then within that type by color (did I mention that I’m anal?), so I put all of the keepers back in the closet using this system. It’s especially aesthetically pleasing if all of your hangers match–ribbon-pink Huggable Hangers are my weapons of choice.

Now that the hardest part is over, it’s time to turn the same ruthless eye to undergarments, footwear, handbags and accessories. Although I keep my closet neat and cull it every year, I had been lax in going through my jewelry. This time around, I gave it a hard edit and reduced my collection by about one-third. Costume and fine jewelry both were tossed out. You may find yourself hesitant to part with gold, platinum or gemstone pieces, but if you don’t love or wear them (and there’s no extraordinary sentimental value attached), let them go. Sunk costs! They’re just taking up space. These days, you can easily sell those pieces for cash back.

Displaying some of my most-frequently worn costume, vintage and fine jewelry pieces makes it easy to “grab and go” in the morning.

It’s a fact that we wear what we see so, if space allows, I recommend displaying your favorite and most-worn jewelry pieces artfully on beautiful trays. You’ll probably find yourself reaching for things more often than you would if they’re stowed away in a jewelry box.

When you’ve completed the process, you’ll have a mini department store in your closet, one that is a pleasure to “shop” each morning. And, if you’re like me, you’ll feel good that you’ve unburdened yourself and simplified your life just a bit. An organized home really does make for an organized mind and an organized life. Studies show it can help you think more clearly and work more efficiently. Here’s to lightening the load in 2016!

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