cleaning out my closet

Well, I don’t know about you, but I spent the Easter weekend cleaning out my closet.

(NOT in the Eminem kind of way.)

(Don’t worry, I also ate my own bodyweight in chocolate: I’m not THAT stupid…)

I’d been itching to have a good ol’ closet clearout since before I went on holiday, but before I go any further here, let me just quickly reassure you that this is NOT one of those posts about minimalism, or capsule wardrobes, or any of that other trendy stuff. I mean, I’m not saying I’m not just as obsessed with all of that as every other fashion blogger on the planet right now, but, well, if you’d seen how much I packed for a two-week holiday, you’d know that minimalism and me just don’t mix. (Er, you already knew that, didn’t you? Or could’ve guessed it from the photo at the top of the page…)

I might not ever be going to have a capsule wardrobe, however, but I AM slowly (veeeerrry, veeeeerrryyyy slowly) working towards having a better one: one that’s filled only with things I love and wear, as opposed to all of those things I bought because I thought I might wear them one day, or because I did that thing again where I start thinking it’s 1958, and I’m about to be presented to the queen, OMG, where are my opera gloves?! With that in mind (well, at the BACK of my mind, anyway), I approached this particular clear-out feeling particularly ruthless. Here’s how I got on…

how to clear out your closet without losing your mind

Step 1: Reconnaissance

The received wisdom on closet clear-outs seems to be that the first thing you should do is remove everything from the closet in question. My best advice to you? DON’T DO THAT. Because then you’ll just have to put it all (or most of it, at least) back again, won’t you? And THAT won’t be fun. I tackled this particular clear-out over three days (not because it took a full three days to do it, I hasten to add: purely because it was Easter, and I had a lot of important Netflix-bingeing to do, too….), and I wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night if there was STUFF everywhere, so instead of pulling everything out and throwing it on the floor, I started off by simply flicking through everything I have (while it was still on the rails), and weeding out the things I KNOW I didn’t want to keep.

Obviously I’m very lucky in this respect, in that I have easy access to everything: if your closet is crammed, then yeah, pulling everything out might be the best way forward, but the basic principle remains the same – go through it all, and ditch all of the obvious stuff first. How do you decide what’s “obvious”? Well, I haven’t read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Yes, I know it sounds like the kind of thing I’d like, but I just haven’t found the time), but I HAVE read enough about the KonMari method to know that the book advises you to pick each item up and ask yourself if it brings you joy. I… don’t really ask myself that exactlybut I do basically work on instinct here. Well, there are some things you just KNOW you’re not going to wear, aren’t there? Sometimes it’s because they’re so old they should really have been put out of their misery years ago, other times it’s because they don’t fit well, or are no longer my style…

Most of the time, though, it’s just this feeling I get when I look at them: I just don’t want to wear them, and whereas in the past I’d possibly have talked myself into keeping them “just in case”,  this time I decided to trust my instinct, and let them go. Sing it with me, people: “Let it goooooooooo…”

Step 2: Clothes on trial

With that done, my next step is to go through everything again, this time looking at each item, and asking myself: should it stay or should it go now?

Often, this involves trying it on first:
trying on a green pencil dress

(Please excuse the dodgy lighting in these photos: I couldn’t fit my studio lights into this room and still have space to move around, so I had to rely on the flash, which is never fun…)

It also involves making a huge mess:

messy closet during clearout

(It doesn’t HAVE to involve looking unbearably smug, but apparently it did for me, so sorry about that.)

Now, again, the received wisdom here is that when you’re clearing out your closet, you should follow some kind of “rule”, like, “If you haven’t worn it in the last year, get rid of it!” or some such thing. Again, I totally ignore those rules: I tried following them for years, but the fact is, they just don;t work for me. For one thing, time-based rules like that don’t really take into account people like me, who love clothes (and, you know, who blog about them for a living…), and enjoy collecting them, but for another, those rules also make the assumption that in the space of that year (or two years, or six months, or whatever the time period is), you’ll encounter every possible situation and/or weather condition you’re likely to encounter in the rest of your life.

Which is kind of nuts, right?

If I were to get rid of everything I haven’t worn in the last year, for instance, I’d be throwing out almost all of my summer clothes, because we just didn’t get a summer last year. That doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t ever get one again, though (or at least, I hope to God not…), so it would be pretty stupid of me to be all, “Oh, I didn’t wear this sundress last year: OFF WITH ITS HEAD!” I mean, it would, wouldn’t it? I have the same issue with eveningwear. None of my friends got married last year (I know, so selfish of them!), and I wasn’t invited to any swanky events, so I didn’t have much use for evening dresses, or some of my fancier heels. Doesn’t mean I won’t EVER be invited anywhere again, though, and kicking them all to the kerb would be the easiest way I know to start the invitations flooding in, so I’m not throwing out my favourite dress, just because I haven’t worn it within an arbitrary timeframe, nuh-uh.

Oh, and I know I’m over-explaining this now, but I also go through phases with things. Case in point: the gold sweater I haven’t worn in at least two years, for reasons I don’t even know myself. I still like it, it’s still in pristine condition – but for a long time, I just wasn’t feeling it, somehow. About three weeks ago, though, I threw it on while I was doing some household chores, and I must have worn it at least half-a-dozen times since then, because all-of-a-sudden I LOVE that sweater, and it’s all I want to wear. I was on holiday for two weeks during this time – without the sweater – so that’s actually pretty heavy rotation for something that had previously languished unworn for two years, and which I’d have felt obliged to get rid of ages ago if I was following some kind of time-based rule.

So, how DO I decide what to keep? I use a handy little quote from William Morris:

Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful

“Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

I mean, he was talking about houses, obviously, not closets. I think the idea still applies, though, and this is the little motto I keep in mind when I’m clearing out my closet. So I keep the things I wear all the time, even although they might not exactly set my heart on fire (basics, workout gear, jeans, etc), and the things I just LOVE, even if I haven’t worn them in a while, and don’t know when I’ll have the chance to wear them again. This goes against the idea of only keeping the things that “bring you joy”, (which, in my case would mean throwing out all of my tights, and lots of other basics, because it’s not like you pick those things up and think, “OMG, I just ADORE this!”, is it?), and it also goes against the idea of getting rid of things you’re not wearing often enough. It does, however, leave you with:

a) The things you literally couldn’t live without, because you wear them every damn day.

and

b) The things you just don’t WANT to live without, because they’re OMGAWESOME, and you know that if you got rid of them, you’d spend the rest of your life regretting it.

And that works for me.

Following this basic idea, I ended up with a huge pile of clothes I wasn’t willing to give closet space to any more, so it was time to move on to…

flat shoes on shelf in closet

Step 3: Divide and conquer 

I took all of the clothes I was rejecting, and divided them into three piles:

01. Things to throw out

02. Things to donate

03. Things to store

The first two categories are hopefully self-explanatory. The third was for things I thought I should probably get rid of, but which I wasn’t totally sure about. As I said, I was trying to be really ruthless with this clear-out, but I’m not naturally a ruthless person (particularly where clothes are concerned), so rather than just getting rid of everything and then regretting it, I put some items into vacuum bags, which I’ve stashed in the attic for now. The idea is one you’ve probably heard before, and it’s basically that if you don’t miss it, you don’t need it, so I’ll leave them there for a few months, and if I don’t find myself hankering after something that’s out of reach, I’ll donate them at the end of that time. In an ideal world, obviously, this step wouldn’t be necessary, and I’m sure it probably goes against the rules of minimalism or something, so I guess it’s a good idea I decided against the whole “capsule wardrobe” thing, huh?

clothes hanging in closet

Step 4: Final sweep

Once I’d done all of the actual clearing-out of the closet, it was time to put back everything that had ended up on the floor, and spend a bit of time tidying up. I didn’t have a huge amount to do here, because I’d ignored the advice to empty the closet first, but it’s worth going through everything one last time anyway, because there’s always something you’ve missed. In this case, my final sweep revealed a few things I’d decided to keep, but which I all-of -a-sudden decided to ditch, mostly because I just instinctively felt they wouldn’t get worn. Let’s just hope I was right about that, otherwise I’m going to be making a lot of trips to the attic over the next few months…

red shoes and handbag inside closet

And after all that…

… I STILL have way more clothes than I expected to. GAH.

As I said, I wasn’t trying to create a capsule wardrobe, but I DID have this idea that I’d end up with some kind of Pinterest-worthy collection of clothes, all neatly organised and looking a bit like a little boutique or something. Well, that didn’t happen: even after filling three giant bags full of clothes, I’m still not even close to that ideal, and I don’t think I ever will be, but… I’m working on it. Slowly. And I DID get to colour-code my shoes with my bags, so that has to count for something, right?

26 Comments
  1. At home I like to be minimalistic at some areas like my book case or kitchen cabinets. But when it comes to my passion, sewing, (and therefore having lots of clothes/ a huge fabric stash / and many sewing patterns) I don’t want to be minimalistic because it’s something I really really love.

    Of course I do have some rules like working from my stash instead of buying new fabric every time. And I have dedicated one room to my passion and all the things which are related to my passion have to fit in that one room (with stil enough space left to move comfortably through that room)

    My style is very stable over the last 6/7 years and I have periods that I like to wear certain items alot. Then I get bored of it and they disappear in a corner of my closet with the idea to get rid of it. After some time, even some years, I rediscover them and fall in love again with that particular garment. When that happens I’m soo glad I didn’t get rid of it.

    I really like the rule to keep thing which you really need and which you really love.

  2. But your closet is Pinterest worthy!! It looks gorgeous all neatly laid out and with a colour theme (tell me you have a drawer of shame somewhere that things get shoved into because they don’t have a home anywhere else!!)
    The KonMari is great if you need a kick start on things but using the William Morris quote in conjunction with it makes great sense for stuff that is useful but not joyful.

    1. That’s really nice of you to say, but I’m not totally happy with it – I look at photos of closets on Pinterest, and the rails all seem so neat and well-ordered, whereas mine are just crammed full of so much stuff that one entire wall looks really messy to me! I think I’d probably need to have WAY less stuff to have it looking the way I want it!

  3. All of those outfits are adorable!

    I do it on instinct/using the “spark joy” method too. Of course, the last time I cleaned out my closet, I got rid of literally a gigantic garbage bag of clothes… and my wardrobe is STILL bursting (at least I don’t have a separate Rubbermaid tub full of clothes like I used to anymore…).

    I should *probably* do another clean-out 😉

  4. I’ve just finished a wardrobe clearout and update this morning, and I feel so much better for it. Mostly because it will make it much easier to coax my cat out of there when he sneaks in.

    I agree with you about time based rules not working. I use instinct too – there are just some things I won’t ever throw out, even if I only wear them once every year.

  5. I’m such a practical person – and love clothes so much – that my heels dig in whenever I hear or read the Kon Mari mantra. It seems to limited and short-sighted, and solely based on emotion. I don’t know about you, but my emotions change and I don’t always love things or hate them all the time. I like the William Morris quote you cited much more, because it covers both bases.

    I need to do my own wardrobe clearout. I’ve been saying that for months, and simply haven’t had a sufficient length of time to set aside! But it’s encouraging to see you do it. 😀

  6. Hi Amber, I love closet clean-out posts more than anything, and I *do* have a capsule wardrobe, which I enjoy for the most part. (Sometimes it can feel pretty bland, though I hate to admit it!) Anyways, I always look forward to the “how to wear one item x different ways posts” because I want to incorporate the more exciting pieces I have into more of my everyday wear. Since you’ve cleaned out your closet, could you show us some of your rediscovered favorites?

  7. I like your way so much more than the capsule wardrobe/minmalist way. I have done big overhauls before and most of the time it is no problem, but sometimes I am still thinking about that one bubblegum pink dress I donated two years ago. One of my rules is that I never get rid of something out of season. No ditching all of my sweaters in the June or all of my mini dresses in February.

    -Justina

  8. I follow a similar method as you Amber… I haven’t really wrapped my head around the idea of a capsule wardrobe. Living in Canada requires one to have at least twice as many of everything! I have probably 10 winter coats because 1. Winter severity varies and 2. If I have to live in a place where we have winter for a minimum of 6 months then I need some variety, dammit! The other thing that dictates my wardrobe size is my size. My weight fluctuates between 10-15 lbs and so I have clothes to fit everything. Its frustrating.

    Do you ever sell your unused clothes, shoes and bags? How do you go about doing this?

  9. Looks like you’ve kept the orange print skirt (exaggerated sigh if relief, ha)!

    I just love fruit/veggie prints in general but I thought it looked lovely on you. And as always, your closet and the contents are life goals. I love how bright and cheerful it looks even if you think it’s cramped looking.

    I like your method of clearing out, seems less daunting than taking everything out.

  10. Amber, I so relate to everything you’re saying here! I think your closet looks fabulous, and I pinned your fab red shoes and handbag. I think it looks like a boutique!

  11. I remember the first time I cleared out my closet, I followed all the rules to a tee and ended up with a capsule wardrobe, and then I sat on the floor and cried, because I felt like nothing was left, I then re-went through all the bags and took some stuff out. I’m the type of person who will go through phases, I’ll buy things and love them in store and not love them at home, but then a month or two later I’ll be absolutely obsessed with it and it will be all I want to wear. Since then I’ll clear out my closet every so often but not as often as I think I should, and I have a few things that just stay in my closet because I just can’t let go of them but probably should.

    Mana
    Fashion and Happy Things

  12. I have a lot of functions where I need fairly formal wear, so pretty much all my wardrobe gets used on a fairly regular basis. If I had any ‘rule’ for it, it would be that I always put clothes back at one end of my wardrobe. That way, anything which isn’t being worn works its way to the back. Makes it easier to have a quick look there every now and then, and see whether the clothes languishing there are worth keeping, or if it’s time for them to go. Sometimes even when someone tells you that something looks nice on you, it still just doesn’t feel right. The other bonus of organising my wardrobe like this, is if I want something I haven’t worn for a while, I go to the back 🙂 Works for me, but probably not for everyone!

  13. Pinterest wardrobes seem like a bit of a false goal – to me anyhow! The ones on my boards are always sparsely occupied, with maybe 10 items of clothing at most. I found myself pinning one that literally had a coat, a scarf and a hat hung on it and that’s when I realised that, although minimalist and attractive, there’s no way I could achieve the look without having to get rid of everything I owned. Tempting but seriously impractical.

  14. Did you spend an weekend? I have to spend an whole month to clean out. Usually I follow this rule; did I wore this in the last year, no. Then it goes. That means I didn’t find it attractive. Thanks for tips, time to change.

  15. Amber you closet and your photos are fab! I really appreciate your post pretty pics with all posts thing! I’ve been thinking about the marie kondo thing and i was initially the same : I couldn’t possibly LOVE socks . This is stupid. But as time goes and i am keeping some principles like this in my mind. i re-organised my tights and socks and lingerie drawers, with dividers and everything. And while i started packing and stuff I picked you know only the nicest socks. threw away lots of old ratty ones i ve been keeping for no reason. I actually put on all my tights and really kept the nicest comfiest looking plushest tights and so on . Even those are basics i spent to much time to fish out of laundry and pair , in the end it made me more aware and happy with my underpinnings. And by really thinking about this i revolutionised my pyjamas to keep only the cutest comfiest warm and cool options . It’s not like now i will look at sock and see omg happy but i ve enjoyed my clear-out a lot . That being said i dread having to pack the sweaters. they look so nice folded and are all blue/red/white and striped and a pop of yellow. I tend to be so much smarted about my winterwardrobe 🙁 .

  16. I’m doing a decluttering challenge this month, and I started with my closet. The take everything out thing did work really well for me! Plus, the way my closet is set up, I have three sections in there.. so the things that were in the “wrong” section got put back into the correct one 🙂
    I also swapped out all of my hangers, so they are closer to being all the same… which is really, really nice. I love how streamlined it looks to have all the hangers match.

  17. I too am a firm believer in the useful/beautiful proviso! I have got quite good at getting rid of things on that basis, but sorting stuff is my downfall – I’ve tried by colour, work/home, sleeve length etc. Currently trialling by era (20s to 80s!), best arrangement so far.

    Thanks for all these tips! X

  18. Hi there,
    I found you’re idea of intuitively decluttering your wardrobe really nice. I love my (classic minimalistic) clothes and can wear them years (about 10 was the most). Also after such a long period, when I finally discarded my clothes, I regretted having them thrown away. I use the storage-method much longer: I “forget” my clothes for 1 – 2- 3 years and I am really happy to see my old friends back by then with all the memories attached. Because the fashion, colors, accessoiries etc. change over that time, I can wear my old clothes in totally new ways! Then I love the homely sentimental feeling with the exciting new possibilities. Of course that depends on having a stable weight, bodyform (pregnancy!) and certain fashionstyle
    etc. Needless to say that I can and will adjust items that are no longer in fashion like tapering pants or shorten skirts. I am 55 years now and this works fine for me.

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