The Agony And The Ecstasy Of Cleaning Out Your Closet

I have spent a significant amount of time getting rid of clothes these last few weeks, and a small amount of time acquiring them. In my mind, when I imagine my wardrobe and the place it should occupy in my life, I now think largely in terms of proportions. I want a certain amount of this, a certain amount of that, and no waste. When I looked over the amount of money I’d spent on clothes over the past few months — clothes I barely wear! clothes that don’t even really fit me or look good! — I felt immensely disappointed in myself. And when I went through my closet and dresser with a cold, meticulous eye, I realized that I could count on my hands (and some of my toes) all of the everyday items that were truly worth keeping. I knew that if I wanted to embrace the #NeutralLife (as demonstrated in these pictures), and to have the kind of clean, refined wardrobe that would make me feel like that better version of myself, I would need to be severe in my actions.

I wrote here recently about the very select things I have recently purchased in an effort to have a closet full of versatile, neutral, wearable outfits. And since then, I have made exactly one more sartorial purchase. (I spent four hours around Union Square looking for the perfect pair of black jeans at a good price, and found an amazing pair at Burlington Coat Factory for a cool 19.99 — a perfect lesson in taking your time and not settling on the first thing you see, particularly when you set out with one specific item in mind.) But more important than the things I’m adding are the things I’m taking away. My interest in doing this closet overhaul — aside from finally giving me the kind of wardrobe that makes me feel like an Adult Woman whose personality shines through more than her awkward, overly feminine outfits — was simplifying my life. I want to make few purchases, and have them count. I want to always know what I have in my wardrobe, and therefore be able to plan efficiently. I want to wait for sales, and make the most of them. And to do that, one must eliminate excess and waste.

There are two major difficulties with getting rid of most of your clothes. One, it’s natural, when we’ve invested in something financially, to operate under the delusion that one day we will make use of them — even if we’ve never really used them before. We will keep things in the backs of our closets for years on end, even if they don’t fit or have never flattered us, simply because we don’t want to admit defeat. And taking that large chunk of your wardrobe, the things that you will never wear and honestly never should have purchased, is a bit of a blow to the ego. It feels sad, and you can’t help but think of all the money down the drain.

And two, we get irrationally attached to things that don’t really mean that much to us, clothing-wise, because we might appreciate them aesthetically. But something being pretty is quite different from something being pretty on us, and having nostalgia for an old shirt that never looked good on you is ridiculous. There is someone else out there for whom that objectively lovely, but personally unflattering, shirt will be a perfect fit. And for these two categories of clothes, I highly recommend taking them to a consignment/thrift/vintage store and getting some money or credit for them. (If you have the patience, eBay is also an option, but that is time-consuming and depends on the niceness of the clothes in question.) But if you’re really ready to give up all the stuff you’re not going to wear, there should be a significant amount of stuff fit for selling.

I had to do my own closet-cleaning in several stages, each round getting more and more ruthless. At first I only wanted to release the things that were so comically inappropriate for me they would have been ridiculous to keep. But once I made it to the final round, I realized I had a bunch of stuff that, theoretically, I could be wearing, but which just don’t look all that good on me. They’re things that don’t make me feel great when I’m wearing them, and honestly, it’s much better to have a few select items that all feel wonderful than a closet bursting with things that make you pull at your hems all day. Once I got through that last round, I was left with a very small rotation of clothes — jeans in a few colors, some basic skirts, a few dresses, and versatile tops. And despite the significant decrease in quantity, I find it much easier every morning to select an outfit. I know that nearly everything I could put on will feel nice, and go together (one of the great benefits of choosing almost exclusively neutral colors). It takes so much of the frustration out of looking through your things.

Ultimately, the most important element of saving money (and your own sanity) when it comes to your wardrobe, is to think of it as one cohesive thing. When you stop just purchasing things as you see them because you like them individually (except for rare treats), and start purchasing things as pieces to fit in a grander puzzle, you can plan out your spending and make sure that nothing you buy will be wasteful. You won’t have a closet full of disjointed, uncoordinated items, but rather a palette from which to choose your colors every morning. When you actually plan out (on a piece of paper, like I did) the elements that you need to have for your particular lifestyle, and spend a thoughtful amount of time choosing each one (hunting for deals, finding the best fit, etc), everything improves immediately.

I decided, starting this month, that I wanted to give myself 100 dollars per month (barring special occasions) to buy new clothes, which for a long time will mean adding a certain amount of key items to my closet as time goes on. If I plan it out well, I can buy a few high-quality items within that budget each month (Nordstrom Rack, Burlington Coat Factory, thrift stores, and online clearance sales are your friend). If there is something I absolutely MUST have that exceeds my budget, I have to wait at least a day on it. (This month, I’ve been obsessing over two rings in a little jewelry shop by my house that come to about 70 bucks. I could get them if I want to, but I don’t know if they’re worth it to me yet. I want to wait and see how I feel about them at the end of the month before I make the purchase.) Because ultimately, purchasing my clothes without thought or planning has been what has put me in the awful position of having an overstuffed, unsatisfying closet, and no sense of control over how it got that way.

And honestly, taking it slow feels so, so much better.