Work & Home

Change of Seasons Closet Cleaning

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For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on winnowing down the number of clothes in my closet. I have two very basic rules guiding this process:

  1. Anytime I buy something new, I donate or get rid of something old. I implemented this rule when I started getting shipments from Stitch Fix, because the point of using that service was to improve the quality of my wardrobe without actually having to go shopping. Getting rid of old items definitely improves the quality of my wardrobe.
  2. If I’m replacing a piece I already own–for instance, buying a new gray cardigan–I don’t keep the old one “just in case.” Either the old one needs to go, or it doesn’t. This rule helps me avoid the scenario in which I end up with two (or three) nearly identical gray cardigans.

I don’t like shopping. I think that’s one of the things that makes me weirdly protective of the clothes I own. If I get rid of them (the thinking goes), maybe I’ll discover that I needed them after all. This means shopping to replace them. But maybe I won’t be able to find a new piece that I like as well as the old one. That means more shopping. The horror, the horror! Better to just hang on to what I have, right?

About a year ago, I decided to make the winnowing process part of my semi-annual switch of clothing. My ultimate goal is to end up with only as many clothes as I can fit neatly into my bedroom closet. (It isn’t walk-in size, but it’s also not especially small.) I’m a long way from that goal, as the plastic tub of winter sweaters on my closet floor demonstrates. But at least I’ve cut back from two storage tubs to one, and at least that tub is partially filled with sentimental items I don’t unpack each year. (Things like a scarf Mike’s grandmother knitted for me before she died, for instance.)

I’m fortunate to live in a place that doesn’t require a wide variety of clothing–the weather is mild in south Texas throughout the winter months. We have an occasional cold snap in January or February, meaning the temperature actually dips below freezing for a few days.  Generally speaking, though, winter clothing just isn’t necessary. We’ve lived here long enough that Mike and I have finally parted with the heavy coats we brought with us from the Midwest, but I’m really attached to some of my cozy sweaters. I say this in spite of the fact that I’m likely to wear them only once or twice (if at all) in a given year.

That means the seasonal purge is painful for me. But even so, here are the rules for my seasonal closet cleaning:

  1. Anything I won’t wear for the next six months gets taken out of closet. If I’ve worn it at least once in the past six months, I pack it away. If I haven’t, it gets donated or tossed. (Since, as I mentioned, I live in a warm climate, this is mostly a matter of packing away spring and summer colors. Other lightweight clothing can be layered throughout the cooler months.)
  2. For every sweater I bring out of storage, one spring or summer sweater is packed away. If I end up with extras based on this 1:1 ratio, I keep only those I’ve actually worn in the past year.
  3. For every hanging item I bring out of storage, one is packed away. Extras are handled using the same principle I apply to sweaters.
  4. When hanging up the clothes that were previously in storage, I turn the hangers backward on the hanging rod. If and when I wear these items, I turn their hangers forward again. Anything I haven’t touched before the next seasonal purge gets donated or tossed.
  5. I add no new hangers to my closet, and I remove any extras after all my clothes have been accounted for. This encourages me to maintain a 1:1 ratio with seasonal clothes and keeps my closet from becoming overstuffed.

I’ve read some closet-cleaning advice that begins with emptying your closet entirely. That simply won’t work for me, since it creates the kind of overwhelmingly large organizational project that makes me paralyzed. The very prospect of having to deal with all that stuff is just too much. By applying these basic rules to the kind of re-organizing I already do twice a year, I’m able to streamline my wardrobe without getting frustrated and throwing myself into the kind of Everything goes! frenzy that later leaves me feeling regretful.

I lost a beloved pair of Chuck Taylor high tops in a purge of that sort several years ago, and I still haven’t forgiven myself. I don’t want to make that kind of mistake again.

If you have tips for cutting your wardrobe to a manageable size, let’s hear them!

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