The great closet clean-out, step 1: Emptying the closet

The great closet clean-out

Two weeks ago I did as promised: I pulled every single solitary thing out of my miniature walk-in closet, and I also pulled all of the hidden clothes and shoes out of the auxiliary wardrobe. I stacked everything in categorized piles — which is already a huge improvement over the previous mess — but have avoided trying to analyze what’s there. Yet. And then I cleaned the empty closet! Which is now my favorite room in the house. This past Saturday, I counted:

  • 13 jeans
  • 17 pants
  • 4 sweats/leggings
  • 7 shorts
  • 8 skirts
  • 7 dresses
  • 20 shirts/blouses
  • 38 t-shirts
  • 24-ish tank tops
  • 7 vests
  • 13 jackets (as in blazers)
  • 2 coats

Plus too many (outerwear) jackets to round up and count. And then there are the sweaters:

  • 14 cardigans (not counting the ones on the needles)
  • 18 pullovers (including two turtlenecks)
  • 6 vests/tunics

And, uh:

  • 50 shoes/boots/sandals

This doesn’t include pajamas or exercise clothes, nor socks and underwear. Nor does it include anything in the underbed boxes, which is all basically souvenir clothes. (Favorites from other times I can’t bear to part with, plus the dress I got married in, etc.) I had recently gone through those and narrowed the contents considerably, so I’m leaving well enough alone with all that. For now.

I don’t wear a lot of shorts or t-shirts (you’d never guess that by the count) and essentially never wear skirts or dresses. So there are some very obvious and easy cuts to make right off the bat, and I did make two grocery bags’ worth this weekend. But I’m going to take this whole process very gradually: assessing what’s there, thinking about how I want to be dressing myself, and deciding what is allowed back into the closet vs what goes to Goodwill, consignment, Dress for Success, or the studio rag bin.

I’ve established three rules for the allowing-back-in part of that equation:

1) Everything must fit into the closet, with room to spare. No more clothes in that Ikea wardrobe. And the closet mustn’t be full so that it’s immediately a problem again the next time I buy anything.

2) Putting a thing back in the closet has to be a no-brainer — no talking myself into anything or trying to figure out how I might be able to make use of a thing where it isn’t obvious.

3) Nothing shabby. If there are wardrobe staples that have clearly seen better days (and there are!) then they are to be replaced, not kept. I’m asking myself “If I were to run into someone I haven’t seen in years, would I be pleased or horrified that I had this on?” If the answer is not pleased, the item is not allowed in the closet, no matter how well-loved it may have been.

So I have my work cut out for me, but like I said, I’m just going to take it slow. The mess wasn’t created overnight, and it won’t be solved overnight either. I only wish I had time to really read and ponder Sarai Mitnick’s ongoing Wardrobe Architect series, which is jaw-dropping in its depth and apparent thoroughness. But even dipping into it here and there is giving me a lot to think about.

I’ll have more to say about the sweaters. There are shockingly few I wear given how many of them there are …


41 thoughts on “The great closet clean-out, step 1: Emptying the closet

  1. I’ve done that a little while ago, I gave away almost everything. I realized I can live with only 2 pairs of jeans ( instead of 20 hardly worn because of ill fitting!). I still manage to own only what I really wear ( it’s been almost a year now since the de-clutter), and I’ve learnt not to buy anymore random stuff, or cheap seasonal things. It’s such a relief, I feel much happier! once you are through you won’t go back to old habits of hoarding. Enjoy the process.

  2. Just the motivation I need to go through my own closet cleaning exercise. I also dream of a well edited closet where everything fits and suits me perfectly. This Spring break is the right time for it. We do tend to cling to things just in case… When most of the time, the ” case” never materializes.

    • There’s a third pair still in the box. But in my defense, I wear the crap out of them. They’re cheap, made in China, Target goods (don’t judge me, anyone!) but they’ve been money very well spent.

      • I’m definitely not judging! I wish I’d bought a third pair and saved them for when my other 2 wear out–they’re comfy shoe-slipper-flats you can wear out of the house, and the smoking slipper shape keeps them from being too ballet flat girly.

  3. So awesome! Your talk of clothes sorting got me going and I did the same thing this weekend. We’re moving and I couldn’t bear to haul all those clothes to a new house. Many I hauled from the last house three years ago and haven’t worn. I picked what I love and wear, bagged up the rest (bags and BAGS) and drove ’em straight to a thrift store. Talk about freeing! All the way home I was thinking, “Happy! Happy! Happy me!”

  4. “If I were to run into someone I haven’t seen in years, would I be pleased or horrified that I had this on?” Ah. That does put things into perspective. This is the best version of “Should I keep this?” that I’ve come across so far. I even have a specific person in mind, and looking at what I’m wearing right now… it’s very very iffy.

    I’ve been half-heartedly whittling away at my clothes for a while, so I’m following your progress with real interest. I had a moment of clarity this past weekend, having to dress slightly smartly and not having much clean. I put on a skirt I haven’t worn much (because I still have to make the shirts that will go with it) and a cardigan I wear with everything, and suddenly felt more comfortably myself than I have for ages. I realised that if I only had pencil skirts and raglan sleeve knits (t-shirts included), I’d be perfectly happy. These are the things I like! It might be extreme, but I’m going to try it.

    You do have some very lovely shoes, by the way.

  5. Oh my goodness! That is a rather impressive list of clothes! I try to sort out my wardrobe every 6 months to keep it cut well back because I always find I never have enough of the essentials (jeans in particular…) but an excessive amount of useless items (namely t-shirts which it never gets hot enough to wear…) I then always write two lists, stuff that I DO need and stuff that I really DON’T need, so that when I next go shopping, I don’t just stock up on the very pretty but useless t-shirts again!

  6. I just looked into Dress for Success — what a great organization! Thanks for mentioning them. I will be doing a closet clean-out soon and plan to donate to the Boston affiliate!

  7. My difficulty is if I am ever going to lose this 5-10 lbs. If I do, I will be able to wear everything in the closet. I guess I should set a time limit on how long I will wait and then let whatever doesn’t fit go. I am currently doing the turn-the-hanger-backwards to see what it is I actually wear. That is a real revelation so far.

  8. I guess I’m weird, but I absolutely love dejunking. It’s my favourite activity whenever I feel stressed. And I think your tip about not having anything that you’d be ashamed to be seen in is a good one.

  9. aaaah… 50 shoes!!! :-)
    I find it so hard to find nice shoes which I really like. Most times I have one/two favorite pairs which I wear until they break and then I’ll buy the next ones.

  10. This seems to be the theme this weekend! First was my fabric stash 9we won’t talk about that) then I killed my armoire (except for the t-shirt section…for someone who doesn’t wear t-shirts, I own 9000 of them!).

  11. Wow! I’ve never taken stock of my wardrobe like this. I suspect that I have the clothing to dress two or three very different women after all of the changes I’ve had in my life over the last few years, but it’s hard to let things go. I’m looking forward to seeing how you cut things down! I might have to give it a go myself this spring.

  12. Congratulations, you’re off to a great start! You have loads of cute shoes, by the way. :)

  13. I did a similar inventory when I moved cross country, though I inventoried every single thing I owned at the time. It was an interesting exercise and a year and a half later I am reviewing those lists and thinking that I could pare down again with ease (helpful, since I anticipate another move in the next six months).

  14. You’re so brave! I had to do that exercise last year before moving in a new place with my boyfriend….I know what it is ;-) Well I see that beside knitting, we have another thing in commun: passion for shoes ;-) Have a nice day Karen!

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  16. This is such a great thing to do. My wardrobe is the opposite of yours…even the moths have moved out before they starve! I’m working through the Wardrobe Architect series and highly recommend it. I’m finding it totally worth the effort and exceptionally enlightening. I may even have a tight, considered and very doable sewing/knitting plan at the end of it. Which is so exciting. I suspect your process will yield the same result. Good luck with this.

    • I LOVED your post about your assessments! Read it the other day and was so inspired by it. I hope I can find some similar clarity in all this.

      • Oh, you’re so kind. :-) I think the key to this, whether you’re coming at it from a place of over abundance or it’s opposite, is to take it slow and let each step percolate in your brain before making a decision. We will crack it, I’m sure.

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  23. Here’s my question about cleaning out the wardrobe – where do you responsibly send all of those clothes? Donate? Sell? Make quilts?

    • It was a mix. The best stuff went to friends or a consignment store. Some of it went to Goodwill, some of into a garage sale. It got messy when I threw a cross-country move on top of the process! So the things I had intended to give to Dress for Success were left with a friend who took them to consignment instead.

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