During the heady pre-teen days when I first discovered that new clothes could make me (at least momentarily) happy, my mother introduced me to her shopping rule: one in, one out. That is, she would not buy me new clothes or take me to the mall until I had removed at least one item from my closet, to be donated to Goodwill.
My mother is 5’2″, wears Rocket Dog sneakers, and sort of has Meg Ryan circa 1995 hair (coincidentally, French Kiss is one of our favorite movies to watch together). She likes cats, knitting, and gardening. What I’m trying to say is that she is in no way a hardass. But she stood firm on this rule, despite all of my whining and pleading which usually worked (I’m the baby of the family, after all). So, early on, I got used to scrutinizing my closet, examining each item and testing out how it fit (if indeed it did; I went through a few growth-spurts and was taller than my mom by the time I was 14). If I hadn’t worn something in two years, it was out. If it was too short or too tight, gone. I grew to be merciless about clothes—no hanging onto something because one day I might wear it, or because I just liked the thought of owning it. Every extraneous item was a barrier between me and Wet Seal.
As I grew, cleaning out my closet became increasingly therapeutic. I was an anxious child, an anxious teen, an anxious young adult. Sometimes—often—my thoughts and fears and worries seemed to spiral out of my control. I took to cleaning out my closet on particularly stressful or emotional days, which occasionally included New Year’s. Within a few years, my New Year closet-cleaning was a private ritual, something I looked forward to as the holidays rolled around. It stopped being about acquiring new things and started being about getting rid of all the unnecessary stuff that I had acquired. The ritual of examining, trying on, sorting, organizing, and sending on its way—out of my sphere of control—calmed me, and left me ready to start the new year feeling lighter and emptier and cleaner.
There’s also a lot to be said for trying on all your stuff every once in awhile. To shop and dress effectively, it’s important to know your own body and the way clothes fit on it. I recently wrote a pretty personal post about changes that I’ve experienced in my own body; a closet clean-out is the perfect opportunity to get rid of anything that doesn’t fit me anymore and move it along to someone who can use it for something besides just looking at it and sighing. It’s also good to revisit older styles—maybe that peplum top or bandage dress weren’t as flattering as they seemed during their big trendy moment.
While my “big clean” is usually on New Year’s Day or thereabouts, I usually do a bit of weeding throughout the year. One of the best ways I’ve found to determine whether or not you should keep something is to take it out of rotation for awhile; I typically have a reusable tote bag in the closet where I put things that I’ll get rid of later. Once something is in there, it can still be taken out if I find myself reaching for it—but more often, I’ll forget I ever owned that piece, which usually means it wasn’t doing much for me anyway.
Cleaning out your closet is an excellent way to discover holes in your wardrobe. Not, like, “Oh man, I only have this midi skirt in two colors, I should get it in four!” Or “I need to own everything on the Gypsan website!” Or, in my boyfriend’s case, “Wait, I only own four million pairs of boxer shorts?!” I’m thinking more along the lines of closet staples, pieces that will work hard for many occasions: nice trousers, a quality button-down shirt, a little black dress (if you’re into dresses), a good pair of heels (if you’re into heels), a blazer for job interviews or important meetings. There are a few things that come in handy more than you’d think or, alternatively, that you don’t need all that often, but when you need them, you really need them.
For example: I’m fortunate enough to work in a (nice-) jeans-friendly office environment, but I’ve recently been discovering that all of my jeans either fit me weird, so I’m uncomfortable all day, or have holes. A good pair of dark-wash jeans that fit well is absolutely on my to-buy list for the coming year. Maybe there’s one thing that you always think you should have—a certain cut of top that would work with all of your skirts, or a sweater that would fit better and be warmer than any of the ones you own. Sometimes it’s better to replace a bunch of shoddy things with one really good one.
And that brings me to my final reason for cleaning out my closet: quality over quantity. As a teenager, shopping at the mall, I was all about having so much stuff because, well, that is what teenagers and malls tend to be about. My mother’s rule kept my wardrobe at least somewhat small, even if I didn’t recognize that as a good thing at the time. And now that I’m older and buying my own clothes with my own money, I understand the real value of this rule. Cleaning out my closet regularly is the best possible way to ensure that everything in there has a purpose.
I believe strongly that it’s better to have a few decent things that you wear frequently, than a bunch of pretty things you never wear at all. And often, in cleaning out my closet, I’ve realized that I don’t actually need to buy that new top or skirt or whatever, because I have something already that will work just as well or better. So while my mother might have instituted one-in-one-out rule to keep me from buying too much, I’ve found that it sometimes keeps me from buying at all. My dream closet is actually a fairly small one, filled only with pieces that fulfill some real role in my wardrobe. I’m pretty anti-“fluff” in general; I like having things around that have a purpose, and I’ve long grown out of that need to have things just so that I have them. To that end, I feel this year’s clean-out was a major step in the right direction.
Note: Obviously, all cat hair will be cleaned off these clothes before they are moved on to their final destination. 🙂