How to purge your closet of clothes you still like
A quick search will find you a bunch of guides that tell you how to build a lasting wardrobe, what key pieces to invest in, and how to wear a capsule wardrobe, but few will tell you what to do with your existing wardrobe. It's like we're expected to just chuck everything out the door and start with an empty closet when we embark on our quest for style. Unless you've got a new set of clothes waiting (or the desire to fill your closet with new investments), you probably want to keep a lot of what you have already to minimize your initial costs.
I look in my closet and, while there are many key pieces missing, there are mostly pieces that I purchased because I liked them. I like the style, the color, the idea of wearing it somewhere, or maybe I just like the brand/designer. So the marikondo method of asking myself, does it bring me joy? Simply doesn't apply.
Yet, the thought of starting Project 33 scares me because my wardrobe isn't ready to be mixed and matched in a neat list of 33 pieces. Not even with the attachment of a 24 piece sport/pajama list, or a 12 piece work list (or both).
Perhaps before all my previous clothing purges, before my two pregnancies when I was a whole dress size smaller, and before my hips and feet permanently widened to no longer fit my previous gear, I would have been able to box most of my clothes and live on 33 of my existing clothing and avoid shopping for three months. But it is what it is, and therefore not applicable to my current situation.
In my case, I need to prepare before joining the project 33 challenge. I need to reduce, take stock, and fill blanks. I need to ensure everything matches without looking like I dressed for a funeral. And, I need to have clothes that suit my current lifestyle (my mommy life, rather than a corporate career I envision myself having one day).
Let me show you what the process has been like:
1. Overcome self-denial
After my first pregnancy and birth, I hardly bought any clothes, believing I'd be able to one day fit into all my old clothes. I even bought myself a brand new OL dress for when I would return to work. That dress is still hanging in my closet, tags and all.
So I only bought cheap clothes to "get by" with my maternity clothes, and a work uniform, which was easy since my workplace had a strict dress code. Most of the cheap clothes were only worn for a season, if even that, and then I was pregnant again. My sister visited me and commented, "you dress like a mom". Truth hurts.
Two years later, I've come to realize that I'm not going to drop twenty pounds just by nursing, and rather than wait for that day I finally fulfill all my New Years resolutions, you know, change my diet and workout, I need to dress better to feel less like a mom and more like...well, me.
2. Stop buying clothes just because it's cheap
I'm very easily tempted by sales, so this is a huge step for me. Instead of looking for something to buy at sales racks, I've been thinking about what I want to wear ahead of time, making lists, and then looking for the items I want.
I also no longer read fashion magazines, follow fashion blogs, or watch runway shows for fashion inspiration. Some people will tell you that it's ok to buy cheap clothes if you feel like following a trend because otherwise you might get bored of your clothes--advice that I once followed--but as I've been getting older, I have a lot less free time. I want to spend time on what I now consider more important things (like reading the news and minimalist blogs) and forget what I'm wearing once it's on me. I don't want to waste time in front of my closet thinking I have nothing to wear or have to question my outfit during the day. My wardrobe needs to be functional, appropriate, and simple.
In other words, I'm trying to transform from a passive consumer to a more active one who knows what looks good on me and what will complement my existing wardrobe.
3. Set rules
Just as project 33 has the arbitrary rule of 33 items (which you can tweak), it's important to set small rules that will move you along to achieving big changes. You might be environmentally conscious, only buy organic cotton, or choose locally produced clothing to support domestic companies.
While I do believe in recycling clothing, which means donating to the poor, sending clothes to recycling centers, and thrifting, it's not something I need to outline in a rule. Instead, my rules are more practical:
I remember I used to buy clothes that were a size too small, because it was on sale and I really liked it, or a bigger size because I thought I could turn a tunic into a dress or pull off baggy style. Uhhh...no, not with my body type, at least. The wrong fit can make me look and feel bulky and heavy.
I find that I have much to hide in my figure so buying the right pieces is crucial. Certain styles will not complement your body type, and you save a lot of time by figuring out what will look good on you via a process of elimination. After a lot of nos in the dressing room, I now know that I can't walk out the door in a jogger,
Here's where some might start rambling about your "season" and how you should only shop your color palette, etc. I'm not going there. You know more than anyone which colors don't flatter you, but you might wear it anyway because you like the color or style.
When I was a teenager, I wore a lot of brown neutrals to appear older than my age. After 25 I purged my closet of said neutrals to slow down the wheels of time.
Most recently, I finally made it a rule to not buy gray unless it's "space gray" or just near black. I have yellow toned skin and gray is just unflattering, yet I like the color so I owned many gray pieces. I've since rid of all of those pieces and every time I reach for a gray sweater, cardigan or yet another blazer, I remind myself that the color looks awful on me so that I don't waste time trying it on and convincing myself it looks fine.
If you're superstitious, you can look at lucky colors and avoid unlucky ones to help with decision anxiety. I know that my ba gua states green is unlucky, and my zodiac finds white is constricting.
Reducing the color palette of your wardrobe simplifies the matching process. If you only have black and another neutral, then it's easier to buy pops of color than if you had every color on the rainbow.
I'm a no fuss kind of person so I choose fabrics that are easy to maintain (aka no dry cleaning or hand washing). I avoid the color white because I like washing clothes in cold water, which is apparently not good for lifting stains (and I don't use bleach). I also avoid linen because I hate ironing, and nylon, silk, rayon, and polyester--none of which last unless dry cleaned or hand washed. Instead, I buy 100% cotton, wool, and real leather.
If you have clothing that didn't last, stretched out, or shrank after washing, study the label for it's fabric makeup. Take note every time and you'll eventually have your own list of fabrics to avoid.
I have an idea of how much I want to pay for things, a budget, if you will. My goal is to find the style I want in a brand that makes good quality products while staying within my budget. This rule motivates me to thrift by buying gently used products, simultaneously reducing my carbon footprint.
4. Have patience (don't shop too often)
If you want to go to the mall and come back with a full wardrobe, do yourself a favor and hire a stylist. It's unreasonable to expect large returns in such a short timeframe. When you want a perfect black moto jacket and you want it now, you're more likely to settle for something less than perfect and regret it months later when you do finally stumble upon that perfect piece. If you go ahead and buy both, then you're building a surplus of clothing, again, and will likely end up with an underutilized closet.
Be patient and keep your list on you. Don't feel like you need to shop till you drop to find all your key pieces. If you have a problem with shopping, set a rule and make a schedule to limit your shopping to, say, once a week or once a month.
In high school, I had a friend who only shopped once a quarter. She would window shop for months, saving money and making her list for the season, and then she'd go to the mall and buy everything on her list. She said it felt like Christmas, but seasonal. Limit your shopping and make your cheat days feel like Christmas!
5. Try everything on
When your body has changed, it's difficult to determine what will hide problems and accentuate the good without trying clothes on. Sometimes, I have misjudged my size, trying to buy a safe "L" rather than a medium, thinking I won't fit or it won't look good on me. No matter the line, it's important to just take extra sizes into the changing room and decide to buy the most flattering size.
The great thing about this rule is that it reduces online shopping and all the hassles that ensue (disappointment, returns).
6. Keep a running list of what you own
My best friend in high school kept a list of everything she owned--I just thought her perfectionism had crossed over to an OCD level. She used to show me her list and point out how she only had two long skirts and perhaps she needed two short skirts as well? Or maybe a few more pairs of leggings? Then, once she decided what she needed, we went shopping for those blanks. If she found something she loved, she bought it in three colors.
It's sad, but I have just discovered her genius. During a recent examination of my wardrobe, I found 2-3 pairs of black jeans, 4-5 pairs of black pants, 3 black t-shirts, and at least 10 Blazers--most of which were purchased within the last three years. Clearly, I always think I need black bottoms and I can't resist a well-fitting blazer.
By taking inventory of your wardrobe, you know how many of the same pieces you own, what you actually need (if anything), and can help you buy for off seasons. For example, you can plan next season's capsule wardrobe, or know which pieces to look out for in the upcoming seasonal sale, as well as reel in your shopping habits if you don't need it.
7. Decide your looks
When you decide not to be a fashion victim, you also have to decide what you will dress like. The reason I got called out for "dressing like a mom" is because I didn't think about my image at all. I just threw simple, easy clothes on and made sure I wasn't too cold or too hot. As a result, I was in shorts and tee shirts, tank tops and denim skirts, and dresses that were inappropriate for the occasion (like work), and didn't have anything nice that I could fit into.
Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being trendy or a t shirts and jeans kind of girl, especially if you look put together and everything fits you nicely, but just make sure you look like you take care of yourself. Otherwise it's like you've let yourself go.
And that's all I can think of for now. What tips do you have for getting back on track or rebuilding your wardrobe after a major life change?