In a comment on my post about shifting my style, r.s. asked if I would talk a bit more about what it’s like to purge out a third of your wardrobe. And although I talked about some of the actions I took to make more focused and informed choices, I didn’t get into the nuts and bolts of the purge. And now I will!
For starters, even after this purge I still have lots of clothes. I had been focused on accumulation and wardrobe building for many years leading up to this change, so I had a lot to sort through and still have lots of options at my disposal. I say this because getting rid of a third of your wardrobe has considerably more impact if you’re already a minimalist who only owns 50 wardrobe items. That doesn’t mean that you can’t, potentially, cast off a large portion of them; If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that what we think we need to dress stylishly and what we actually need to dress stylishly can be pretty far apart. But I want to be honest, here: I got rid of a lot. I still have a lot. And although Grechen’s journey toward minimalism has had a huge impact on me, I don’t feel ready to commit to that path myself. Not yet, anyway.
Another important bit of information: I started purging long before I made the conscious decision to change my personal style. In fact, I was purging on a near-weekly basis for about four months. And since I found that staggered purge to be helpful, let’s start there.
Do it in stages
If you’ve decided to drastically change your style, or are moving to a new space with less storage, or have settled on any reason at all that makes you want or need to jettison a big chunk of your wardrobe, the process will be less painful and more effective if you can do it over a relatively long period of time. The first closet purge is usually the low-hanging fruit: Stuff that doesn’t fit or is damaged or hasn’t been worn in a decade. But if you ditch that stuff, walk away, and come back in a week? You’ll see the next tier of potential castoffs: Items that are pretty but not really “you,” stuff that’s super delicate and/or dry cleanable and therefore never gets worn, a few things you’ve been telling yourself are awesome but that you might just be hanging onto because they were expensive. Come back in ANOTHER week? Even more items you don’t really need will come to hand.
In my own case, I found myself becoming more and more brutally honest as the weeks rolled by. Items I couldn’t part with the week before were ripped from their hangers and sent to new homes. And doing it all in stages allowed me to live with less, but gradually. To see if the loss of any of these items made an impact. (Never did.)
Have a plan or a focus
Might seem like the place to start, but it doesn’t need to be. I think if you’ve committed to a large-scale purge you are likely someone who realizes she has more than she really needs. The first few passes at purging can just be used for skimming off the stuff that simply isn’t working or clearly isn’t necessary. But once you find yourself making hard decisions about skirts you adore but just aren’t using, you’ll need some sort of guiding principle. In my case, this became, “Would a badass wear this?” And if you have a specific aesthetic that you’re trying to achieve, “Would a romantic/prep/rocker/siren/steampunk/retro-gal wear this?” could work for you, too. But since many of us draw from multiple influences and looks, you can also consider other parameters: Creating a defined color palette and jettisoning anything that doesn’t fit within it (which I also did), being honest about your comfort priorities and ditching items that aren’t comfy enough (also did this with my high heels), and although I don’t generally push time-contingent parameters you can certainly opt to get rid of items that haven’t been worn for X number of months/years. Purging willy-nilly will work for a while, but once you’re facing down items you still love but aren’t really working, having a plan or focus for your culling will be helpful.
Create a holding area
Purging often yields three main categories: Items you definitely want to keep, items you can part with easily, and items you THINK you can cast off but aren’t totally sure. If downsizing is your goal and you’re getting rid of lots of garments and accessories, consider moving items in that third category to a temporary holding area away from your closet. This will allow you to live with a smaller wardrobe for a few weeks and figure out if you miss any of those “maybe” pieces. If you do, you can bring them back into the fold. This prevents “donator’s remorse,” the lesser known sibling to “buyer’s remorse.” I’m lucky enough to have basement storage, so I’ve moved some of my “maybe” items downstairs for now. If you don’t have any out-of-closet storage, just take the items off the hangers or out of the drawers, fold them, and put them in another room. Get them out of your regular line of sight so you’ll know if you truly miss and need them.
Consider selling what you can
If you’re financially secure enough to just donate without worry, by all means do so. There are countless charities that will take and re-sell your gorgeous duds and put the profits toward a good cause. (Dress for Success is a particularly great one, if you’ve got lots of office-appropriate attire. Just sayin’.) If part of what’s keeping you from downsizing is pondering all the money you’ve spent on these things, that stress can be slightly mitigated by consigning items, putting them through online consignment sites like Twice and thredUP, or selling them on eBay. I must’ve visited my local consignment stores two dozen times over the course of my purge, and it was helpful to get a bit of cash back. Now, if you go this route you should be prepared to get pennies on the dollar for your items: Do not expect to get anything near what you paid for your clothes back. And for some people, the stress of being offered $5 for a $250 pair of shoes will be worse than just bagging them up for Goodwill and letting go. Your call, obviously.
A sidenote to this: Unless you have tags and receipts and are within the return window, the money you’ve spent on your wardrobe is now gone. Try to think of it as gone. Although recouping some money can help ease you through this process, focusing on what you’ve spent – and therefore lost – will just trip you up. It doesn’t really matter if you spent $500 or $5 on something you’re not wearing. You’re still not wearing it. And you may feel guilty or foolish for spending lots on something that you didn’t end up using, but those feelings won’t get you your money back. And they also won’t make you wear something you don’t naturally want to wear. Sell it if you can, donate it if you wish, and try to move on.
Know that it’s a rolling process
I am so very NOT done purging my closet. It has been exciting to daydream about my new style direction, and I’ve already thrifted and bought some items that fit within my more defined aesthetic. Undoubtedly, some of them will turn out to be duds, and will need to be passed along to new owners. I also hung onto cool bright colors and jewel tones for the time being, but I suspect one of those color categories will get ditched after a few months of experimentation. Since your style never stops evolving, your wardrobe will be in a near-constant state of flux. And that’s fine. This isn’t a project that needs to be tackled and completed within a certain timeframe. Let it unfold organically. When you feel like you’ve gotten rid of everything you can possibly part with, stop. But be open to culling more in the future.
Shopping and purging are really two sides of the same coin, both directly related to cultivating a useful, beautiful, unique wardrobe. Adding more can seem like the more exciting, glamorous option, but honing in on a defined, specific look can be just as rewarding. Most people probably aren’t considering a giant culling session, but all of us are in seasonal transition now and therefore living in an ideal state of flux for sorting the sartorial wheat from the chaff. Could you downsize? Would it help you to do it in stages? Do you have a vision for your style that could be honed in on through considered culling?