Posts Categorized: style

Reader Request: Managing a Massive Closet Purge

how to purge your closet

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?

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Choices and Changes, Part 2

But wait! There’s more!

My realization that there was a disconnect between how I was dressing and how I wanted to dress is actually a fairly recent one. A month old now, maybe two. And I’m pretty certain it was spurred on by my hatred of polished nails. Not on you or anyone else, on me. Polished toenails work for me all summer: They’re easy to do well, easy to refresh, and don’t generally chip. (At least not on me. I don’t kick things very often.) My hands are a different story. Despite weekly polishing sessions, I still suck at doing my fingernails and more often than not either smudge them within an hour or chip them within a day of application. Also? I actually LIKE the way my unpolished nails look. My hands feel more like they are my own when they’re naked, or sporting a quick coat of clear. But two forces were at play that made me feel like polished fingernails were important: I worked in a style-related profession, and I dressed in a pretty traditionally feminine way. Either force on its own might not create sufficient pressure, but combined they had me painting my nails every week, cursing all the while. And I found myself wishing for something, a change or an excuse that would allow me to do bare nails without degrading my credibility.

As I mentioned yesterday, I have also shifted to a flat footwear-centric lifestyle. Working at the boutique has me on my feet and walking for seven-plus hours, closet consults and personal shopping trips have me walking for three-plus hours, speaking gigs and teaching and workshops have me on my feet, and on days when I’m running from meeting to meeting heels make me absolutely miserable. And although I still love how they look, heels make me physically miserable even when I’m NOT running all over creation. They pinch my toes and make the balls of my feet burn and cause my back pain to flare up. And I stubbornly dealt with all of those irritants for years, but I just can’t anymore. Heels are great for occasional wear – and I will definitely still wear various styles of heeled shoes – but flats are my new everyday style.

hair2

And then there’s my hair. I started wearing it messy and vaguely rocker-ish in January, and both it and I are happier for the change. Although my new hair sometimes played off my fit-and-flare dresses and ladylike heels fairly well, giving off a slightly rockabilly vibe, I eventually began to sense a disconnect. And although I still loved my hair and the unruly, curly, punk-tinged look it lent me, I realized I had become weary of the dresses and heels. Again, not so weary that I ditched them all and swore them off for eternity … but weary enough to make a conscious change.

So. I decided to change my style because of my hands, my feet, and my head. For starters, anyway.

I also began reevaluating my relationship with color. I am susceptible to the collector mentality and the fallacy of the “complete” wardrobe, which means I often felt compelled to find and buy the things I loved in every color. Which is expensive. And, as it turns out, wholly unnecessary. At least in my case, this practice created a wardrobe full of fabulous possibilities but little cohesion. When I had time to do some outfit planning, I’d find myself pulling out the same things in the same colors every time, and failing to build outfits around them. And when I lacked time to do outfit planning – which has been the case for what feels like eons – trying to cobble together a colorful outfit that didn’t look slapdash was just too hard. I either wore outfits I’d worn before and knew worked, or I reached for neutral mixes.

Many of my style consult clients express feelings of guilt over their black-heavy wardrobes and expect me to chide them. But even when I was dressing like a color wheel, I never did. Black is chic, versatile, and timeless. It may be harsh and it may not look fabulous with everything, but there is nothing wrong with it being the platform upon which your wardrobe is built. Many of my style clients also express a desire for outfit formulas and interchangeable pieces. “Garanimals for grown-ups” is a phrase that literally DOZENS of women have used to describe their ideal styles to me. And for the first time in my life, I want that for myself, too. I still love playing with clothes and will still try to carve out time to workshop interesting and unusual outfits, but most weeks I have neither the time nor the energy. My stuff needs to go together. And an “all colors welcome” palette makes that virtually impossible. I want lots and lots of black, with side orders of gray and olive and burgundy. I’m finally at a point in my life and style evolution where I want a limited palette.

So I’ve been culling out anything that isn’t a neutral, a jewel tone, or a cool bright. I may ditch one of the last two groups eventually, but I want to give myself a little leeway to play and experiment. Right now, it’s been nothing but neutrals for weeks. I’ll be interested to see when and if I feel like wearing colors again.

And, amazingly, I’ve found that I want to wear more pants. If you’ve been reading this blog for many years – and huge thanks if you have! – you’ll remember that I’ve posted multiple anti-pant rants, describing how uncomfortable and unflattering I found them on myself. You may have noticed, though, that more and more pairs of jeans and pants have crept into my wardrobe over time. And although absolutely zero pairs of low-rise pants look or feel good on me, and very few pairs of mid-rise pants look or feel good on me, many pairs of high-rise pants both look and feel good on me. And since those styles are now readily available, they’re what I’m wearing. We’re moving slowly but steadily toward the long, brutal Minnesota winter, and I’m sure I’ll bust out the tights and skirts on occasion. But since I’m craving change and loving my jeans and slouchy pants, I’m betting they’ll dominate my looks.

Other ways I narrowed my focus: I overdyed some of my bright tee shirts and dresses to make them more muted. I sold and donated bright bags, necklaces, scarves, shoes, and clothes. And the main thing I did while culling and honing? I looked at each item and asked myself, “Would a badass wear this?” If the answer was, “No,” I got rid of it. Possibly the most helpful tactic I’ve ever used to focus my personal style. Husband Mike has pointed out to me that a badass can wear absolutely anything she wants since badassery is more of an attitude than a look. And I agree. But the question still helped me because “rocker” is too specific and “cool” isn’t specific enough. The badass in my mind has rocker and trendy and Boho and casual elements to her. You can see some of the images I collected throughout this process over on Pinterest. I add more almost daily.

I think many of us feel like personal style is a project that we will someday complete, that eventually everything we own will look and feel great and we’ll just be done. But in the vast majority of cases, this is untrue. Because our lives change, our bodies change, our needs change, our tastes change. And it’s only natural that our personal styles will change right along with them. Although I’m a creature of habit who often fears change, this particular shift excites me. I feel like I’m going in a direction that is both familiar and new, and making choices that are far more specific and narrow in focus that have already helped me feel more grounded and calm. Three years from now I may take my style in a totally new direction, or it may have settled and shifted organically into a different version of my current vision. But whatever the case, I’m glad to have arrived at this particular stop on my journey. It feels like a good place to pause and rest, then explore a while.

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Choices and Changes, Part 1

If you are a person who posts outfits to a blog – and especially if you make money off of said blog – here are some of the things that are generally expected of you:

• That you be normal and approachable, but also look wrinkle-free, perfectly lit, and impeccable in every single image. (Without ever using Photoshop.)

• That you avoid wearing the same things over and over again, but also avoid spending lots of money acquiring new things or wearing too many items that were sent to you for free.

• That your clothes fit perfectly at all times even though you are subject to bloating, weight gain and loss, and unexpected dryer shrinkage just like everyone else.

• That you be unashamed of your curves and bulges and natural disproportionality, but also that your figure be perfectly balanced and traditionally flattered at all times and by all outfits.

• That every outfit you post be unique and inspirational, but also re-creatable and accessible. Normal but not boring, innovative but not weird.

• And, above all, that you be receptive to all forms of input and critique of your personal style, yet also remain “authentic” to your own style and sense of self.

These are not accusations being leveled at you as an individual, but rather observations gleaned from years of reading comments, participating in communities, and having discussions with fellow bloggers. You may not think or say these things yourself, and you may not see them everywhere you look and read. But they are being thought and said. Constantly.

Much has been written about authenticity or lack thereof in style and lifestyle blogs, and I am loathe to re-hash that body of rhetoric here. But let me say this: A blog is a tiny window into a single room in someone’s life. If you expect to see the entirety of that person through that tiny window into that single room, your expectations are unreasonable.

This blog is now entering its eighth year. It has been through many changes and so have I. And after all these years of pouring my time and energy and passion into this website, I have become quite weary of the bizarrely contradictory expectations laid at my feet, and at the feet of all bloggers who post outfits.

Like all people, I am influenced by the comments and critiques I receive. I am, after all, a person – something I always feel ridiculous writing, but also something that seems to be frequently forgotten or overlooked. For a long time, I heard readers saying that they loved how I wore color and how boldly I combined various shades. I have enjoyed wearing and playing with color for years, so I took this tidbit and ran with it. To extremes at times.

jewels_outfit

2012

When I quit my day job and became self-employed three years ago, I heard readers saying that they wouldn’t be able to relate to me anymore since I could suddenly wear whatever I wanted. I enjoyed dressing up every day and wanted to be relatable, so I made sure to keep wearing dresses and heels and blazers and office-worthy attire.

lott_outfit2

2014

And now? Now, friends, I need a change. Over the past year, my work has become much more active and mobile, so the high heels are no longer practical. And somehow those heels have become more irritating or I’ve become more sensitive, because these days I am in flats nearly all the time. Although I will always dress up for speaking engagements and press appearances, I do not work a regular office job and therefore do not need to wear office-friendly attire on a daily basis. Instead, I am gravitating towards denim, neutrals, leather, and all things casual rocker. It’s a facet of my personal style that has always been present, but now I find myself wanting to let it dominate.

newlook

I have donated or sold more than a third of my wardrobe this summer as I’ve moved toward a revised aesthetic. I’ve picked up a few new pieces that will fill in gaps, but am relieved to have downsized somewhat. Especially since I want my new look to be more pared-down and simple. And although badass, rocker-y looks aren’t unfamiliar to me I’ve never attempted to focus on this style alone. So I’m sure I’ll put together some weird outfits with a few items that have been held over from my more formal, retro looks as I experiment. I’m sure it’ll take some time to find my groove. I’m sure this will be a rocky, uneven, fits-and-starts learning experience.

And I’m also sure that some of you will miss me wearing gobs of color. Some of you will find my outfits un-relatable. Some of you will feel like I’m not highlighting the “best” aspects of my figure as much as I used to. Some of you will get bored. But it dawned on me recently that I was no longer dressing for myself. I constantly encourage all of you to wear what makes you happy, but I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching. I was wearing stuff that I thought would make YOU happy … but that no longer aligned with my own dressing desires.

So I’ll still do the occasional retro frock and heels, trot out the full skirts and cardigans once in a while. But I may style them differently. And overall, you can expect me to look considerably more muted, casual, and comfortable. And just so you’re warned: I may wear the same things over and over because I want to make the most of my wardrobe. I may look wrinkly because I actually wear the outfits I photograph, and worn clothes don’t look freshly pressed. I may wear things that look too tight or loose to you because my weight fluctuates and sometimes I’m not acutely aware of those changes. (See above re: personhood.) I may wear outfits that fail to balance my figure or conform to traditional flattery maxims because I am more focused on feeling good than looking tall and thin and balanced. I may wear things that you hate or don’t understand or would never in a million years wear yourself.

And I hope that you’ll stick around because I have worked hard to make this blog much, much more than a chronicle of my style, my outfits, my looks. I have worked hard to make this a space for questions and answers and exploration and sharing. I post outfits because, as a reader, I draw inspiration from the outfits of other bloggers, and because I know it helps to have a visual to go with a voice. But I have worked hard to create a blog that isn’t all about me. And since many of you have told me over the years that you don’t like or get most of my outfits, but still love and value my advice and writing – something that humbles and honors me every time I hear it – I hope you’ll stick around through this change. If you do, you’ll get to see a conscious, active evolution of personal style.

And if you don’t? I completely respect that and I wish you well. But knowing what I know now, I need to focus less on conforming to expectations and focus more on being who I actually am.

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