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8 steps to a conscientious closet

  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • Published Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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Here are eight steps to having a better edited, more useful closet.

1. Organize. If the idea of sorting through your closet sounds painful, you probably have a lot of junk in there and you need to take stock of it. On the most basic level, you need to organize your closet by item. Skirts here, pants there, blazers over there. It’s like having a separate underwear and sock drawer. It doesn’t take long, and it will make your space feel instantly more navigable. If you feel fancy after everything is grouped together, you can create subgroups such as knit tops, sleeveless shirts, short-sleeve shirts, etc. This will help with step two.

2. Donate and discard. Clean up the background facing your full-length mirror. If you don’t have a full-length mirror, stop reading now and go get one. Seriously. OK, now let’s start trying on your clothing. Try on everything you can’t remember wearing in the past three weeks. You’ll have a better idea of what you really want to keep if you compare them in groups. Does it make you happy? Does it fit? Is it damaged? Does it flatter you? When did you wear it last, and when do you think you’ll wear it again (hint: If the answer is “probably when everything else is dirty,” get rid of it)? Lastly, ask if it is a good representation of you. Is this the item you want people to associate with you? (Hint: If it’s drab or sad or otherwise blase, the answer should be no.) When you’re finished, you should have a pile for the tailor and a pile for the thrift shop. The rest you can hang back up.

3. Take inventory. You can’t possibly know what you need unless you know what you have. You need to be informed about just how many pairs of jeans, white tops or black pants you own. If you have nine or 10 pairs of black pants, you might have too many because I’ll wager that you only really wear two or three. Apps can make this process a little easier. If you have an Apple device, you can use Cloth, Closet+, I wear … or Stylebook, all simple-to-use with nice clean visuals that allow you to record and document useful things, including outfits each day, packing items for a trip, what you wear most often, what it cost and the cost per wear. For Android devices, there’s ClosetVirtual, Personal Closet and MyCloset apps.

4. Conduct an experiment. We’ve discussed this before, but you need to figure out what you own that you never wear. Divide your closet space in half. Whatever comes out of the laundry put it to the right of the closet. Why the right? Because you naturally look from left to right, so you’ll see the things on the left first. If you keep looking past items to wear items on the right, eventually this will be really obvious. Tie a bright ribbon on the rack as your dividing line. Slide it to the left as the right side fills up. Soon, you’ll have a very clear idea of what you are not wearing. For drawers, you can cut a piece of cardboard as a makeshift dividing line or use the side of a gift box if you don’t have fancy drawer dividers.

5. Think before you buy. One day I was trying to decide whether to buy something and I turned away from the cart to look at some impulse buy items near the checkout stand. I realized that I didn’t need the lemon verbena hand soap, but as I was setting it down, I wondered if I needed anything else in my cart. In fact, I couldn’t even remember what was in there. When I turned sheepishly, I was utterly shocked by how much stuff was in my cart. I pushed the cart out of the checkout line, scooted it out of the way and left it.

6. Keep track of shopping. I keep receipts in a box, but that doesn’t really give me an idea of how much I’m spending. I just think, gee, that’s probably a fire hazard. Instead, I use Mint.com to correlate all that spending. It aggregates all your credit cards and accounts into one platform that you can access by mobile or computer, and you can easily figure out what you spent in what categories from month to month. It’s very enlightening, if you like that type of thing.

7. Appreciate what you have. We live in the world of more, more, more. But rarely do we take the time to appreciate the now. Do you like what you’re wearing right now? Is it flattering? Does it make you happy? I hope you said yes to all those things. If not, go back to your closet and find the things that fit those criteria and ditch the things that don’t. You don’t need 10 pairs of pants and 15 skirts to make that a reality. You could live a perfectly lovely life with a few weeks’ worth of clothes. Google: “How many clothes do I need?” and you’ll see some fashionistas who have whittled their closets to less than a few dozen items with amazing results.

8. If shopping’s your hobby, get a new hobby. There’s always a sale, always a great new something and always something to covet in your size. The more you look, the more you’ll find and the more chances you’ll have to buy things you don’t need and won’t wear. Or worse, you’ll buy new things that make it easier to neglect the things you already own. And sure, I don’t always follow this advice, but I remember once my mom told me to finish my veggies, and I mentioned that she put more vegetables on my plate than her own. She gave me a look that convinced me not to question my mom’s vegetable intake ever again. So don’t make me whip that look out on you.

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