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LIFE, UNEDITED: When Your Closet Runneth Over

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In whittling down the wardrobe, what’s the sweet spot for what goes and what stays?

I own 12 pairs of jeans in the same size. This tally comes from what currently occupies my closet, not what I have stored in bins in the spare bedroom.

And those jeans run the gamut of six-sizes’ difference — for that “someday” when I return to my high-school weight.

Many women and men keep those too-small jeans as motivation to lose weight, and it’s not unthinkable: Before I became pregnant with my daughter, I lost 60 pounds and dropped five sizes in a little over a year. Because jeans are timeless, I was able to use each of my jeans as I dropped the weight. It saved me money.

Yet, as I waited for the weight to drop back then, not fitting into the smaller size was discouraging as I judged my progress. I’d worry that my weight loss was plateauing if I didn’t keep a steady pace. And now, after growing a human and holding on to my extra baby weight, seeing those tiny jeans feels almost demoralizing. Sure, I want to be a healthy weight, but associating that with being a smaller woman doesn’t push me to reach my goals.

The closet is full of these emotionally triggering items: Our wardrobe feels like a definition of our identity. Dressing up or dressing down, loving a certain cardigan, or cherishing an outfit that reminds us of a memorable vacation — these clothes carry importance for many of us.

It’s why it’s so hard to imagine donating your wedding dress even though you’ll have no use for it again (you can pretend your daughter may want to wear it someday, but that really seems to happen more often in the movies, and styles can change so much in 25-plus years). It’s why it took me nearly 14 YEARS to donate my prom dresses from high school. What purpose did they serve me?

When we can put the memories and emotional toll of this closet clutter aside, we can start to see our wardrobes as simple adornments, just fabric to keep us from getting public-nudity tickets when we’re among our peers. We probably only really need a few pieces, and any purchases beyond that is purely for pleasure.

As I’ve been going through my own wardrobe to whittle it down, I’ve been curious: What’s the sweet spot?

Surely, this will depend on your own lifestyle and personality. I’ve pulled articles from In Style and Glamour in the past that tout the solution to “your 30-day wardrobe” made up of a set amount of pieces, but often those included heels and too many skirts to feel practical in my own life. I recently became intrigued with Project 333, which challenges people to wear only 33 items from their wardrobe over a three-month period (ostensibly, to change with seasons).

It’s something I’ve considered in narrowing down what I keep in my own closet:

  • 3 pairs of jeans
  • 5 pairs of leggings
  • 10 long-sleeve shirts
  • 8 sweaters, including cardigans
  • 4 dresses
  • 8 T-shirts
  • And . . .

I’ve already blown by my 33-item budget!

Clearly, winnowing down is too hard for me at present, so I’ve shifted my focus toward two simple and timeless closet-decluttering rules:

  1. Donate anything that is too small, unflattering, or ill-fitting.
  2. Donate anything you haven’t worn in over a year (there’s a reason you don’t love it).

Anything that’s off-season for clothes, shoes, bags, and jackets gets packed in bins. Being in my child-bearing years, the maternity clothes come out when I’m pregnant and slowly make their way back into bins for future pregnancies (or not, especially when it comes to maternity leggings, which have the most comfortable fit of all time).

Two more tips:

  1. Keep colors in mind. The more mix-and-match possibilities, the better chances of multiple uses. My husband smartly questions when I buy too-busy patterns and orange tops, wondering when and where I’ll wear it. There’s something great about having a signature color and neutrals to simplify.
  1. Continually edit your wardrobe. I like decluttering and feng shui expert Andrea Gerasimo’s advice to do it twice yearly with the change of seasons. I feel better about shedding clothes from my closet when I think, I don’t love this or wear it often, but I bet someone else would make good use of it, and then add it to my collection to bring to the shelter. Knowing that I can share with others always helps me declutter more efficiently.

Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of our team’s Decluttering Series, in which we investigate the stuff we hold on to, and resources for taking a fresh look at our spaces and places. We hope it inspires you to find satisfaction in a simpler and easier way to live. We’d love to hear how you are enjoying life more with less!

Tell us: Have you decluttered your closet recently? What tricks have helped you tame your wardrobe?

is Experience Life’s managing editor.

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