Let it Go: A Closet Makeover

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At first, it might seem strange that I set about tackling a closet revamp right in the middle of my No-Buy Month. After all, if there’s a time to hold onto things, wouldn’t that be when you’re not buying anything else? But like many people noted in the comments, buying less makes you rethink your possessions. It certainly made me take a second look at the stuff filling up my closets and my drawers. And I can say, nearly four days post-closet clean, that I’ve never had less clothing than I do right now. What is amazing is that it feels like I have more than ever. Everything in my closet is a favorite and when I get dressed now, I honestly feel like I’m at a boutique. Trying these shoes with those pants or that blazer with this top – I’m having so much more fun getting dressed that I feel even less inclined to shop for anything new.

My visions of a grand closet reorganization started when Wear No Evil: How to Change the World With Your Wardrobe came across the Design*Sponge desks. Not only was the book filled with good closet-cleaning tips, but there were also suggestions on how to evaluate what you should buy moving forward. In the book, author Greta Eagan explains how we can use our consumer power for good – like buying local organic food – and that we can do the same thing with our fashion purchases. Greta wants us to ask ourselves a simple question: Do our clothes reflect our personal values as well as our personal style? Her book seeks to answer that question and help us find a way for our clothes, like our food, to be high quality and good for us and for the planet.

The first step was wading through the mountain of clothes looming in my closet. Greta came over to give me a little help cleaning everything out. I’ve never had someone go through my clothing before, and it was a huge help in deciding what to keep and what to let go. You can always call on a trusted friend to help you, or if you need a professional, Greta offers closet cleaning help to New Yorkers (and she’s offering a limited $50 discount with the code: designsponge to readers). (If you’re not in New York, you can check out the National Association of Professional Organizers for a list of organizers nationwide).

Click through to read Greta’s secret to closet cleaning, shopping responsibly and to see the result of my closet cleanse!

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Greta’s Closet-Cleaning Tips:

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This is the first step in deciding what to keep and what to let go. It turns out that I look best in cool colors (I’m pale with green eyes). This came in handy when I was on the fence about a couple of pieces. If they weren’t in my colorway, I put them in the Let Go pile.

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Make three piles. A YES pile, a NO pile and a MAYBE pile. The NO pile can be a little harder, and this was where Greta was most helpful. If the pieces still had a tag but hadn’t been worn, that was a NO. If I hadn’t worn it in a few years, it was a NO. The hardest things for me to let go were things that were well past their prime but had once been expensive. Things that I once absolutely loved but they just weren’t my style anymore had to go, too. I tried to remind myself that they served their purpose and that I didn’t have to keep them forever. I kept two sentimental pieces – a scarf that once belonged to my grandmother and my high school basketball jersey. My MAYBE pile was pretty small (once I got going, I was excited to let things go to new homes), but you can keep this pile for as long as three months. If you don’t pull something out to wear, it should go to a new home.

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Greta recommends rotating your wardrobe the same way that you eat what’s in season. When it’s hot, it’s watermelon and wedge salads, and when it’s cold outside, you want a cozy scarf and hot soup. This step frees up a lot of space in your closet and means that you have more room to really display the clothes that you are currently wearing. I also made a fix-it pile, things that I would wear if they were taken to a tailor or a cobbler.

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I pulled a few things out of my donate pile that I hadn’t worn very often, or were vintage, to sell on eBay. (Money to be earmarked for my next experience.) Everything else went in the donate pile. (You could also host a clothing swap with friends for your pieces that deserve a new home.)

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After sweeping out the closet and wiping down the drawers, everything went back inside. It was all about making my clothing and shoes visible so that I would have more choices when getting dressed. We organized the closet by type of clothing and then by color. I had already invested in slimline hangers, which give you twice as much space, so that got a thumb’s up. I hung jewelry and belts on the inside of the closet door.

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Greta has developed an Integrity Index to evaluate the clothing you already have. It’s a way of seeing if your clothing reflects your values. Greta does not advocate getting rid of clothing items just because they don’t meet the factors that you deem important, rather it’s a way of understanding what you’re buying and training yourself to really read labels. I found that I had a few pieces made from natural fibers and some locally made things. (For example, my Made in Italy dress that I bought in Italy last summer got a check in the “local” box.). Some of the other qualifiers on the integrity index are whether the garment was made with natural fibers, was made using natural or low-impact dyeing, is fair trade or second-hand. Greta gives 16 possible integrity index options (she explains each thoroughly) and then suggests that you choose the five that are most important to you to focus on. I went through my closet with the checklist just to see how I was doing. I looked at the labels and determined where the garment was made and what was it made of. The goal is that when I buy future garments, I take a second to look at the label and see if, in addition to style, there are other characteristics of the company that fall in line with my personal values. It’s a very flexible system (and it’s not about punishing yourself!). It’s about making conscious decisions about what we buy, and since I’m already trying to slow down my consumption, I love that this is another way to hit the pause button.

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I asked Greta to share some of her favorite brands for eco-friendly fashion and here are her top 4:

  1. Amour Vert- designed and made in California from eco materials like Peace Silk, Organic Cotton and Modal. Cali cool meets Parisian chic.
  2. ASOS Africa- they’ve helped to build a safe and fair production center in Africa and partner with local artisans to produce the collection.
  3. Angela & Rio- designer style and quality bags made from vegan materials. They also link their bags to charitable causes.
  4. Svilu- designed and made in the NYC garment district from sustainable fabrics. Quality designer clothing.

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In Wear No Evil, Greta quotes William Spear, of Feng Shui Made Easy, as saying, “if your drawer, closets, and shelves are stuffed and overflowing in a disheveled mess, how can you expect the Universe to deliver anything more? There is no space for more!”  In all areas of my life, I’ve found this to be true. The more crowded things get, the less time or space you have for new good things.  I’ve found that often the best way to redecorate is to pare down so that the gems in your home really have a chance to shine. My closet is now ready to let good times roll. Now, it’s time to tackle the junk drawer(s)!

Amanda

I think it is great that you all are consciously pushing yourselves to improve your lives. Very inspirational!

Nina

Great post! I love the integrity index. I’ve really tried to be more conscience about what comes into my home and this is a good way to organize that. Also, thank you for the wonderful eco-friendly fashion list! I’ve been searching for something like this!

Bakary

So therapeutic and liberating. Well done. Keep up posted on the ‘next experience’.

I cleared my wardrobe on 2 January. Still haven’t sorted my ‘sale’ pile unfortunately…

Alexis

This is timed perfectly with one of my closet rods falling this morning (from the WEIGHT).

Step 6 is a great additional step to the usual closet cleaning – thank you!

lorena

i love it! I was just explaining to my daughter the idea of “going shopping in your own closet” and finding things your forgot you had.
Good job!

Stacey

Most of these suggestions are a given when you live in a seasonal climate. If you already have to take your clothes out of the closet twice a year to store them, sorting out the things you aren’t wearing anymore is just part of the process.

Nikki

After returning from a 2+ week trip overseas where I traveled with just one pack, I was totally overwhelmed by my closet and packed it all up. I left myself one dresser drawer of clothes and stuffed everything else under the bed. It’s been a little over a month and I haven’t quite had the courage to actually get rid of anything yet, but I’ve been living with a hugely simplified wardrobe and it’s made my life so much easier. Love your idea of “experiences” over “stuff” and my trip to India confirmed that about a bazillion times over.

Jen O

The “experience” of giving is so underrated. Unless you really need the money, why not consider donating all of your unwanted things, and not just the lesser valued items, to a good cause that you believe in. It’s a really beautiful thing to do.

Urs

Great post and thank you for offering ways to be a more conscientious consumer. I see that Greta is wearing Nikes. What’s the consensus on wearing those these days? Is the sweatshop controversy completely in the past now? I ask because I love my Nikes, but feel some guilt about them.

Jackpot

Ladies,
Thank you so much for sharing! It’s so incredibly helpful having a step by step guide to get started on this… happy make-overing :)

Jacky Field

These step are tiny but practical. However, personally the prerequisite is that I should have enough shopping bags left for my clothes sorting and storage.

karoline

great post, this will be my summer project. I have a constant shoe storing problem, where’s the shoe organizer on the door from? it’s perfect!

thanks!

Wendy Schultz

I love your thought about feeling like you have more now that you’ve kept only your favorite things. I’ve felt a lot of guilt getting rid of things thinking maybe that I’ll wear them again. It just causes even worse feelings of being overwhelmed. I will be using your advice to get rid of everything but my favorites!

Alix

Awesome post! Just one thing about eco-friendly clothing — it’s either outrageously expensive and/or made only in tiny sizes. I’m still waiting for affordable, eco-friendly clothing in a size 16. I bet I have a long wait ahead.

Chantele

Great article, I have been thinking of overauling my wardrobe for ages, and we are moving soon and will have smaller closets, so it really needs to be done, this has inspired me to really do it this next few weeks.
Thanks

Tina Batori

It’s all good, and it’s good to know I’m on the right track (thanks to my personal organizer). What I find frustrating is trying to find good style and good quality and good mindfulness in clothing for plus-size women. We want to look good and be good, too! Any ideas?

Mera @ Red House West

I am overdue for a thorough closet sorting, and I am working on improving my consumer ethics as well (I have to admit that I haven’t focused on this much in the past and I have a lot to learn). Thanks for the inspiring post!

Isabelle

This article came at the right time. Just switched my bedroom furniture and now have 2 antique dressers with huge drawers. Even though I have more space, since it was time to change to light weights, I am doing a major clear out. First out is a drawer full of socks. Haven’t worn socks since I discovered sheepskin lined boots. Did keep a few pairs for cold nights in bed. Handbags and scarves are my hang up. I’ve sold a ton of them and still have tons left.

Nadine

I’m 48, I know my colors by now, and I also know what fits me best. So then comes sorting, and the rules you see everywhere: haven’t worn it for 3 months or 1 year, or whatever, throw it out. Silly rule for me, because really, I start wearing clothes again that have been in storage for years. And if I am not the one wearing them again, my teenage daughter is (she even wears some of the clothes I wore as a teenager). I basically look at the quality and how much wear & tear there is. If it is a “classic” piece that will return in fashion, I keep it. The rest goes to charity or in the bin, or on the pile of workshop clothes (eg clothes with a stain). Last point: Everything I do not wear at the moment (out of season, not in style at the moment, not my mood this season, not my size this season) goes in storage in the basement.

Sharon

I just had my closets audited and cleansed this weekend, she even brought those black space saving hangers. She made it fun, and my closet is a work of art now. I should have done this YEARS ago. Now I have a Spring/Summer closet, a Fall/Winter closet, and one for casual closets. I’m also now living without the ten garbage bags worth of stuff I didn’t wear, empty cleaners bags, and a billion useless hangers.

Emma

I am in desperate need of a closet cleanout. Thanks for the tips!

Faith

Great post! One thing that always stumps me when I want to have a major closet overhaul is what to do when you live somewhere that feels like it has more than four seasons each year, ranging from a humid +30 Celsius right down to a frigid -30 Celsius… makes for many jackets and coats (rain, parka, wool dress coat) let alone everything else that you need to stay cool or warm. I would love to see a closet makeover from that perspective.

Maya @ House Nerd

Except for selling things on eBay (because no-one would want to buy my third-hand cast-offs!) I do all these clear-out things regularly – except for having an Integrity Index and checking labels thoroughly before you buy something. I really, really like this idea and am going to put this to use myself.

I agree with Greta that if your home is stuffed with old things, it’s harder for new things to come into your life. I grew up a little hoarder, but now I am much better at clutter clearing. Whenever I have been feeling really stressed out for a while and find my house has become a mess, I have a clear-out and donate a lot of our old things to charity. And I know this will sound a bit hippy to some people, but I really do believe cycling your belongings and passing on things to people who need them more (or who would enjoy them more than you have been) keeps good energy flowing through your home and in your life. Many times I have had a huge clutter clear and in the week that followed something major (and good) has come my way. I always find the “clunk” noise of the lid of the local charity bin and the peaceful drive home an addictively refreshing feeling! Hippy rambling over :)

Julie

What’s the point of organizing the junk drawer? It’s the JUNK drawer! I love looking at the disheveled mess in my junk drawer. And I can still always find what I need!

Amy

@Faith – I live in a 4 seasons area, and one of the least fun activities ever for me was the months-long process of transitioning between seasonal wardrobes. The temperatures fluctuate so much here in Spring and Fall that I always ended up living out of both my closet and multiple storage containers, with clothes strewn around in a mess, for a month or two each season.

So over the past couple of years I’ve made over my wardrobe with the goal of making all 4 seasons worth of clothes/shoes/scarves/purses fit (neatly, without being crowded) into the available storage space. I live in a small old farmhouse, so the available storage space is 1 closet (3×5 with a low, slanted ceiling) and two small dressers. It seemed impossible to do when I started, because I had SO much stuff.

But I started by getting rid of stuff I had only because I *wanted* it to look good on me, but it didn’t so I never wore it; then by getting rid of stuff I would never, ever fit into again even though I wished I would; then by getting rid of stuff I just plain never wore; and lately I have gotten rid of things I like but rarely wear because they don’t fit into easy laundry categories so it takes a while to get around to washing them to wear again.

(That included paring down my outerwear collection to just one winter coat that looks great for both work and play, and two lightweight jackets for spring/fall. I did not think I could get there, and it was honestly the last hurdle I managed to climb over. Now I can’t remember why it seemed like such a big deal, because, you know, what is so difficult about keeping and using the coats I love best of all? But it took a while to not feel like it was a deprivation.)

I found that it’s not an instant process. It has mainly been a process of asking myself why I have an item, and then asking myself if the reason is still valid for me. It has been frustrating, too, to realize that I have no reason to keep something I spent money on, and that I therefore wasted money that could have gone to something more worthwhile (bathroom reno I’ve wanted for 10 years, anyone?).

But the result has been that for the most part I now own only things I really love and wear a lot; doing laundry and cleaning my bedroom take so much less time; and I hardly have to think about what to wear because my options are fewer, and are all going to look good on me no matter what. I spend less on my wardrobe, too.

And the seasonal clothing explosion never happens anymore, which is awesome. :)

Jackie

Too much clutter leads to stress. I loved shopping and buying things . I had girlfriends that liked the same life style and we would always buy. We love antiques for the house. When you step into my home, it is primitive and looks like something from the late 1800s, and we love period clothing from second hand shops.

I discovered that less is best. I reorganized and stopped shopping as much and now repurpose some of my things and feel more peaceful and organized.

I find that it takes time to go through this process to think differently. My DD has joined in and tells me “let someone else enjoy it”. Her quote has helped me to Let Go.

I enjoy my antiques, have a smaller house and life is simple, free and calm.
I am in the process of down sizing and selling off some well loved items.

zadie

Great post! I desperately need to know where you got the leopars print sneakers from!!

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