This is my final post in the PERSONAL STYLE series. Today I am talking about how I have been using minimalism to clear a lot of clutter from my closet that was hindering me from the dream closet I wanted.
Click here for Part One (about creating your own unique style description)
Click here for Part Two (about using colour theory to create a signature colour palette)
Click here for Part Three (about keeping comfort and confidence in mind while curating your wardrobe)
Should I Use Minimalism as a Tool to Curate My Wardrobe?
After collecting vintage clothing and accessories for over a decade, I came to the conclusion last year that my dream closet was always bigger than my actual closet. I probably came to that conclusion while hauling a suitcase full of out-of-season clothes from under my bed, or trying to reach a shoebox on the top shelf in my closet. No matter where I live, my closet is always just a bit too small and I am always having to cram in as many items as can fit (mostly hats), yet still having to store the excess in a dresser, and under my bed, and in the hall closet, and on the back of the door. . .
Along with this frustration over lack of storage space is the knowledge that I will probably always be a small space dweller and, as much as I love small spaces, they come with less storage space, which ultimately means you have to own less stuff. So, even though I love collecting vintage, I was tired of having too many pieces in too small of a closet; like many other people, 2020 became the year of the Great Closet Clear Out. It was actually my decision to start paring down the items in my wardrobe that sparked this entire series of posts.
I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a Minimalist, even though that is what I titled this post, because when it comes to my wardrobe, or anything else, I don’t actually desire to get things down to the minimum. I like to keep some things around that aren’t useful and that I might never wear, but I keep them just because I like them. However, while Minimalism might not be a lifestyle choice for everyone, many of us could probably do with some simplifying and paring back of our wardrobes and other possessions. Rather than following a strictly minimalist approach, I prefer to follow this advice by William Morris (a designer who was key in the Arts and Crafts movement). I think he perfectly sums up how many items you should keep, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. I think that is a pretty good description of what minimalism should be.
When you’ve gone to all of the effort to figure out your personal style, it makes sense to then apply this advice to your closet and remove the extra; keeping only that which you love and value. You can look at it kind of like a stone carving- you’re getting rid of the excess to reveal the figure within. So for this last post in the series, I wanted to share my tips for how to pare down your wardrobe, in case you’ve ever found yourself in the same situation!
IDENTIFY YOUR PERSONAL STYLE, COLOURS & SILHOUETTES
Once you’ve figured these out, and come up with a clear picture of your own personal style, it will be a lot easier to evaluate your closet, because you’ll have a clear vision of what you want your dream closet to look like.
When you are looking at your clothes from this perspective, you are choosing which items to keep rather than which items to get rid of. Selecting the items that you love puts a positive slant on the process and you can more easily evaluate the items left behind. I tried this method, and it really helped me to be more objective about those items I wasn’t sure about. Because I had taken the time to figure out my style description and colour palette, it was so much easier to part with items that weren’t fitting into any of those categories.
MOVE PAST THE SUNK COST, OTHER ATTACHMENTS & GUILT
It can be really hard to get rid of items that cost you a lot, or that you are emotionally attached to (a gift for example), but it is freeing to simply accept that you no longer love something and move on.
I don’t regret trying out new things, or even making style mistakes, because from those fashion experiments I was able to figure out what my personal style and preferences are. Without trying new things, I wouldn’t have known, so that learning experience was valuable. However, keeping items that I no longer love just because I spent a lot on them or invested time into them (for example, pieces that I made myself) doesn’t help me in any way today. That money and time is already gone and it isn’t coming back by keeping the item, so sometimes it is better to be realistic about it, rather than feeling obligated to keep things that are just collecting dust.
I’ve also learned to move on from clothing pieces that bring me guilt or body insecurity. For example, keeping clothes that haven’t fit for years, and might never again, is not a great motivator to get in shape. Likewise, as I talked about in this post, there isn’t any point in keeping items that you don’t wear because they aren’t a great fit for your specific body type. For me, I decluttered two gorgeous vintage plaid skirts that I never wore. I really loved them, but every time I pulled them out of my closet I would inevitably decide that I didn’t like how the plaid looked on me, and I would end up putting them back in the closet. Instead of keeping them, and then feeling bad every time I didn’t wear them, I now plan on sewing some skirts with the plaid cut diagonally rather than horizontal, since I know I like that look a lot more!
It can also be easy to hold on to pieces “just in case” or because you’ve had them for so long without thinking about whether you still want to keep them. For example, I had some hats that I loved, but never wore. I kept thinking “one day, I will figure out an outfit to pair with that hat” but when I took a second look at them, I realized that I didn’t actually want to wear them anymore. Just because they were vintage and one of a kind didn’t mean that I had to keep them, if they didn’t really suit my style anymore. It’s OK to pass things on to new homes where they will be more appreciated when they don’t work for you anymore.
GET RID OF YOUR 80%
I have never been one who wanted to limit myself in the wardrobe department. While I am intrigued by the idea of a capsule wardrobe, I have never personally been interested in pursuing that. In fact a lot of my wardrobe advice from the past has been, “Why limit yourself?” I love to experiment and try new things and I never wanted to fit myself into one specific category, but over time that doesn’t always work well. For me, rather than having lots of options and coming up with new outfits all the time… I really just had too many clothes that didn’t go together, so I ended up mainly wearing the same few coordinating pieces over and over again. Instead of focusing on the versatility of each item I purchased, I was choosing variety, but when you have a lot of clothes that don’t coordinate, you end up having to get more accessories to go with each outfit, which then means you need to have more storage…it’s an endless cycle.
It is said that we wear only twenty percent of our clothes eighty percent of the time, and that was definitely true for me. I had a closet full of clothes, but wasn’t actually wearing many of them on a regular basis. I realized that a capsule wardrobe is basically removing that eighty percent of clothes that you aren’t wearing, and focusing on your twenty percent. So, instead of having a closet bursting at the seams with clothing, I got rid of that excess and focused on how to improve that twenty percent that was left. And of course, there isn’t any set number of pieces; the perfect number of items for you might not be the same number as someone else.
ALWAYS KEEP WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY
Don’t feel the need to get rid of everything you don’t wear; keep the pieces that make you happy. (Especially if they are unique, one-of-kind vintage pieces!)
I have several beautiful evening dresses that I will probably never get rid of. I’ll probably never wear them either, but I love them too much to pass them on. I used to have a lot of evening dresses and then realized that I didn’t really need so many when I don’t ever (or want to) go to parties. However, when I pared down my collection, I kept some of my absolute favourite and irreplaceable ones. I like to hang them out on display where I can enjoy them.
DECIDE WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR DECLUTTERED ITEMS
Having a plan for what you are going to do with the items you are removing from your closet can make it a lot easier for you to part with them. In the past I had kept a lot of pieces in my closet, even though I knew that they weren’t working for me, because they weren’t things that my local thrift shop would want, or I had spent a lot on them and felt bad about losing that “investment”.
While donations to thrift shops are great, sometimes there are better ways to pass on unwanted items. Selling clothing can also be a worthwhile thing to do, especially if you have rare or vintage pieces. Now that Poshmark is in Canada, I was able to sell a lot of my items there. It did take a lot of time, but it made it a lot easier for me to part with the pieces, since I was able to make back some of the money I had spent. I also know that each of the pieces (even the vintage “wounded birds”) were going to people who wanted them.
Some other options are to give them to friends or family or to have a clothing swap. I also like to donate some of the nicer items to our local women’s shelter- it’s a good place to pass on some of the prettier items.
PUT ASIDE ITEMS YOU’RE NOT SURE ABOUT
When going through my closet, I did see some things that I hadn’t worn for a very long time, but I wasn’t sure whether that meant it was time to part with them or whether I just hadn’t had an occasion to wear them lately. (Probably something many of us went through in 2020.) If you find items that you haven’t worn for months (years?), then take them out of your closet for a while to help you decide whether you still want them or not.
For me, I realized that I needed to move some pieces into my sewing pile to see whether there was something I could do to alter/mend the item to make it more wearable. Other pieces that I wasn’t sure of, got packed away in a suitcase for a while. This works because when you open the suitcase or box again in a few months time, you’ll either be excited to bring those pieces immediately back into rotation, or you’ll find that you completely forgot about them, don’t feel any attachment and can easily move them into the “donate” pile.
I also have some items that don’t fit at the moment, but I do still love them and am not ready to just move them out of the closet. (I think this happens to us all at some point or other!) Rather than leaving those pieces hanging forlornly in my closet, I moved them into my out-of-season storage, and I will reevaluate them next year.
WAIT A LITTLE WHILE BEFORE BUYING
Especially when you live in a small space, at some point you have to curate your belongings to the amount of storage you have: your space dictates how much you can realistically own. If you have a difficulty in not bringing in new items when you’re shopping, picture where you are going to put it or store it. Or, figure out which item is going to have to go out to make room for the new item. (“One in, one out”)
I now create a list on my phone of everything that I am thinking of buying, and I hardly buy anything right when I see it. Even when browsing on Poshmark or at the thrift store, I try to think of what I am going to pair it with in my existing closet. I often bookmark things and think about them for several days or weeks before going ahead with the purchase. I debate about whether I will be disappointed if it’s gone and oftentimes I realize that while I like something, I wouldn’t be sad if it sold out.
Of course, if you have a large closet with lots of space to spread out, then you don’t need to be as ruthless with what you clear out or bring in!
TAKE A BREAK FROM BUYING TOO
While keeping to the rule of “one in and one out” is great, that only works if you have a good number of items to start with. If you are trying to actively reduce the amount of items you have, eventually you’ll have to stop buying new things. I see so many decluttering videos that neglect to mention this key detail: you have to bring in less or you won’t end up with less.
While paring down my closet last year, I tried to also do a “low buy” year, to give myself time to actually go through and figure out the right size of closet for me. I’m not sure I was completely successful on that front but, nevertheless, by the end of the year, I estimate that for every four items of clothing that I decluttered, I only brought one into my closet. I was pretty happy with that ratio.
IDENTIFY YOUR WARDROBE GAPS
Over the last year of this process, I have gotten better at identifying the gaps in my wardrobe, and knowing when it is time to bring something new into my closet. When I was decluttering I came across items of clothing that I liked, that fit into my style and that made me happy, but I still never wore, and I realized that it was because I didn’t have anything to pair them with! I also have some outfits that always seemed like they needed a certain something to finish it off perfectly.
I was able to figure out some key items to put on my shopping list this year:
- tops in colours other than black so I can mix and match with my black skirts.
- brown leather everyday shoes
- an everyday brown leather purse
- a couple new everyday skirts to replace the ones that were threadbare
- a vintage brown fur collar (OK, I didn’t need this one, I just fell in love with it when I saw it!)
Removing a bunch of the clothing I wasn’t wearing finally gave me the freedom to go and fill some of the gaps in my closet with pieces that fit my personal style, rather than being held back by my bursting closet, despite the fact that much of it wasn’t working for me. Also, because I took the time to evaluate what I was looking for, rather than just browsing at the thrift store like I usually would, I was able to wait and save up to get the few particular things I really needed (and wanted) rather than wasting my time getting a whole bunch of small new things I didn’t need. And because I made back some of the money from my old clothes, I was able to put it towards “investing” in pieces I actually needed.
So, while I wouldn’t consider myself to be a minimalist, I would still like to be purposeful with what I have in my closet. I’m sure this is going to be a process that I will have to revisit many more times in the future, but it’s a start! I want my wardrobe to be full of things that I love and wear regularly- not to be distracted by clothing that I don’t love wearing!
How about you- have you ever done a complete closet overhaul? Do you have any tips for how you decide when it’s time to part with something, or when to keep it? Are you attracted to using minimalism in your closet or not?