How to Simplify Your Closet

If you're anything like me, you have at least one Pinterest board dedicated to all the gorgeous outfits you absolutely love but feel like you'll never actually achieve. 

Deep down, I think we all love the idea of being that effortlessly stylish woman who looks put together no matter what and is ready for whatever life throws her way. And while we may have a few go to outfits that make us feel amazing, a lot of our closet makes us feel pretty 'meh.'

This is the spot I was in two years ago when I first discovered minimalism. After reading Jen Hatmaker's book 7, I started doing all the reading I could on minimalism, but it was a few months before I actually took the plunge and started decluttering. The first place I tackled? My closet.

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There are all sorts of arguments for starting in various places when it comes to decluttering, but one of the most common places to start is with your wardrobe. I think this is for a variety of reasons.

One, the physical space is relatively contained, so it can feel less overwhelming than a larger room. Clothing is also something we have to deal with every single day, so even though there will be moments of "I still have this?!" as you sort through everything, those moments will likely be fewer and farther between than when tackling other areas of your home like rooms with cabinets and deep drawers.

For me personally, I found that decluttering my closet sparked an immediate change. Having a more limited wardrobe increased my creativity, boosted my confidence, and made me excited to continue decluttering the rest of my life.

Getting Started

Like any decluttering task, the biggest hurdle for minimizing your wardrobe is just getting started.

There are a whole lot of different options and ways to approach minimizing your wardrobe and just choosing the approach you want to take can be a little bit overwhelming. Without a doubt, the most popular and common one out there is the capsule wardrobe.

If you're not familiar with it, a capsule wardrobe is a wardrobe comprised of a limited number of pieces (the actual number varies from person to person) that you absolutely love. Most often, you create a capsule for each season, rotating pieces out once every three months. Because of the limited number, most capsule wardrobes are also comprised of high quality pieces that will last for a long time, and versatile ones you can mix and match in a variety of different ways.

The capsule wardrobe is based on the thought process that most people, women in particular, only wear 20-30% of their wardrobe on a regular basis. If you think about it, you probably have a few outfits that are you go-tos for the mornings when you're running late, you don't know what to wear, or you feel gross but still want to look amazing. A capsule wardrobe takes all of those outfits and uses them to comprise the entire wardrobe, eliminating the excess pieces that you feel meh, neutral, or negative about.

Contrary to popular belief, the capsule wardrobe is not the only type of option available for a minimized wardrobe. Though I started my minimal wardrobe journey with a capsule wardrobe in mind, I quickly learned that based on where I live, a capsule wardrobe is not the best option. So I toyed around with a couple of different ideas and, after some trial and error, developed my own minimal wardrobe solution that meshes well with my personal style and the climate I live in (more on that in a future post).

If you're not sure if the capsule wardrobe is right for you or if some other minimal wardrobe option would be better, don't let that deter you from getting started on the decluttering process.

Minimalism at its core isn't about a specific way of doing thing. It's about removing excess from your life to determine what matters most. What works for you might not work for me and vice versa. The important thing is to just get the process going and determine, through experimentation and some trial and error, the form of minimalism that works best for you.

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The Decluttering Process

So you've decided today's the day. You're going to declutter your closet. Where do you begin?

Start by pulling all of your clothing (yes, all of it) out of your closet, dresser, and any other storage and putting it on your bed. I recommend putting it on the bed because this will hopefully motivate you to finish the task before the day is done — otherwise you have to push everything onto the floor!

Divide Things Up

Once you've got everything piled up onto your bed (it might be a little overwhelming...that's okay), start by designating a spot for three different piles. You can do this by grabbing three boxes or bins, writing categories on an index card, or just making a mental note of which pile is which. You're only going to make three piles, but you're going to divide your clothing into four categories — Love, Maybe, Nope, and Seasonal.

The Love pile isn't actually a pile and these items are going to be fairly obvious. They're the ones you thought of earlier when I mentioned your go-to outifts, those pieces that make you feel amazing no matter what. When you come across one of these items, put it back in the closet. Don't worry yet about the quality, its versatility, or anything like that. The analysis of your total wardrobe will come later, but if you spend too much time on it now, you'll never make it through everything.

The Maybe pile is next. These are the clothing items that you're tempted to keep and you probably like, but there's just something that keeps you back from absolutely loving them. Maybe it's a shirt you used to love but it doesn't fit quite right anymore. Maybe it's a dress you bought for a party that one time and you do love it and look amazing in it, but because of your lifestyle, you hardly ever wear it. Maybe it's a piece you bought years ago and have never really worn (it might even still have tags on it), because once you got it home you realized it doesn't go with anything else you own...but you can't bear to get rid of it because it was expensive. If it doesn't scream "love!", toss it on the Maybe pile.

The Nope pile comes after this. Similar to the Love pile, these items should be fairly obvious. They're those pieces you've been meaning to get rid of forever because you can't even remember why you ever thought it looked good. Or those pieces that are clearly falling apart and will never be put back together again. Or the ones that make you cringe every time you put them on. Whatever the reason, you look at the piece and immediately think, "Nope!"

The Seasonal pile is the last one. If you're doing this in the middle of winter, hold off on sorting through your spring/summer clothes until that season rolls around. Or, if you're doing this in the middle of summer, hold off on decluttering those boots and sweaters until the weather's turned cold again. This can be particularly helpful if, like I mentioned, you're intending to do a seasonal capsule wardrobe. It's also helpful if you're in the process of getting into better shape or losing weight and the items will fit differently in a few months when that new season arrives.

Once you've finished dividing everything up, there's still a bit more work to be done. Start by taking your Seasonal pieces, boxing them up, and tucking them away. You can put them under the bed, up in your closet, or in another room — wherever works best for you. Leave those pieces in the box until their season rolls around, and when it does, do the same love/maybe/nope analysis that you did with your other items.

For the Nope pile, divide these up a bit further by determining which items are still in good condition and could potentially be sold or donated, and which items need to be recycled instead. And finally, for the Maybe pile, have a box at the ready to pack them up and store away like your Seasonal pile, but not just yet.

Do Some Analysis

Now that you've divided all of your clothing into those different piles, you can start to analyze things a little bit.

Start with your Love items and your Nope items and search for some commonalities. It could be the cut, the color, the fabric, the specific type of items (skirt, shirt, etc.), but chances are there are some commonalities between the items you love that make you feel amazing and the items you didn't hesitate to get rid of.

It's been a long time since I did my initial closet declutter, but for me, I noticed that I gravitated toward shades of green and burgundy/red, I have a serious love for a-line pieces that have a defined waist, and I also lean toward pretty classic silhouettes and pieces. Oh, and I have a serious obsession with scarves and cardigan sweaters.

The common theme was they were all pieces that emphasized my natural features like my eye and hair color, and they also made me feel elegant and feminine without feeling super young. Whatever the commonalities are for you, take a minute to jot those down to keep in mind in the future as you begin to more intentionally curate your wardrobe.

Give It Some Time

Depending on your specific approach to the wardrobe and the number of items you wound up with in your Love pile, you may want to supplement with a few items in your Maybe pile. It's also possible that you may need or want to weed your Love pile down a little bit more than you already have.

Unless you've decided you're going to do a capsule wardrobe and have a set number of items you're aiming for, this is where I recommend stopping for now. Don't buy anything new just yet. Store your Seasonal and Maybe pieces away. Sell, donate, or recycle your Nope pieces, and give the rest of your closet space to just breathe for a bit. 

Choose a set amount of time -- it could be a couple of weeks or a couple of months — to get yourself used to the idea of a smaller wardrobe. If you had a hard time figuring out commonalities in your favorite pieces right off the bat, use this time to help you discover those things. As you spend more time with your minimized wardrobe, you'll start to notice the pieces you still lean toward all the time, as well as the ones you wish were in your closet.

When you find yourself wishing you had a certain piece, make a note of it, but don't go out and buy it right away. If it's a piece that you keep wishing you had, chances are it would be a good fit in the rest of your wardrobe and is something to invest in.

From here, there's a lot of different ways you can go. If you're doing the capsule wardrobe thing, in a few months time, you'll want to go through and reshuffle your wardrobe. If not, still think through your ideal wardrobe and examine potential pieces for their versatility and quality.

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The Miscellaneous Pieces

Now you might've been reading this whole post and thinking, "What about workout wear? What about undergarments? What about my jewelry? What do I do with all of those?"

There are two ways to approach all the miscellaneous items in your wardrobe — you can include them in this initial declutter, or you can tackle them one at a time.

When I first started, I did only my main wardrobe which included tops, bottoms, dresses, shoes, and outerwear. I left my workout/loungewear, undergarments, purses, and jewelry for another day. Since that initial purge, I've done a couple other major purges and some smaller ones that were specific to some of those miscellaneous categories.

When it comes to accessories like jewelry and purses, it can be especially helpful to wait before deciding to declutter. As you get a better feel for the kind of clothing you're curating, it'll be easier to determine not only the kinds of accessories that will complement your clothing, but also the kinds of accessories that are practical for your lifestyle. My recommendation is to wait (unless, of course, there are some pieces that are a definite "nope") until you've spent a bit more time with minimized clothing before you determine what stays and what goes.

For some people, minimal accessories pairs well with minimal clothing. Others go extremely minimal on the clothing, but have a higher number of accessories so they can still mix things up. You might fall somewhere in the middle. It's all about experimentation and taking time to figure out what works best for you.

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Tips for Future Curation

After this initial purge is complete, it might still seem like you have a long way to go before you have the wardrobe of your dreams, and that's totally okay! It's been nearly two years since my initial closet purge, and I'm still in the process of curating my wardrobe. It's not quite where I want it to be yet, but through patience and a lot of experimentation, I'm much closer than I used to be!

I'll get into some more specifics about this in future posts on curating a minimized wardrobe, but here are a few tips to consider when you're starting to put together a wish list of pieces to add to your wardrobe.

Set the Rules

One of the best things I ever did for my wardrobe was come up with some rules for it. In addition to being carefully considered (no impulse purchases!), every single item that comes into my closet has to be fit the following rules:

  1. Comfortable — In its fabric and cut, the piece must be comfortable. There can be no poking or prodding, and it can't be a piece that I will constantly feel the need to adjust, fix, or watch.
  2. Versatile — It must be an item that can be paired with multiple pieces throughout the wardrobe based on its silhouette and color, and must be able to be styled a variety of different ways.
  3. Quality — All items must be made from quality fabrics with good stitching and construction, and whenever possible, they should be ethically and sustainably sourced.
  4. Confident — Whatever the piece is, it must make me look and feel absolutely amazing. No exceptions.

Setting up these four rules for my wardrobe means that sometimes it's hard to find pieces and I might be looking for a certain item for a long time (I've been on the hunt for the perfect navy blue cardigan for almost two years), but it also means that the purchases I regret are incredibly few and far between.

Develop a Wish List

I've mentioned this a couple of times already, but developing a wish list is one of the best ways you can begin to intentionally curate a wardrobe. 

Think through the items you've always wanted, the ones that pop up most often on that Pinterest board of yours, and the items you're constantly thinking, "Ugh. I wish I had X."

One of the items I had on my wish list for a while was a cross body bag. I've been a big purse/tote girl for a long time, but I had a lot of situations over the last year or so where I kept thinking how nice it would be to have a bag that wasn't so giant, but was just big enough to fit my wallet, keys, phone, and chapstick.

After some research, I found a high quality bag from a small business based in the U.S. I only ordered it a couple of weeks ago, and they're handmade so it hasn't arrived yet, but I already know it's something I will use a ton because of the number of times I've wished I had it.

Determine a Color Pallet

One of the things that can help most with versatility (an essential component of a minimized wardrobe) is a cohesive color pallet.

You might think that all minimalist wardrobes are filled only with neutrals and if you love color then you have no hope of having a similar wardrobe. This is simply not the case. Yes, neutrals make it a lot easier because, by nature, they're designed to be versatile, but you can still add color into a wardrobe and keep it versatile.

When I determined the color pallet for my wardrobe, I thought through the colors I wore most often. I tend to gravitate toward jewel tones or brighter colors, but stay away from pastels because I'm relatively pale. Because of my coloring, those jewel tones and brighter colors tend to be shades of green, burgundy/pinks, and the occasional teals, purples, and oranges.

Neutrals do comprise a lot of my wardrobe because I happen to really love them, but you'll notice that all the colors in my wardrobe are some shade of green or burgundy/pink, with the occasional teal and purple. I chose those colors partially because I look and feel great in them, and partially because they also happen to mesh well together, which means even my colors can be mixed and matched.

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Additional Resources

If you're looking for additional inspiration or ideas, below you'll find some of the resources I've found most helpful in my own wardrobe curation journey. And if the capsule wardrobe isn't the solution for you, don't worry! I have a post coming soon where I'll give you all the deets on my non-capsule minimal wardrobe!

  • Unfancy — Where I began my minimal wardrobe journey. Caroline's blog is where I got the idea of the four different categories and one of the places I continually go back to for inspiration and ideas on all sorts of things related to a minimal wardrobe.
  • Project 333 — Courtney Carver's capsule wardrobe experiment is probably one of the best known out there. Though this wasn't the approach I took when I started curating my wardrobe, it could be particularly helpful if you're working on the experimentation process and trying to figure out what works best for you.
  • My Green Closet — Erin's YouTube channel is one of my current favorite resources, particularly as I've begun the shift toward higher quality items and more ethical and sustainable fashion. Her voices is super calming and she has all sorts of great advice for not only curating a versatile wardrobe, but she has tons of resources if you're looking to add more sustainable and ethical items to your wardrobe as well.

Intentionally curating anything — a wardrobe, a home, or a life — takes time, effort, and a fair amount of self-reflection. I know today's post was a lot of information, but I hope it gives you a good place to start in curating the wardrobe of your dreams.

(Yes, all the photos are of my actual closet and accessory collections!)