The massive edit.


Over the last two weeks I’ve gotten rid of 30% of my wardrobe. 5 or 6 trashbags of clothes and shoes have been gleefully tossed in the back of the car and dropped in donation bins. Not because I lost a pant size (or gained one) but because I finally just reached a point of exhaustion when I opened my closet everyday. I finally realized that embracing a kind of wardrobe minimalism would make things a lot easier for me in the mornings and help me embrace a simple classic style that I admire so much in others. Now, I’m not talking about the kind of crazy minimalism that some bloggers advocate for (no, I will not successfully have a 33 piece wardrobe.) I am talking about a versatile, classic, quality wardrobe that suits my lifestyle.

That’s a mostly casual lifestyle folks. I’m a SAHM. I go for walks with the dog, stroll to the park, meet with other moms for playdates, and if I’m lucky a couple of date nights with my husband. The stacks of Banana Republic wool slacks and sweater dresses leftover from my retail days just are not necessary. The same goes for the piles of ill fitting tee shirts and long sleeves from the clearance racks at Gap and Old Navy; I feel like I’m a bit too old to dress like a teenager. I love neutral interiors and even though it took me a while to figure out, I love a neutral wardrobe too. Here’s the criteria I used to rid my self of an excess of clothes.

1. Does it fit?

I’m not talking about basic fit – if you can’t button or zip it, it should go. That’s obvious. I’m talking about fit and flatter. For example, I had a pile of dolman sleeved slightly too short tees from Zara and Old Navy. They fit, and are relatively new, but I realized that dolman sleeves and a boxy shorter fit are just not flattering for my figure.  In the pile they went. I kept all the shirts that weren’t faded and tried to only keep neutrals like white, black, and gray. Likewise, too short shorts (I’m 30, not 13) and frumpy khakis that I bought for one event and haven’t worn since. Gone.

2. Is it a classic?

I had a lot of items in my wardrobe that were looking pretty dated, like tons of cotton long sleeves with weird decorative details like ruching and floral appliques. They may have looked pretty new, but now they scream ” I was 8 dollars at Old Navy in 2004!” If it doesn’t stand the test of time, it gets tossed.

3. Is it useful or, will you actually wear it?

I bagged up things that still had tags on them that I’ve never worn – mostly ill fitting dresses that I bought last minute before an event and ended up not wearing. I’ve been just as guilty as the next person of holding on to clothes that I will most likely never wear either because I was trying to embrace a trend (hippie-chic) that doesn’t really reflect my personal style (classic and elegant, I hope.) I don’t need to have a ton of dresses, just enough to attend a few social events for Pks work every year and the occasional summer wedding. I also think I should no longer wear cheap dresses for important social events – a well cut quality dress that can be worn more than once makes a better impression than a trendy but poorly constructed rag from Forever 21.

4.  Why am I keeping it?

I’ve held onto a lot of clothes over the years because they were gifts or because of their perceived value (i’m looking at you giant  bell sleeved Jcrew cashmere sweater from 1998!) Mostly I just turned off the emotional voice in my head that said “oh don’t, so and so bought that for you!” If I don’t wear it regularly, it got tossed. If I wore it regularly but was damaged or worn out it got tossed too. Goodbye to pilly, faded  favorite sweaters – time to replace them with more quality versions.

What’s left? A pretty decent, versatile wardrobe that reflects my lifestyle and age. Lots of chambray and denim,  striped shirts, wool and cashmere sweaters, a couple of solid blazers and a smattering of more formal wear. I still have a few foundation pieces to get – like a pair of dressy black flats, but I really don’t want to just buy a cheap pair. I’d rather save up for a sturdy classic that will last quite a few years. My favorite places to shop right now are J.Crew, Madewell,  ASOS, and of course Gap (for basics I don’t feel guilty about sticky toddler hands ruining).  I’ve also been trying to pin outfits that reflect my style and perusing blogs that embrace a kind of understated luxurious fashion. I thought that this list was good guide for the basics that a classic wardrobe should have (obviously, take or leave what doesn’t work for you.)


I still have tons of shoes – but after thorough editing I have tons of shoes that I actually love. Also, side note, when you are trying to minimize your closet you probably shouldn’t do an Etsy search for “vintage Coach.” Let’s just say my purse collection got a little bigger.

What are your strategies for maintaing a streamlined closet? I found that the pictures I posted on this blog helped me figure out what does and doesn’t work for me. I love Shannon’s posts about that too. It was super empowering to get rid of a bunch of clutter! I feel like I could still edit it down a little more! Now, if I can just resist those 40% off coupons from the Gap…


9 responses

  1. Bravo, Helen. I know what you mean. Just this year, I gave away the outfit I wore to your wedding. I was keeping it for sentimental value. It didn’t fit anymore, I was not going to get around to getting it tailored, and really don’t have other occasions to wear it. So, I will remember this happy day and my outfit through photos.

    One piece of advice that keeps me away from sale racks ( well, most of the time): What’s the cost of the item per per wear? A well made, versatile item at full price that I’ll wear dozens of times is a better value than the 50% off deal rarely worn but shoved to the back of the closet.

    • Suzy – The idea of CPW has never let me down and helped me to realize that I shouldn’t plunk down a ton of money for things I just won’t wear often (like seasonal prints, etc.) I think it’s totally fine to donate things that aren’t holding their value for you any longer. Now someone else will have a beautiful outfit at a terrific price!

  2. We are in the process of moving so I have paired down the closet in a big way to free up space, but the secondary effect is that I’m left with a wardrobe that is more memorable as I am creating outfits. Too many clothes and you forget what you have, thereby not using those garments effectively anyways. The culling has had the added benefits of donating to charity, as well as making a little cash by consigning high-quality items that have retained value (but just aren’t for me).

    I suppose the strategy for me is thinking about the most frequent uses of my days (working from home, traveling for work, hanging out) and whether a piece of clothing fits into those categories. If it’s something like ‘going out to a fabulous party’, I ask myself, ‘when will that happen, a few times a year?’ Most of our social get-togethers are casual so I don’t need a million little dresses that just barely fit me. Therefore, get rid of those infrequently used items. If it’s a life-genre-spanning item, like a nice cardigan that can be worn casual or dressy in a variety of contexts, then in goes front-and-center in the closet.

    In slightly related news, I want to share my new favorite basic, versatile piece: The Sweeper Dress from Athleta in black.
    I just got it and think it’s going to be the best $84 I ever spent on a piece of clothing. Also topping my list of flattering basics: the Minnie/Winnie pant from J.Crew, my chambray button-down from BR, and V-neck basic tees from the Gap.

    • Cheryl, that dress looks fantastic and I love that it has a built in bra. I totally agree that the bulk of what’s in your closet should reflect the bulk of what you wear. I’m glad I’ve finally gotten to the point of actually wearing everything I own! I agree that Gap vnecks rock, but I’ve also been wanting to try the Tshirts from Everlane (and their silk blouses – pretty!) I found I didn’t have much to consign this time around – a lot of what I got rid of was embarrassingly worn out!

  3. ha ha! and hello!
    I was thinking how great it was to clean out my closet! an there is the link!

    I wear pretty much nothing in that rotation of outfits…ok, one or two…today i wore a very old purple flanel plaid button down, ripped jeans with one big roll up the leg, like folded up, and charteuse cord toms…not a fashionista! but i usually am happy and feel cool in my clothes…then i bump into a stranger and i wonder what they see…a road i try not to go down! anyways, i shop in bulk and buy full outfits…it helps with core dressing…the stuff i add in here and there never gets worn as often, if that makes sense!

    i want to see these outfits! don’t be shy!!!

  4. ps the gap doesnt fit me! always too short, too boxy! the jeans are ok for winter…

    I bought a bunch of joe fresh this year, and havent worn much of it…but it’s pretty neutral so i will probably wear it in 5 years or something crazy…i mean, a white top with decent material and construcion is always a keeper! especially since you wear it for. few hours, then have to hit the spray n wash!!!

    • Speaking of white – I bought white jeans this year but haven’t had the guts to wear them yet- maybe with a navy top on a date night? I better carry a tide pen. We just got Joe Fresh in the states this year – I’ll have to check them out – ah! or maybe not since I’m trying to pare down. Minimalism is hard!

  5. I’ve started using this mentality when purchasing new items! If it’s not timeless or classic or well made, I won’t purchase it. There is just no point in spending money on items that will be worn/warped/outdated in less than a years time. Some accessories that are under $5 I’ll purchase if they are trendy, but not shirts/pants/dresses. It’s not worth it!

  6. Pingback: In praise of comfort. « handmaidtales

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