I’ve spoken before about my journey towards a more minimal lifestyle and trying to get out of the style rut I found myself in a few years ago. When I decided to tackle that rut, I made it my mission to curate my wardrobe, get rid of any excess and make sure I was only buying and holding onto things that I actually loved and wore. We all make mistakes sometimes, but thankfully I feel like mine have been pretty few and far between, and I’ve made some really good progress since I first started out.
In my eyes, the three main steps when curating your wardrobe are decluttering, assessing and rebuilding. Of course, you don’t have to do them in that order, in fact I decluttered and assessed many times over on the way to where I’m at now - there are no rules and this isn’t a linear procedure. But I wanted to put together a post made up of my own experiences, as well as a pieces of advice that I found helpful along the way, and hopefully there’s something in here for you.
Before I get stuck into it, I wanted to address privilege because obviously this was written from the perspective of someone who has the means to “declutter” clothes that no longer suit my personal style or that I don’t like anymore. That’s not a privilege everyone has, and I’m well aware of that. But for those of us who are fortunate enough to have a disposable income that we can spend on curating our wardrobe and defining our personal style, hopefully this advice will help us all waste less money and resources in the process.
I think we all know that feeling, when you’ve been itching to clear out your wardrobe, finally make the time to do it, get a few pieces in and then hit that item that you never wear but can’t seem to let go of. There are so many reasons why we hold onto things we don’t need, and in my experience it takes both time and a fundamental change in your mindset to get to a point where you’re finally ready to let go of these things. As I said, I decluttered many times over, and the more you do it, the easier it is to let go, especially when you realise you’ve held onto something through three declutters but still haven’t worn it. Not only do these things cloud your mind and make it hard to see what you have in your wardrobe that you would actually wear, but it’s wasteful to hold onto things that you don’t use when someone else might love them and wear them all the time.
Sometimes we have pretty bizarre reasons for holding onto things we don’t use. We’ve all been there – I might need it one day. It's really pretty. So and so gave this to me. I don’t have anything else like this. This was expensive so I need to keep trying to make it work. I know I have lots of things that are similar, but I like them all. I wore this on my first date with my partner 8 years ago. A big one for me has always been guilt. Guilt because something was expensive and I didn’t wear it. Or because it’s uncomfortable, or used to fit but doesn’t anymore, or it has a memory attached to it. But no matter how long you hang onto these clothes, you’re not getting your money back. The memory you have of the last time you wore it isn’t going to disappear, and it’s not going to magically change shape and fit one day. Now I’m able to be much more objective with my clothes, they’re just things after all, and no matter what emotions they bring up, there’s no real need to hang onto things I don’t use.
I find that if clothes have a negative emotion attached to them, it’s best to just get rid of them. Whether they were a waste of money, or they used to fit but don’t anymore, or if you bought them with the plan of altering the clothes, or altering your body to fit into them, if they make you feel bad, let go of them. Don’t let your clothes tell you how to feel about your body or yourself – if you can’t remember the last time you wore something, you don’t need it. You’ll only feel that guilt when you’re looking at the item/s in question, so you know how to stop feeling that way? Stop looking at them. Sell them, give them to family and friends, or donate them. Cut your losses and move on and I guarantee it’ll feel like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders.
As for things that hold a positive memory, it’s important to remember that you’ll still keep that memory even if you get rid of the clothes. However if something is extremely sentimental, like a scarf knitted by your grandma that you never wear, I’d suggest keeping these items somewhere other than your wardrobe. No one ever said you had to be ruthless and throw out anything that’s not 100% functional, but if it doesn’t work as clothing, then it shouldn’t be stored with your clothes. Obviously the idea isn’t to have a whole secondary wardrobe full of things you don’t wear, but I don’t see the harm in holding onto a few things that are really important to you. I just think that anything you’re not going to wear shouldn’t be kept with the things you do wear, and it’ll be much easier to pick out an outfit in the morning without these things in the way.
I really disagree with the idea that you can “never have too many X.” Back when black skater skirts were my thing (now I’m more of an a-line girl), I had at least 5 of them that I’d wear on rotation, but the reality is if you compare 5 very similar things, there’s always going to be one or two that are slightly better than the rest. I always reached for the same ones, and would only really wear the others when I knew I hadn’t in a while and probably should. So the reality is I could have lived without them, right? If you keep re-buying the same staples, chances are there is something about what you have that isn’t quite right, which is why you keep looking.
These days I’d rather take the time to search for the perfect staple item that is high quality and has the perfect fit. I want to have that hanging in my wardrobe rather than 5 versions that are just okay that I found along the way. Obviously it might make sense to have a couple of variations, maybe one skirt is longer than the other, or one white shirt is a cotton and the other is silk, or one tan coat is thicker and better for winter, but for the most part I no longer feel the need to have duplicates of the same item in my wardrobe in the same colour. If it doesn’t serve a different purpose to what I already own, then I don’t need it.
Get the Proportions Right
One piece of advice that I got from Anushka Rees’ A Curated Closet that had a huge impact on me was figuring out how I spend my time and factoring that into the composition of my wardrobe. The idea is that you make a pie graph and divide it into sections based on how you spend your time, so work, relaxing at home, socialising, special occasions, working out, etc. For most of us, work is going to be the biggest section, while special occasions will likely be one of the smallest. This exercise really helped me put things into perspective and made me get real with myself about my lifestyle. For my wardrobe to make sense and compliment my life, it needs to be roughly in proportion with how I spend my time.
If you don’t go to special occasions like weddings very often, then realistically how many semi-formal dresses do you need, and how often are they going to be worn? Sure, it’s lovely to look in your wardrobe and see 15 beautiful cocktail dresses, but are you going to wear each one of them at least one throughout the year? What about once in two years? What about 3 times each? This was definitely an issue I had, but once I admitted to myself that there were some I loved more than others, I was able to let things go without missing them.
Another thing this piece of advice meant for me was building a work wardrobe. Although I’m currently in a job where I can wear whatever I like to work (which I LOVE), if that weren’t the case, I would need to really put some effort into building a work wardrobe. After all, if you spend 5 days a week at work (which most of us do) then a large portion of your wardrobe should be made up of clothes you wear on those days, and a smaller proportion would be clothes you wear on the weekends. When I was working in a job that had a more formal dress code I was WAY off in this regard, so now I know that whatever job/s I have in future, this is something I’ll have to consider.
I’ve already talked about clothes being linked to different emotions, and they can be such a persistent reminder of different times in our lives. Maybe you’ve got a corporate wardrobe from your first job out of uni but you moved into a more creative job 5 years ago. Maybe you’ve moved away from a big city and you don’t go to da club as much as you used to. Maybe your body has changed but you’re still hanging on to your clothes from high school. Like I said, I don’t think holding onto anything that’s extremely sentimental is the worst thing you can do, I just don’t think those items that are never going to be worn should be stored next to clothes that you will wear.
I also think that when you’re ready to embrace change and accept that you’re in a different stage of your life now, it’s much easier to declutter these clothes that you realistically never reach for anymore. I know my personal style has shifted a lot, and I think that’s completely normal. I’ve just turned 30 and while I don’t think of myself as “old” I’m probably not going to be wearing all the same clothes that I wore when I was 22. Even if some elements of my style have carried through, a lot of what I bought in my early 20s was poor quality because what my clothes were made of wasn’t important to me then. I’ve also refined my style a lot and tend to prefer things that are more subtle. There are clothes I absolutely love in theory, but know that I wouldn’t actually wear anymore, so even if it’s a dress that I wore to death when I was 26, it doesn’t have to be my style forever – it’s okay to move on and let it go if it doesn’t really feel like “you” anymore.
The Hard Questions
Do I like it or love it?
Do I wear it or do I just think it’s beautiful?
Does this fit properly and is it comfortable?
When was the last time I wore this?
How many versions of this do I have?
Would I buy this again?