If there's anything that tests my inner hoarder, it's my closet. Seeing an overstuffed closet feels safe, if only because it means I can put off doing laundry one more day. I like knowing that I have endless outfit possibilities and can clothe myself for any situation that may arise. Ball gown? Yep, I have one. Guess how many balls I've been to or am likely to attend (zero?).
But I've come to realize that I don't want endless options — I want the right options. I want my closet to reflect who I am, and that no longer includes t-shirts from Girl Scout camp. I've put myself on a strict review schedule — every few months I do a closet overhaul with an increasingly narrower vision of what works in my life, and I've become more and more ruthless about making tough cuts. It's taken a while, but I've managed to whittle down my mess of a closet into an edited collection that ultimately feels much more satisfying.
Here's what I do:
1) Choose one category at a time.
It's less overwhelming if you focus on, say, sweaters. It also prevents the scenario where you've emptied your entire closet onto the bed but suddenly it's midnight and you're exhausted but you're only halfway done and you're very sorry you started the damn project in the first place. (Clearly that has NEVER happened to me...like, last week.)
2) Make three piles: keep, consign and donate.
I find a big obstacle to letting clothing go is the fact that you paid a lot of money for it; it feels wasteful to just give it away. But try to think about it this way: if you keep it, you're paying again with wasted space in your closet and by wearing something that doesn't flatter you. Give it to a friend who will love it or try a consignment or resale shop where you can recoup some of the cash. The rest can go straight to Goodwill.
3) In order to keep an article of clothing, it must pass this test:
•Do I like/am I flattered by the cut AND the fabric AND the color?
•Am I comfortable in it?
•Does it fit me right this minute (not when I lose 10 lbs)?
•Can any damage (stains or holes) be fixed?
•Can I think of more than one place I can wear it?
•Does it go with other things in my wardrobe?
•Have I worn it in the past year?
You must be ruthless. These are just clothes, not memories. You get to keep your memories even after the thing is gone; that's how memories work. Of course, certain important items are exempt from purging, i.e. wedding dress, letterman's jacket or baby clothes. It may take a couple of passes to get into the swing of paring down, but the sweet reward is a wardrobe that makes you look great and a streamlined closet that makes getting dressed much, much more fun.