The five questions I asked when I attempted to cut down my closet (and succeeded)
My first real fashion fling started with a Forever 21 sweater and Topshop’s half-priced jeans.
I can recall perfectly how I had taken a pair of scissors to the said sweater (which came in a rather sickening shade of green, now that I think about it), snipping it halfway across to create what would be the first of many cropped articles in my closet. Paired with my high-waisted Joni jeans, I created what I believed was a killer combo that I would then wear to class at least once a week. Separately, a barf-colored sweater and skinnies might not be the most spectacular purchases, no––but they were the ones that sparked my remarkable fall into the rabbit hole of style and shopping.
Fast forward to a good five years later, my closet expanded exponentially. Years of working with clothes (and sometimes, getting paid in clothes) trained my eye and pushed my sartorial tastes, inclining me to take on trends with bolstered bravery instead of a haughty nose wrinkle and lack of game. After all, fashion is fun. Fashion is variety. Fashion is discovering new brands and picking up pieces from unlikely places like the thrift or a relative’s closet.
Fashion, and my love for it, would also become the reason for the dilemma I was faced with around three months back. My parents had decided that we would finally be moving from the province to the city, from our three-story home of 19 years to a much smaller, centrally located apartment. We were given about three weeks’ notice to get our stuff all packed––a time frame that would have been enough to get the job done if not for my popping closet (no, not poppin’. I literally mean it was popping from the sheer amount of stuff in it).
This is something of a success story, while the questions I’ve listed ahead were the map to my closet-whittling victory.
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As a general rule of thumb, start with the pieces you use less often. Everyone has that one corner of the closet they hardly sift through; that’s the sweet spot you want to start digging into. Sorting through favorites (and coming to terms with the fact that you will need to let some of them go) entails a little more emotional turmoil, so start with the items you’re less attached to and save the tear-jerkers for the end of the purge.
When was the last time I wore this?
A question to jog your memory: harmless, simple, but also blunt enough to get the cold, hard truth out in the open. If it’s been over six months to a year since you’ve worn the article in question, the chances that you’ll find yourself willingly reaching for it in the near future are slim at best.
Case in point: those Topshop jeans I talked about. As a long-time fan of SHINee and a proud child of the 2000’s, skinny jeans were to me then as wide-legged pants are to me now. A perfect complement to any outfit, not unlike a fix-in hash brown at a fast food breakfast place. When I finally found a pair of skinnies that played to my form (read: fit my butt, thighs and hips and sat comfortably along my midriff), I was locked in for a years-long romance. It was definitely good while it lasted, but as with all good things, that fling came to an end when I learned a little more about dressing for my body type. I’ve found a better strategy to dressing my pear-shaped body and haven’t reached for any skinny trousers since. Over to the discard pile.
Does this actually still fit me?
A very specific kind of heartbreak washed over my system when I realized that the cropped baby tees I had bought en masse could no longer fit me. Following the success of what proved to be my most efficient diet-and-workout combo, I fell for the charm of the crop. Nothing showcased my triumph quite as well as slivers of skin between tiny t-shirts and high-waisted pants. I could only keep that going for so long, though, and by the time my closet purge happened, I felt less sexy and more like an overstuffed sausage.
There’s no shame in bodies changing. Waists, arms, boobs and butts grow and shrink with diets, workouts and the times. It’s fact. It’s possible that my collection of tiny tees could fit me again eventually, but with reality and my lack of closet space, it was best that we parted ways. If something doesn’t fit––whether it’s because you outgrew it, lost too much weight to wear it or purchased it with the thought of “fitting into it later”––you’d probably be better off throwing it into the toss pile. Sell it, or better yet, donate it to someone who could do it justice.
Do I already have something like this in my “keep” pile?
Can you ever really have too many jeans? Or too many plain white tees? I mean, they’re called style staples for a reason, right?
I never really considered myself a packrat, but the sheer abundance of jeans in my closet made me think otherwise. In the wake of my skinny jean phase, I found two new loves: the wide leg and the straight leg. Over the years, I collected pair upon pair, letting myself fall for the illusion of a longer leg and smaller hip. This romance (still ongoing, might I add) ended up biting me in the ass when I found I had far too many pairs of jeans to bring with me, no matter how flatly folded or tightly rolled I intended to store them. If you’ve got already got something that is obviously similar in your keep pile, you’re gonna want to toss the duplicates.
A moment of silence for the three pairs of jeans I lost throughout the journey.
Can I come up with three outfits using this piece off the top of my head?
Spur of the moment styling might not be everyone’s strong suit. However, if it’s a stringent detox you’re attempting to pull off, it goes without saying that the pieces you keep are the ones that you have an easy sartorial connection with (read: the ones you can actually wear and wear often).
Consider this portion of the purge a fun brain massage. Pull out a piece from your closet, give yourself a few minutes to imagine it as a building block for three ensembles you could create and wear. If you come up short, throw it into the toss pile.
Can I see myself using this six months from now?
Sustainability isn't just about limiting your plastic consumption. It isn't only about knowing how you clothes were made. A large part of the sustainability movement is committing to clothing that can last you a long time, and being a wiser dresser all around. If you happen to come across a piece that you can't imagine yourself wearing in the near future (or at all, even), don't think twice: chuck it in the opposite direction of your keep pile.
I've tried my fair share of trends since my unintentional closet expansion––from hats to prints to hot-right-now silhouettes that would eventually fade into history––which admittedly left me to sift through a large amount of clothes I didn't even remember having. While trends do travel in a circle and your tastes could technically change over time, a successful closet cinch requires a little extra mindfulness. Which spur-of-the-moment purchases are you inclined to reach for again? Which ones are just nice to own, but never to wear? Weed out the pieces that are just taking up unnecessary space. Make a mental note to sell or donate them to someone who could give them the wear they deserve.
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Think you're ready to attempt a closet cut-down? Go on, give the five tests above a spin. If you've got another question you think needs to be added, sound off below!
Art Alexandra Lara