It’s been truly fall here for about a month now. A few weeks ago I slowly packed away my summer things and pulled out sweaters and leggings and wool socks. Most of my clothes seemed a bit bedraggled: pills on sweaters; a tiny hole in a frumpy flannel shirt dress sent to me by my sweet best friend who sometimes sends me a random box of clothes; and my one pair of jeans is faded and stretched out.
What I really wanted was to buy a NEW FANCY EVERYTHING for the fall. But what I did instead was just eliminate the ugly, give everything else a good wash, and I only put back the things I like! (And, ok, I bought 3 new long sleeved shirts, but more about that later). The only reason I’m writing about this is that I oddly enough loved this process SO MUCH, y’all. It was glorious. With two little children underfoot, it took a few weeks. I went one drawer at a time. It was messy and inconvenient. But it was completely worth it! (This is one of the big piles, which also includes children’s laundry and a dinosaur tail:)
Over the past few years of living in teensy apartments I have had to slowly (& somewhat ruthlessly) purge my clothes. I know the minimalist wardrobe thing is all the fashion right now, and the last thing I want to do is to be associated with any kind of Movement or Trend or anything horrible like that. So it’s with actually much humility and gall that I have to admit that I do love the minimalist thing going on. I just do. And the reason is that the fewer things I have the happier I am. As hard as it is to part with clothes that have sentimental value or that I might want to wear someday, etc., whenever I have less in my drawers I feel freer. When I don’t have to sift through a bunch of junk to find what I actually like to wear, life is just a small bit easier. And I need that right now. (And there’s this.)
(There’s a whole long conversation here– yes, I should feel happy and free regardless of my circumstances, and especially with kids in the house mothers must learn to be ok even in the midst of chaos. BUT I do think having closets and shelves and drawers overflowing with things has a sort of choking effect on us that is quite real and damaging. Thorns and thistles, y’all. It’s just as easy to worship at the altar of minimalism as anything else, but there’s a strain of simplicity that goes quite far back in the church, and what I’m aiming for is more or less a nun’s habit than anything else. A few simple outfits that are sturdy and practical. Um, does that make sense?)
So, here’s how I did it: As I took summer things out of my closet and drawers I took every single thing out of a given drawer. I didn’t do it all at once, but sweeping everything out of a drawer to really get a look at things was a game changer. And then I thought about things before I stuffed them back into storage: does this actually fit me? Is this too dingy to wear next summer? Did I actually wear this at all? Do I need this, even if it isn’t quite perfect? (This is the hardest thing for me, because it would be lovely to just burn everything and replace it with priceless, heirloom quality clothing handmade in Brooklyn. But that is not an option, so the sturdy and practical summer pants that are too big but are excellent for hikes and sitting in sandboxes with the little ones, and which could, I guess, be tied up with a string or something next summer, those are going to stay for now. The white t-shirt with stains is going to go.)
Here are the general steps to take, once it starts cooling off wherever you live:
(ALSO, CAVEAT!!!!! This is not supposed to make anyone feel guilty! I was only able to do this because my 3 year old is in pre-school this fall! Your drawers and closet will look different! I just want to wear white t-shirts every day, so that’s what I do. You do you, ok? The ONLY reason I am sharing this at all is because it literally felt like one of the most joyous things I have done in a long time. I went from feeling “Ugh, I hate all my clothes” to “Wow, I like all my clothes!” just from doing this process. But if you have a newborn baby or if you’re working full time or if you just don’t feel like doing this, that is completely fine. Just do you.)
Step One: Pull everything out. Thank you, Mari Kondo. You were right after all. It seems like such a hassle, but taking all the things out is a game-changer. You don’t have to do everything all at once, but it does help if you do, say, a whole drawer at a time. Only put back things you KNOW that you will LOVE to wear in the winter. For me that was some cardigans, camisoles, a few t-shirts. Then, as you pack summer things away think about whether each item is truly worth keeping. This doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out thing. Stuff you didn’t like to wear this summer, just let it go. Don’t pack it away to moulder in a dark box for half a year. See below for some links to helpful posts about really cleaning things out. (I keep one of those long, low tupperware storage boxes under my bed to keep most of my off season clothes so if for some reason I need a bathing suit or a certain t-shirt it will be within easy reach).
Step Two: Pull out your winter clothes from wherever they’re stored. I had some packed away in a closet and some in my under-the-bed tupperware, so I pulled all of them out. If any strike you immediately as things that no longer fit or that you aren’t decently content with seeing, put them in a pile to get rid of. Send nice things to Thred Up and less nice things to the thrift store. Store maternity/nursing/too big/too small things if you are in the midst of the childbearing years. (Again, see links below for some encouragement, helpful tips, and ethereal Japanese advice. Or, if you’re nursing/pregnant/postpartum/might get pregnant again, store clothes that you might need for those phases but which don’t work in your current phase/size.)
Step Three: Of the clothes that you like and which fit: put washables in the laundry. Wash them! This is the really important and awesome part. Take sweaters and coats to the cleaner if that’s in your budget or just give them a good wash in the tub with Woolite if you’re a normal person. (I never made it to washing my sweaters, so I just let them air out a bit as I was going through them and getting rid of some.) If anything needs to be mended or needs buttons, mend it! Or find a tailor!
A BIG part of this step for me was gathering all my (clean) winter clothes in one spot, sorting them by category, and looking at them. I had about 15 sweater-type things, for example. This seemed a little crazy, so I just got rid of my least favorite maybe 5 or 6. I did the same thing for shirts. I realized that I never wear any 3/4 sleeve shirts. They just don’t work for me. So I got rid of some really super cute ones that in theory should be perfect but which I never wear.
Below: stacks of washed and folded things, being sorted through again before going on hangers or into drawers:
Step Four: Put your fresh, clean, lovely favorite winter clothes away. Only the things you love. And voila, a fall wardrobe which, through the process of elimination, has become beautiful. And if not perfect, a little better than it would be clogged with too much. Spend a little time with this new arrangement and see if it works before you buy anything new.
Some blog posts & books to inspire & assist:
Slow Fashion October
Growing a Minimalist Wardrobe (a helpful, if almost unbearably pretentious, blog series about paring down). And Seasonal Editing.
Downsizing Your Wardrobe with Common Sense (a less obnoxious blog post, and one that addresses women in the midst of the childbearing years– not a flashy blog, but I LOVE everything this woman has written about simplifying the home in general & closets in particular!)
And a whole article on managing one’s wardrobe during, after, and in-between pregnancies.
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (I know this book isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but despite all of the obvious criticisms I love it; and re-reading what she has to say about clothes might be a helpful way to jump start the process of getting rid of things)
(If you do need to buy any wardrobe staples, consider using this link to shop at Everyone. High quality basics at good prices.)