Closet Cleansing 101Expert advice on how to unleash your editing powers on that wardrobe of yours.
Ideal: A pared-down wardrobe filled entirely with pieces that you actually want to wear. Reality: A closet bursting at the seams, and saddled with emotions, that make getting dressed a chore. If you, like many of us, fall in the latter camp, it’s high time for a full-on fashion detox. Done well, it can be more than a tedious task, our clothes being just one expression of ourselves. As we put away old favorites, and part with others, we have an opportunity to clarify who we want to be.
Just ask Karyn Starr, personal stylist, aesthetic consultant and co-founder of , the design firm that has a reputation as the best in the business when it comes to the art of wardrobe maintenance. “People really struggle with letting go of the things they wore so much that made them feel good,” Starr says. “Just because you love something and wore it every day once doesn’t mean you’re going to wear it again. And that’s a good way to look at it: ‘It had its moment. It was good to me. Now I’m going to donate it and it will be good to somebody else.’”
Beyond cleansing your way to better karma, it will be key for those looking to restore some much-needed order into their daily routine. “An organized closet can help you find a sense of calm in a moment of chaos,” Starr says. To streamline the process even further, read on for Starr’s tips—and prepare to unleash your editing powers on the overstuffed wardrobe of yours.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
Like any endeavor, it’s best to break up your cleanse into manageable chunks. “I’m not into Marie Kondo-ing everything in your closet, putting it all in a pile and asking yourself, ‘Does this spark joy?’” Starr says. “That’s just too intense for most people.” Instead, tackle one category at a time to avoid winding up with towers of jettisoned clothing colonizing your floor space. For each section, try on every single item until they have all been evaluated according to fit and condition, and then placed into one of four pre-labeled piles: Consign, Donate, Tailor or Maybe. The Maybes, Starr explains, are the tough questions, which are best saved for last once everything else has been purged. That way, you can still be efficient and any styles you’re second-guessing will get another look. As a last resort, put unresolved Maybes into an Expiration pile with a time limit. If you don’t wear it in 30 days, that’s when it has to go.
START ON A HIGH NOTE
But begin with the bottoms (as in, your pants, jeans and skirts). “The first thing to try on is your favorite bottom—the bottoms that are fitting you the best, that make you feel great, that you’ve worn in the last six weeks” Starr says. “Then you can be like, ‘Yes! These jeans are awesome,’ and that way, you can hold the other pants in your wardrobe to that very same standard.” Even your favorite jeans have an expiration date. Because we tend to keep our go-to blues in regular rotation, they lose their shape and the wash starts to fade over time, Starr suggests doing a denim cleanse every 18 months to evaluate.
HANG UP, DON’T HANG ON
A well-edited wardrobe calls for coordinated hangers. As visually pleasing as they are practical, you can double your closet space by committing to a set of slim, matching hangers in a shade of choice. While black velvet may run the risk of rubbing off on lighter colors, beige is a failsafe alternative (although, we’re partial to ). Use the reverse hanger tactic to make regular cleansing easier. After the detox, turn all of your hangers around so the hook faces you. Once you wear something, flip the hook back the right way. After six months (with the exception of seasonal items), everything you didn’t wear will be hanging backwards—and those should be the first things to purge.
MERCHANDISE YOUR CLOSET
To avoid getting, well, hung up, the next time you need to find something in a pinch, take time to merchandise your closet as you rehang everything. First, group by garment type; then within each section arrange by season, with lighter fabrics followed by heavier; next, go by colors of the rainbow (ROY G BIV) with white at the beginning, black at the end and arranged from lightest to darkest.
THE WORKING WARDROBE
Raise your hand if you have a closetful of clothes but only actually wear a rotation of about 10 items at any given time. That’s your working wardrobe, and according to Starr, it should be the first thing you see in your closet. “It’s most helpful when your inspiration is right in front of you and the pieces you have are competing for your attention,” Starr explains. “It’s just a happier way to get dressed in the morning.” Switch it out each season, or more often as needed, to ensure it works with your lifestyle. “For example, if I open up my closet today, I don’t want to see a beautiful silk jumpsuit,” Starr explains. “That’s not what I’m going to put on in this moment while I’m working from home with my two kids.”
IT’S CHIC TO REPEAT
As you purge, pay attention to repeats, edit them down and replenish accordingly. Say you have 10 almost-identical blazers. Consider parting with the ones you don’t need and add a similar, yet different, iteration to your lineup in its place. “A is very useful for a lot of people,” Starr says. “And oftentimes, those items that get worn a lot should be cleansed, but they should also be replaced.” Whether it means adding a variation of the same style or springing for another color, stick to what works and build your closet around time-tested staples that you’ll want to wear again and again.
FILE FOR THE FUTURE
Don’t forget to give your dresser a little TLC. Rather than folding and stacking clothes pile-high from top to bottom, maximize space with a technique known as filing. Simply fold each garment according to the depth of the drawer and line up vertically, like folders in a filing cabinet. You will be able to locate each item at a glance without creating so much as a single wrinkle—in other words, no need for a refolding marathon every time you get dressed. The filing system is ideal for non-cashmere knits, T-shirts, jeans, non-dress pants, underwear and sock (Cashmere, however, is best stacked, whether in a drawer or on a shelf in your closet. In the warmer months, spring for a well-sealed storage box to lock out moisture.)
CONSIGN AND DONATE DIGITALLY
While many physical locations to donate or consign clothes have temporarily closed due to COVID-19, several resale sites, like the RealReal and (on a more accessible level) ThredUp, are offering digital services that let you do both from home. For example, theRealReal has launched where you can meet with a rep via FaceTime, who will help you sort through your clothes to consign, followed by a complimentary UPS pickup. You can also with your consignment, such as hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, disposable gloves and surgical masks, which will be distributed to hospitals and service organizations around the country. ThredUp is currently accepting clean-out kits by mail, although processing times may be longer. For those looking to donate, the site launched a partnership with Feeding America, where for every , ThredUp will give $15 to Feeding America to help with its COVID-19 response.
LESS REALLY IS MORE
Once the detox is said and done, take a look at what’s missing and fill in the gaps with styles that are versatile without being boring. The goal is to own only what you wear—and your special occasion clothes should be as considered as the cotton shirt you throw on to run errands in. Having a smaller wardrobe means you have more to spend on high-quality pieces that will last longer and look better. The kind you’d want to wear so often, you might be inspired to purge your closet of everything else.