So you have curated a solid vision for your wardrobe or just feel like making a spring cleaning in your wardrobe… Each wardrobe is a world, so you have to decide which approach works for you.
Strategy A: The intuitive one
If you have an extensive wardrobe that hasn’t seen pruning in long time, I’d suggest you go for the intuitive approach. This is the strategy you will find described in most places that give advice on wardrobe cleaning:
0. Get into a warrior mode, a good documentary or a podcast on the evils of consumerism and fast fashion might help.
1. Get it all out together (on the bed, on the floor).
2. Sort it into three or four piles: “love”, “maybe”, “out (donate)”, “out (textile trash)”. Try the items on if need be. “Tailor it” could be an additional pile, but be careful, it can become a ghost that then sits in your wardrobe for months waiting to be tailored. I’d suggest a certain degree of ruthlessness, i.e. if that things has been waiting to see a tailor for months, it has gotta go.
3. Return “love” to your wardrobe, get rid of the “out” piles, reconsider “maybe” by either giving it a period of grace (i.e. hide it somewhere and if in few weeks you haven’t wanted any of it, out it goes) or just go through it again, making new “love” and “out” piles.
This approach should leave you with a significantly reduced amount of items, all of them in good condition. Success! If you want more variations of this strategy, check out how Lee from Style Bee, Courtney from Be More with Less, or Anuschka from Into Mind do it.
My very personal final suggestion is that you make an exhaustive list of all that remains once you are done with this wardrobe edit. That will help to assess the overall size of your wardrobe (normally the sheer number is enough to scare one into adding some more to the “out” piles) and the weight of different categories. Plus, you might want to follow up with Strategy B.
Strategy B: The brainy one
This one is more appropriate once you have gotten down to a wardrobe that you feel in control of. You know each garment intimately, you know how it feels, how it sits, how it washes, how it shows sweat, and where exactly the hemline hits. In most cases such knowledge means a reduced number of garments, and this might lead to fear to get too excited with editing and throw out a key basic that maybe does not spark that much joy but actually is an essential layering piece. Keep calm, this approach is for you.
1. Make an exhaustive list of all your clothing. Yes, it can be overwhelming, but, please, bear with me. Make a list of all serious clothing you have (except lounge, sports, sleep, underwear, hosiery; i.e. only stuff you wear when you let strangers see you) and footwear. And I suggest you do that in a spreadsheet or at least a text editor, instead of a paper notebook. More or less like this:
This accountant-style exercise will most probably provide a lot of insight on its own. Here you can see my current wardrobe spreadsheet. Just for fun I’ve also included country, year I obtained it and how I obtained it.
Preliminary conclusions? (a) I’m a dress and skirt person. (b) As you already know, all my footwear is new while the rest of items tend to be either quite old or hand-me-downs. (c) I am already down to numbers what other people curate as capsule wardrobes. But I have two of them! So, this still feels very abundant and might need some more pruning, especially taking into account (d) my problem with identifying the right moment to say goodbye to worn-out items.
As you know your stuff well, just taking a look at the list might be enough to make bye-bye decisions, especially as you can see other garments in the same column and be assured that you will have something to wear. For example, my plan for the end of my Spring capsule is to finally retire my old denim jacket (est. 2003) and bring one of my military-style blazers from Riga to substitute it. This will be the swap:
Making the list can be cumbersome the first time. However, once you invest in having an easy-to-update list, the following edits can be made while you are curling up in your bed with a cup of hot cocoa. No need to get it all out again in order to prune out an item or two.
2. Make a parallel tab in excel (you can also print the list and cut out the individual items, yet I prefer the good old “copy-paste” for this), and organize your items in a table like this one:
Celebrate your “winners”! Then think about the rest. Which things you could donate today and never think of them again? I suggest that out they go. Erase them from your list (feels good, right?) and, if doing this at home, bag them for donation. Hopefully you can let go of all “don’t like don’t wear” and “forgotten” items and then proceed with the two other categories.
For pieces you don’t wear but like: Would you add them to your wardrobe again tomorrow? No? Out. Are they wrong or you this year/this body? Out. Life is a complex thing already, you have no need to accumulate guilt and remorse in your wardrobe, thank you very much.
While there are some garments we save for special occasions (evening gowns! ski overalls!), ask yourself if you will wear this one when the occasion comes. If your response is along the lines of “probably I’ll get another one, and there hasn’t been an occasion since 2009 anyways”, consider donating it.
For pieces you don’t like but wear: If some circumstances frequently make you wear something you abhor (work uniform? high heels?), maybe there’s a small tweaks you can make to improve the feeling. Or, on a bigger scale, maybe it has nothing to do with the garment to start with…
If there’s no external pressure to wear these, you are need of another list: a wishlist to keep your eyes peeled for better replacements in your next swap, second-hand shopping trip or ethical fashion app.
By the way, do you have any duplicates? How well that functions? Maybe you need only one? Especially if you already keep wearing just one of them. Erase them from the list and into a bag they go
3. Shop your own wardrobe! Think about the current season or the next one, whichever feels more inspiring, divide your remaining items in two groups: season-appropriate and season-inappropriate. If something works year-round, include it. See? That’s a clear pool of options for the season in question. And what a haul it is!
Mixing and matching is magic, multiplication works in your favor.
4. Mix and match the abundance! Move around your “like & wear” items creating outfits for a typical week in your life. It can look like this or even more finely divided, whatever works for you. Note if something essential (black tights? comfy walking shoes?) is missing and if you would like to replace something with a better version (color, fit, worn-out).
If one week of combinations feel like too few, fill two or three. Unless you are a person that wears only dresses and rompers (I might become that person one day), the odds are that you will have more combinations that you have slots. That’s just math: 3 tops and 3 bottoms make for 9 possible combinations.
The outcomes here are (a) a reassurance of an abundance of combinations, (b) a workable outfit plan with only beloved items, (c) a tentative wishlist. At any step of the process, feel free to set aside garments that do not sit well with the rest of items or you just don’t want to wear. That’s fine. Get rid of it.
Congrats! You’ve made it till the end and welcome to your new wardrobe.
An additional note on textile donations: Research your options, talk to people at the charity shops, make sure you donate only stuff that they handle. For example, look up if the charity manages textile waste; only in those cases throwing in your (clean!) worn-out socks is a legitimate thing to do. If the place you want to donate to does not manage textile waste, all the items you are donating should be same mint condition as stuff you would give to a friend.
Talking about friends, organizing your own clothes’ swap is one of the best options to do your share in preventing textile waste. The scale is up to you, it’s the spirit that matters. You know it already: one woman’s “I finally got rid of that guilt piece” is other woman’s “OMG, OMG, can you believe that somebody does not want this?!”