Thursday, September 2, 2010

Out of the Closet

In spring and fall every year, I enact a ritual older than Twiggy: the Seasonal Wardrobe Shift. In spring, I put all my warm, fleecy clothes into storage bins emptied of all my short, cottony cool clothes, which take their place in my drawers and closet.

Ah, the thrill of clothes! The joy of thinking about what pieces you need to refresh your wardrobe for a new season! The adventure of shopping!

Bah, humbug.

I used to love clothes and spent many hours thinking about them, perusing fashion magazines to see all the clothes that I couldn’t afford, and shopping for knock-off designer items that both fit and looked great on me.

Then I had kids. Kids killed the fashion buzz for me. First, breastfeeding left me wanting to wear oversized comfortable clothes, a preference that has stuck with me for the last six-and-a-half years since I cut Jack off from the boob. Second, stay-at-home life doesn’t motivate great clothing choices because whole weeks go by when the only adults you see are your spouse and the checkout folks at the grocery, who are generally wearing highly unattractive aprons themselves and hardly inspire you to break out a dress, heels, and panty hose. Third, clothes shopping—shopping of any kind, actually—with infants and toddlers and preschoolers and elementary-age kids is painful to the nth degree and must be avoided at all costs.

Lately, however, I’ve been reading Susan Wagner's Friday Playdate blog. Susan writes about fashion for several online magazines. She’s a real mom who likes to look great and likes to help other real moms look great, too. She doesn’t promote $500 skirts; she writes whole articles about finding great stuff at Old Navy.

She’s my kind of person.

Susan has written about how purging your closet of everything except what you can and will wear actually leads to greater wardrobe choices and more fun mixing and matching. Having less, according to Susan, gives you more choices. I decided to trust her advice and last week carried out the Great Closet Purge.

First, I took everything—absolutely every piece of clothing, belt, shoe, slip, sock, and nightgown—out of my closet and drawers and piled them on my bed. Then I politely asked them a few questions.

And yes, I do talk to my clothes. Don't you?

Question #1 Have I worn you in the last two years? If not, but you are wearable, you go into the donation bag. If a hobo would be ashamed to be seen wearing you, you’re going into the trash.

About 70 percent of my wardrobe disappeared with this question. So many of these pieces were clothes I wore before Nick was conceived almost 12 years ago. I will never again have a 21-inch waist. Heavens, I even had belts from that time in my life…eight of them. Why, oh why, have I clung to these clothes for so long?

Question #2 Do you fit me right now? If you don’t fit now but a 10-15 pound weight loss would let me wear you, then you go into a storage bin.

My goal this winter is to shed the weight I have gained in the last year. I’m exercising again, which is a step in the right direction, and fall is usually a very busy time that keeps me from munching between meals. Because this is a realistic goal, I have no problems holding onto these items…just not in my closet or drawers where they clutter things up and distract me from what I can wear right now.

Question #3 If you fit me right now, can I be seen in public wearing you? If yes, let me hang you in my closet or put you in my drawer. If no, you’re going in the trash.

I expected to have three articles of clothing left to wear but was surprised at how much I have for fall and winter that is wearable and in decent shape. Mainly, I could use a few new pairs of shoes and a couple of tops, but I don't even need those urgently.

In the spring, however, if I haven’t lost weight, I’m going to have to go shopping or go nekkid. That’s because the few—very few—summer clothes that survived the purge are just barely this side of acceptable, and then, only if you are a hobo. By the time cooler weather gets here, they will have to be tossed.

I do, however, have quite a few crop pants and shorts in the lose-weight-and-wear-these storage bin. No shirts, though. Not one. So shopping is definitely in my future.

Susan also reminded me that I can have clothes altered, and as I carried out the Great Wardrobe Purge, I found a nice cream blazer from the ‘80s that fits really well (it was too big back then), but the huge shoulder pads make it look dated. It’s fully lined, so it’ll take a professional to snip those suckers out. A fleece skirt needs to be hemmed, too. They are good pieces, and a tailor can take care of both for less money than it would cost to replace them.

For now, however, the Great Closet Purge of 2010 has served me well. I’ve actually worn dresses twice in the past week because there is now so little in my closet that it is easy to see that I do, indeed, have several dresses for hot weather.

It’s sort of embarrassing that it took me 43 years to figure this closet thing out. But I feel so liberated from worry about clothes. No anxiety, no stress. This must be the honeymoon period. I expect the golden glow of self-satisfaction will evaporate the first time I go to the shoe store in search of all-purpose, comfortable black winter shoes.

In the meantime, I’ll take whatever satisfaction I can from this and thank Susan Wagner for it. Thanks, Susan, for inspiring me to get out of the closet.

What lessons have you learned about clothes? How do you keep from being stressed over wardrobe choices? Is your closet overflowing with stuff you can’t wear? Care to share the content of your closet?


  1. following your lead I now have 8 boxes (shameful) going to our local thrift, free I am is amazing what purging can do for your attitude. But step away from my stamps!!!!

  2. OMG we are living parallel lives! (We're even the same age, have the same age and # of kids, and the new puppy!) I so look forward to your posts, they validate my moods, er struggles)!
    I have been fighting with my closet (and off season storage boxes) full of nothing to wear for the past 5 years. I too, have a collection of 21 inch belts to torture myself. My only difference is that I wear scrubs daily to work, so I have work clothes, home clothes, able to leave the house in clothes, and need to keep a section of "dress" clothes for the odd occasion or seminar. I am going to start at the beginning of your post, and step by step follow your lead to the end. Wish me luck!

  3. In the summer, when I am working hard in the garden or on the farm, I often look down at myself as I enter the little community store and realize I am a TOTAL MESS! But what's worse is I often realize that I don't care. Then school rolls around and I start paying attention again. It's a little scary to think about what I might look like in three years when I retire and have no reason to dress up.

  4. Whaaaat? No new "blankies" for Daisy?? See, if it had been me, I would have used that excuse to hang on to my favorites and tell Daisy 'have at it girl'.

    On a more serious note, thank you Susan for your insight. I look forward to your blog posts and always have a smile as I'm reading!

  5. I just did the great closet purge last week, and I have BAGS of clothes ready to send off. I even threw some stuff in the trash. I like your idea for a bin to hold the lose weight and wear it again clothes. That will definitely make my closet less cluttered!

  6. Urgh. Let's not even *think* about what's in my closet. It's just too depressing.
    If I could just find the umpfh to clean it out.... Send some my way? Pretty please? :D

  7. I can so relate Susan! However, moving four times in the last seven years forced me to be ruthless and gave Goodwill a LOT of extra merchandise! The only problem is I work in the clothing biz so purging is sometimes followed by new purchases...sigh. I take the view that my purchases help keep the company profitable which equals job security for me...ha!
    I enjoy your blogs every day!

  8. Having been born and raised in CA, I thought (when I was younger) when people talked about changing clothes for the season, meant buying new clothes every spring and winter. I had no idea people kept clothes in storage since here in CA we can wear the same clothes year round.

  9. Oh, I can so relate. I struggle with clothes. Being a SAHM, it is so easy to just put on something comfortable and be done with it. But I am tired of looking so "frumpy." I would love to buy really cool clothes and have somewhere to wear them. Yesterday I got rid of a lot of stuff, but after reading this I think I will go back and get rid of more. Thanks for the link to Susan Wagner's blog. That is the kind of fashion advice I can really use.

  10. Since I move back and forth from NC to FL every 6 months, I "mark" every hanger in my closet each time with paper tags. This kinda forces me to wear things I might forget to wear. The first time I wear something, I take the tag off and put in a container. If I haven't worn them in 6 months, they head to the consignment shop or donation shop or trash. Rarely does something go into the trash until it is really, really in bad shape because I wear them around the house to paint, to varnish, to garden. Then I hope no one comes to the door. I haven't changed sizes in several years so that's not a problem.

  11. I need to do my switch-over soon. The temp here is in the low 60s, but by next week we will back to summer, at least for a while. Today I am freezing my buns off in a short-sleeved shirt and capri pants. Yeah, I'm in denial.

    I'm in a terrible rut with clothes lately, too. If it fits and is on sale, I'm in! Tsk tsk. I know better, but ....

    I love the look of your friend's blog. I'm checkin' her out!

  12. I just did a closet purge a couple of weeks and feel liberated myself!! Do you know how many holey t-shirts I was hanging on too just because they were "cool?" They all got chucked out!!

  13. Loved your piece on purging clothes! I don't do a lot of shopping but have a very hard time getting rid of things so over the years have ended up with way too much (especially in the "I like it and I'm sure I'll wear it one day" category). My sister is a real minimalist and every time she comes out to visit she tackles another part of my clothes. This summer is was my sweaters (all of which I loved) but she appeals to my social conscience and tells me I have way too many and there are people out there who really need them. So I now have one third the number of sweaters I had two months ago. The hospice charity shop has the nicest of the discards and a shelter for battered women has the rest. My sister's right - they will do more good in those places than in my closet.

  14. This is a really good idea! I'm afraid that I won't have much left when I finally go through all my clothing! But I have an embarassing amount of clothing and the whole thing started with the birth of my daughter too!


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!