The Closet

One of the most cluttered places in our homes tend to be our closets. Our clothes can say a lot about who we are. Clothes communicate our interests and hobbies, our style, our income, our careers, and much more. It might be a sad reflection on human nature, but we instinctively make judgements about individuals based on the clothes they wear. As a result there is a lot of anxiety, frustration, indecision, consideration, and money put into filling our closets with articles of clothing that we believe will communicate something about ourselves to the people we daily interact with.

The reality is we end up with a closet full of clothes we may not like or ever even wear. We spend hours over the course of a month trying to decide what to wear, and might not even feel good about the decisions we make. I have identified three rules of the closet that should help you to come to a conclusion about what to do with your clothing:

  1. Too many choices overwhelm our brains: In his TedTalk, The Paradox of Choice, psychologist Barry Schwartz speaks about two different effects of having too many options for us to choose from: the first is paralysis, that is we become frozen, unable to decide because our brains are overwhelmed by all the choices. The second effect Barry explains this way, “Even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from”. Having fewer options means it will be much easier to decide what to wear, eliminating paralysis, and boosting the good feelings we get from making a decision.
  2. People pay way less attention than we think: In a psychological phenomenon known as The Spotlight Effect, we believe that people pay more attention to the things we are concerned about. So when we believe that surely our co-workers will notice if we wear the same outfits every week, or every other week. The reality is they actually don’t notice at all. This has been confirmed as I wear the same 5 shirts and two pairs of pants every week to my work. No one has ever said a thing and when I’ve asked some coworkers, they had never even realized.
  3. We need different outfits for specific functions: This has been a struggle for me for years. I am a person who has a pretty wide variety of interests. I like backpacking, going to see symphonies, and do woodworking. I also “need” clothes for various events…funerals, weddings, working in the yard, going skiing etc. The reality is most often our clothes can wear multiple hats (pun intended). I have one pair of pants that I use for any activity that I might get dirty doing, one suit that I can wear (or piece together) for various functions that require fancier attire, and two sets of clothes for outdoor adventure and traveling (I can even double up on these clothes for day-to-day use). There are no times in life (outside of a wedding…maybe) that one needs a single piece of clothing for one specific event. Be willing to wear clothes multiple times for specific purposes and you will see that slimming a closet becomes quite easy.

With these three things in mind, it is time to begin tackling the closet cleanup. Here are my suggestions for where to begin:

  1. Remember to always start with a goal in mind, what is your end game, how little are you wanting to live with.
  2. Start by deciding where and how you are going to get rid of your clothes. Are you going to donate them to a thrift store, sell them on consignment etc. Make a plan and schedule that into your day. This will help you to follow through and begin with the true end of your project in mind.
  3.  Get some trash bags or some cardboard boxes. Start by getting rid of unused hangers (throw them all out, or donate them) Realize that you do not need them, and hopefully will have a lot more by the end of this project.
  4. Next go through your piles and ask yourself 2 questions about each item: 1. Is it garbage? 2. Does it fit? If the answer to question 1 is “Yes”, or the answer to number 2 is “No” get rid of it!
  5. As a next step, go through again and look for items you have multiple of and items that still have tags. Do you need five white shirts, even though you only ever wear your favorite two? Are six pairs of jeans really necessary? especially when you have one pair that fits so well you don’t ever wear the rest of them. If it has been hanging for six months and never worn, is it ever going to be? (Please be honest, sometimes we use clothes as a way to aspire to someone we aren’t. Sure growth and change can happen, but it has to start with you, not your wardrobe)
  6. Now it begins to get a little bit harder. It is time to think about why you want to keep each piece of clothing that is left. Sometimes we keep clothes for sentimental reasons, i.e. a shirt from a marathon you worked really hard to complete, the tee shirt you were wearing when your child was born. These things are immensely valuable to us, and if you are not ready to release them, that is fine, but why keep storing them in a place that you use daily? Another common issue is guilt, we keep items of clothing because we feel bad about spending money on it, or we had hoped one we would be brave enough, cool enough, or stylish enough to pull of wearing that (insert item here). If you are asking yourself “Do I wear this enough to keep?” and your answer is “maybe” or “I don’t know” then your true answer is probably “No” Whatever it is, know that by choosing to accept who you are and what you value, you are learning to love yourself a little more and this is extremely valuable.
  7. Now put everything away, bask in the joy of a clutter free closet and carry out the plan you made in step #2.

Cleaning out a closet is hard work. There are so very many different social stigmas, emotional attachments, and judgments (perceived or real) that we attach to our wardrobe. It is a real challenge to live with less clothing, but I think the reality is by having fewer options, we give ourselves more freedom. By only buying and owning clothes we feel really good about we show ourselves we are worth working for.

There are a lot of great tips and tricks that you can use to slim down your wardrobe. Courney Carver, creator of the 333 experiment has really great ideas and helpful resources about how to live with a simpler wardrobe. I would absolutely suggest giving it a try and seeing just how big of a difference this can make in your life!