Note: This is a guest post from Courtney Carver of Be More With Less.
Before I simplified my closet, it was a bigger source of stress than I knew.
It wasn’t just the sheer volume of clothing stuffed into a small space, but all the things the clothes represented. Bad purchase decisions stared me down every morning, reminding me of my debt and discontent. There were the clothes that didn’t fit me anymore (my body or my lifestyle) reminding me I didn’t really know who I was, or what I wanted.
Then there were the items I purchased to feel a certain way or to be perceived a different way. It took me awhile to realize it, and even longer to admit it, but I had countless negative emotions tied up in my closet. Facing them every morning wasn’t a positive way to start the day.
If you can relate to my stressful closet scenario, or you are overwhelmed with closet chaos for other reasons, consider this 3 step process to end closet chaos.
1. Discover the true cost.
Remove everything (and I mean all the things) from your closet. Put everything on your bed. Add all clothing, accessories, jewelry, and shoes from other locations of your home too. All of it.
If it’s on your bed, you’ll have incentive to end closet chaos by bedtime.
Next, take a look at what you’ve amassed over the past few years or decades. It helps to see it all in one place. If seeing all of your stuff like this is a complete shock, you’re welcome to move on to step number two.
But if you need more shock value, go a little deeper and try this …
Put a price on each item. Make a list of each item and the actual price you paid for it. If you can’t remember what you spent, estimate. Add up the cost of each item until you have a grand total. Next, estimate your hourly take home pay and divide the total cost of your closet collection with your hourly take home pay.
For example: If you have $2500 worth of items in your closet and you take home $10.00 an hour, divide 2500 by 10 and you’ll find out you worked 250 hours to buy the clothes and other items sitting on your bed. That’s a little more than six 40-hour work weeks. It took a month and a half to earn the items on your bed and that doesn’t count the hours and weekends lost at the mall or online shopping for everything.
Using the example above, ask yourself what you would do if someone handed you $2500 right now. Would you buy all the stuff back or make different decisions with your money? What if you could trade those 250 hours of time for something other than the stuff from your closet? Would you spend the next 6 weeks working to buy back all the stuff, or would you spend the time differently?
Those answers will help you understand the true cost of what you’ve purchased, and the lesson will stick with you when you consider future purchases. At least it did for me.
2. Put your favorite pieces back in the closet.
Choose the items you wear most frequently and fit you the best and put them back in your closet. Leave the clothes you don’t like and aren’t sure about on the bed. Take a picture of your simplified closet. Each morning when you open your closet, think about how it feels to see more space than stuff. Celebrate the idea that you get to wear your favorite things every day.
3. Box up the rest for a few months.
Take the left over items on your bed and box them up. Put them out of sight. Instead of giving them all away and worrying about not having enough, put a little space and time between you and the excess. See how it feels. Ask yourself if you miss anything. Do you feel lighter? Happier? Less stressed? After 60-90 days, if you haven’t missed anything you boxed up, give it away. Otherwise, revisit the stuff you packed away and make a decision. Let it go, bring it back, or take another 30 days to decide.
There isn’t a right or wrong decision here. The distance you put between you and your stuff will help you decide based on actual wants and needs instead of emotional connection.
For a deeper dive into understanding what enough means to you, consider minimalist fashion challenge Project 333. Dress with 33 items or less for 3 months. You can find the rules here.
Once you end closet chaos, your mornings open up, you spend less, and you will begin to find confidence in who you are instead of what you wear. You can apply this 3-step process to any room in your home, or collection of items you think may be excessive.
Instead of using this process to feel guilty, or upset about what you’ve spent, or how much time you’ve invested in working for things you might not even want now, smile. With these 3 steps, you’ve redefined your purchase process, eliminated stress, and reminded yourself you can choose to own less stuff, spend less money, and reclaim the time and energy you previously devoted to stuff.
Smile, because now you can start really living.
Courtney Carver will help you find your way back to love at Be More With Less. You can find her on Facebook too.
I have a pretty minimal wardrobe but I live in a place of seasonal extremes. I now do a twice yearly exchange with the incoming season’s clothes which were stored away. I do the re-trying to make sure it fits and check for wear. If it makes the grade, it goes into the closet.
J H says
This is a trick I learned for that cluttered cooking utensil drawer in the kitchen! Box it up somewhere out of the way. As you use something from the box it can go back in the drawer. After a month or 90 days (your choice) what’s left in the box gets donated! This works except for my canning stuff that I only use once or twice a year. But I did decide to put those utensils in that pot and store it all in the basement only bringing it out when needed (that cut down clutter, too). I never thought to do that with clothes. Hallelujah.
I found myself part of a layoff last week and this week I am in the process of getting rid of most of my belongings including furniture and it feels great at the end of the day.
Thank you for your inspiring posts. Keep them coming.
I don’t understand why everyone uses the “Goodwill” store when they are a (for profit) company! Why not go to Salvation Army instead where they really help people.
J H says
Yes! And the Good Will executives make massive bonuses every year while their employees make minimum wage. I look there but very rarely buy. I save my money for Salvation Army purchases!
Goodwill is a 501c3 non-profit, they are not a for-profit company.
Sarah Stokes says
Goodwill sells donated items to fund their programs!! They are a not for profit organization.
Tonya Parker says
Such great points in this post! I have several similar posts about a minimal closet, having a “uniform” for work and creating a capsule wardrobe on my blog under fashion. Check them out if you have time! http://www.singlemomchiclife.com
I love becoming minimalist. This blog is so inspiring!
Genius! I always worry that I will “over” purge my closet in a moment of frustration. This solves that dilemma, and hopefully will result in me getting rid of a few more items!
Great suggestions. I try and clean up and tidy my closet every 6 months! Who knew a cluttered closet could cause so much stress?
Wee One says
This is a timely article for me. Recently retired and having downsized to an area where yoga and hiking clothing are the usual dress code, I needed to do something about my small closets, work clothing, and vintage clothing collection. But I didn’t do anything but complain about lack of storage until the terrible night when my husband asked me if I had any unusual bug bites…yikes! Bed bugs! Now that will clean your closets! However, it’s forced me (gladly!) to shrink my wardrobe. I only kept three outfits for lady’s lunches or dinners out, and the rest I call my lounge clothes, which can be used for yoga, shopping, or sleeping. I plan to replenish as needed and discard or donate as things are replaced. It’s been a nightmare, but we are bug free and laundry is so much easier. Great blog, btw. Thank you!
Laurie J. says
Great article — thank you Courtney!
Thea Dunlap says
Wow these are good tips. My closet is always in chaos and after reading this article, it’s time that I find time to re-organize it.
Thank you Courtney!! ( and just a funny aside– when I type “thank you” onto my phone, the next word it suggests is Courtney! That’s how often I seem to be typing those words! Haha)
Krista O'Reilly-Davi-Digui says
I am happier now that I live with clothing rules. These include buying only black and grey clothing (rare exceptions but never for bottoms), and having set numbers of items for each type of clothing (tops, bottoms, etc). Sigh of relief.
J H says
As I retired from the military, then retired from civilian work, then retired even from my part time job(s) I found that more and more I purchased black and gray almost exclusively. It just trended that way and it makes it so much easier to at least ‘match’ while wearing my yoga pants outfits. Another trick I learned is to use outerwear vests. My favorite ones are fleece but they come in all shapes, styles, and fabrics. Stuck with black and gray in them also and bought them in men’s department for the roominess and less restricted cut. This also had the bonus of all but eliminating bulky outerwear – I mean how often do you need that puffy parka, really? Mostly going from inside to the car or the car to inside. Unless you are a ski instructor or something. But I do have a collection of funky (often nice vintage) brooches to dress them up when needed. :-)
Many people quit when they are about to succeed. Normally they get 75% into a project and quit. Often times the rough patches along the road become tougher around that mark. So, if your mindset is not in the right place, then you will not be able to surpass the roadblocks and break free of the shackles in your life.
That’s a tough one. I also have those pieces. Too formal for work…but I keep them “just in case”. BUT—I’m finding that those dresses for example that looked great a few years ago, no longer do justice. Maybe handle each piece and ask yourself if you’d purchase that today if you saw it on a rack. If the answer is no…then donate it.
I am a big fan, Courtney!
I have really worked to develop a uniform that works for my everyday lifestyle. I am retired, live on the coast where the temperature is year-round 60+\-degrees. My life is simple and I have pared my everyday clothes down to a uniform: long sleeved Lands End cotton T, Dressbarn skinny stretch pants. J Crew chambray as an over shirt when needed. Sperrys, Chaco sandals or adidas gore tex trail hikers for the beach. I can hike, bike and go into town with the addition of a scarf or necklace. Soooo Easy. I entertain once or twice a month, go to dinner a few times a month, travel to visit kids in CO and NH once or twice a year.
My problem is that I haven’t pared down the dressier part of my wardrobe. I simply can’t decide how many or which dressier items to keep and it’s driving me crazy. I have lots of dressier draped tops, classic dresses, cashmere sweaters (too hot for here), Blazers, drapey cardigans, silk blouses, a maxi dress…(no one wears them here), well, you get the picture…too much dressier stuff. I occasionally need a funeral or graduation worthy outfit, but in general, I need a few strategic dressier pieces to add to my pants and to donate the rest. I generally like simple, classic, solid colors and low contrast outfits. Timeless things.
So, how much and what pieces to keep? Any suggestions?
Maybe try picking your favourite/most flattering colour, and only keep items which co-ordinate with it? When I’m travelling (a lot), I only take co-ordinating colours (usually pink/red/purple/blue), which simplifies washing, and limits what shoes/accessories I need to take.
No suggestions…I just love your daily uniform and wanted to tell you that!
Pam – If I were nearby, I would buy your cashmere sweaters if they had no holes and were from a non-smoking home. I had a few nice ones until the cat destroyed them (!) five years ago and I haven’t been able to afford to replace them. Thrift stores are my main shopping ground, and around here, the only wool/cashmere that ends up at Goodwill has holes torn in it. I’m cold all winter with my cotton/acrylic layers and I still miss my black sweater.
I found the dressier stuff the hardest to part with when to a minimalist wardrobe too. I’m a SAHM and tend to live in jeans/denim shorts and then vary between tshirts and blouses depending on what I’m doing- but I had lots of beautiful dresses etc from my double income, no kids days. I really only need a nice dress for the odd engagement party, wedding or anniversary dinner but also didn’t really want to wear the same one or two dresses over and over (I’m still a little bit vain ????). I sold all my beautiful but rarely worn dresses/heels/jewellery/clutches etc and decided to just buy a new-to-me dress when ever I needed it off my favourite designer buy-sell-swap groups on Facebook and then resell once I’ve worn it. I’ve bought gorgeous designer dresses that retail for $800+ for $100 or so, worn them once and been able to resell them usually for the exact same price, so all its cost me is the postage price (and a little time). For most dressy events you usually have a few weeks notice so plenty of time to find a good option. I kept my two favourite dressy items (a timeless and super flattering little black dress and a beautiful silk kimono type jacket) for those dressy events that pop-up without warning.
Dan Erickson says
I’ve always aired toward a small wardrobe. I did catch myself with a fuller closet a few years ago, but have done some downsizing in the past few years. For me, I don’t think it’s about how much we spend on our wardrobe than it is on the quality of the clothing in the closet. I’d gladly spend $300 on Filson Coat that will last a lifetime than have five cheaper coats. I’d spend $150 on a great pair of running shoes rather than buying the ones that I’d have to trash in 6 months.
Thanks for this post Courtney. Very timely for me. This month I am playing The Minimalism Game, and this time I am going to tackle my closet. I’ve avoided it thus far in my decluttering, however I have turned a corner in coming to accept that the clothes in there I don’t fit today I am highly unlikely to fit into again in the near future!
A bit daunted at facing the cost of it all – but like your kind of opportunity cost perspective of reconsidering it all.
Wish me luck – I feel like I need it (well strength more than luck). I am sharing my progress here, to motivate me to keep progressing:
Lisa Gail says
My mom and I just did this and she had a yard sale and made a lil over $600.00 !! We usually just donate the items but she decided last fall to have a yard sale and she made $500 last fall and then last week made the $600. We will donate what doesn’t sell !! We sold the clothing cheap too – highest price was $2.00 !!
Wow, that’s a lot of clothing. It makes you realise the value of stuff that’s just lying around.
joan mc kniff says
Brought up by depression era parents, I bring my unwanted clothes to a good consignment shop. Anything she doesn’t take, I bring directly to Goodwill. Once it leaves the house, even that great silk blouse-how could she not want it?, it doesn’t come back home.
My sorting is slower as I had so much from several overseas assignments. I take a huge armload of clothes on hangers, put them on sorting rack. Some things go with just a look. But anything I think I want to keep, I try on first. Does it fit well, look good, feel comfortable? Is a near duplicate of another item?
I do so want to start this process and being so overwhelmed with stuff that I can’t seem to start
Start small. I wrote about some tips for that here https://rosieleizrowice.com/2016/06/16/minimalism-decluttering-and-discarding/
I went through my closet and donated everything I don’t wear to the Goodwill. It felt great. Until my wife asked where the Christmas sweater she bought me had disappeared to! Thanks for your thoughtful post!
So much wisdom here. A few years ago I decided to get rid of all things in my house that didn’t fit my new way of thinking. I did exactly like this post says & never looked back. I still have a small pared down home after all this time. Once you see what it does for you mentally, you never go back. Things literally can weigh you down. I feel free to choose only the things I love or need now.
One thing I learned that was surprising was how much huge furniture I had. I got rid of coffe tables, end tables that were never used & replaced them with plants. My guests have always headed to my kitchen so we just never used the tables. Freed up space which is another thing I learned. Negative space is so important.
Aaron @IncomeHoncho says
I have a problem with getting rid of my clothes, they all tend to add up after each year until i run out of space. Need to go donate hehe, thanks for the tip!
Angela @ Setting My Intention says
I “konmaried” my clothing, but I suspect there is still a bit that can be taken out – the “just in case” items. I need to put those in a box and see how I feel after awhile.
Brittney Murray says
Wow! #1 really caught my attention. I never thought about do the hour to hourly wage break down but that’s a real eye opener. I have been on a minimalist journey and it has change my way of life and thinking tremendously.
Thanks for sharing
Daisy Chain says
Quote from Thoreau “the cost of a thing is the amount of… life which is required to be exchanged for it”.
Inge Kempen says
Thinking about what I paid for all that stuff is my big problem.
I now feel that I have to sell it to get part of the money back.
Or lose weight to fit in the smaller sizes.
I am stuck.
I love this Courtney! I’ll give it a go…
But any suggestions on work clothing? I have to dress nice for work…it’s micro-managed and they really do expect and notice clothing. It’s an important part of my job. It’s hard, and being a minimalist, I find it very discouraging. I hate having to purchase new things—but I have a closet full of unacceptable work attire.
Worst part, I can’t afford to dress the way they require me to :(
Check out thrift stores like Goodwill & Salvation Army. They have a serious amount of work appropriate clothing, some of it still brand new with the tags on it, for about 90% less than what you would pay elsewhere. You can build a great wardrobe and not feel as bad about acquiring more. You are helpful charity, reusing items, and saving yourself some money at the same time. And bonus, you can drop off things you don’t need in the same trip.
I totally agree with Ditzler1, Judy. When I was in the process of losing 40 pounds for better health, but had to wear nice fitting clothes to teach in, I bought all my inbetween sizes clothes at Goodwill. I spent less than $40 and had a whole closet full of nice name brand clothes. Then when I reached my goal weight, I took all those size 10s right back to Goodwill and donated them back!! It’s a win-win for everyone. I thought of it as renting a closet of clothes for 6-8 months for forty bucks????
Thank you, Shannon! :)
What a great idea, Shannon! I’m going to try that while I lose weight. Thanks for the suggestion!
Naomi Alexander says
I’m with you on this one, Judy. If I didn’t need ‘work’ clothes (I’m a secretary) I’d live in my yoga gear (I go to yoga classes three times a week but I also lounge around at home in those clothes!) and I’g away with having a couple of pairs of jeans with a few nice tops (for socialising). My husband manages to be a ‘proper’ minimalist (one pair of jeans, a few T shirts – just like Ryan Nicodemus) but he works from home.
So true :)
I also box things up for awhile before I donate them. I put them in my storage building which I call my halfway house because they are halfway to being given away.