NEW YORK CITY — I’d like to think I have a lean closet.
I don’t shop a lot, rarely dress up, and basically wear the same items for work and leisure. Plus, the unintended benefits of living in a tiny apartment should be that your physical space keeps you in check. After all, I only have so much space for shoes.
Yet it always seems, especially for women, that clothing accumulates. For me the dead weight comes in the form of having so much stuff I simply do not wear.
Much of one’s closet is intensely psychological. Who was I? Who was the person I once thought I wanted to be? Who am I comfortable being now? Each of these versions of yourself look different. One of these identities is definitely younger and cheaper-looking, and I suggest getting rid of her.
I have exactly three belts and one overpriced everyday handbag. I’m the type of person who can live for a month out of a weekend bag. Some would call me a wardrobe stoic.
That group does not include my boyfriend, who encouraged me to downsize even further. My goal was lofty: Get rid of a third of my clothing, shoes and accessories.
Was it a success? I’m not sure I know what a third of my wardrobe would be, but after an afternoon of a full-on closet upheaval — complete with a friend taking pictures and pocketing cashmere cast-offs — I managed to get rid of a whopping 45 items.
I have three piles: trash, donations and resale. But before anything goes anywhere, I offer the cast-offs to my sister and best friend. Here are some tips on how to tackle the forks in the road you're likely to encounter when deciding what to part with:
It’s not who I want to be
Even if the dress looks good, I’m not a red-and-white polka dot girl. Just not me. For many — take my mother — that would not be enough of an excuse to part with a perfectly good dress. What if you change your mind? What if it comes back in style? It happens. But you know what happens when you don’t wear something? It changes shape, it fades, it develops irreparable hanger indentations. So if you haven’t worn it in two years and it’s already been on probation since the last time you cleaned out your closet, get rid of it.
My boyfriend says I imbue meaning into as many things as I can. There are hundreds of items in my home — from furniture and artwork to belts and cooking spoons — that would bring me to tears if I ever found out they were lost or destroyed. But it is no excuse for clutter. Keep a couple tokens — such as your favorite jeans from high school that you can still fit into — but the T-shirt from college given to you by some guy whose name you don’t remember doesn't make the cut.
Look your age
If it’s a spaghetti-strap dress that feels as short as a tennis skirt, do yourself a favor and give it away. It was too revealing then, and is downright inappropriate now. Sweaters that show your midriff are also immediate castaways.
You kept your prom dress and the bejeweled pumps from high school graduation because you thought they were beautiful — a decade ago — and only got to wear them once. You will not wear them and they’ve gotten old and ratty, spending their lives in the back of your closet. Put these items out of their misery and throw them out.
The black skirt
The knee-length black skirts people told you “work for all occasions” make you look drab and forgettable on all occasions, so give them to someone else.
I’m a creature of habit. I wear the same four white, gray and black T-shirts over and over again, while shunning the other two dozen T-shirts and tank tops that linger in the closet. I’m not saying get rid of all but four, but at least retire a third of the backups.
That stretch means it doesn’t fit
There are a lot of telltale signs that your clothes don’t fit. Too tight at the chest? Stretches at the pant clasp? Pass 'em along. If every time you reach for those slacks that make your rear look great, you put them back because the waist stretches before deciding to wear something else — toss them. Don’t keep what you won’t wear.
Anatomically incorrect shoes
One summer my aunt and I went out separately and bought the same Marc Jacobs sandals. They were beautiful leather and just the right shade of light brown. We each wore them once, until our feet bled, then both stashed them to the part of our closets for shoes that just don’t work. How can it be that there are so many shoes out there, especially for women, that are clearly anatomically incorrect? These kinds of shoes gather dust in the closet because they were too expensive to throw out. They’re in your bad-purchase pile as a reminder to never buy Marc Jacobs again (and I haven’t). Every time you rediscover them, they make you feel pain. Dump them.
The newly rediscovered
With any closet cleanse there are times you rediscover things you forgot about. The blue-and-green pinstripe skirt that fits just right — how did I forget about this one? — and the fancy summer dress you never had a good enough reason to wear can be the dress you wear to this year’s weddings. It looks brand new, and no one else needs to know it was in your closet for five years. But give these newfound gems some marching orders and commit to throw them out if you they go unworn for another season.