life in a tiny apartment.

August 13, 2014

dresser drawerTip #107: Edit your wardrobe. Seasonally.

I have a small three-drawer dresser and a half of a closet in which to store clothes and I’m a pretty discerning shopper and still I feel like I have too much of what I don’t want and not enough of what I do. As a first phase in the larger game of building a wardrobe of clothes that I—er—actually like, here’s a step-by-step approach for wardrobe purging that works for me:

I go through all of my clothes at the end of each season and make three piles:

Pile #1 – Stay: Anything that I love and that’s still in wearable condition.

Pile #2 – Go: Anything that’s worn out, unwearable, or loathesome.
Pile #3 – Ponder: Anything I haven’t worn lately and/or feel ambivalent about.
Pile #1 – Stay: 
This is the easiest pile to make. In this pile go my true-blues; the things that I really love, that I wear frequently, that I feel beautiful in, even if I’m just going to the grocery store. Also included: clothes that I wear infrequently, but that are the very perfect thing for a special occasion. The goal, of course, is to have Pile #1 be the largest pile. The balance hasn’t quite tipped that way chez moi, but I’m working on it. More on that, later.
Pile #2 – Go:
These are the clothes that have got to go, no questions asked. I go through this pile and divvy it up into two. In one pile go clothes that I can turn into rags (think: armpits stained beyond salvaging, unmendable rips or tears). In the other goes clothes that have outlived their usefulness to me, but which might make someone else happy. This might include clothes that have stretched out or shrunken so that they no longer fit quite right, but it does not include clothes that are in truly bad shape (see above). Sometimes, unfortunately, this pile includes a dress whose color makes my skin glow like dirty bathwater or a pair of jeans that I finally accept simply won’t stretch to be comfortable. These get packed up into a bag and are either taken to a consignment shop or thrift store, depending on their condition.

Pile #3 – Ponder:
This is the toughest pile to wrangle, and for me it usually requires a revisit. This is the pile of unloved clothes that I know I don’t wear regularly, but that I’m not quite ready to part with. This might include a particularly pricey sweater that’s turned out to also be unbearably itchy, or a pair of pants that aren’t quite comfy but that I can cope with wearing during a dinner out as long as there are sweatpants on the other side of it, or a blouse that’s awfully dingy but that I can’t stand to part with. These go back into my drawer or closet if there’s room, or they get zipped into bag for me to revisit upon the arrival of the new season. When the season for wearing them rolls around again, I reconsider. Sometimes I shove these things straight away into a bag destined for the thrift store, sometimes absence has made the heart grow fonder and I’m reunited with a pair of jeans that become a favorite. Still other times, I need to cycle through two rounds of purging to be ready to admit that I made a bad purchase or that something has become ratty beyond repair.

Two notes: 

1. I resist the urge to purge clothes out of season. It’s easy to look at a spaghetti-strapped sundress in the middle of January when the sidewalks are iced over and it’s been days since you’ve seen the sun and decide that you never need to see it again. Different story come June.

2. If any of the clothes in Pile #2 would fall into Pile #1 if they weren’t otherwise worn out, I try to make a note. Did I just part with my favorite white t-shirt? If yes, was it one that I loved unconditionally but that I still managed to ruin? If yes, is it worth replacing? I try hard not to rush out to replace what I’ve given away. Getting comfortable with owning fewer clothes makes keeping an edited wardrobe possible in the first place.

Did I cover everything? How do you guys wrangle your (tiny) closets?

Tiny apartment survival tips #1 – 106, right here.

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  • Reply Clio August 13, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    I love this series. You are so right about not purging out of season. Nothing brings me such pleasure as donating a big bag of clothes and looking at whats left hanging with a little more room on the rail.

  • Reply jenn @ beyond the stoop August 13, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    do you ever put something in pile #3 instead of pile #2 just because it still has the tags on it even though there's no chance in hell you're going to wear it? ….that's the ultimate guilt in purging for me :/

    • Reply Erin August 13, 2014 at 2:32 pm

      Ha! I admit that I typically hem and haw so much before making a purchase that it's really rare for me to bring anything home that I don't at least attempt to wear! But that definitely doesn't mean I always want to hold on to them after a wear or two. Sigh.

  • Reply Katharine Paljug August 13, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    So right about not purging out of season! I can get a little purge-happy (I get a lot of satisfaction from clearing out stuff) and it's much easier to get rid of things without thinking if you can't wear them right now.

    Another thing that I find helps is to have a friend you can swap with. My roommate from college and I are fortunately about the same size, so if I need a dress for a wedding and I don't have anything that works in my own closet, I can borrow one from her instead of going out and buying one.

    • Reply Erin August 13, 2014 at 2:29 pm

      Yes! Sisters are good for this, too!

  • Reply Gramma August 13, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    I'm hopeless!…I soo want to purge my closet(s) and have things all lined up in a tidy row in the closet. But I simply cannot let go…I have 4 closets (poor hubby is crowded into one little space) and two racks in the basement. I have fat clothes, skinny clothes, work clothes (am retired and no longer need them), dressy clothes, etc…and I love them all, yet I wear the same few over and over. And worse yet, I continue to buy more stuff..I love clothes! But your post has inspired me this morning and I'm going to once again try to purge and cut it down to one simple closet…your 3-step 'program' seems very doable. Wish me luck….

    • Reply Erin August 13, 2014 at 2:29 pm

      Oh my goodness! Well, at least things are in a tidy row! Good luck with the "program"! 😉

  • Reply moni.zuza August 13, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    The hardest part for me these days is getting rid of clothing I loved that worked in one climate and no longer works in my new city's climate. Yet new city has me in a quarter of my old closet size. Boo.

    • Reply Erin August 13, 2014 at 2:28 pm

      Ah, yes! Right now I have about five dresses that I can't wear while breastfeeding. I'm holding off on giving them away for the moment, but they're definitely taking up room even though I can't wear them!

    • Reply Katherine August 15, 2014 at 7:24 pm

      Oh I would hold onto those dresses! Or at least a couple of them. It is bittersweet to finish nursing, but I do love the feeling of being able use a whole section of my wardrobe all over again. That's the sweet!

  • Reply August 13, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    I'm pretty ruthless with my closet, but I do make a note of anything that I wear out so I can replace it. My main questions for clothes are: will I wear it and have I worn it? If I can't say yes then I get rid of it!

  • Reply Paige August 13, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Great advice! I just went on a major purge since we turned my walk-in closet into a toddler nursery for my daughter. It felt so good! One other thing, I have lots of storage in my home so I'll keep clothes in bins and take them out each season, but if I haven't worn something in two years, it goes!

  • Reply Christine August 13, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Such great tips! I'm just about due for a purge–getting rid of any summer dresses that I didn't wear once this summer! Also need to get rid of summery tops and tanks that I haven't worn because they just don't fit quite right or have a small stain–would rather clear out and then have the space to replace.

  • Reply Katie Bedlow August 13, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    My wardrobe space is teeeeny tiny so I need to adopt many of these tips soon! I am really not good at keeping it all tidy….i'll need to find something right at the back and just pull out everything and turn my room into a teenagers den once more, whoops! Must try harder!


  • Reply Georgine August 13, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    So timely!!! I have to say I've become a very cautious closet editor. Most everything I bought for a few bucks are easy to toss, but a few items I've given away have filled me with regret… mostly old familiar sweaters it seems. I am particularly missing a oversized men's black sweater I gave away earlier this year, when now oversized everything is completely in again! Le sigh 🙁

  • Reply Jenn - HomeStyleReport August 13, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    I'm totally with you on not purging out of season! It has taken me nearly a year to get my closet to a point that I'm happy with. I still want to get rid of a lot but it's been much on my pocket book to take it season by season.

  • Reply A.J. August 13, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    What great tips! I long for a small and simple wardrobe full only of pieces I love, but I can't seem to make myself part with a lot of work clothes that i don't love but keep some variety in my outfits. Plus I wish I could learn to be less impulsive and more discerning in my purchases! Any suggestions for either of these problems?

  • Reply Kate August 13, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    Amen. If you felt like posting more pictures of the items that stay, I'd be interested.

  • Reply Alexa August 13, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    I live in a 400 sq ft studio on the UWS and have an approach similar to yours when it comes to my closet. In general, I find that sticking to a "Is it beautiful, useful, or meaningful?" rule of thumb for everything in my home keeps me feeling balanced and cheerful in my small space.

  • Reply Jessica August 13, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    I actually just did this (am still doing this…) today! I don't have the space limitations that you have, which means that I just buy, buy, buy, even if I don't need it. Then, of course, space becomes an issue. I'm trying to bring intentionality to my purchases, which has started with trying to define my style. What do I really love/look good in/feel amazing in? Then, I ask if what I'm purchasing resonates with that. It does? Do I really need it, or do I have something similar already? Does it go with other things that I have? And, also of importance, can I (really truly) afford it, because it is very easy for one to convince oneself that one can afford if, even if that is not the case 😉

  • Reply Sydney Eyrich August 13, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    The bit about not purging out of season is so good! I love posts about closet purging and organizing, if only I could be good at implementing the tips in my own closet!

  • Reply Neurotic Workaholic August 14, 2014 at 4:27 am

    I read somewhere that one way to clean out your closet is to go through your clothes at the end of the season and get rid of/donate the clothes that you didn't wear at all that season (not counting the clothes for other seasons).

  • Reply Anonymous August 14, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    Thanks for the good advice. We live in a small house. My husband works out of our home so one closet is devoted just to his work gear. That means we share one closet, so purging is a regular seasonal thing for us. I always give my family and friends a chance to go through the donation pile first which works out well for everyone.

  • Reply Anonymous August 14, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    this year I managed to get rid of al lot of clothes and still have too much. But slowly I feel better with my daily choices and my goal is kind of a decision free morning and freedom of "I have nothing to wear". Do you know the "capsule wardrobe"? Is so sweet and genius! if you like to see, here is the link:

  • Reply Anonymous August 14, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Over the past two years, I've slowly cycled out most of my former wardrobe (which consisted of a sizable amount of impulse sale buys that I only felt so-so about) with a few classic, well-made staples that I care for a bit more diligently. When it comes to getting rid of clothes, my rule is this: If I don't LOVE it, dump it. I air on the liberal side with the dumping and rarely have I looked back.

    That being said, I do feel as though my curated uniform of sorts has become a little bland, so I am now attempting to accentuate it with a few trendy pieces here and there to give it a little oomph.


  • Reply Lena August 14, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    I love how disciplined you are! As someone who is trying minimalist living, this is so inspiring! Time to go and do another purge. I think you're right, the trick is to do it every season. How, by the way, do you store out-of-season clothes?

    • Reply jen August 14, 2014 at 7:24 pm

      Yes! I was coming here to ask the same thing!

  • Reply Annika August 16, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    I also wondered how and where you best store your out of season items?

  • Reply Lena August 16, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    I wish I could do this. I feel that there's going to be a time in the near future when I'll be forced to adopt the minimalist living techniques. Thanks for your posts!

  • Reply Emma R August 23, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    For anyone who really wants to purge but "can't"… just put all your belongings in luggage and carry it for a few miles. I moved from the US to France last year and then from France to Ireland this year; in both moves I've been tempted to just leave my big suitcase behind in the airport. Before I left the US, I did a major purge, but I still left some things (a ridiculous amount, now that I've lived out of a suitcase for over a year). I will say that has been useful so far because in some cases I was able to have my mom ship me something rather than buying it new (see also: winter coats!).

    I would add two categories – (1) Mend/modify, and (2) Downgrade. (1) If you have a dress/skirt that you like except it's too long, hem it (or have it hemmed by a tailor–usually cheaper than buying a new dress). If you have jeans that have holes everywhere, either use the denim for patches or put patches on the jeans and use them in the garden/walking the dog/whatever. Socks can be darned. (2) Tee shirts I used to wear to parties I now wear running or to the gym. That kind of thing.

  • Reply Kara September 5, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    I just came across your blog (via Hither and Thither) and I LOVE this series. My husband and I started life together pre-kids, pre-marriage in a 450 sf apartment. We've since moved into bigger spaces but compared to where I grew up in the 'burbs, they're still "small." I have no interest in living with my husband and our 2 kids in bigger spaces. I love the closeness, the togetherness, the on-top-of-each-other-ness of it all. It requires a different way of thinking about home and stuff, for sure. Your tips are fantastic and I can't wait to have time to scroll through them all!

  • Reply Rebecca September 19, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    I love this series, too. I've been doing Project 333 in some iteration for the past year and a half, and I love dressing with less. I'm getting pickier about what gets to stay, and my color palette is getting more limited. I tend to pull things out as I'm sure they are "done", but I also do my big purge at the end of the year (just as practical matter, because we track what we donate for tax purposes). This means I do donate off season, but I try to be more particular about the summer items. I have fewer "strictly summer" items (I work in a cold office, and am often cold in air conditioning, so I only wear summer-only items sporadically). I really only very rarely miss the item I've donated. More likely, I miss the idea of it, and realize I donated it because it didn't fit, didn't flatter, or was worn beyond appropriateness. In that case, it's an opportunity to find something that does work well for me instead. 🙂

  • Reply Momofthree September 26, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    I have to take everything out of the closet then put my favorites back, and what I have left is the giveaway pile.

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