Room by Room

The Closet (Maryland)

This is the kickoff to my Room by Room series, wherein I describe how I minimized my possessions in excruciating detail.

In two out of my three college apartments, I had amazing walk-in closets. (Yeah, I know you’re jealous.) I was able to store a lot of my stuff in those closets, which was great because I meant I didn’t have to look at things like my yoga mat, badminton racquet, lockbox, etc. However, I was also able to store a ton of clothes in my closet.

When I first discovered minimalism, it was through the concept of capsule wardrobes. I specifically enjoyed Caroline’s approach in her blog, Unfancy. By her method, you choose 37 pieces of clothing per season and wear only those 37 pieces. This includes shoes and coats, but not underwear, accessories, workout wear, formalwear, etc. The next season, you evaluate your needs and carry some items over, store some til next year, bring some out of storage, and maybe procure a few new pieces to round out your wardrobe. I really liked the idea of challenging myself to curate creative combinations of clothing (ooh, that was fun and alliterative) on a limited palette. But first, I would need to do some culling—I had waaaay more than 37 pieces, even allowing for seasonal storage.

So I went into my huge, full walk-in closet and took everything out of it. I piled my hanging clothes high on my bed, and I embarked on the first of many clothing purges. Lots of things in my closet were remnants of earlier days. For instance, two years ago I had been all about day dresses and boots for everyday wear. Nowadays I prefer shirts and jeans, but I hadn’t donated many of my dresses. When I went through my closet, I had thirty day dresses, guys. I could have worn dresses alone for a whole months with no repeats.

As I went through my clothes, I tried them on and asked myself questions.

Do I still like this? Do I love it?

Does it fit me? Does it flatter me?

Does it go with lots of other things in my wardrobe?

If it’s damaged in some way, will I get it fixed this week?

Would I buy this today if I saw it in a store?

Does this really suit me, not some version I wish I was?

Do I have something just like it that I like better?

Do I need it?

And if I answered no to any of those questions, I inspected the item very critically to decide whether it earned a place in my closet or not. In some cases, I put things back that I kind of knew I wouldn’t really wear again. I’m not infallible, and I certainly wasn’t a year ago. It’s difficult when things have sentimental value, or they cost a lot of money, or x reason that makes you feel like you shouldn’t give them up. (We’ll talk about those things in a whole other post.) But there were lots of things that got caught, like the zebra-print bubble dress I bought when I moved to Maryland with the intent to wear it when going out on the town and kept on keeping because I hadn’t ever worn it. Truthfully, I’m not the partying type, I didn’t make friends with partying-type people, and when I do go out, I prefer to keep my outfit chic and sensible (I like to be prepared for lots of walking and subways, and it gets chilly at night!), as opposed to sparkly and flirty.

Side note: Keep in mind that I started minimizing in October of 2014, knowing full well that I would be done with college in a couple of months and moving into the workforce. As such, I knew my wardrobe was going to be in a period of transition for a while as I job hunted and adjusted it for an office. So when I went through things like dresses, I asked myself not only if I still liked the item or it looked good on me, but also whether it would still fit my new lifestyle. If it wasn’t something I could feasibly wear once a week once I was officially adulting, out it went. I ended up keeping about six of those aforementioned 30 dresses. Others would be lost to later culls as I started investing in a more grown-up wardrobe.

Jackets and shoes were also things I had an amazing surplus of. At the end of high school, I had donated about 20 hoodies and started building a collection of jackets, which I saw as more grown-up. That’s all well and good, but by this point I had a lot of jackets, including four dressy winter coats. I got rid of some of them, hanging several “maybes” to the side to evaluate as the fall went on—it was just starting to get cold, so I hadn’t had occasion to wear them in a while and honestly didn’t know how often I’d wear them. Shoes I decided to wait on until I had finished my clothes, so I could see how many different types I really needed.

I went through everything in the closet in this manner. Frankly, I don’t remember a lot of it, which tells you how little I needed it. I do remember quite a few items that seemed to be from a past life, like my Army stuff or my (surprisingly flattering) choir uniform, which I couldn’t bear to just give to Goodwill. I kept some things for a while, and carefully gave others away. For example, I donated my choir uniform to the music department, so they could give it to a girl who couldn’t afford one, and gave my expensive Army dress uniform (which I got for free at Basic Training) to an aspiring officer in ROTC.

After minimizing my closet, I stared in wonder at all the room the remaining pieces had, dangling freely on their hangers. I’m not big on romanticizing, but the atmosphere in there had changed. It seemed that the closet had been holding its breath and was finally able to breathe deeply, now that it wasn’t stuffed to the brim with a bunch of patterns and lengths and jostling pink hangers which, while very organized, had been a lot of visual chaos. I felt more relaxed and serene just looking at the airy result…if a bit ashamed about just how many hangers I had felt the need to buy to begin with. (I ended up donating a few dozen hangers before I moved out.)

A knee-high pile of discarded clothing, ready for Goodwill, lay sullenly in one corner. But I wasn’t ready to pack it up yet. There were still a lot of clothes to go. It was time to tackle my dresser…and my under-bed bins.

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