Have you read Marie Kondo’s “The Art of Tidying Up”? Probably, because I’m becoming convinced that I’m the only person in the world remaining who hasn’t purchased it, read it, and subsequently written a very convicted-sounding blog post about how it changed my life. I get the gist of it (after reading many many breathless descriptions), and that there’s some real psychological intervention going on – but dude. KonMari takes so much effort, and I just do not have the hours set aside to truly ponder which items I love in my closet. (Seriously. Look at that photo in the second link up there. I would only have enough time at once to make that mess, not do anything about it.)
Instead, I recently cleaned out my closet in my usual and decidedly anti-KonMari way, which did not involve destroying my house along the way. I realized that since we can’t all KonMari our homes, I might as well pass this tip along to you the next time you’re cleaning out your closet:
Wait to take the bags away.
That’s it. It sounds silly, but I’ve found that if I try to do it all at once, Kondo-style, I do a far more terrible job of purging my closet. I’ll explain why, but first, let’s do before shots of my wardrobes in our bedroom:
I then went through the long (but mess-free!) process of cleaning out my closet, which was long only because I waited to take the bags away. And here’s why waiting helps me:
1) I can get over the “maybe” psychological hurdle
You know how when you’re trying to purge, you’ll start to make excuses for why you should keep something around? I do that, but I tell myself, “You’re not taking these away today. If you really want this shirt/dress/etc., you can get it back out of the bag.” The “maybe” items go in the Goodwill bag, and if I want them in the next week or two, then I can get them back out. Guess how many times I’ve put them back in my closet. Yeah.
Better yet, do you know that over the past few days, I’ve struggled to remember a single item in those bags? It wasn’t until I was editing the photos for this post that I remembered what I was trying to get rid of. Even though I told myself “maybe” at the time, these are not items I really need in my closet!
2) I don’t do a good job the first time
One of the key things in Marie Kondo’s book is that you must take everything out of all of your closets and only put back those things that bring you joy. I see the value in that, because you have to touch every single item and make a conscious decision to keep it in your life... but geez louise, that would take consecutive hours that I do not have. So I clean out the old-fashioned way, which is to pull out a few items here and there and leave the rest in the closet.
Except... I pass over things the first time. It’s not that they’re “maybes”, it’s that I honestly do not consider them because they’ve been there forever. It’s only in the subsequent days that I notice, “Wait, why is this still in here?” And you know what? Because my Goodwill bag is still sitting right there, it’s so easy to go ahead and pull that item out and add it to the pile.
3) It gives me a chance to try new tricks with old dogs
So then there are the items that made it through the “maybe” trial and didn’t seem to be wasting space after the first purge... but that I’m still not sure I love, or that I suddenly notice are a little redundant, or that I haven’t worn in awhile. The last step is then to make myself wear all those things. Why not, since this is already a long drawn-out (but mess-free!) process?! It’s funny, because even though this skirt has been in my closet for years...
By putting it on the “chopping block”, it almost has the same excitement attached to it as a new item of clothing would. Silly, but true! It’s fun to be inspired me to try to wear it a new way, and I can come up with fresh new outfits or pair some items together that I never tried together before. That totally justifies keeping that item in my closet!
Or... I pass over it for another two weeks, or I try it on and realize it doesn’t fit quite right anymore, or I actually do wear it and catch an unflattering glimpse in the bathroom mirror and vow to purge it after that day. Either way, it’s a success.
4) I can truly define what a “wardrobe staple” is
Sometimes, I try to let items slip past my chopping block described above because they’re “wardrobe staples”. It seems wrong to purge them because “they go with everything!” and “everyone has one!” For instance, see this white cardigan?
I’ve had it a really long time (through multiple closet cleanouts, even). But how many times have I worn it in all of those times? NONE. Not at all. I never wear this cardigan. And yet I held onto it because “it’s a wardrobe staple”. Well, no. If I never wear it, it is clearly not a staple.
When I drag out a closet cleanout, I pay attention to those sorts of things. That’s when I realize I will always, always reach for a gray cable-knit cardi or a cropped khaki blazer before I reach for that plain white cardigan. Those are my staples! Um, duh.
5) It gets me through all sorts of weather
This is a tip-within-a-tip, I guess: if you do this long drawn-out cleanout, do it through a seasonal transition. A few crazy weeks in spring or fall, when you have to deal with mornings in the 50s and a few days with highs in the 90s. This means that opportunity to purge all sorts of things: scarves, sweaters, summery skirts, even all sorts of pajamas.
There are a few other reasons to do a closet purge in spring or winter: for one, you’re on the cusp of a new season, and so excited to get dead weight out of your closet so you can be excited about those pieces you couldn’t wear through the last season. And for another, it’s a really good ruler for how long you’ve worn something. If it’s fall, you see what you passed over the entire summer, for instance.
6) I have time to realize my closet neuroses
As the empty hangers pile up and the closet starts looking neat and clean (over the course of a couple of weeks), there’s always a point where I sigh and remember... the t-shirts. The t-shirts are my ultimate closet nemesis, and I know it. I wear maybe five different t-shirts on any regular basis, and all of them are for sleeping (even on weekends, I try to dress a bit more snappily than a t-shirt, even if it’s a tank top and cardigan). And yet... I very rarely get rid of any of them. I fully appreciate that I am emotionally attached to my t-shirts.
Sidebar: we recently played a version of the newlywed game with Mr. P’s family. For the question, “What do you want to get rid of that belongs to your husband?”, all the other wives wrote “old t-shirts”. And yet, when Mr. P and I were engaged, he wanted to throw this holey (so holey!) shirt out and yet I took it home with me and slept in it. I WILL NEVER THROW IT AWAY EVER, even though I can no longer sleep in it because it is so fragile that sleeping in it would tear it to shreds.
I’m still terrible about t-shirts, so I have no magical tips (and no I do NOT want to turn them into a quilt, because that is unnecessary and costs money, and if I wanted an unnecessary costly quilt I’d buy the gorgeous woolen cable-knit throw I’ve wanted for years). But at least the long time to clean out a closet still helps me recognize how ridiculous it is, and I can part with a few more five-year-old shirts each time.
7) Mr. P joins in, too
“What’s this bag over here?” Mr. P will ask. I say it’s for Goodwill, so he offers to drop it off on his way home from work.
“No!” I say. “It’s not ready.”
It sounds crazy at the time, that a bag “isn’t ready” to go, and yet... a few days later, Mr. P’s jeans will appear on top of the bag amongst my things. My intention is never to wait until he pitches in, and yet each time, the multiple closet issue solves itself!
At the end of the day – rather, month – I still have a ton of cardigans and tanks, more black dresses than most women need, and a whole bunch of t-shirts I don’t wear. But I also managed to clean out my closet almost to Kondo standards (no dresser for me, so my clothes are just folded in here).
If it doesn’t look all that different, check the spacing of the hangers on the bar. Maybe my clothes aren’t as “happy” as Kondo’s, but they can breathe, at least!
The other wardrobe looks even better, but I accidentally deleted the “after” photos after I’d already done yet another project in there. It’s not very KonMari, but it did bring me joy, so perhaps she’d approve. I’ll tell you about that on Wednesday!