Cleaning out a closet can feel overwhelming and discouraging all at once. We want to see a tangible difference, but don’t feel right getting rid of too much stuff. We like our stuff! But, how much of it do we love? And more importantly, how much do we, or will we, actually use?
We checked in with professional organizers and stylists on how to determine what should always make the cut — and how to care for what you keep.
Let’s start with a hard truth: keeping shoes because they are stylish is not recommended, as unworn footwear is just another word for clutter. Deciding which shoes to save should be based on 50% comfort, 50% quality. Nothing else!
“Remember the Friends episode with Monica when she bought the expensive boots that she hated and could barely walk in?” says Kim Jones, owner of L+K Home Organization. “Read all reviews and do as much research as possible so expensive shoes can be shoes for life. I only keep the shoes I wear on a daily or weekly basis in my closet. My fancy shoes are elsewhere to save closet space, but are still easy to access when needed.” Keep splurging on shoes that don’t fit? There are plenty of brands that offer tech solutions, giving you the ability to get a custom pair calibrated to fit you perfectly.
A note on heels: it’s not unusual to build up a collection of gorgeous, impractical heels throughout the years. Do keep comfortable heels in your preferred shades (plus metallics and black, which come in handy for formal events), but donate or sell any that gave you blisters (be honest!) and have remained unworn for years. If parting with a particular pair is causing you anxiety, it’s worth visiting a cobbler to see if they can be stretched or otherwise made a bit more wearable.
The Wardrobe Staples
Timeless, mix-and-matchable pieces, like a crisp white button-down top, cotton trousers and the black dress that always comes through for you each deserve a spot in your closet. As a rule, only purge if they’re in poor condition and need to be replaced. “These are items that may skip one season but come right back to the following because they are classic and always in style,” says Jones. You can even give these a dedicated place in your closet. “I keep them visible but to the right of everything else because I know they are my go-to when I need a classic outfit,” says Jones. Favor natural fibers and silhouettes that are flattering to you, and don’t forget that quality pieces can be tailored to update the fit.
LBDs, LBPs and Beyond
Black dresses, pants and skirts are versatile classics, but if your closet is an overwhelming sea of darkness, it might be time to pare down. What to keep? Pieces that aren’t overly trendy or uncomfortable (so say goodbye to the skin-tight pleather that makes you sweat). If you’re still not sure, try on each pair and go with your gut. If it’s cute but totally uncomfortable and has been unworn for a year or more, donate it.
Pro Tip: If you are hovering between sizes, keep a selection of your favorites, but place them back into the closet separated by size. And, going back to those black pants: “Keep them all together with smaller sizes to the left and larger size to the right,” advises Jones. “As a woman, I think this is important. While I don’t want to be in the larger size and some may say it is motivating to get rid of it, reality tells me when I am on my period or feeling bloated, I need that bigger size.”
A good blazer can be a statement piece or a standby; it’s great to have a balance of both. Statement blazers deliver a strong impression and can take a basic outfit into memorable territory. Think: animal prints, florals and vibrant stripes. “Wearing a memorable blazer can work against you because everyone remembers you wore it,” says professional organizer Laura Ellis, adding that while it’s fun to be remembered, it’s the classic iterations that will get you through the years. “For the good ol’ standby blazer, think classic navy blue, or a longer black blazer that you can scrunch up the sleeves of,” says Ellis. These classics tend to get beaten up from wear, tear and a lot of love. If your favorite blazer has seen better days, it’s time to let it go and find a suitable replacement.
Pro Tip: If you look like a character out of Working Girl, it’s probably time to let that blazer go. We all have our favorite time periods for style, but even when shoulder pads come back, as they have, they’re not the same — the look is always reinvented and updated. That said, if you have a well-made, high quality blazer in an out-of-date shape, take it to a tailor for the pads to be removed and the shoulders reworked.
Fancy jeans, running-errands jeans, date jeans, dark wash, white, black … according to Jones, when deciding what to keep, it’s all about quality.
“Any time my favorite designer jeans go on sale, I buy them,” says Jones. “This goes against pretty much everything I believe about less is more, so why? Jeans are an item I wear daily. I have a variety of jeans and I treat my nice jeans like precious jewels. My nicer jeans I hang because I know these are for special occasions. My everyday jeans I fold and place on an open shelf that is easy for me to grab and get out of the door. I make it as easy as possible to keep my jeans organized. These are [the items] I hardly purge unless they are completely worn out or completely don’t fit. I also keep two sizes in a few pair of jeans … I need that bigger size to pull out for Thanksgiving dinner, you know?” adds Jones.
Jewelry and Handbags
Ideally, you’ll keep quality jewelry and handbags for life, and even experts agree that heirlooms are the exception to clean-out mentality. “If I worked hard to pay for something and I love it to the core, there is no purging for me,” Jones adds. “There are times where I do lose my love for a certain item and it is then that I sell it back to a consignment store for someone else to love it as much as I once did.”
Timeless accessory styles to keep include the doctor bag, structured tote and long chain evening bag, as well as simple stud and hoop earrings and tennis bracelets. Another thing to consider is the item’s designer. If you have a real designer handbag or piece of jewelry, “Check online to see what they’re selling for. If there’s a hot market … chances are you have a timeless piece on your hands,” says Ellis. “Shape and condition also weigh in. If the bag is torn, worn or misshapen, you can take it to get repaired and see if a little leather CPR will bring it back to life.”
Pro Tip: Properly store handbags that are out of season and those you hardly wear by cleaning them before long term storage, and stuffing them to help retain their shape. “We love filling a Ziploc storage bag with paper and packing it inside the handbags,” says Ellis. “For evening or bags you wear once or twice a year, make sure to use a dust cover to keep the outside protected too. It will dramatically extend the life of your timeless handbags.”